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Artist paints old MLB stars in unique style

Mickey Mantle is among the many Hall of Fame baseball players painted by Jay Perkins. Courtesy of Jay Perkins

Baseball is quite the artist's game, inspiring novelists and poets, filmmakers and photographers and, in the case of Jay Perkins, painters.

Perkins, a website designer and aspiring artist born and raised in Lexington, Ky., is the curator of and contributor to the Baseball Art blog (and its correlating Tumblr). On said blog live his paintings and prints, a series of self-taught-style, annotated images of legendary baseball players -- not unlike Summer Anne Burton's "Every Hall of Famer" project in spirit, but quite different in style and colorization.

We caught up recently with Perkins via email to discuss these bold, eye-catching but not overly realistic paintings -- one of which was featured on the MLB's own Tumblr earlier this summer.

How did you get into painting, and then sports painting in particular?

I don't have any professional background in art, but like most people I always enjoyed drawing and painting pictures as a kid. I'm just one of those people that never outgrew it and keep drawing pictures way past the point where I should have stopped.

I was also very interested in sports as far back as I can remember, so it was always an obvious choice as a subject matter. I have always focused more on baseball than other sports, but I do remember being about 5 years old and collaborating with my older brother on a large-scale drawing of a scene from Kentucky's national championship basketball game in 1978. That picture was probably nowhere near as spectacular as I remember, but drawing sporting events and sports figures, for me, goes back at least to that point.

So what led to your style? It’s very distinctive.

I'm not really sure. I never really liked realistic portraits of people or cartoonish caricatures, so I guess I'm just trying to avoid either of those results, although some probably still end up a little too cartoonish.

As far as adding text to the paintings, I think I'm probably influenced by baseball cards and posters I had as a kid. Also, in case it's a bad drawing of someone and people can't tell who it is, I write the name on there and eliminate all doubt. I think Leonardo da Vinci should have written "Mona Lisa" in big block letters on his painting.

So why do you choose the players you do?

I started off a while ago with the idea of making a drawing of all the members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. I figured even if the drawings weren't that great individually they might look more impressive as a collection. So, all of my baseball pieces so far are from those drawings of Hall of Famers.

[Editor's note: Perkins says he's aware of Burton's project, but it did not influence him.]

So when did this start? And what's next for you, painting-wise?

I started the drawings a few years ago, but it became such a daunting task to draw almost 300 Hall of Famers that I ran out of enthusiasm a little bit and took a break.

Right now, though I'm getting back into the project, I've got about half of them done and hope to finish as soon as possible. Also, I'm working on a picture commemorating Kentucky's basketball national championship this year. This time I'll try to do it without my brother's help.

All images courtesy of Jay Perkins.