One of our occasional writing streams in Rich’s Ramblings is to get a little more in-depth with various people in the hobby. We write about store owners, hobby personalities and for the first time, one of the artists who create the cards. I first heard of Monty Sheldon nearly two decades ago now when Mark Macrae, a leading hobby dealer, was carrying some beautiful artwork baseballs Monty had created. Since then, he’s become one of the most prolific sports card artists working today.
Monty has created images for many recent art-driven Topps sets as well as some drawings for the innovative Helmar sets.
I hope you enjoy the Q&A and more images of Monty’s work.
You mentioned the first set you collected was 1974 Topps. When you were growing up did you ever think you would someday become an artist used by Topps?
Not in the slightest. I mostly wanted to draw comics that featured Captain America, Sgt. Rock, Batman, and Spider-Man. They fueled my imagination while at the drawing table during my youth. Although, I have always been inspired to draw my own cards, even back then (see left).
Tell us about how you started in the collecting hobby. How did Mark Macrae find you (or you him) and begin the marketing for those baseballs?
I have collected sports cards for 40+ years and when I was living in Portland, Oregon, I went to a memorabilia show in 1993 and met Mark Macrae. Mark’s table was always stocked with lots of older cards and plenty of variety. I found I was always stopping at his table and eventually I introduced myself and mentioned that I worked for Dark Horse Comics.
Over the next four years a friendship developed and Mark asked me if I had ever thought about actually painting on baseballs. Mark had been approached by Eric Black (an artist he didn’t know that well) about providing him with a group of painted baseballs of the Pacific Coast League greats. Since Mark knew I was an artist, he thought it was worth asking me to give it a try.
When I looked at the painted baseballs that Eric had on display at the show, it was the first time in my life that I had a bonafide epiphany. I saw in that painted sphere an item that brought together three of my separate passions; art, collecting, and baseball. I knew right then what I was going to do with the rest of my life.
My favorite baseball player is Rube Waddell and I thought who better than to be my first painted baseball.
Mark was impressed with the result and he asked if I wanted to start marketing them at shows. 650+ painted baseballs later and I still feel like I’m just scratching the surface of what can be portrayed artistically on a baseball.
You have also done some work for the Helmar sets for owner Charles Mandel. Since those sets are not as constrained by player selection as the mainstream issues of today, tell us about some of the inspiration you have for cards in that set as well as some of your favorite drawings.
I provided art for ten of the cards that have appeared in five series so far. Seven cards appeared in Series 2 and three were in Series 3.
I started a working relationship with Charles back in late 2005, providing the art for the ten cards mentioned above. It was during the painting of those cards that I noticed some of the blank scraps of illustration board I had cut up were roughly trading card sized, and the idea to create a set of cards comprised solely of the 1/1, hand-painted variety was born. Once again I chose Rube Waddell as the subject of my first actual-sized painted card and I painted the second one of Babe Ruth for Charles. Charles liked the idea very much and I started work on the cards that he would eventually deem “The Highest Integrity Helmar Set”.
I worked on that set from 2006-2009 and it ended up being a total of 120 cards, none of which are to ever be reproduced in card form in order to keep that set valid as advertised by Charles and me. I asked many dealers at the time (including Mark Macrae) if there had ever been a set like this before in the hobby and to the best of their collective knowledge the answer was no. So, I still stake claim to creating the hobby’s first set of actual-sized, hand-painted 1/1 cards.
You have also drawn for many mainstream sets. Tell us about your work for the major trading card manufacturers.
After I finished the 120 painted cards for the 1/1 Helmar set, I started a similar sized 1/1 sketch card set that I sold on eBay back in 2009. I called it “Sheldon’s Sports Card Champions” and it featured 250 cards in the set. I made one other 1/1 sketch card set in 2010 that included 130 cards and was similarly sold on eBay as well.
At the end of summer in 2009, my artist friend Paul Lempa mentioned me to Topps when it turned out that they were looking to replace an artist who dropped out of the 2009 Topps National Chicle Football card set. Along with Paul’s recommendation, Topps’ Clay Luraschi remembered meeting me and seeing my work at the National in 2007 and 2008, so I got the job. I worked on a total of 27 cards for the football set, and when Topps decided to do a baseball version of National Chicle, I painted 35 cards for that set.
I then painted a 15-card Highlight Sketches insert set for the 2010 Topps Allen & Ginter brand.
In 2011, Topps approached me to work on Gypsy Queen in which I would be asked to paint around a jersey relic piece, the first time a card like that was ever produced. I painted 24 art/relic cards that first year and have completed 128 total from 2011-15.
Along with the 2015 Gypsy Queen art/relic cards, I provided that set with this year’s mini “Basics Of Baseball” sub set. There are 15 cards total featuring many different plays in baseball. The hardest one to work on was the “Sacrifice Fly”. It is tough to illustrate that play on such a small card. All the originals were painted at the size they were printed and are also included as inserts in the packs.
I worked on a similar set of 15 mini sketch cards for the 2015 Topps Major League Soccer set as well.
You mentioned you did drawings for the 2015 Topps Gypsy Queen set and used some of the 1974 cards as inspiration for some of your artwork. Do you still get excited when you see your cards coming out of a pack?
As an artist, you are always curious as to how your artwork is received, good or bad. I have been lucky in that the vast majority of collectors have really liked what I have produced thus far.
I will admit, it was pretty surreal opening packs of the National Chicle cards and seeing my art on the cards (the wrapper and box too). I will probably never have another experience like that again.
Tell us some funny stories about your time doing sports art work.
I have received many positive comments regarding my Artballs over the years, which I am very grateful for, but the one reaction to my work that has stuck with me all this time came from some 11-12 year-old kid who was passing by my display back in 1998 when I first started setting up at the Tacoma show with Mark Macrae.
The kid never said one word but kept staring at my painted baseballs with a scrunched up look. After reading his expression I playfully asked, “I ruined a perfectly good baseball, didn’t I?”, and the kid nodded his head up and down quite vigorously and walked away. My best review ever.
What are some of your favorite works?
While I have no absolute favorites, I am rather partial to the two baseballs I have painted of my son and his baseball exploits in both T-ball (Artball #500) and Pee-Wee (Artball #600). Artball #700 will cover his Little League career.
A Moe Berg cigar box and baseball I painted for my good friend Jason Nogee back in 2000 also holds a sentimental spot since he passed away in 2008. Jason helped get my baseball reference library off to a great start since he used to be the main book dealer at all the memorabilia shows I would set up at. He is greatly missed.
Some other Artballs of note would be a Babe Ruth I painted for actor Tom Cruise. A Dock Ellis LSD no-hitter themed baseball with added optical art to make your eyes twitch when staring at his portrait. A vintage designed Hoss Radbourn baseball. An All-American Girls Professional Baseball League all-star team baseball painted on a woman’s regulation sized softball and an Eddie Gaedel painted on a baseball that is just a little bigger than a quarter.
The David Tyree and Stan Musial Topps National Chicle cards are probably two of my better ones.
How does your family react to having a sports card artist in the family?
I am happily married to my wife Heather who, up to this point in our relationship, has endured the inconsistent financial nature of an artist like myself way better than I am worthy of. She gave us both the best thing to ever happen in either of our lives, our only son, Monty Jr.
I have been extremely fortunate to be able to work at home and spend a ton of time with my family while doing what I truly love to do. Not all riches come in monetary form.
I keep asking my boy if he wants to be my apprentice, but so far the answer has been no. His future is wide open, just like it should be at the age of 11.
It’s almost time to wrap up. Tell us what you’re up to now and feel free to add anything you like about being a sports artist.
As of April 2015, I have painted 580 different baseball players on 650 baseballs. Since there is no better place to tell the history of baseball than on a baseball itself, my goal of painting every player, team, and event from the 1860s to the present can seem unattainable at times.
Fortunately, I have found a kindred spirit in a fellow baseball collector, Jay Caldwell. Jay has taken his love of history and his collector’s mentality and combined them in a soon to be published book, Artballs: A Baseball Tapestry. The book will feature over 250 of my Artballs as illustrations. I am currently finishing up around 20+ baseballs for this project and we plan on having the book ready to sell by 2016. Without his many Artball orders, I wouldn’t be anywhere near close to the goal I set for myself.
I am also working on the largest 1/1 sketch card set that I will ever produce, over 600 cards scheduled at this time. More details to follow later this year. Make sure and check out my website and like my Facebook page for further updates.