All of which is great, but it wouldn’t much matter from a Uni Watch perspective if not for a unique sub-niche that Ullman’s developed along the way: He specializes in drawing pin-up girls wearing hockey jerseys.
Ullman’s hockey girls are sexy, for sure. But like most classic pin-up art, they’re fun, playful girl-next-door cuties, not sex-bomb porno vixen types. The key element: They’re always smiling, which usually makes them look endearingly wholesome. And yes, their charms are definitely enhanced by the jerseys they’re wearing.
Ullman, who works as an illustrator and cartoonist, has been a Uni Watch reader for some time, but I only became aware of his sports-themed cheesecake material a few weeks ago. If you’re a comics or illustration fan, you’ll spot lots of classic and contemporary influences in his work; if you don’t know anything about that world, that’s a pity, but Rob’s jersey-clad gals are an ideal introduction. Cheesecake and uniforms: two great tastes that taste great together.
Rob recently stepped away from his drafting board long enough to chat about his work. Here’s the scoop:
Uni Watch: How old are you, and where do you live?
Rob Ullman: I’m 36, and I live in Richmond, Virginia, with my wife and our baby daughter.
UW: Where’d you grow up?
RU: In northeast Ohio, around the Akron area, about halfway between Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
UW: And how long have you been an illustrator?
RU: I’ve been drawing forever. I’ve been doing professional illustration for about 10 years now, and I’ve been working at it full-time for about four years.
UW: So you make a living at it?
RU: Pretty much, yeah.
UW: What kind of sports fan are you?
RU: I’m a big NFL fan, big hockey fan. I always get excited about Opening Day for baseball, and I’ll watch a little bit of the NBA playoffs. My favorite part of the year is probably the NHL playoffs.
UW: Have you always been into uniforms?
RU: Pretty much, yeah. I still have an old Lynn Swann jersey I had when I was a little kid. And I was always fascinated by football helmets, and I’d draw them, draw the logos.
UW: That was my next question: Were you doodling logos in the margins of your notebooks and stuff like that?
UW: Did you save that stuff?
RU: Some of it, yeah. In 1989, when I was in high school, the Steelers finally got back to the playoffs for the first time in years, and I was so jazzed that I made a little Steelers-vs.-Oilers sign that I hung in my room [Rob couldn’t find that one, but he did turn up a similar piece from his youth — PL]. I drew the helmets all meticulously, drew the logos exactly how they were supposed to look — so, uh, yeah, I guess I was a little obsessive.
UW: In addition to liking uniforms, you also clearly have a fondness for classic girlie pin-up art. How’d you get into that specialty niche?
RU: It was an aptitude that just sort of developed. There’s this sex advice column by Dan Savage, called “Savage Love,” which runs in a lot of alt-weeklies, and I started illustrating that for City Paper in Washington, D.C. in 2000 or so…
UW: Here in New York, “Savage Love” runs in the Village Voice, but they don’t run any illustrations with it.
RU: It’s so much better with illustrations — not necessarily mine, but anyone’s, just to provide some visual interest. Anyway, if you’re familiar with the column, it tends to be pretty raw, and it basically gave me the opportunity to draw lots of women in various ridiculous situations.
UW: Okay, but there are lots of different ways to draw women. How’d you come up with that classic pin-up style? Were you consciously patterning your work on that look?
RU: Kind of. I’ve always described my style as Archie Comics gone bad. Dan DeCarlo, who was an Archie Comics artist for years and years [and who also did lots of pin-up work of his own — PL], my style sort of went that way. It wasn’t really a conscious choice. It’s just sort of the way it developed.
UW: Are there any other artists who’ve been particularly big influences on you, like Vargas or anyone like that?
RU: Gil Elvgren is my favorite of those guys. Fritz Willis is another one whose style I always liked. There are also a couple of comic artists, like Bruce Timm — he developed the look of the Batman cartoon from around 1992. Real simple, kinda Art Deco cartoon-y sort of style. Another guy who worked on that show, named Shane Glines — I like him too. Oh, and I should probably mention Coop.
UW: Yeah, I was gonna ask if he was on your list.
UW: So how did you hit upon the notion of combining your artwork with your passion for sports and uniforms?
RU: I’m not sure exactly, but at some point I just thought that a girl wearing a hockey sweater, and very little else, seemed very appealing to me.
UW: As it might be to many of us.
RU: Right. It seems kind of, uh, obvious, I guess. So I drew that. And as an artist, your first attempt at something is usually pretty rough, and you say, “Okay, I’ll try it again and do better this time, and do better the time after that,” and I just kept on going back to it.
UW: Do you recall when that first one was?
RU: Yeah, back around 1993 or so. I just saw that Devils jersey and thought of the whole concept of the devil, and being sinful, being lustful, that sort of thing — it just seemed like a no-brainer. I’ve gone back to that Devils idea several times. And it’s a good way to keep people interested if I want to talk about hockey on my blog, since most of the people who come to my site probably haven’t watched a hockey game in their entire lives. But they’ll stay for the cheesecake pictures and maybe end up reading my little Western Conference preview or whatever.
UW: You’ve just touched upon something I’ve written about before, namely that most artists and creative people and alterna-people, or whatever you want to call them, aren’t into sports at all.
UW: So do you, as an artist and a sports fan, sometimes feel a bit isolated in that regard?
RU: Sometimes. In high school, I ran with the arty crowd, and those people all hated jocks, hated sports. … Recently I was posting a bunch of knocks on the Patriots on my blog, and a lot of people were saying, “Okay, enough of that. Enough pigskin — more skin.” That sort of thing.
UW: So it’s been about 15 years now — do you have any idea how many of these uniform-related cheesecake pieces you’ve done?
RU: I’ve probably done a girl in a hockey sweater at least 30 times.
UW: Do you know how many teams you’ve depicted?
RU: Maybe half the league. It pretty much comes down to the fact that there are certain logos I like better, that are more fun to draw.
UW: Which logos are your favorites?
RU: I think the Devils have a great logo. Same goes for the Bruins and the Penguins — love that skatin’ penguin.
UW: Are there any that you particularly dislike?
RU: Being from Ohio, I really want to like the Columbus Blue Jackets, but they just cannot seem to get it together with their logo. The one they have now is an improvement over their first one, but there’s still nothing I really like about it. Florida is another one that seems very forgettable, nothing special. That seems to be the case with most new logos over the past 10 years or so. They just don’t have that iconic quality.
RU: Not many. I’ve done a couple of football ones, including one that was a commission for a fan — he’s a graduate of Vanderbilt and wanted a girl dressed in a Vanderbilt jersey. And I’ve done a few baseball pieces — that Indians one is the most successful example. But hockey seems to be the one that gets the most play.
UW: Whatever the sport, do you try to get the uniform details exactly right, or do you tend to take some liberties?
RU: I try to get them as right as I can. I probably wouldn’t sacrifice an artistic choice just for the sake of some little detail, but I try to be as accurate as possible in terms of piping, logos, and all that.
UW: Like that NHL Winter Classic patch that you included on that Penguins jersey.
RU: Yeah, exactly.
UW: But on that Indians illustration, it appears that you depicted the jersey as zipper-front, and I don’t think the Indians ever had a zip-front jersey with that logo on it.
RU: Actually, that was more a matter of just leaving the buttons out. It’s supposed to be a button-front. I did consider all of that, and I basically decided that including the buttons would get in the way of the pleasing lines of the jersey. So that was a case of artistic license. The buttons are more implied.
UW: When you’re doing these, do you use actual jerseys on a live model?
RU: No. I pretty much draw ’em out of my head. Sometimes I’ll use some visual reference for the figure, but about 80% of the time I just come up with a pose and then try to drape the jersey onto it. It’s tough, because a real hockey jersey probably wouldn’t sit on a woman’s body the way I draw it.
UW: So you’re not using a live model, and you’re also not using a real jersey on a mannequin or something like that?
RU: Right. Just out of my head, and matching the jersey to what’s shown on NFLshop.com or some place like that.
UW: Have you ever tried to depict an older vintage design with more textured fabric, back from the days when hockey sweaters really were sweaters?
UW: But have you ever tried to get that effect with the pin-up art?
RU: Not so much, no.
UW: Have you done any other sports-oriented comics?
RU: A couple summers ago I did a piece called “Brave Old World” for Richmond magazine. Basically, I can’t stand the shape that baseball’s in here in Richmond, and I wanted to vent about it. Our stadium is ugly and our team looks exactly like the Atlanta Braves, which strikes me as preposterous for a city with Richmond’s identity. A few weeks ago, the R-Braves announced that they’re moving after this season, but I don’t think my comic had anything to do with it.
UW: I know you are the perfect person for me to pose this question to: Would you care to hold forth on the greatness of striped socks?
RU: Things are so much more visually interesting when they have stripes on them. You can’t go wrong with them. It says sports.
UW: Plus a sexy girl looks even sexier with striped socks.
RU: That’s something I just recently added to the girl in a hockey shirt paradigm — to put the socks on her. And let me tell you, man, it makes all the difference. It’s too much. I actually bought some striped socks for my wife — she was going to her office Halloween party as Poison Ivy, the Batman villain. So I got her these long striped socks from American Apparel, thigh-high. And they’re, like, kelly green with white stripes — they just look awesome. It’s just the coolest thing. It’s kinda weird, taking something that looks good on a really tough-ass hockey player and putting in a more feminine context. I don’t know why it works both ways, but it really does.
Of course, Poison Ivy doesn’t actually wear striped socks, but chalk that up to artistic license.
Postscript: Shortly after our interview, Rob surprised me by whipping up a special baseball-themed illo that he knew I’d like. Interested in commissioning him to give the pin-up treatment to your favorite team? Contact him here.
It sucks that I even have to say this… but don’t interpret today’s mildly racy content as an excuse (much less an invitation) for an outbreak of the stupids in the comments section. If the discussion takes a turn for the juvenile, I’ll simply turn off the commenting function. Maybe for a few days. But I’m sure that won’t be necessary because you’ll all keep things on an intelligent level, right? Right.
Uni Watch Travel Update: Looks like the the Uni Watch party in Seattle will take place on the night of March 14th. Time and place details to follow shortly.
Meanwhile, here’s a little nugget for you to chew on: Imagine if a minor league team held a Uni Watch Night promotion, with the home team wearing stirrups and yours truly throwing out the first pitch. Sound preposterous? Actually, yeah, it does, but it’s in the works anyway. Still very provisional at this point, but the wheels are turning. Stay tuned.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Joe Skiba’s upcoming live chat on Giants.com is next Friday, March 7th (not this Friday, as I initially reported yesterday before correcting the text). You still have to register here. … Yesterday I wondered aloud whether Yankee Stadium vendors actually wore this thing in the 1970s. Now Todd Radom has provided this photo of Jackie O at the ballpark in 1967– note the vendor behind the usher behind Jackie. … New baseball uniforms this season for the Florida Gators, plus an ice cream man alternate cap (with thanks to Josh Coney). … “During the the Mets’ spring game versus the U of Michigan on Tuesday, I noticed that the Michigan catcher had the school’s standard ‘wings’ logo on his catcher’s helmet,” writes Cork Gaines. “What’s great about is that the wings are facing forward even though he’s wearing the helmet backwards.” … ” I’ve noticed that teams across D1 NCAA lacrosse are wearing bright green shoelaces,” writes Andrew Matthews. “Is this part of the whole ‘going green’ phenomenon? What’s the deal?” Anyone..? … Jere Smith has stumbled upon an oddity: According to this page, the Cincy Reds’ uni numbers in 1938 were all 35 or higher. “Everything was normal the years before and after,” he writes. “I came across this because I’ve been trying to figure out why no Reds players wore Nos. 1 through 4, from basically the ’40s to the ’90s. And they’re not retired. I figure they may have been reserved for coaches.” Anyone know more about either of these mysteries? … Interesting note from Ariel Shosan, who writes: “I just returned from a Cubs practice at Hohokam in Mesa. The main gate now features 6 ‘batting circles’ — one is a Cubs logo, and the others are Santo 10, Banks 14, Sandberg 23, Williams 26, and … Jenkins 31. The thing is, the Cubs haven’t retired Fergie Jenkins’ number. Fans have long thought that they would retire 31 for Fergie and Maddux when the time came, à la Berra and Dickey.” Hmmmm. … It’s no surprise that many teams still have old, gray-underbrimmed 5950s in stock. But check out Rajai Davis yesterday — he was wearing an old 5950 and a Russell jersey, which is several years out of date (great catch by Bryan). … Looks like the stirrups policy adopted by the Giants’ starting pitchers is trickling down to the club’s younger hurlers. Check out double-A prospect Eugene Espineli (with thanks to Jameson Costello). … Steelers broadcaster Myron Cope, inventor of the Terrible Towel, died yesterday. A memorial helmet decal seems likely, although I’m hoping for a towel-shaped jersey patch with “Myron” in stencil lettering (or, really, anything involving the word, “Myron,” which would be the single greatest word to adorn an NFL uni in league history). … The White Sox wore NIU caps yesterday.