Interview with Ken Karl by Shane Salmonson

More interviews by Shane.

I have featured quite a few amazing sports artists on here already, but I keep finding more! Ken Karl has contributed to a Topps set, but also does a lot of commissioned sketch cards. I continue to see Ken’s art pop up in my social media feeds, and I am always impressed! Ken recently answered some questions for me about his passion, and of course shared a bunch of his incredible work!

BU: Can we get a little background on you?

KK: I’m 48 years old, married with 3 children.  I live in St. Louis, MO and I have been drawing something for as long as I can remember.  I worked as a graphic artist for 25 years at St. Louis Sportswear as a t-shirt artist.  I’ve spent the last 10 years following and coaching my 3 children to a gym or local ball field.

BU: How were you first introduced to trading cards?

KK: I started collecting baseball cards in middle school.  Most of my classmates were collecting cards as well.  Our particular class was consumed by baseball cards. We were trying to make trades in class all day long.  I can remember it got so bad, that our teacher allowed us 15 minutes a day to talk baseball and trade cards to keep us from doing it during class.  My best friend and I couldn’t buy enough packs of cards.  We both were trying to get EVERY card produced that year buying them in packs.  A couple of years later a card collecting store opened up in town.  They had a weekly bid board, this is where I got most of my rookie cards of the mid-80’s. I was addicted to baseball cards that Summer. They also sold Beckett magazines and they had those beautiful pieces of sports art on their back covers. I fell in love with those pieces of art.  I was hooked on drawing my favorite professional athletes from then on.  I’ve been drawing my favorite athletes ever since.

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BU: Are you a collector (of anything)?

KK: I do not collect baseball cards anymore.  I got out of it for several years.  I tried to get back into it, but it is too overwhelming for me.  I’ve tried to educate myself on the hobby but there is just too much going on it for me to wrap my head around it.  Part of me wishes I could understand it all better.  I am a collector of comic books.  I have over 10 thousand comics in my possession.  I collect mostly Marvel titles.  Drawing comic book characters for Dungeon and Dragon characters in the early 80’s was my first art love.  I used to create new characters, just so I could draw them up. As a child, I used to buy comics when we went to the local grocery or drug store.  I loved the art and the stories.  I drifted away from comics as well through my early 20’s and 30’s but got back into collecting in my mid 30’s.  That hobby is much easier to follow.  Plus the artwork in the newer comics is UNBELIEVABLE.  I am amazed by those artists abilities.  They are a source of inspiration for me.

BU: Any favorite pieces from your collection that you’d like to share?

KK: I could go all day on this one.  I collect Bowen statues, I love those. I can honestly say I do not have a favorite.  I have a few marquee Marvel books.  I have the entire Wolverine run, all the runs.  I have the Fantastic Four, the first appearance of Galactus and the first appearance of the Silver Surfer.  I could go on, ha. I have a couple of pieces of art that I have personally created that are special to me.  I have a drawing I did of Kurt Warner handing the ball off to Marshall Faulk in the 2000 Super Bowl.  It is signed by Faulk, I still need to get Warner’s auto on it.  This was special to me, because this was the first post collegiate drawing I did. I tried some new techniques and it turned out great. Plus, it captures the 2 most important players in St. Louis football history and our town’s only Super Bowl victory ever.  I also have an Albert Pujols drawing I did. Living in STL, I got to watch this generation’s best right handed hitter every day.  It took me years to get this pose right, it was a true labor of love.  It is also signed and almost priceless to me personally.

BU: When did you first realize you were an extremely talented artist?

KK: I felt back in middle school that my art was a little better than my other classmates, but I certainly didn’t feel it was significantly better.  Once I got to High School and became bored with my other studies and drew and doodled in all my classes, that is when I realized I had some talent for it.  In all honesty, I’m not sure I’m more gifted than anyone else in the world at it, I think I just spent more time doing it. I have spent HOURS drawing in my life.  The more I drew my sports heroes, the better I wanted them to look. I believe whatever talent I may possess for drawing, was built more by hours of practice than natural talent.

BU: How did you decide to do sports art?

KK: As an artist, I wanted to draw things I was interested in.  As a child I loved comic heroes.  As I matured I moved from make believe heroes to real life athletes.  Plus, I stopped redrawing someone else’s piece of art and started to try and create my own centered around my favorite athlete of the day.  It is much easier to put your best effort into creating something if you love doing it. 

BU: Where did you get the idea to do sketch cards?

KK: I have an agent I work on different projects with.  We were having trouble finding a market for my larger pieces of art.  He suggested I try drawing 1/1 sketch cards.  I had never heard of these at this point and thought this was a silly idea.  I was extremely frustrated with none of my larger art moving and was frustrated with this idea as an alternative.  I have never been one to stray outside of my comfort zone and this was definitely outside my comfort zone.  I tried my hand at it anyway.  I always tell the kids I coach that road blocks in life that push you out of your comfort zones, are not bad things.  These road blocks create good life experiences for us and help us grow and work through other tough problems down the road.  It was time I took my own advice, so I tried drawing sketch cards.  I had some minimal success, but nothing life changing for sure.  That initial step into sketch cards took place a couple of years ago.  I finally got an opportunity to draw up four Chicago themed art cards of Bobby Hull, Stan Musial, Dennis Rodman and Dan Hampton for Beckett Publications for the National Show in Chicago back in 2107.  I thought this might finally be my big break, it wasn’t…ha. Frustrated and defeated yet again, I switched back to my larger pieces and tried to create better looking art at that size.  It took another artist, who gave me some great advice.  He challenged me to make more interesting art.  He pushed me to try new styles.  He pointed out I had nothing to lose.  Once I got past my frustration, I began to try a new way of drawing my art cards and things have exploded for me in a short period of time.  Like I have told the kids I have coached, fighting through adversity has opened opportunities and led to positive experiences.

BU: About how long does it take you to complete a sketch card?

KK: It takes me anywhere from 3-6 hours to complete a card from start to finish.  Obviously some go quicker than others.

BU: Any chance we will be able to pull your work from packs any time soon?

KK: Yes, I drew up a set of cards for the Topps UFC Canvas Collection a few months back.  I would love to do another set with a card company at some point, but right now I am focused on completing my private commissions for all of the people that have reached out to me.  I am blessed that I have attracted so much interest in my 1/1 art cards, basically through word of mouth.  It is crazy the role social media and positive customer experiences can play in attracting attention to one’s art.  I have been humbled by the support and praise card collectors have shown me.  I feel so fortunate that all these collectors want to add a Ken Karl art card to their prized possessions.  It inspires me to draw up the best art card I can for them.

BU: Anything else you’d like to share?

KK: I would like to thank all of the collectors out there who have thought enough of my art to order a card.  I would like to thank them for the unbelievable support and faith they have shown in me as an artist.  I want them to know that faith they have shown in me, inspires me to try and get better with each card I draw up for them.  

Ken Karl

Twitter: @kenkarl01

Instagram: @ken_karl_sports_art

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