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Inside the life of a sports artist - Joe Petruccio


There are so many sports blogs out there -- some good, many bad -- that they start to form a blur. Every now and then, though, one stands out from the pack.

That was our reaction at Page 2 when we came across the deceptively plain-sounding My NY Mets Journal Blog, which has a simple premise: After each Mets game, the guy who runs the site uploads a cartoon-style illustration that summarizes the ballgame. Win or lose, his work is funny and engaging, and you don't have to be a Mets fan to appreciate his talent.

I figured the blog was the brainchild of some scrappy young artist, or maybe an art school class project. So I was surprised to find out that the blogger in question is Joe Petruccio, who's known for doing high-end portraits of classic rock and roll musicians, often for big corporate clients. Why would he be messing around with a Mets illustration blog?

So I contacted Petruccio to get the full scoop. Turns out his career has taken lots of really interesting twists and turns, weaving back and forth between sports and music. He's also a total gentleman who was a pleasure to interview. Here's how our chat went down:

Page 2: You're basically a big shot in the world of fine art. Why would you be bothering with something like your daily Mets illustration blog?

Joe Petruccio: First of all, I don't think of myself as a big shot. I'm just a regular guy who likes to draw and paint.

P2: OK, but why a blog?

JP: I've always done sketchbooks. I've actually had the idea to catalog a full Mets season in a sketchbook before, but I've never been able to keep it up for the entire year. So this year I said, "OK, I won't just do the sketchbook -- I'll post the images on a blog."

P2: And that way it sort of forces you to keep doing it, because you develop an audience that expects to see it each day.

JP: Right. I must get 50 e-mails a day from people.

P2: How big is the notebook you're using for these entries?

JP: It's tiny -- about 3 inches by 5 inches.

P2: Really? Wow, you cram a lot of detail into that space, man.

JP: I keep it in my back pocket, so it's always with me. That way, if I'm out and about, I can still do the drawing when the game is over. And if I'm not home and don't have access to my scanner, I can still take a photo of it with my BlackBerry and upload it to the blog that way.

P2: And do you use paint, or Magic Makers, or what?

JP: I don't have time to do a pencil outline or anything like that, so I draw everything with black ballpoint pen. Then I color it in with watercolor.

P2: Even at this small size, it seems like it'd be a lot of work to produce one of these every day. How long does one of them take you?

JP: About 10 minutes.

P2: Seriously? That's impressive. And do you actually do one each day, or do you sometimes wait a few days and then do three or four all at once?

JP: No, I do each one right after the game is over.

P2: A lot of games go right down to the wire. Do you ever find yourself cheating by starting the illustration before the game is over, and then there's a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth, or whatever, that changes the outcome?

JP: No, I never do that -- that's bad luck. I started to do that once, during a game where it looked like they had a comfortable lead, and then the bullpen gave up six runs. So now I'll never do that again.

P2: And do you actually watch every single game? Like, what happens if you miss a game? Or even if you miss the crucial sequence in a particular game?

JP: For every game, I either watch or listen to the radio or watch one of those Gameday things on the computer. Most of the time I have it on the radio.

P2: What if you're out of town, or on vacation?

JP: I watch on MLB.TV, of course.

P2: Of course. Still, that's an intense schedule to keep up. Does it ever feel like a burden?

JP: No. I actually look forward to doing it every day. Even my wife and kids are into it -- they'll be saying, "What are you gonna draw tonight?"

P2: Do you plan to compile all of these into a book or something like that?

JP: I don't really have any plans. I just wanted to create a season-long sketchbook. But I can't tell you how many people have been telling me that it should end up being a book. It's funny, because I conceived of it as just a way for me to blow off creative steam and try out some styles and ideas I don't get to use in my other work.

P2: Your style on these blog pieces reminds me a lot of classic sports cartoonists like Bill Gallo and Willard Mullin.

JP: Thanks. My style is a little more contemporary, but they were definitely an influence on me when I was growing up.

P2: Let's talk about that. Where did you grow up, and how old are you now?

JP: I'm 51, and I grew up in Brooklyn. Now I live in New Jersey.

P2: Were you a big sports fan as a kid?

JP: Yeah, very big.

P2: And were you a Mets fan?

JP: Yes, always.

P2: You were born at just the right time, so you came of age just as they were coming into existence. Were you already artistically inclined as a kid? Like, did you do lots of sports doodles and sketches?

JP: Yeah. I wasn't very good at sports. I tried Little League baseball, but I was always afraid of being hit by the ball. So drawing was my thing, my way to connect with sports. I loved Bill Gallo, who was the sports cartoonist for The Daily News. I even did my own sports cartoons every now and then.

P2: Do you still have any of those?

JP: I think I still have the one I did for Dave DeBusschere Night at Madison Square Garden, which I did when I was about 12. And it was a little after that, when I was 13, I got to meet LeRoy Neiman.

P2: Wow, I was about to say that your fine art style reminds me of him. How'd you get to meet him?

JP: I was pretty forward as a kid. I saw him on TV, doing a fundraiser for the local PBS station. The next day, I called the station and disguised my voice to sound like a businessman. I said, "Hi, this is Joe Petruccio. I met Mr. Neiman at the station last night and I'm supposed to have lunch with him today, but I seem to have lost his business card ... " Eventually they said he was listed in the phone book, which hadn't even occurred to me. He was in Manhattan, so I called him up.

P2: And did you explain that you were just a kid?

JP: Yeah. He was very nice -- he said, "Tell me about yourself." So I explained that I was 13 years old and loved to draw and lived in Brooklyn, and he invited me to come see him, right then and there. I showed him some of my work, and he was very encouraging. I've been friends with him ever since.

P2: And did you go to art school?

JP: I went to the School of Visual Arts and then got a job at Della Femina, a New York ad agency, as a sketch artist. They had the account for Mets advertising at the time, so that was fun. I worked in advertising until I was 40 years old, and it wasn't until then that my art career took off. I still do some advertising work now, as a creative director.

P2: How'd you make the transition from advertising to artwork?

JP: I was a big Elvis fan, and I'd done some Elvis paintings over the years. I posted some of them on a fan website, and some of the other people on that site liked them and e-mailed them to Graceland. The Graceland people liked them and contacted me about becoming an official Graceland artist. They have several officially licensed artists now, but I was the first one.

P2: So if someone goes to Graceland ...

JP: You'll see my work all over the place. And then that got me started with lots of other rock and roll artwork.

P2: Who are some of your favorite musicians that you've painted?

JP: Les Paul, for sure. Roger Daltry. Dickie Betts from the Allman Brothers Band. I've done so many.

P2: Do these musicians sit for you, or do you work from photographs, or what?

JP: I'll work from photos, or else I'll get some video of them and pause it in a pose that works for me. That's what I do for a lot of my Elvis work.

P2: And you've also been doing some high-end sports artwork recently, right?

JP: Yeah, that's kind of a new thing. I've signed on as an official artist for Muhammad Ali and for the "Rocky" movies.

P2: And how did that come about -- did Sly Stallone approach you?

JP: My art publisher was approached by MGM, the movie studio. They were looking for an artist for the 30th anniversary of "Rocky," and they liked my work. And I have to say, Stallone is one of the nicest guys I've ever met. And that was really cool, because I was always a big "Rocky" fan. I must have seen the first movie 30 times in the theater when it came out.

P2: Do you think there's a commonality between music and sports?

JP: In a way, yes, because they're both part of the soundtrack of our lives. You remember where you were when you heard that song, or when you were watching that game.

P2: One last question: What advice would you give to a young artist who's looking to get established?

JP: Paint and draw what you love. But being realistic, if you want to make a living at it, you need to find a niche. My niche was Elvis -- that opened all the doors for me and turned me into this rock and roll artist. But remember, that didn't happen for me until I was 40 years old, so stay true to what you do and stick with it. I have this quote from George Eliot that I love: "It's never too late to be what you might have been." And it's true.

In addition to doing lots of fantastic artwork and producing a great blog, Joe Petruccio has another distinction: He designed the uniform that the Mets wore in the mid-1980s. Originally written and published at ESPN.com by Paul Lukas. View the article in it's entirety HERE.