Monday, February 22, 2010

The Story Behind That Dale Jr. Painting

If you were watching Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s live video chat Wednesday night, then the image above probably looks familiar.

For almost an hour, Junior answered fans' questions live, via the magic of cyberspace, about everything from racing strategy to his favorite food. And the entire time, this painting could be seen on the wall behind him.

I watched the chat, and I also watched lots of his fans submit questions via Twitter and AIM about that painting. What was it? Where could they get one? And so forth.

Unfortunately, those questions didn't make it to Junior's ears. However, after lots of Googling and a little elbow grease, I managed to track down the artist who painted the scene - Eric Soller - and discovered that fans can still purchase their own print of this same scene.

I found that Soller also does a lot more than paint the action in Junior's pit box. Read on to find out more about his life as a NASCAR artist and other paintings of his that are in the works.

How long have you been an artist and when and how did you get involved with NASCAR?

"I’ve been painting all my life. However, the past 25 years of my career have been in the graphic arts and advertising world providing illustration and design. I just recently changed directions and started building my painting career on a full time basis. I obtained licensing from NASCAR and the teams at the end of the 2009 season to produce limited edition Giclee prints of the paintings, so I’m now an 'Officially Licensed Artist of NASCAR'. I originally moved to Charlotte, NC in 2005 and was associated with another NASCAR licensee, but it ran its course. I started photographing images along pit road, and once I saw these images through the viewfinder, I was blown away. The artist in me thought they would make great images to paint, presenting a view of the sport that not many people get a chance to see."

Do you paint from photographs or from memory? Do you go to a lot of races?

"I paint from photo references I take, I try to be completely true and accurate to the sport. I typically work from several photos of multiple pit stops to get as much detail as possible into each painting. Each one takes quite a while to produce because I strive to fit in as much action and excitement as I can. Beyond the main focal point, I include everything, from the crowd in the stands, the cars racing off pit road to the line of other cars and teams down pit road as well as trying to capture the adrenaline of the crews. My paintings focus on the team aspect of the sport, where I try to show the athleticism and finesse of the over-the-wall team members. Last year I went to about 10-12 races. I probably won’t be able to attend as many races this year, but we’ll see, that’s what I’m shooting for."

Tell me about this painting of the Amp car. When did you paint it and which track is this from?

"This painting of the AMP car was created from photos I took at the March Atlanta race in 2008. The licensing process took me longer to get in place then expected, but now that licensing is complete, I plan on doing more paintings, if these sell. It’s tough because I’ve got to meet minimum guarantees to be able to continue, so it’s in the hands of fans right now and if they feel the prints are worth owning."

Do you have a favorite driver? What about a favorite racing memory?

"I really don’t have any favorite driver; I’m just a real fan of the sport and love a good race. One of the more memorable race experiences I’ve had was when I first staring shooting along pit road, there was so much to take in. I was shooting the cars as they were all coming in to pit. I had camped out in a location where pit road had a break in it, one of the driveways heading into the garages. I was kneeling down low to get a dramatic angle of the shot, and Tony Stewart’s pit stall was to my left, right after the gap in the wall. When he came diving into his pit stall, at the low angle I was positioned, I thought I was going to get run over. Through the viewfinder it looked as if he was coming right at me, and I know he couldn’t see me below his left front fender as he was diving into his pit stall. Thank goodness he’s got such good car control, he probably didn’t come that close to me, but through the camera’s viewfinder, perspectives are exaggerated, and it was a sight I’ll never forget."

Will you have new prints available this season - any new paintings planned?

"Yes, I do have new paintings planned for this year. I’m almost done with a painting of Mark Martin’s car and team from Bristol last year, during his 1000th race. If that gets licensed and approved, I hope to have it available soon. I’ve been offered the opportunity to paint Danica’s Nationwide car, so I’ll need to work through the licensing and approval details once completed and hope to have it available when she returns to New Hampshire in June."

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