Last fall Topps debuted a new sketch card insert set in two of their baseball card products - 2008 Topps Update, and 2008 Topps Stadium Club. It was well received by collectors, prompting Topps to create a new set of sketch cards for 2009 Topps Series 1 Baseball. Some of the 2009 Series 1 Baseball sketch cards were seeded directly into the product, while others are available via the redemption process. Collectors who have already submitted their 2009 Topps Series 1 Baseball redemptions can expect to receive their sketch cards any day now.
These tiny 2 1/2 by 3 1/2 works of art were created by a group of extremely talented artists. Of this group one name has stood out above the rest - Brian Kong.
Once you observe Kong's hand drawn sketch cards, first hand it quickly becomes apparent that what you are looking at is something very special. The amount of time and detail Brian puts into each piece is simply incredible. The result is some of the most realistic baseball art I've seen in over seventeen years of collecting. To speak of Brian in terms of just Sketch Cards would be an understatement. His paintings, hand drawn player portraits, and comic book artwork push the limits of reality, and can leave the average collector questioning the current artistic state of the sports card industry. From Ken Griffey Jr. to Mickey Mantle, Brian's work is driven by an endless passion and love for the game of baseball. It's that passion that makes Brian's artwork some of the most highly sought after of its kind to hit the hobby since Dick Perez first debuted over 25 years ago.
I was lucky enough to be able to sit down with Brian Kong recently, to find out more about the man behind the masterpieces:
T.C.C: When did you first realize you where an artist?
BK: I started drawing Peanuts characters when I was Five years old Charlie Brown, and Snoopy to name a few. I realized at a pretty young age that I enjoyed drawing, and have been fortunate enough to make a living out of it.
T.C.C: What artist's have influenced you, and how?
BK: I was influenced a lot growing up by comic book art. Two of my favorite artist were George Perez, John Byrne. I think a majority of people who read comic books in the eighties were inspired by George Perez, and the Teen Titans work he did. It was one of the most popular comic books at the time, and I tried to emulate his style as I drew up my own comics. There were tons of other artists as well, and I can sit here all day naming them, but those were the main two.
T.C.C: Like the sports card blogging community the Art community is a very tight one. Can you explain to us how important blogging communities like Scoundrel are to you, and what role they play?
B.K: Well over fifteen years ago there really was no Internet, and there would be the basic communication you have among the artists. There was either people that you lived near, or those that you talked to on a daily basis. Back then you would see other artist at shows, and share ideas/ art through that channel. With blogs/ forums you get a wide variety of feedback, and not just from artists but collectors as well.
T.C.C: I must admit your player portraits are by far some of the most realistic I have ever seen. Where do you draw your inspiration from, and what keeps you motivated?
B.K: It goes back to doing something that you really love. I'm a real big sports fan more baseball then anything else. To me baseball is a real passion, and it makes finding inspiration a lot easier doing something that you really love. I also have a huge passion for doing player portraits, and I was heavily influenced by Dick Perez's Diamond King work when I was growing up, and to be given the opportunity to draw sports cards for a major company is a big deal to me, seriously.
T.C.C: From what I hear you like to rip packs, and your also a huge baseball fan. Have you ripped any packs as of late, and whats your favorite baseball team.
B.K: Well basically I'm not into it as much as I used to be, and don't rip much of the high end stuff anymore. Some of the more recent packs I have ripped have been stuff like Topps Series One Baseball, and Topps Heritage. I will usually pick some packs up at Target, or The Comic/ Card Shop to test my luck ( or Mojo) in hopes that I will pull something cool. As far as baseball teams go I am a huge Yankees fan, and also follow the Mets, but their more of my wives team.
T.C.C: Most collectors are very familiar with the Sketch Card work you performed for Topps. What are some of the more challanging sketches you have done for them, and how much time and energy goes into the average one?
B.K: Its hard to say. I feel fortunate enough to do something I enjoy, and Star Wars, Lord Of The Rings, The Avengers, Baseball are all some of my favorites. I really enjoyed all of these movies, and you know how I feel about Baseball so it hasn't been that challenging to me. Its not like Im thinking 'damn I gotta draw this' the most challenging thing to me is reference, and doing the research that accompanies it. As far as energy goes I can fifteen minutes to whole hours on a sketch. Sometimes I can get a little to carried away with my sketches, and with the quantity of sketches I am asked to do I try to budget time the best I can. I look at these sketches as my work, and they have my name attached to them so I try to give each one all I have. I know what its like to be a collector so I try to give to give the people a quality product, because I know that's what I would want.
T.C.C: With 2009 Topps Series One Redemption's hitting mailboxes soon what were some of your favorite sketches?
B.K: Some of my favorite cards from series one would be drawing players signed in the off season, most notably Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and AJ Burnett in their new Yankees uniforms.These can actually be considered their first official cards with their new teams, since they were released only weeks after their signings. I of course tried to be very up to date, and also did K-Rod in his Mets uniform and others as well. At the time Manny was being Manny, and his team decision was still up in the air so I didn't do any Manny's in LA. I also had a great time drawing classic players like: Mantle, Ruth, Jackie Robinson, and Ty Cobb and I always try to have some extra fun with my artist proofs.
T.C.C: According to Topps the redemption for my 2009 Series One sketch card has been shipped, and I am very excited to say the least. If you had to choose one artist as you redemption who would it be?
B.K: ( Laughing) I have a few friends I worked with on that set, and all of the artist were very talented, but if I had to choose one it would be either Jim Kyle, Rich Molinelli, or Don Pedicini Jr.
T.C.C: Does Topps Allow you to keep a certain amount of complete for commission, and how does that work?
B.K: It depends on overall projects, and the amount of sketch cards the artist produces. Usually they will give us up to ten cards per project, and we can do as we please with them including sell them on the open market ( Ebay). Some of the artist will hold onto the cards, but then again its all up to them.
T.C.C: If you had to choose a dream project to work on what would it be, and why?
B.K: You know its funny you asked that question I recently got my dream project, and it doesn't include sketch cards. I'm in the process of doing an insert for 2009 Topps Allen and Ginter called Greatest Moments. It includes original watercolor paintings of active players from the last ten years, and is very limited. To me that's a dream project, because I think Allen and Ginter is one of the best products out there, and very cool ( I agree). Im hoping this is a step in the right direction, because I really enjoy doing player portraits over sketch cards.
T.C.C: What Advice would you give an artist just starting out, and where do you see yourself in five years?
B.K Being an artist can be a tough thing, and there is a lot of hurdles you have to jump. The best advice I can give is always believe in your work, and practice as much as you can. Try to find something you are good at, and believe you will always get better. Just try to be persistent, and believe in yourself. As far as five years goes I hope to be doing more base card work instead of just sketch card work. As nice as sketch cards are to do they can also be very exhausting, and over the past three years It feels like I have done over 10,000 of them. However I feel it has been worth it, because I know that people appreciate the work I do.
You can view Brian Kongs Artwork at www.briankong.com. A sample of his work can be found below: