For Jennifer Ettinger, sports and art have always been an important part of life. The Canada-based artist, who has been painting since she was a child, has combined her natural talent with hard work, and is making a name for herself in the world of sports art with her paintings of sports figures from today and years gone by. BaseballArt.com recently caught up with Ettinger for the first Q&A of the 2014 season.
Baseball Art: When did you realize you wanted to become a baseball artist and did you have anyone help push you along the way?
Jennifer Ettinger: When I was 11 years old, I wanted to play ice hockey. But in the small village of Clementsvale, Nova Scotia, where I grew up, there was no girls’ hockey team I could play on. My father, Ab. Ettinger, who in the 1950s was a pitcher in the Senior Men’s League in Nova Scotia, wanted me to dress as a boy so that I could play on the boys’ team. My mother intervened and asked him how I was going to explain the difference the boys might detect in the changing room…
My father always encouraged me to play sports and growing up I played team sports such as hardball, softball, and ice hockey and more individually motivated sports such as track and field and swimming. His advice to me, which I still remind myself today with, was, “You know Jen, lots of people have talent, but not many people practice. With talent and practice, you have a winning combination.” As a child, I remember how devoted I was to my father because he believed that I was capable of achieving my personal goals and by achieving my personal goals, it made me confident enough to be competitive.
After my father died a fellow named Alix Vance wrote a poem about my father’s pitching ability. An excerpt of that poem is:
“Time had balanced accounts
with this crafty hurler leaving
memories in yellowed clippings
and long lapsed conversations
of swung bats and hitters left
in swivel-hipped frustration.”
I believe that we need heroes. We need to have people who make us do better at whatever we try. To be encouraged and supported by my father, my hero, at a young age instilled in me the beginnings of self-esteem.
And, on the artistic side, my mother encouraged me to create paintings and together we would have art days where we both would draw or paint. I still have a pastel drawing that I did when I was seven that Mom liked enough to have framed.
Baseball Art: Have you ever had the opportunity to share your artwork of a particular player with the athlete?
Ettinger: In 1999 I painted a portrait of Mike Weir and that painting was part of a show at the golf course that hosted the Air Canada Classic. Mike Weir was persuaded to sign my painting. It was interesting when the organizers first approached me with this idea as I debated the merits of increasing the value of the painting with his signature and having it become a collector’s item on a different level than being collected for the artistic value I brought to it.
Most of the baseball portraits I paint are of ballplayers from the early 1900s to the 1960s and unfortunately I have not had the opportunity to meet any or interact with any Major League players.
Baseball Art: Can you share an experience or interesting story about being a baseball artist?
Ettinger: At present, I am working on a three-year project with a client who hired me to paint 14 New York Yankee ballplayers so far, including Wee Willie Keeler and Mickey Mantle. I have 6 more portrait paintings to paint and have thoroughly enjoyed the collaborative nature of working closely with the client – sending sketches before beginning the painting to confirm design ideas, and exchanging ideas on background colour(s) and poses. I am especially excited to see images of all the paintings together in the client’s home and to see where the client takes these images.
Baseball Art: Are there any athletes that you haven’t drawn that you would like to capture with your artwork.
Ettinger: There are many ballplayers that I have sketched who play on the Vancouver Canadians, the Single A Farm Team for the Toronto Blue Jays. I like to try and capture that moment in time when the ball is hit or the hit tracked – that total absorption in the game by the players and the fans, intrigues me. I like to try and capture on paper the slight variations in style between the ballplayers when they swing, or catch or throw.
Baseball Art: Who throughout the history of baseball would you like to have the chance to watch a game with?
Ettinger: My father died in 1989 and in my heart of hearts, I would love to have a chance to watch a ballgame with him. Also, I would love to have a change to watch a game with Honus Wagner for his sense of humour and Ted Williams for his “tell it like it is” style.
Baseball Art: Could you describe your “Studio Space” and what we would 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?
Ettinger: Early in the morning, after I have walked my dog (and while walking have mentally organized my day) and had breakfast, I go to my studio. If I am doing small, intimate paintings, I work in a smaller room in the mountainside house located on the Sunshine Coast in Gibsons, B.C., Canada. My work table contains an underpainting stain that I use to cover most of my canvases before I begin the actual painting and vine charcoal to begin the outline of the subject and firm-up the design and style of the painting. After I complete the first stages of the painting, if I am using acrylic, I mix the different colours I will need to complete the painting and place those colours in small jars and place these on my worktable.
At this time of year, I am close to the ocean on one side of my studio and snow-capped mountains on the other. Gibsons has a population of approximately 5000 people, where a large percentage of that population are active artists. If I am working in oils or larger paintings, I work in my studio outside the house that was intended for a garage and now has been retrofitted to be my work studio and art gallery for shows. In the larger studio, I am able to throw, tug, push and pull paint freely without fear of damaging the floors or walls. I am usually listening to CBC radio or nothing at all except the songbirds and the geese who occasionally fly over.
I walk the dog again through the local trails at around noon, do a few more hours of work which in the afternoon may consist of administration work including answering e-mails, completing invoices, continuing to work on my new website (scheduled to be updated in March) and generally finishing studio-related work by 4:00 pm.
My self-motivated work is usually done in a series. My first baseball series was entitled “Diamond Warriors” and had paintings of Judy Johnson, Honus Wagner, and Babe Ruth. My second series was entitled “Dog Days of August” and included Mickey Mantle and a painting of my Australian Shepherd who played “Fetcher”. The self-motivated series let me express different ideas in various ways but based on a similar theme. I am currently working on two new ideas for a baseball-themed series/show which I hope to have completed for the Artist “Crawl” here in Gibsons in October, 2014.