At the start of 2011, devoted Houston Astros fan Summer Anne Burton decided to try something: draw portraits of every baseball Hall of Famer -- nearly 300 of them -- before the end of the year.
So Burton, then a 28-year-old living in Austin, Texas, but originally from Bill Clinton's birthplace of Hope, Ark., set off on her "Every Hall of Famer" journey, despite a lack of formal art training. Her work quickly caught the eye of many a sports fan and writer (including Playbook's own Paul Lukas).
But then she noticed a problem: Attempting to draw 300 creative portraits in 365 days, supplemented with statistics and other annotations, was stealing the joy from baseball and art.
That's why Burton extended her deadline to the end of this year to accommodate her jobs (she's the weekend editor at BuzzFeed and works at the legendary Alamo Drafthouse Cinema) and the process of putting together these portraits without ruining the fun.
Recently Burton was kind enough to join in an email Q&A about the series, which -- done chronologically by year of induction -- is up to Lou Brock in 1985.
Talk about your schedule -- do you have one on this, or has it always been an as-you-have-time sort of thing?
"No, I don't do it on a schedule. ... The project was always just an expression of love, so I decided that I would only do them when I had time and I could devote myself to paying these guys the tribute they deserve.
"Since I work two jobs -- and also do freelance writing and illustration and play softball and have a boyfriend and friends and Sunday night HBO -- I don't have as much time for 'Every Hall of Famer' as I wish I did, and I often wish I had time to do a drawing and I just can't find an extra couple hours. But I don't think I've ever gone more than a week without doing one, and typically I put up 2-4 a week. I now think I'll be done around the end of this year."
Is any specific drawing your favorite so far?
I don't really have a single favorite. There are maybe half a dozen that I look at and can objectively say that I surprised or impressed myself: Henry Aaron, Ernie Banks, Stan Musial, Ted Williams and Roberto Clemente are ones that stand out.
Oh, and I like Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb, which I obviously did at the very beginning but I feel they both hold up nicely. They are a lot more 'simple'/spare than the ones I've done more recently but I like that you can see an evolution if you view the project chronologically."
Any one you're looking forward to doing in the days/weeks/months ahead?
"Before I got to them, I was both super-excited and super-nervous about both Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente. Those guys mean so much to so many people that I wanted to make sure I did them justice. Now that those guys are done, it's smooth sailing!
"I am really psyched about Rickey Henderson. I visited the Hall for the first (and so far, the only) time to see him inducted [in 2009], so that will be a special landmark. Plus I can't imagine any set of statistics and quotes more fun to choose from than The Greatest's."
What changes to your art have you noticed over the course of the project?
"Oh, there are a million things I notice. I definitely take more and more time with them and obsess over them more. When I started, I didn't think anyone except for my friends would ever really see the project. So it's different now, and expectations are different, so I definitely take more care with each individual player, regardless of whether they're super-famous or well-regarded or not.
"Also, as the project has gone on, I have started incorporating a wider range of statistics. When I started, I just did the most easily recognizable/famous ones like average or home runs. I still use those numbers, because they are often iconic and associated with certain players, but I have a lot of followers who are much more inclined to trust numbers like WAR [wins above replacement], so I often use that as well.
"In general, though, the drawings are just a lot more involved and elaborate than they used to be. I like the drawings more now, generally speaking -- I think I've improved as an artist with all this practice. That said, it's not something I would ever, like, go back and redo. I think seeing the evolution is just part of the project's personality."
So has it changed the way you view baseball, then? Sports in general?
"It hasn't really changed the way I watch, but it has changed other people's perceptions -- like, lots of acquaintances ask me questions about whether I think so-and-so is a Hall of Famer, or whether I think another guy used PEDs. I guess people are looking at me as an expert, which is funny because part of the fun of the project has always been that it's a constant learning experience for me.
"I love baseball, but I haven't been obsessing about it for my entire life. I watched it when I was younger but I wasn't a superfan. It was only in the last few years that I started focusing on all the little details of the game and its amazing stories. And so doing the project, I learn something new every time I start a drawing. I guess I am way more of an expert than when I started, and I also write about baseball now, for the NotGraphs part of FanGraphs, which never would have happened without 'Every Hall of Famer.' But I'm still always learning and picking up new things. When I watch games, I still constantly have questions that I'm looking up or asking people about. Last year I finally learned how to keep score and that's been really fun! I do it at every game I go to in person now.
"One thing is that I pay way more attention to uniforms and who wears their socks up than I ever did before. I'll be watching a game and immediately recognize that they're wearing a new patch or something, which never would have happened before I started this.
"As far as other sports, I guess that I do sometimes look at athletes in general in terms of whether they'd be fun to draw. I don't really pay much attention to football -- it's just never been my thing -- but I do love and follow basketball (go Rockets!). I had a brief flirtation with hockey around the time HBO did that Penguins/Caps series. Those guys have amazing faces. But for now, baseball keeps me pretty busy."