Brent Naughton is a Cincinnati-based sports artist who also happens to be a die-hard Reds fan. He has also been instrumental in helping to bring together scores of baseball artists and fans of baseball art — both through his own art and on the Baseball Art Facebook page.
“I do not claim to be the ‘world’s most renowned sports artist,’ but I do understand what it feels like to have sports heroes, and to live and die with my favorite teams. The goal of my artwork is to evoke memories of seasons past and celebrate the greatness of sports legends of every era.” –Brent Naughton
Clearly, Naughton has found his sweet spot, and is doing exactly that.
Baseball Art: When did you realize you wanted to become a baseball artist and did you have anyone help push you along the way?
Brent Naughton: I can actually remember a day in the second grade, thinking to myself that if I could not play baseball for the Reds, I would love to draw for the rest of my life. (Even then, I had a sneaking suspicion I would not be roaming centerfield or first for the Reds.) I loved sports and card collecting and would draw my own baseball cards to sell to my very patient cousin, Maureen and other friends that had loose change. Through the years, I would fill any free time with drawing and watching baseball. The artwork of Dick Perez, C.F. Payne and Bart Forbes were all daily reminders that art and sports could coexist. Finally in 2011, I decided to leave my full time job in the design world to give my passion for sports art a better opportunity to take off. Ever since, I have been freelancing and working on sports art daily.
I am very blessed to have so many folks that helped me along my art journey. During my high school years, my parents, Bill and Helen invested in a tiny baseball card store in my hometown. I managed this shop from my sophomore year until a year out of high school and it allowed my passion for baseball cards to grow. It also took a very shy kid out of his shell, taught me to talk to people of all ages and helped instill a work ethic in me. Also during my high school years, art teachers, Carol Walker and George Armstrong, allowed me to focus on sports art in many school assignments. Post graduation, my teacher at Central Academy of Design, Mike McGuire, had working experience painting for the Cincinnati Reds and was a huge supporter of my sports art. My brother, Bill Naughton, who is an incredible artist himself, has always been a big help and inspiration, teaching me the finer points and the importance of professionalism. My sister, Lori, has been a huge cheerleader for my artwork and supported me throughout my career. My friend/mentor and fellow artist, Nick Gressle is a motivating force and keeps me from being “too Amish” in my daily life. And finally, my talented wife, Michelle Blades, (a fellow artist) that I run artwork by, as she has a wonderful eye for detail and color. Each person listed, and many more, have helped guide me in my baseball art career and I thank each one.
Baseball Art: Have you ever had the opportunity to share your artwork of a particular player with the athlete.
Brent Naughton: Yes, one of my favorite stories with sharing artwork with an athlete happened a few years ago when I was living in Colorado. I saw an ad saying that Todd Helton was going to be signing in downtown Denver and created a piece of artwork for the signing. The day arrived and I placed the artwork on the table in front of him and he paused and said, “Man, my ears are huge.” My stomach dropped and I stumbled for words and he continued, “No seriously, I have huge ears, you nailed ‘em.” That was a reminder that whatever artwork I create may indeed be placed in front of the athlete so do your very best with each piece.
Baseball Art: Can you share an experience or interesting story about being a baseball artist?
Brent Naughton: I tend to find that even when we are in a large crowd at Spring Training or other events, people that have seen artwork in my hands, have realized the time and energy that went into it, and literally pushed my artwork into the athlete’s hands for a signature. It seems, in general, folks respect the work that goes into creating the piece and more often than not, athletes tend to appreciate your efforts as well. In the late 90’s, I took a painting of Ozzie Smith to Riverfront in hopes of getting it signed. As Smith was taking batting practice, he spotted the artwork in a crowd of about twenty of us. Mr. Smith then left his position and jogged directly at me and signed the piece for me. Just as quickly as he had arrived, he said, “Nice work.” and jogged back to his position. That experience taught me that from time to time, athletes will go out of their way for artists.
Baseball Art: Are there any athletes that you haven’t drawn that you would like to capture with your artwork?
Brent Naughton: Yogi Berra is on the top of my list. He is such an icon and character that I have been searching for the perfect image that captures him and have not found that image yet. I have even visited his childhood neighborhood in St. Louis, studied a lot about him and feel he accomplished more with his skill set than most would have. He was a leader and someone that just got the job done on a daily basis. I have never had the opportunity to meet him, but I imagine he is pretty down to earth and friendly in person.
Baseball Art: Who throughout the history of baseball would you like to have the chance to watch a game with?
Brent Naughton: I think it would be awesome to attend a Cincinnati Reds Opening Day game with brothers George and Harry Wright, so they could see how the game that they started here professionally in 1869, has evolved and grown in our beloved city. Cincinnati’s Opening day is like no other in baseball; Cincinnati residents endure many cold, gray months while waiting for the Reds to return and start the new season. When Opening Day arrives, folks drop everything and celebrate. The brothers and I could start the day by attending the Findlay Market Opening Day Parade and then actually drink in bars that were standing when the Wrights played for the Red Stockings. I think they would love to know that Opening Day has become an official City Holiday shared between generations of Reds’ fans. I think that they would be amused by the stadium, the number of folks watching the game and how the game has changed for better or worse. I also think they would love to see the fans go crazy as Aroldis Chapman strikes out the side in ninth.
Baseball Art: Could you describe your “Studio Space” and what we would we see if we visited you during a project? (your table, what is on the walls, what music is playing or TV shows? What time of day are you most productive)
Brent Naughton: My studio is shared with my artist wife, Michelle, whose father, Bill Blades masterfully remodeled our drab basement into a fantastic art studio that works well for both of us. Our space is a walkout basement, so we have ample natural light and fresh air to work in. It’s filled with antiques, family treasures, Crosley Field seats and artwork of every size and style.
I have large table that I work on that is usually covered with color pencils a computer, stacks of sports reference and whatever piece of artwork that I happen to be working on at that moment. Directly in front of my desk, is an old couch where our two dogs, Chimpanzee and Baboon sit all day serving as our art directors. There is a TV with MLB channel, Cincinnati Reds games, UFC fight reruns or some bad TV shows where folks are hunting for ghosts or Bigfoot playing all day. (Random noise must be present at all time for me to create.) If we choose to have music playing, it is usually Johnny Cash, Pink Floyd, Dropkick Murphys or Macklemore. I work all day, but tend to be most productive at night as I am an official card carrying, “Night Owl”. I love to work after most of the world has gone to bed, with fewer interruptions and when life becomes even more peaceful.
Baseball Art: Any other information you’d like to share?
Brent Naughton: I would just like to thank Chris Cornell for this opportunity and all the artists and art lovers on our online community for supplying daily inspiration. It is always nice to see what everyone is working on and provides us a nice kick in the tail to get back to the drawing board. Artists: Thank you for allowing me to share your artwork and I hope you get as much entertainment from it as Chris and I do.