Jared Kelley is the Lead Portrait Painter for Sport Kings, LLC, a major trading card company. Kelley’s miniature sports art has been featured in art and hobby publications of recent past, including Beckett Magazine in which Kelley was listed among the nine most influential artists in the country who are changing the world of card collecting. In 2011, a single John F. Kennedy trading card portrait, hand-painted by Kelley, auctioned for $2000, which at that time was the most that any sketch card has ever sold for in the United States.
Though he participated in art classes throughout his early life, even during college, Kelley was never privileged to have instructors proficient in portraiture, with the exception of his junior high art teacher who introduced Kelley to portraiture. Since then, Kelley has been largely self-taught in the field of portraiture. Kelly credits most of his current artistic habits and techniques to a stint as an apprentice to muralist Matthew John Smith from Prattville, Alabama. During his apprenticeship, Kelley was able to aid in the rendering of more than 3000 square feet of murals and faux finishes, all of which inspired by the decadence of the Italian Renaissance.
Kelley makes his home in rural Alabama. In February 2013, he became the Official Portraitist for the National Trial Lawyer Association (NTLA) Hall of Fame. His portraits for the NTLA include prominent figures such as Thurgood Marshall, Fred D. Gray, Sr., Elaine Jones, Ron Motley, and Alabama native, Morris Dees.
Recently, Baseball Art caught up with Kelley for our weekly Q&A:
Baseball Art: When did you realize you wanted to become a sports artist and did you have anyone help push you along the way?
Jared Kelley: Years ago, when I germinated the foolish idea of becoming a professional artist, simultaneously sending my wife to the therapist’s chaise, I hadn’t planned on sports art as the niche into which I’d settle. I have always loved portraiture and dreamt I’d someday have my own brick and mortar business taking portrait commissions for years on end. I learned, however, that those who can afford original oil portraits are a very small percentage of the art consumer demographic and I was going to have to “pay my dues” artistically before I could start charging clients five figures for a painting. I thus embarked on a quest (visualize a cat running around with a gym sock over its head and its tail on fire) to find a better route to success, something that could be enjoyed by a larger pool of the buying public. I signed with publishing houses, galleries, and started setting up at craft festivals, simply trying to make a sale. In a three year period, I had been assigned to paint every genre (abstracts, landscapes, nudes, etc.) and to work in a dozen media. But nothing was catching fire. So, like the rest of those that can’t, I started to teach art at grade schools and worked part-time for an arts non-profit to make ends meet. One day, while sitting at my desk at the non-profit, I got an email from Upperdeck. The art director at the time was looking for someone to hand paint portraits of U.S. presidents on hundreds of cards for an upcoming set and happened to see a Google image of John F. Kennedy I painted for a client a few months prior. I responded and it wasn’t long before I had painted 220 art cards for Upperdeck’s 2010 Goodwin Champions set. All of a sudden I was referred to as a “sports artist” in cyber forums and among a growing market of collectors. The next year I signed with In The Game, Inc. and quit my other jobs and became a full-time sports artist. My wife now pays the therapist one year in advance.
Baseball Art: Have you ever had the opportunity to share your artwork of a particular player with the athlete?
Jared Kelley: I haven’t had that privilege yet. I did, however, get commissioned to paint an Emmitt Smith portrait for a client in Florida once. This same client held a large soiree at his estate shortly afterwards where Smith was in attendance. I was later told that Smith enjoyed seeing the portrait.
Baseball Art: Can you share an experience or interesting story about being a sports artist?
Jared Kelley: The life of an artist isn’t much different from that of a social recluse, like Ted Kaczynski for example. Minus the Domestic Terrorism, it’s a strong parallel: hours cooped-up indoors, pale skin, questionable body odor while vigorously pursuing your life’s obsession. Given that fact, I can’t say that I’ve put myself in a position to have many “interesting” stories on hand. I would have to say the most entertaining experience I’ve had thus far was attending the 2013 National in Chicago. I’d never been to a card convention before and it was awesome to meet the collectors and hear their stories of pulling some of my art cards in products. I hope to have more of those experiences in the future.
Baseball Art: Are there any athletes that you haven’t drawn that you would like to capture with your artwork?
Jared Kelley: Growing up in Alabama, college football is king. I would love it if I could become disciplined enough with my workloads to allow me to paint portraits of every starter on Auburn’s football team each season. I’ve thought about doing the paintings on art cards, making it more manageable to collect each year. I would enjoy that immensely!
Baseball Art: Who throughout the history of baseball would you like to have the chance to watch a game with?
Jared Kelley: As I said, I’m a huge Auburn Tigers fan. If I could spend the day watching a baseball game alongside any athlete of my choosing it would have to be with the greatest athlete in my lifetime, Vincent “Bo” Jackson.
Baseball Art: Could you describe your studio space and what we would see if we visited you during a project?
Jared Kelley: Sure. Imagine a Hobbit-hole… Now imagine packing it with the entire inventory of Hobby Lobby. Now picture me in the middle of all that mess trying to paint. That’s my studio. Basically, I have a room in our home designated as the studio. A lot of shelves filled with paint cans, paint tubes, and paint brushes and a lot of wood scraps for building new panels. Rather than fill the walls with my artwork I almost exclusively hang images of other artists’ works to motivate me to be better. It’s like the thirteen year old boy who weighs 90 lb., suffers from an overbite and has severe acne keeping a photo of 1975 Arnold Schwarzenegger taped to his bathroom mirror. I try to get a start on my day no later than 10AM. I could work until midnight every night if I let myself. On average, I’m painting about 8 hours a day. I have to remind myself regularly to give thanks to God for the blessing of working for myself and doing what I love. As an artist I find it easy to fixate on the small things in life, but take a step back from the day-to-day demands, and one quickly realizes that the life of a sports artist is truly a thrill.
To learn more about artist Jared Kelley, visit his website.