Artist Noah Stokes’s work revolves around the traditions and passions of American sports. He grew up with the Atlanta Braves and his artistic talents developed around the same time that the Braves were climbing from baseball’s cellar to become one of the best teams in the sport. Stokes is also as big a Georgia Bulldogs fan as they come. We caught up with Stokes recently for a very interesting Q&A:
Baseball Art: When did you realize you wanted to become a sports artist and did you have anyone push you along the way?
Noah Stokes: I am a lifelong Atlanta Braves fan. They moved to Atlanta in 1966, my family moved to Macon (75 miles away) in ‘68 and my dad would take me to two or three games a year. I still have the programs from the games we attended and cherish the memories. Between 1970 and 1981 Atlanta only had two winning seasons so other than Hank Aaron (who was of course my hero) there wasn’t much to cheer. They did win the NL West in 1983 – when I was in art school in Atlanta, which was fun. But in 1991 they went from worst to first and everyone caught Braves Fever. In 1992 the Braves had four players selected to the mid-summer classic. I decided to do a charcoal drawing of the four Atlanta All-Stars – Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Ron Gant, and Terry Pendleton. I had 250 prints made, signed and numbered them and started pedaling them to area frame shops. To my surprise, they went like hotcakes and I thought – there might be something to this. From that piece I got commissioned to do a print of a local racing hero and that fall I did a print of Alabama beating Miami in the 1993 Sugar Bowl. A 1993 Braves All-Star print followed, this time in color and soon I was publishing about three or four limited edition prints a year.
As a kid I was a doodler, loved to color, and showed some drawing ability early on but I was always more interested in sports than art and had no one in my sphere of influence that knew how to encourage or direct me as an artist. After my playing days were over and real college wasn’t working I had to decide between going to work at the paper mill or going to art school. My Aunt Dot was probably the one that pushed me the hardest toward art school and once I got there I knew it was the right decision. I got real excited, especially in the subjects of advertising and design because for the first time I could see a real world application for my coloring and creative thinking. I got a job offer from a packaging company the week I graduated and for the first 8 years of my art career I was a package designer and commercial illustrator.
One of my first attempts at sports art was a drawing of Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver that I did as a kid. In art school I would often choose sports as a theme whenever I could get away with it so it was always in my blood I guess. When I discovered I could make some money doing it, I was off and running.
Baseball Art: Have you ever had the opportunity to share your artwork of a particular player with the athlete?
Noah Stokes: Yes, several times. I used to always try and do an autographed edition of each print I published. Steve Spurrier when he was the head ball coach at Florida, Bobby Bowden, and the Legendary Voice of the Georgia Bulldogs Larry Munson were some of my favorite encounters.
Baseball Art: Can you share an experience or interesting story about being a sports artist?
Noah Stokes: I did a print entitled “There Goes Herschel” showing Georgia great Herschel Walker having his way against Florida. When the print was ready I made a long drive up to New Jersey with a business partner to get Herschel’s autograph. The guy I went with owned a memorabilia store and had contracted Herschel to sign a bunch of helmets, posters, and photos. I had about 200 “TGH” print for him to sign. We spent about two hours with Herschel at his in-laws house and had a great time. Herschel was awesome. We both grew up in South Georgia. I watched him play football against my old high school (Charlton County High). As a junior, Charlton beat him (Johnson County) in Folkston on their way the state finals but his senior season he practically beat us by himself scoring all four touchdowns and making most every tackle as they won 28-0. He remembered both games, saying “them boys hit hard”. We had a lot of fun. At the end he wanted to know if he could buy a couple of my prints – I said sure. He wanted one for himself and one for his mom. I thought that was cool – the guy I was with couldn’t believe I charged him.
Baseball Art: Are there any athletes that you haven’t drawn that you would like to capture with your artwork?
Noah Stokes: As I said, I am a big Braves fan and I am also a die-hard Georgia Bulldog. There are several Braves and Bulldogs I have yet to capture so the list is long.
Baseball Art: Who throughout the history of baseball would you like to have the charge to watch a game with?
Noah Stokes: Greg Maddux. I would love to watch a game with him and have him tell me how he would pitch each hitter. To hear some of the inside skinny on how he did what he did would be fun. He was amazing to watch.
Baseball Art: Could you describe you studio space and what we would see if we visited you during a project?
Noah Stokes: A disaster. I have a good space – kind of small. My studio is in a separate building from my home so it tends to get (or stay) messy. I am in the process of making an addition that will give me more room. If you visited you would see a lot of paintings sitting around at different stages. I generally have about three or four going at the same time. You would see a large book shelf full of books and magazines I use for reference. Although now days I use a lot of internet images. You would see my computer, desk, easel, and paints. And you would meet a man that works hard at his craft and is extremely grateful to be able to make a living doing what he loves.