S. Preston may have deals with Disney, Marvel and the NBA, but his heart is at the park.
Is it weird to call a man in his late 40s an overnight success?
When S. Preston turned 40, he quit what he was doing in Canada and moved to Southern California to make it big as a graphic designer. The affable Vancouverite loved baseball, hockey and Disney (in that order) so he landed comfortably in Anaheim where he had some relatives.
There he began creating minimalist art of baseball stadiums. Closeups of this unique feature or that one.
Something true fans of the team would recognize and connect with.
It was a hit. More than a hit.
Six years after moving to the US, his work was entered into the permanent archives of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
The game’s best hitter, top sluggers, and several of its greatest pitchers are not in the Hall, but this Canadian southpaw who taught himself graphic arts is.
And it is not lost on him, the slim, upbeat athlete loves to go to stadiums to draw for hours. His specialty is sketches of Disney princesses adorning the home team’s jerseys. Dubbed the Ballpark Princesses, when he’s done he tweets out to his 20k followers where he’s sitting in the stands and the first fan to find him receives the art for free.
This year the unthinkable happened. Both Disneyland and MLB shut down due to the global pandemic. Preston’s gallery across from Disneyland was also forced to lock up and everything had to go online. Fortunately he was prepared and fared the first wave.
But a guy like him would have cleaned up at the MLB All Star Game which was scheduled to be held this year at Dodger Stadium. That too was nixed.
Unlike some artists, Preston has not riffed off of the darkness of this pandemic with images of, say, a baseball with a mask on it.
“Long ago I decided I was not going to be an artist that resonates with the world that we live in now,” he said via telephone. “Some artists do that and they do a great job at it. Banksy is amazing. I decided that my art will celebrate the things that we miss most. That’s why I am completely focused less about away from nurses and healthcare workers and more about filling the joy into the void that this pandemic makes in us. Mine is about something else.”
He also focuses less on real people and more on things. Buildings, mascots and now cartoon characters. But it starts with sports.
“I don’t illustrate the players or the game,” he explained. “I celebrate the feeling of sports, the emotions. I want to be at a ballpark, so I make ballpark art. Everyone has their purpose. Mine is to bring you joy when you’re not at the ballpark.”
Right before the pandemic began he signed licensing deals to produce art for MLB, the NBA, Marvel, Disney, DC and Star Wars.
Before they became official partners, he created a hugely popular series of all 30 MLB stadiums.
“I’m a fan first, and an artist second,” he said. People have said, ‘Oh I wish I had thought of that idea for the ballparks.’ And I think, well it helps if you really love baseball. That’s the secret sauce. Every line is drawn with love.”
Another that was a hit among Dodger fans was his tribute to the legendary Vin Scully.
“Anyone who grew up in L.A. listened to Vin Scully,” he said. “A ‘W’ flag means something special only to Chicago people. But Vin is someone very dear only to Los Angelenos.”
Earlier this year he produced a touching tribute to Kobe Bryant.
“The whole idea is it’s not a picture of Kob,” he said of the challenge to come up with something original. “There’s a lot of people who can draw Kobe great. There have been some amazing pieces of Kobe since he passed away. My piece is more minimal. If you get it, you get it. The shot clock in the Lakers’ colors, you should be able to connect those dots in your mind.”
There’s been a lot of Kobe murals that have popped up around L.A., have you been approached to do something on a wall?
Mural art is an art form itself. Drawing that big is difficult and you really need to make a strong impact in a large space. I thought about it, but I think other artists have done a great job and I’m content to appreciate their talent. I’ve blown up a bunch of princess pieces on walls. We just printed it out and put it up. I don’t paint that size. It’s tough. It’s too hard for me. It takes days and days.
You’re a Canadian who moved here. But you’re so talented. Did you have to come to L.A. to make it big?
A: I think so. There’s a lot of business reasons to do it. Shipping is huge because international shipping from Canada is costly. The amount of traveling I can do in the States without constantly going back and forth makes it more convenient. If I was in Canada, I would have never had Chuck Jones or the L.A. Times or ESPN walk into my gallery while killing time. Being right across the street from Disneyland allows for better business connections.
A lot of people told me to move to L.A. because the art scene is so much better there. The vibe is less sterile than it is down here.
You have all these licensing deals now. Is there anything more that you want?
Baseball, hockey and Disney, that’s all that I wanted. I never expected one of them, let alone all three. Everything else is a bonus. I just use the Canadian thank you and sorry a lot. Being nice to people has helped.
Do you ever get hit up by advertising companies to do things for them?
Yes all the time, but I don’t have clients any more! Isn’t that the dream of an artist? To draw what you want? I can draw whatever I like and no one says “we want to move the dot over there”. It’s liberating and terrifying at the same time though.
In a sense, my clients is my collectors, and if I don’t deliver on my art, me (and my team) starve. But I’ll take that stress any day compared with people telling me what to do.
You are living the dream. So have you ever gotten a comment on your Instagram or on Twitter and you think, “oh that’s a great idea”?
Yes. All the time. I rely all the time on the suggestions of fans. People would send me photos of their favorite part of a stadium it and I’ll do it. I have folders of pictures of what people love and I’m happy to draw them if they are inspiring enough.
While you were waiting on baseball to come back, what were you working on?
I always wanted to do what I was doing with the minimal ballparks into spaceships. I’ve done a series of pop-up mascots but with Star Wars characters.
And then I took the Ballpark Princess idea and turned them into Princess Leia, Rey, Ahsoka.
I’ve also been thinking about the Disney theme park rides and castles, in terms of minimalism.
There’s just so much to attack. I’m creatively overloaded.
Who are your favorite type of fans of your art?
I like the people who love these movies and sports on a nuanced level. The hardcore fans who know the little details.
You’re very successful in Anaheim, have you ever considered expanding and having a gallery in L.A.?
I wouldn’t open a gallery in L.A., but I would like to do a series of pop-ups. I think as an artist having too much access is not good. I think it’s better if I go to Cincinnati for two weeks and have a great two weeks instead of trying to generate foot traffic for months.
Are there any baseball stadiums you have trouble creating art for?
I struggle with the new stadium in Arlington, TX, Globe Life Park. I struggle with Marlins Park.
Architecturally they look amazing, but they don’t have the slide or the giant Coke bottle or the ivy or the weird stuff. The new parks don’t seem to do that anymore. But I still find a way to illustrate them. I even do the old parks.
People collect everything. They’ll come to me and say, “this is my grandpa’s park, this is my dad’s park, and this is my park.”
Would you ever expand to do minimalist takes on a city like L.A.? Things like Union Station, The Hollywood Bowl, Grauman’s Chinese?
So much so! That was actually one of the first things I wanted to do and I never got around to it. I’ve already done a series of all these great bridges in America. I want to do airports. I have this idea where I would get fans to call out buildings in their city. I know everyone does the Disney Hall but places like L.A. City Hall, I’ve always loved that building. Peterson Museum. I’ve always wanted to do architecture in cities.
How on Earth did you teach yourself to do such beautiful graphic design?
Like Malcolm Gladwell says, we all need to do our 10,000 hours to master anything. I made a point of opening Photoshop every day and I did that for 20 years. I also have a natural gift for shapes and colors. Some people find their “purpose in life” quickly, but for me it took some time. I finally found a way to intersect my gifts and my discipline.
Had you always drawn your whole life?
I actually quit after high school. I’ve always been creative but I hadn’t picked up a pencil for about 20 years when I started again. Funny thing about doing things when you’re young, it’s easier to pick it up.
After staring at a computer for days on end creating graphic arts, I found myself getting back to pencil-and-paper to unwind and express myself in a different way. It’s strange that my graphic art is extremely minimal with clean crisp lines, and my physical art is sketchy and broken. I’m sure, one day, a psychologist would have a field day trying to figure that one out.
Is your gallery in Downtown Disney?
No it’s at the Anaheim Gardenwalk off Katella. Most people know the Cheesecake Factory near Disneyland and the new location of the House of Blues Anaheim. It’s right there.
Since fans are not allowed at games this season, do you have other plans to continue your Ballpark Princesses, like go to a nearby sports bar (that has outdoor seating)?
I actually brought my Ballpark Princess giveaways online. It doesn’t have the in-person experience but I’m using text messaging to notify the winners of the giveaway. It’s a work in process, as is life for all of us! I’m also working on my own unique “Ballpark Princess” and I’m really having fun drawing my own character. She will start showing up on my timeline (and hopefully in ballparks soon).