It would be difficult to have a discussion about the most important and influential baseball artists without hearing the name Graig Kreindler. Although he’s still younger than a great deal of baseball’s current stars, Kreindler’s talent and work ethic have made him one of baseball art’s most recognized names.
Born in 1980, Kreindler grew up in Rockland County, New York. In 2002, he graduated with Honors from the School of Visual Arts in New York City with a BFA in Illustration and received his Masters in Art Education from Lehman College.
His award-winning sports work has appeared in juried shows and museums nationwide, as well as having been featured in nationally distributed books, newspapers, magazines, and both Internet and television featurettes.
Baseball Art: When did you realize you wanted to become a baseball artist and did you have anyone help push you along the way?
Graig Kreindler: My first exposure to the idea that baseball and artwork could be combined came at a pretty young age. I had to be around 6 or 7 when I discovered my father’s baseball card collection. He had been accumulating stuff since he was a kid in the late 40s and really hadn’t stopped until 1986 or so. Though his mother had thrown of plenty of his cards, he was able to keep a good number of his original favorites. At that age, since Mantle was king, that was who he gravitated towards. He was always filled with joy whenever he talked about one of his favorite cards: his ’51 Mantle Bowman rookie. In addition to that one, he had many of the other Yanks from that set, as well as some from both the ’50 and ’52 sets as well. And at that age, he was buying cards for me as well, mostly whatever modern sets were out at the time. So, I always knew baseball cards had photography on them, but those old Bowmans were the first that I saw with illustrations. At the time, I was already drawing almost everything I could, so trying to recreate those old cards seemed like the perfect idea. At the time though, it wasn’t something that I thought I would be drawing forever.
It wasn’t until my senior year at the School of Visual Arts that I started to consider the creation of baseball themed artwork something that I might be able to do for a living. Up until my senior year, I was a little bit lost, artistically speaking. I had originally enrolled into the school with the hopes of becoming a successful science-fiction/fantasy illustrator. Eventually, that genre lost a lot of luster to me, and I just didn’t feel like it was right. So, I spent a lot of time trying out different things, be it new ways of working or tackling subject matter that I never thought I would attempt. And at some point towards the end of the school year in 2002, my portfolio professor gave the class an assignment: illustrate a relationship. He normally would give us very general problems to solve, so we could branch out as much as we wanted and be as creative as possible, so I would always explore as many ideas as possible to come up with the right image. So, when I gotta thinking this time around, one of the first ideas to come to mind was the relationship between a pitcher and a batter. Maybe I was thinking back to those days as a kid when I was drawing my father’s Bowman cards, or maybe in just wanted to do something completely different, but it was what I ultimately settled on doing.
At that point, I was still watching baseball, but not as feverishly as I had done when I was younger. The first player that came to mind was Mickey Mantle – I figured it would be a painting for my father. And because of that, I wanted it to be right. In other words, it had to look like him, his stance, the way he wore his uniform, or whatever little details someone who was a fan of Mickey Mantle would notice. And from there, I took it even further – I thought I might as well create a scene that was as historically accurate as I could get it, down to the actual plate appearance during a specific inning. It was then that I really got into the thing. Doing all of the research, whether it was looking through photos, books or reading newspaper articles, it all just appealed to me so much. It was a wonderful thing for me to be able to relive those times when I was younger and my father used to tell me those stories about his heroes.
When the painting was complete, my classmates and professors really seemed to like it. It wasn’t even so much that it was a nice painting of Mickey Mantle, it was more because I really was able to fulfill the requirement of the assignment – creating a relationship, a narrative. A few weeks later, I submitted the painting into the annual Society of Illustrators student scholarship competition – something I had hoped to take part in ever since I got into school. Amazingly, it was accepted and I couldn’t have been happier. It was as if what my classmates and professor thought about the piece was echoed by the judges of the competition – all of whom were/are working professionals in the field of illustration.
I think it was right around then that I started to think that I could possibly create a living for myself doing this kind of work. And it seemed like it was something I would really enjoy. Thank God I was right!
Baseball Art: Have you ever had the opportunity to share your artwork of a particular player with the athlete.
Graig Kreindler: I have had the opportunity to present my artwork to the depicted player only twice. The second time was definitely my favorite experience.
I did a painting for the Bob Feller Museum a few years back – I think I had started it in 2008 and finally completed it in 2009. Originally, the painting. Was to be shipped to their building in Van Meter, IA. However, that summer, my agent and I had planned on going to the National Sports Collectibles Convention in Cleveland, OH, and Mr. Feller and some of the people who work in his museum were also skated to come. So, they decided that it would be really wonderful if I could bring the painting to Cleveland and present it to him personally.
It was definitely an exciting idea, though I was pretty darn scared. Even though that same year I had presented a painting to another athlete and he very much loved it, the apprehension of that moment when a client sees the work you’ve completed for them remains a pretty scary thing. But, Mr. Feller couldn’t have been kinder.
He was signing autographs in a separate section of the convention floor, away from the dealers. My agent and I went over there to meet him, with the painting already set up for him to see it. I remember he opened the curtain and we were introduced. He greeted us with a smile and hearty handshake (to this day, I still can’t believe how strong his grip was for a 91 year old ballplayer). He turned around and saw the painting, which I guess was the first time he had seen it. He looked at it for a second or two (though it seemed like an eternity) and then started to speak. “My…that’s…well, that’s the best damn painting I’ve ever seen!” M jaw dropped to the floor. The moment I had depicted was a pitch from his Opening Day no-hitter in 1940, and he went on to say that I got all of the details perfectly. He had said that he’d seen a painting someone did from that same game, and that they had depicted a full stadium with a sunny, blue sky. “You got it totally right, there weren’t many people there that day, and it was frigid and overcast.” I don’t think I could have ever received a nicer compliment.
The whole experience was just wonderful, as he began to recall certain details from the game, like about the batter I had depicted at the plate (Joe Kuhel) and how his family was in the stands at the time. The man was sharp!
When it was time to go, my agent had mentioned to him that we had a booth set up on the floor with more paintings, as well as another one of him in-progress. So, we invited him to check it out if he ever had any time to kill while in Cleveland.
By the end of the day, I had forgotten that my agent had made that offer, and lo and behold, about a half hour before the convention doors were to close, we witnessed Bob Feller and his assistant drive through the aisles in a golf cart, just to come to our booth to check out more of my work. We talked more about each piece and he really seemed to enjoy what he as seeing. His assistant had mentioned to me that he had never seen him go through a convention like that just to visit somebody’s booth for any reason.
Whether that was 100% true or not, I never knew. But to this day, I like to believe that it was. And even if it wasn’t, that meeting was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Baseball Art: Can you share an experience or interesting story about being a baseball artist?
Graig Kreindler: One of my most memorable experiences in being a baseball artist actually happened when I was very young. A little back story first, though: I was born in 1980, while the Yankees were still an AL powerhouse, as they had won their last World Series in 1978. My father, who was in his mid-thirties at the time, really enjoyed watching the Yankee’s third baseman GraigNettles play. He was especially impressed with all of his defensive acrobatics during the ’78 series. At the time, I don’t know the exact impetus, but I know my mother took an interest in the spelling of Graig’s name. So, when I was born, that was what I got! Naturally, while growing up, Nettles became my favorite player. I wore #9 on my Little League teams. I wanted to play third base. I wanted to dive and get my uniform dirty just like him.
At some point, it would only be natural that I would try drawing a picture of the man. I remember that it was after I had gone crazy in digesting my father’s cards from the 50s, I soon found his collection of more modern stuff. And I remember seeing Nettles’ 1979 Topps issue, and just LOVING the image. So, I drew it. And, at the time, I actually thought I had done a good job! The likeness was there, and it looked as realistic as I could make it at that age.
Around that same time, my brother happened upon one of those books of addresses for ball players. And wouldn’t ya know it, Nettles’ address was in there. At time the time, I was around 7 or 8, and I figured, I should send this drawing to him – he’d love it!! It had never even occurred to me that he probably got tons and tons of fan letters each day, probably some of which contained drawings. Regardless, I sent it over with a letter explaining that I was a big fan, wore #9, and was even named after him. I didn’t really expect a response or anything like that, nor did I even know if it actually went to him. But to my surprise, a few weeks later, I received a package in the mail. Inside were three postcards and my original drawing, all of which were lovingly autographed, with the postcards being personalized to me. I was beyond thrilled. It wasn’t even so much that I had the autograph and that he liked the drawing, but just seeing someone else actually write my name with confidence (without asking him/herself whether it was pronounced and spelled ‘Greg’ or ‘Craig’) well, it was just too cool.
To this day, those cards and the drawing are cherished keepsakes, probably exuding more sentimental value than 98% of the things I own!
Graig Kreindler: Are there any athletes that you haven’t drawn that you would like to capture with your artwork?
Graig Kreindler: When it comes to subjects that I want to depict but haven’t, well, the list is VERY long. Ideally, I would love to paint every single player that’s been inducted to the Hall of Fame. But it goes even beyond that. As much as I love painting those guys, I also really enjoy the subjects who people know less about. To me, the role players of the sport were just as important as the stars. So, if ever given the opportunity to paint players like Tommy Henrich, Carl Furillo, Sam Chapman, Hal Schumacher, and players like that, I’ll jump at the chance. Then again, I’ll probably just paint them anyways.
I guess for me, it never really comes down to painting the players that will ‘sell’. I just really want to depict as many characters, as many plays, as many games and as many stadiums as I possibly can in my lifetime. I’m in a wonderfully unique position where I’m sure that I can NEVER run out of material from which to draw. Thankfully, this wonderful game is the best visually documented one in history. Now, if I could only find some on-the-field shots of a bunch of 19th century players…
Baseball Art: Throughout the history of baseball would you like to have the chance to watch a game with?
Graig Kreindler: In terms of watching a game with any figure in baseball history, it’s tough to narrow one down. I could say that I would probably like to see one with a catcher or a pitcher, since I think they see the games very differently from the other players on the field. In some ways, a lot of the strategy in how each play unfolds is in their hands. With that in mind, I think watching one with Carl Hubbell would be a real treat. Just knowing the kind of pitcher he was, physically, mentally, and spiritually, his incite would be so valuable and entertaining.
Though, if we weren’t talking about ballplayers to watch a game with, I would definitely have loved to have seen one with my father’s father. He passed away when I was around 7 or 8, and at that time, I was too young to really know and appreciate the game as I do now. He was born in 1905 and grew up watching the Giants. So, he probably saw players like Christy Mathewson, Rube Marquard, George Kelly, Mel Ott, Travis Jackson, Bill Terry, Hubbell, Johnny Mize, Monte Irvin, Bobby Thomson and Willie Mays. Hearing his stories would have been a real treat. Plus, I would have loved to have shown him my work, since a lot of the players I paint are from before even my day’s time, my grandfather is also always in mind when I paint. He never got to see my love of the game develop in this way, and I just always find myself wondering whether he would like what I paint, whether he’d be proud of me.
Graig Kreindler: Could you describe your “Studio Space” and what we would we see if we visited you during a project? (Table, what is on the walls, what music is playing or TV shows? What time of day are you most productive)
Graig Kreindler: My studio space can be pretty cluttered. The room in our apartment that acts as my studio is a decent size, about 10′ x 13′. I have a large bookcase with all of my baseball books against one of the walls, and no matter how hard I try to stop buying books for it, every month or so sees it overflowing. The bottom shelf of the bookcase also acts as a storage space for all of my baseball reference DVDs – Ken Burns’ series, ‘When it Was a Game’, various home movies and whatever else is useful. Next to that, I have my large easel and a tablorette with my palette, knives, brushes, mediums, paints and whatever else I use to create a painting. As all of those things wrap around the side of the wall, we come to my computer desk. It’s not terribly huge or anything, but is sure important in terms of what it provides. I always need to have the computer on and available, so if I need to jump on the Internet or through some files to check out the accuracy of a given fact, it all happens in the same room. From there on, the majority of the space is used as storage. That storage will encompass completed paintings, in-progress paintings, abandoned paintings, stretcher bars, or anything else that resembles a surface upon which to paint. Since I’m always working on a ton of things at once, that space is always pretty darn crowded.
Wall space is a little tough to come by in the studio because of all of the shelves and computer desk stuff, but I do try to keep some of it filled with inspirational stuff. And by that, I mean prints of artists who I admire greatly, like Norman Rockwell and Peter Fiore (a wonderful friend and an incredible landscape artist). Also, there’s an old sci-fi illustration I did during my sophomore year at SVA that hangs to remind me of where I came from, and in some ways, how far I’ve come since. On that same note, there’s a framed copy of the land plot and architectural design of my parent’s old house – where I grew up (and miss greatly)! On the business side of things, I do have a dry-erase board where I list all of my commissions to keep track of, including when they were assigned, when they’re due, and any other random information about them that’s helpful.
While I work, for the most part I don’t listen to music as much as I used to. Having the computer right next to me allows for a different kind of entertainment. I’ll usually have movies playing on the screen, things that I’ve seen 100s of times. I don’t end up watching them or anything like that, it’s more of a white noise thing, and maybe more of a comfort than anything. I’ll also have documentaries on, be they from YouTube or my own DVDs, since I can follow them without watching as well. I guess I really fall into the small percentage of people who will buy a DVD, have it play over and over again, and get through (and really enjoy) all of the extra stuff, be it director commentaries or deleted scenes. I guess it’s not wonder that I can quote every single line from Police Academy 2 without missing a single beat.
In terms of when I paint, it really varies from project to project, or day to day. They’re some days that I start painting early in the morning, say 7 or 8 and others when I don’t put brush to canvas until around dinner time. In between, for the most part, I’m still doing work, mostly research stuff. Sometimes that can take an entire day, and I won’t get to paint at all. Regardless, I try to work around 8-10 hours each day, whether it’s all painting or very little. The desire/need/passion to paint these things is always there, 24/7, and really, I’m super lucky that I’m able to do something I really enjoy.