Interview with Sports Artist Graig Kreindler

As I have discussed here before, there are quite a few talented sports artists that I follow on social media. Graig Kreindler is a painter that I have followed for years, and have always been blown away by his work. Recently Graig teamed up with Topps, and his artwork is now featured on cards! 

8 x 10″ Frame for Sports Images

SPORTS BOARDS® Frame 8 x 10″ for 5 x 7″ image. The frame is made from 3/4″ wide pressed wood molding that has a Red, Blue or Black painted finish. * The assembled wood frame is 9-1/8 x 11-1/8″ (outside). * An 8 x 10″ mat with a die-cut window.

BU: Can we get a little background on you?

GK: I was born in 1980 to a father who grew up an avid New York Yankee fan in the late 1940s, and a mother who used to watch her beloved Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field in the 1950s. Raised in Rockland County, NY, I was close enough to the city to go to both baseball games at Yankee Stadium and also the stellar art museums in Manhattan. I attended the School of Visual Arts and graduated with a Bachelors of Fine Art in 2002, majoring in illustration.

BU: How were you introduced to trading cards?

GK: My father had collected baseball cards as a kid, and luckily enough, though his mother threw out the bulk of them when he was a teenager, there were many from his childhood that escaped the garbage. Some of the highlights include a ‘51 Bowman Mantle rookie, and some REALLY sharp ‘53 Bowman color cards. He also continued to collect throughout the 1970s and 1980s, buying factory sets each year. 

In addition to enjoying what he had left in his collection, he would also buy me and my brother sets and wax packs from the ‘80s, as well as take us to baseball card conventions.

BU: Are you currently a collector?

GK: Currently, I’m not much of a collector, except for an occasional purchase for my 1936 Yankees and Giants autograph collection. I’m kind of obsessed with both teams because of a connection to my grandfather, who was a big New York Giants fan. During that year, he was about 30 years old and recently married – he was just kind of starting out in his life. Living in NYC, I don’t believe he attended any of the World Series games between those powerhouse clubs, but I’m sure he listened to them on the radio. Since he passed away when I was kind of young (7 or so), the project is kind of a way for me to connect with him again. 

I’ll usually cross one or two names off of my list every year, mainly because I’m specifically looking for period fountain pen signatures on album pages, but at the same time, am not in any rush.

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BU: Anything from your collection that you’d like to share?

GK: The prize of that group so far is an album page from ‘36 with signatures of a few Yankees, including a rookie Joe DiMaggio and the AL MVP, Lou Gehrig.

BU: How did you decide that you wanted to create sports art?

GK: When I was younger, I had done hundreds of drawings based off of the old Topps and Bowman issues from my father’s card collection. Always drawing, it was pretty early on that I realized a lot of those cards were illustrated, and theoretically, I could try to do the same thing with my own artwork.

By the time I had attended the School of Visual Arts, I was aiming to be a book cover illustrator in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, which is the direction my art went in as I went through my adolescence. In the last year of college, my focus had shifted and frankly, I was wandering aimlessly for a while. I enjoyed the sci-fi/fantasy stuff to an extent, but it just didn’t feel like it was ‘me.’ While I was still trying to figure out what my voice was, my portfolio class was given the assignment of illustrating a ‘relationship’ (the teacher would always give us an open-ended theme to work on). 

For whatever reason, the first thing that came to mind was the relationship between a pitcher and a batter. I just ran with it. I decided to illustrate Mickey Mantle, who was my dad’s hero – I figured I would give him the painting as a gift. Knowing how anal baseball enthusiasts are, I knew that the piece had to be historically accurate. Mickey had to look like Mickey. I did a lot of research for the painting: mainly looking at old photographs, pouring through newspaper microfilm, reading books and watching old footage of these guys. The whole process was incredibly fun, and something just felt ‘right’ about it. I guess it filled the hole that the sci-fi/fantasy stuff never could.

In the end, my class responded to the painting very positively. It was even accepted into the Society of Illustrators annual student competition that year. My father loved it. And maybe, more importantly, I had a new path to follow that I was passionate about.

BU: How long does a typical piece take for you to complete start to finish?

GK: The time it takes to finish a piece varies from painting to painting. It’s usually dictated by the size and complexity of the image. A small portrait can take a few weeks from start to finish, whereas a larger panoramic scene will take many months to finish. In some cases, those more-involved paintings can even take years.

BU: Do you have any favorite pieces that you have created?

GK: There are a number of paintings I’ve done that I hold close to my heart. Indeed, the painting of the entire 1927 Yankees team is high up there — also the 1923-24 Leopardos de Santa Clara, also a team painting. I still feel very connected to some of the others I’ve done over the years, like those of Johnny Vander Meer, Ken Williams, Deacon White, and Addie Joss, to make a few.

Really, as cliche as it might sound, they’re all my children. And looking at each one can bring me back to all of the time I spent with them in the beginning research stages through when they were on the easel being finished.

11 x 14″ Frame for Sports Images

SPORTS BOARDS® Pinstripe Sports Frame Kit. 11 x 14″ frame with a matboard that has a window for an 8 x 10″ Horizontal image. The assembled wood frame is 15-1/8 x 11-1/8″ (outside).

BU: How did the collaboration with Topps come about?

GK: Topps and I had almost worked together years ago, but the collaboration fell through before I got started on any of the paintings. I’m not sure exactly how things got started this time around – whether they contacted my agent or vice versa. But I suppose they had me in mind this year for their 150 Years of Baseball set, and thankfully we were able to come to a working agreement from which we could both benefit.

BU: What can you tell us about the cards on which your work will be featured?

GK: I am scheduled to complete 20 paintings for Topps, all of which are to fall in the subset of ‘Artist Renditions’ for the 150 Years of Baseball set. I was given the first two subjects to start work on – Ty Cobb and Lou Gehrig – about a month ago. Cobb was made available to the public on 4/16, and Gehrig will be released 4/30. One of my paintings will be featured every other week. They’re to be sold online rather than packs, much like the business model the Living Set and Topps Now has been following for the past few years.

Being print on demand, once the week to purchase them is up, they’ll no longer be available from the company. I’ve been told that next are Roberto Clemente, Ted Williams, Duke Snider, Bob Feller, and Warren Spahn. There’s also been some talk about me doing a modern player or two, but I suppose I’ll know for sure in the coming months.

BU: What was it like to see your artwork on a card for the first time?

GK: Seeing my work available on an actual Topps card for the first time was incredibly surreal. Like I had mentioned, ever since I was little, I had been making my own versions of what was in my father’s three-ringed binders. These, are like official. Topps sanctioned them. The company likes my work enough to allow it to be part of that lineage. I mean, when you put it in those terms, it kind of feels like a dream.

BU: Anything else you’d like to share?

GK: I want to thank everyone for showing an interest in my work, and if you’d like to keep up with what I’m doing, I’m on every social media platform under ‘graigkreindler’.

By: Shane Salmonson

Graig Kreindler, Artist

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