Baseball is the basis of many childhood dreams, and for Ben Teeter, America’s Game was a sport that helped transform his interest in art into a full-fledged career. The San Francisco native grew up dreaming of a career as a professional sports artist, and today, after many years of hard work, he is living his dream. Baseball Art caught up with Teeter recently for this Q&A:
Baseball Art: When did you realize you wanted to become a baseball artist and did you have anyone help push you along the way?
Ben Teeter: I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and was a huge SF Giants fan starting in the mid-1980s. I collected baseball cards as a kid. I especially admired the art card sets. I also looked forward to seeing the featured artwork in every issue of Beckett Magazine.
I realized at a young age that I had a raw artistic talent, when other kids started taking notice of my drawings. In grade school, I had to do an “alphabet book project.” I chose to have each letter of the alphabet represented by a baseball player, and I included a bio and drawing of each player. I received really positive feedback from my teacher, parents and peers. This gave me the confidence to take more art classes and opened up the wider world of art to me.
When I was about 15 years old I went on a hiking trip to New Mexico with the Boy Scouts. I have a distinct memory of hiking 6 miles up a mountain and thinking about Vernon Wells’ artwork for the Upper Deck Art Cards. I thought, “wouldn’t it be cool if I could combine my love of sports and art and paint athletes for a living!”
My best friend and I would sell and trade our baseball cards at the big Bay Area TriStar shows. I started doing pen and ink drawings of athletes and selling them at these shows. Encouraged by positive feedback, I realized I could make my dream a reality.
To achieve this goal, I knew I would have to improve my art skills, which pushed me to build a good portfolio in high school to give me the best chance at getting into a good art school. I attended Rhode Island School of Design where I majored in illustration, and I spent my senior year studying abroad in Rome, Italy. This allowed me to step away from sports work for four years to hone my artistic skills–learning composition, color, design and working with different mediums. My professors often commented that one of my biggest strengths was my versatility.
Upon graduation, I had the opportunity to work with Sierra Sun Editions, who worked with Dan Smith. My first printed giclees were a Chipper Jones and Kurt Warner print in 1999, and I have been doing sports art ever since.
Baseball Art: Have you ever had the opportunity to share your artwork of a particular player with the athlete?
Ben Teeter: While not baseball related, I was commissioned to create paintings for the NFL alumni awards in 2001 & 2002. The 22 paintings were presented to the athletes at the award ceremonies in Tampa Bay and New Orleans. I was honored to be part of the event, which allowed me to meet many of the players I painted including Michael Strahan, Rhonde Barber, John Lynch, Desmond Howard and Bruce Matthews.
The baseball memories that come to mind relate to when I painted at Scores Sports Restaurant in San Mateo, CA, which was frequented by many of the A’s and Giants players. I was able to meet many of them including Dusty Baker, Jeff Kent, Russ Ortiz, Dave Stewart and Vida Bleu. This afforded me the opportunity to participate in several of their charity events at the restaurant through donating artwork.
Baseball Art: Can you share an experience or interesting story about being a baseball artist?
Ben Teeter: At the NFL alumni event I described above, I networked with sports card companies at the NFL experience event. Little did I know the opportunity this would lead to. Three years later, I got a call from Donruss Card Company offering me an opportunity to audition to be an artist for their upcoming Diamond King Series. I was actually being given the opportunity to make this childhood dream come true. I did a test card, painting a portrait of Jeter and shipping it to them in the required two-day deadline. Donruss was impressed, and I was honored to join several other very talented artists in creating the artwork for the 2005 Donruss Diamond King series. I ultimately painted 72 paintings, including one of Cal Ripken Jr., which was featured on the Diamond King box.
By painting for the actual cards that inspired me to pursue a career in this field as a kid, it truly felt like my art career had come full circle.
Baseball Art: Are there any athletes that you haven’t drawn that you would like to capture with your artwork?
Ben Teeter: Having just moved back to the California Bay Area and being a big fan of the SF Giants, I am excited to create paintings of Hunter Pence, Matt Cain and Bruce Bochy. Utilizing what has developed into my signature style, I look forward to capturing the intensity they all bring to the game.
Baseball Art: Who throughout the history of baseball would you like to have the chance to watch a game with?
Ben Teeter: Will Clark. Growing up as a left handed first baseman in Palo Alto CA in the 1980s, I was a huge Will Clark fan. Watching his swing as a 10 & 11 year old kid inspired me. His intensity and his knowledge of the game would make it really fun to watch a game with him. I did have the opportunity to meet him at a signing once with my best friend, and we were both left star struck and a bit tongue tied.
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)
Ben Teeter: My studio space in Knoxville, TN, where I recently moved from is where I have created most of my work. It was a beautiful large room with marble floors and huge floor to ceiling windows looking out onto our large park-like backyard. The size of the studio allowed me to spread out and create what I wanted with no space limitations. I work on both an easel and drafting board. A lot of the time I have the TV on, often as background noise where I am either watching the baseball channel, ESPN or a movie.
Other times, if I am really in the zone, I put on music so I don’t have any visual distractions. I listen to anything from hard rock to more mellow music, depending on my mood and energy level, whichever is going to allow me more focus. Since the development of my new method of working, I have my airbrush and acrylics out for the first stage of a paintings, followed by my pallet of oil paints and brushes for the second half of the painting. I am often in the process of multiple paintings at one time. In addition, my computer and prints are in the studio space, so I am often working on print orders while painting.
Baseball Art: Any other information you’d like to share?
Ben Teeter: Although I have been a sports/baseball artist for a long time, working in many mediums and styles to create a lot of work I am quite proud of, I had always been searching for a specific way of working to achieve what I saw in my minds eye, which always seemed just out of reach. My work as a whole to that point had seemed a little disjointed, which actually makes sense when thinking back to my art professors’ comments that my versatility was a strength. In many ways my versatility is what contributed to a longer journey in the development of what I now consider to be my signature style.
I’ve always been drawn to dramatic lighting, as well as trying to capture the energy of movement. Working only in oil, I came close to achieving my goal, but things changed about 2-3 years ago, when I picked up an airbrush for the first time. Alternating acrylic and airbrush on the smooth starting surface of a gessoed MDF board to get the painting beyond the half-way point, followed by finishing the piece in oil to obtain the detail, has allowed me to achieve the intensity, atmosphere and motion of sport which had previously eluded me. I am thrilled to have finally found my cohesive style, in which I have been working in ever since. With each new painting, I am truly excited to watch the progression of the piece through the various stages knowing I can finally achieve the envisioned work.