Academy Alum Hits Home Run with Cubs Paintings12307433_953063094774652_6078453492050614243_o

Did you grow up in Crystal Lake?

Yes. I lived there most of my life. I moved into the city after graduating from the Academy and worked in advertising art studios from ‘86-’92. Then we moved back to raise our family.


Where did you move to in California and why?

We moved just northwest of LA, Westlake Village. My wife, Carol, got a job that she could not turn down as CRO for Deluxe Entertainment. They do visual effects, coloring and distribution for some of the biggest movies made today, including: Iron Man, Avengers, Batman, etc. Since I can paint anywhere and our two oldest children are in college, it seems the right thing to do. And, I will NOT miss Chicago winters.


How did you land the first gigs with the NHL and NFL?

After going freelance in 1992, one of my first clients was NFL Properties in NY. I created illustrations for several of their projects, including: GameDay Magazines, team publications and special projects like the 50th Anniversary of the Super Bowl. I was able to work with Bears HOF’er Gale Sayers on a painting to commeorate his six touchdown game and we sold autographed prints of that great game.


Were the 2009 hall-of-fame commissions your first assignment(s) with the Cubs?

No, I worked with the Cubs publishing department on some of their magazines, VineLine, doing feature illustrations on various articles and stories. It was the first time a team commissioned me to do paintings to give to athletes, however. From that I was able to work on similar projects with many other teams in MLB and the NFL. I have been able to work on paintings given to many players who have retired, broke a record or were inducted into the Hall.


Can you describe some of the assignments you have (had) with individual players like Anthony Rizzo and Ryne Sandberg?

I have had the honor to work with all the modern-era Cubs Hall of Fame players. These are my childhood heroes from the Cubs – Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Ferguson Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson.The thing they all had in common was how much they loved playing for the Cubs and their connection to the fans – which is rare today. Anthony Rizzo has that connection now. To be able to work with those players on paintings is a dream come true for me. Most of the projects were in support of a foundation the player has. The original Rizzo painting and autographed prints raised over $25,000 that goes to helping families dealing with pediatric cancer thru the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation. Rizzo is a cancer survivor and is VERY involved in his foundation. You get to see the human side of athletes-not just what you read in the papers or social media. It is truly amazing what these people do to help others.


What are your recent assignments from the Cubs?

The most recent paintings are of Addison Russell and Kris Bryant. The Russell painting has been made into prints of which 100 were autographed by the Cubs budding superstar. The Bryant image was painted in advance of a possible National League MVP Award and the original plus 100 prints will be signed in November. I deal directly with the player and their autograph representative to aquirie signatures and approval by the player’s agent. They control almost every autograph today and what artwork will be used. It is a very expensive upfront cost on my end.


What work might you get if they win the World Series?

A World Series painting would be the most collectible painting I will have ever done to date, without a doubt. The Cubs print sales will go thru the roof.

I would also love to do murals for the hotel the Cubs are building next to Wrigley. I received two nice commissions this month for original Wrigley Field artwork from a client who is building a lodge in WI.


What do you sell an original Cubs’ painting for these days?

Depending on size and complexity, my paintings sell between $7,000 and $25,000


Will you increase the price and/or do you think these pieces will increase in value if they win it all this year?

Yes. As the team has done well, so have my original paintings and print sales. Many limited-edition prints sold out very quickly.


How many paintings do you create in an average year? How about just Cubs-related paintings?

I average about two to three paintings per month – sometimes more depending on commissions and down time. I don’t like to take much time off between paintings. I feel like the more I paint, the better and faster I can create. I love it.


How did your 2008 project, "Classic Cubs: A Tribute to the Men and Magic of Wrigley Field” come together? Were you friends with Chris De Luca?

That book was something I had been thinking about and working on for a long time. There are so many books about the Cubs and Wrigley Field, but none had been done in artwork. I finally got started in 2001. The research into the project was quite a task but a lot of fun – so much history and interesting stories that just lend themselves to art.

I approched many publishers and was rejected a lot. That in itself was a frustrating seven-year journey. I learned a lot about publishing process.

But I believed in the project and found a publisher that did, too. I sent inquiries to just about every sportswriter in Chicago. Chris jumped at the chance immediately. I had never met him until I sent him my manuscript and he did a great job writing and enhancing the stories.


How do you go about creating a painting? Do you paint from a photograph? If so, who takes the original picture?

For sports work, I sometimes get inspired by games I see or by athletes breaking records and setting milestones. I do work from photos, but I do not just copy one photo. I go to great lengths to make the image my own– finding an action shot of an athlete and adding a different head or body, different backgrounds, etc. My illustration and life drawing background helped in that. I have learned to use a camera and different lenses; and I get press passes to events sometimes and take my own photos.


Can you share a bit about upcoming projects about which you’re most excited?

Right now I am working on a very large 48”x48”, painting of Wrigley Field for a client. I’m  looking closely at how the Cubs do in the playoffs, taking notes for “paintable moments.” I have other irons in the fire for teams and their possible needs for marketing their brand.


What past work are you most proud of that you’d like mentioned in this profile?

I think the three paintings I am most proud of are:

1.    The 100th Anniversary of Wrigley Field, which I sold to a collecter and had Ernie Banks sign 120 prints.

2.    The Anthony Rizzo image because of the money it provided to help families and children with cancer.

3.    A tryptych (three-panel picture) that was commissioned for Yankee great Derek Jeter and given to him in his home state of Michigan at a Detroit Tigers game. He loved it, which was very cool.


Do you have an absolute favorite piece you’ve created? If so, why?

A portrait I did of my daughter Olivia when she was 10 yrs old. I love painting people and capturing a moment in time and that spark in their soul.


What do you do in your spare time?

I spend my spare time with my family. We are very close. Having the advantage to work from home, I have been able to spend a lot of time with my three children – attending their sporting events and playing with them.


What are the three most important things you gained from attending the Academy?

1.    I learned from some great instructors. Fred Berger and Vern Stake were my favorites.They helped to teach me what it takes to be an artist and a person.

2.    Being around other incredibly talented students was so inspiring and made me want to be better everyday – not in a competitive way but more about progressing and learning.

3.    Being able to follow a dream and make it happen. I loved commercial art at the time, and the instruction got me ready for the fast pace. They introduced me to many techniques before I found one I really liked.


What advice do you have for young artists in school, soon to graduate or recently graduated?

1.    It is a tough business. Remember it IS a business.

2.    Gain some basic business skills, like writing a proposal, invoicing, negotiating, etc.

3.    Learn how to communicate with people – not just thru email and text, but through talking face to face and building a connection. It is more difficult today, obviously, but when you get face to face with a client you sometimes have five minutes to make an impression.

4.    Be humble. I run into recently graduated artists who do nothing but talk about how great they are. That’s a big turn off. And, they’re not helping themselves. 

5.    Most of all, the 10,000 hour rule is true (it takes 10,000 hours of dedicated practice/doing to truly master something).

6.    Keep working, trying different things and talking to other artists.

7.    Failure is part of the learning process. Discover “happy accidents” when you try something new and it doesn’t turn out as you had planned.

8.    Build up / gain thick skin. Negativity and opinions are ever flowing, especially through social media. It’s brutal!


Do you think it helps with producing your best work with you’re passionate about the subject matter?

Absolutley. Painting what you love is what it’s all about. Find your individual niche.


Any advice you can offer for how artists pursue their passion AND make a living?

Persevere. Don’t give up. You will have to do other jobs to get by and pay bills; but find time to draw, paint, sketch, sculpt, shoot – whatever.

Be aggressive in getting your work in front of the right people. Go out and meet artists that you were and are inspired by. I traveled all over the country and sent my work to get critiques from great artists. Most are happy to do it.

Learn how to be your own sales person. And, yes, it sucks. It’s the worst part of the job. Every artist would rather create than send out hundreds of emails and packages to prospective clients. And sadly, most artists don’t know how to market themselves.

I have seen so many former students and colleagues get beaten down and drop out of art all together – mostly thru no fault of their own. Feeding a family and paying the rent or mortgage gets scary and a bit too grown up at times. Choices have to be made.

I never gave up. I went thru so many rough times and wanted to chuck it. Having a healthy relationship with a spouse or partner who believes in you is so important. It’s very emotional being an artist. I would have never made it this far without my wife Carol.


From which things and/or experiences do you glean your greatest inspiration?

When I graduated from the Academy and got out in the real world, I met so many talented people in the profession. I asked a lot of questions, watched and listened. The talent in this world is amazing. Don’t be afraid or intimidated. Listen and be inspired by how other people got to where they are. The paths are all different. Some crazy stuff will surely happen along the way.


What one to three artists most inspire and/or influence your work?

When I first started to discover art as a student, my inspirations were Frank Frazetta, Bernie Fuchs and Drew Struzan. But as I got older, I turned to fine artists, including: J.W. Waterhouse, Burton Siverman and Jeremy Mann.


Anything else you’d care to share?

Love what you do!!


To purchase prints of John's work please visit 





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