Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Artist Interview - Mark Chiarello

Earlier this year I became aware of Mark Chiarello. I was researching some Negro League baseball cards in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards. He was the artist behind the 1990 Eclipse Stars of the Negro Leagues set. I did a bit of poking around and found that Mark has been involved with quite a few projects, including Comic Book covers, illustrating a kid's book, painting Star Wars stuff, and jazz icons. He is now the Art Director of DC Comics. This interview focuses on baseball cards.

How did you get your start painting baseball cards?
I guess I've been doing drawings of sport heroes since I was a little kid. I'd copy pictures of Gale Sayers and Thurman Munson out of Sports Illustrated all the time, hoping one day to become a 'real' artist when I grew up. I eventually did a few minor sports illustrations when I actually DID become a professional artist, but it wasn't until I painted the 1990 card set "Stars of the Negro Leagues" that I created my first cards.

What is your process to create a baseball card?
I really love the research phase of doing a sports portrait. I'm pretty diligent about sifting through hundreds and hundreds of photos in order to find that one, perfect image that I want to paint. I like to capture as iconic an image of a player as I possibly can, because I have the great fear that someone will say "gee, is that A-Rod or Jeter?, I'm not sure."
Once I track down that perfect photo, I draw the image in pencil and then jump in with paint (mostly watercolor). When I'm working on a baseball card, I usually work on a relatively small board (approx 10 inches tall), because I know the art is going to be reduced for publication as a trading card.

Where do you look for inspiration?
Oh, man, I'm SUCH a big baseball fan, there's inspiration all around. I always have the Yankee game on, or am reading a book about baseball. I don't play as often as I used to, but I still like to roam the outfield (although I roam a bit more slowly these days). Of course, there's always card collecting and attending card shows to get the juices flowing. Also, my best friend and collaborator, Jack Morelli, lives fairly close to Cooperstown, and as you know, that place is pretty darn inspirational.

Of the Negro League cards that you've done, do you have a favorite? Do you have a favorite Negro League player?
I've enjoyed painting Josh Gibson a few times, his life story was just so astounding. My favorite NL players are Josh, Leon Day (who I once met), Oscar Charleston (possibly the greatest baseball player of all time), and Cool Papa Bell (possibly the fastest baseball player of all time). Oh, and of course Satchel, everyone love Satchel!

What does the future hold for you with regards to baseball cards? Do you have any projects you're working on?
I've been doing a few baseball commissions lately (paintings of Sandy Koufax, Lou Gehrig and Mike Schmidt for private collectors), but yes, I'd love to get back to doing some cards. Unfortunately, with a full time job at DC Comics, it's hard to find the time to plan anything out.

As Art Director for DC Comic do you ever want to use your position to get a bat and ball back in Superman's hands?
Hahahahaha! I'd love for all of the superheroes to play a game against all of the supervillains. It seems to me that that story was told a long time ago in some weird, forgotten comic book. I'll have to do some research!

Any predictions for the 2010 MLB season?
I have three words for you: YANKEES, YANKEES, YANKEES!

I'd like to thank Mark for his generosity in allowing me to use the card images from his site and for his willingness to answer my questions. For more information on all that is Mark Chiarello point the browser to


  1. Wow, great interview. :) Always great to talk to artists - I love doing it.

  2. Nice interview and answers -- except for the Yankee rooting.

    It just struck me why these Negro Leaguers are so beloved: most of them never played for the Yankees!

    Kidding. ... Sort of.

  3. Nice interview! I love seeing the watercolor paintings of the players. Looks like a really nice set to work on.

  4. Great interview and great cards. Thanks to both Marks.