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Catching Up: The Chief Artist Of Kansas City, Chris Sembower

In part one of our conversation with local artist Chris Sembower, he breaks down his epic Posterized painting "Anticipation", how he got started, and discusses the Kansas City Chiefs.

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Chris Sembower, Posterized.
Chris Sembower, Posterized.

In Kansas City sports, new stars often emerge from areas that are outside the actual play on the field. Men like Joe Posnanski and Jason Whitlock simply wrote their way to becoming local icons during their time with the Kansas City Star. While others, such as Mitch Holthus, found their mark by describing the action as it happened on the field of play ("Touchdown, KAN-SAS CITY!").

Resident artist, Chris Sembower is charting an even different path. He was unable to just find his ticket to greatness, so he decided to draw his own. Luckily for Chris, a lot of sports fans in Kansas City consider his "Posterized" series to be masterful works of art, including myself.

Don't take my word for it though. I encourage all of you to take a peek with your own eyes. So please, just designate some time for yourself to stop by Chris Sembower's wonderful website or his incredible design page on Facebook, though make sure you are wearing your glasses, because you will truly want to see every image in crystal clear clarity.

When I first discovered Chris's work as a member of the Arrowhead Pride community a couple years ago, I was immediately impressed by how real the paintings looked. They looked so real in fact, that a lot of fans wrongfully assumed that Chris just took actual game footage and digitally manipulated them into the fine works of art that they are.

Of course, this couldn't be further from the actual truth, but nonetheless, it was a real issue that Chris had to overcome from the start. That, will be among the things we discuss, while SB Nation "Catches Up" with Kansas City's own, Chris Sembower:

SBNKC: Your artwork is amazing; can you tell SB Nation a little about how you got started?

Chris Sembower: Thanks man. To make a very long story short, it all started after a few years of art school. I lost my dad to a bad bout with multiple sclerosis, and after that I sort of lost my focus. I regained it when I started to draw/paint again, and decided to start building an illustration portfolio (I went to school for design.) I knew I had to pick a subject matter that I was passionate about, and chose our beloved Chiefs. My initial goals were to create a thematic portfolio that was focused, and grew throughout the process.

SBNKC: I'm sure a lot of artists want to know; what software do you use to create your work, or is it a trade secret?

When I work digitally I use primarily Adobe Photoshop with a Wacom tablet (Intuos 4), but I like to use all of the tools at my disposal. If a situation calls for it I will absolutely use some of the vector tools offered by Illustrator, or even step into a CAD program to help me with geometry or a perspective I'm having a hard time visualizing.

SBNKC: Who was the first Chiefs player that you ever drew a picture of and have they since been "Posterized?"

The first player I ever drew was Jared Allen. It was right before the trade, during the height of Allen Mania here in KC. I wanted KC to keep him here for a while, so I did a pencil sketch that was more of a caricature, of him handing Carl Peterson a bag of QB skulls in exchange for a stack of cash. Unfortunately, Allen removed himself from consideration for my future paintings not long afterwards. The first player to be painted digitally like everyone is familiar with them now was Jamaal Charles, who I hope invades the series in a big way this season.

SBNKC: Speaking of Jamaal Charles, he is seen in the forefront of your incredible painting called, "Anticipation" from up above, any particular reason that he was chosen?

I chose to put Jamaal in the forefront because in my mind, he is the identity of the team. No disrespect to the other guys, at all. But JC is the glue that holds everything together. He sparks the entire offense, running and passing game. He also keeps the defense off the field so they can do their job better. Not to mention his historic stat line. I will admit, the original painting was designed with Peyton Manning in mind. I was a prepared eagle scout and had that ready, just in case the signing of the century happened in KC. That one's locked away in my vault. Nobody will ever see it.

SBNKC: The Chiefs have their very own Peyton now, and Kansas City Chiefs fans might notice that Peyton Hillis has his helmet on while standing in Jamaal's shadow in "Anticipation"... Was that an intentional idea, or at least intentional until Peyton Hillis proves that he can be worthy of being "Posterized" in a Kansas City Chiefs uniform?

Well, I definitely didn't want to put him in front of Jamaal, but I did want to have the two together. I tried to pair players together that generally made sense, including those two. In regards to the helmet, that was more an aesthetic choice than a symbolic one. I am a big fan of the bulldog helmet that he wore in Cleveland (and though I'm disappointed that he won't be wearing it in KC, at least from what it looks like, I understand it), so I threw it in there.

SBNKC: Was it hard to use Peyton Hillis instead of Tony Moeaki upfront? Especially, when considering what happened last season injury wise with your placement of Eric Berry and Jamaal Charles right next to each other... Also, do you see all of those guys returning to form?

I will admit, I wasn't totally comfortable with Hillis being in the forefront as much (if I'm being really, really picky). But I did want him paired behind Charles for a tandem / one-two punch sort of feel. I do feel like he'll play a crucial role in this season. If they do in fact plan to use him the way we used Jones two years ago, it's highly likely he'll even get more carries than Charles.

I have high hopes for the trio and their recovery, but I do think that Moeaki is the one that scares me the most. Mostly just due to the sheer athleticism of the others, more than anything to do with Tony himself.

SBNKC: When I look at that particular painting, it feels like the entire team is waiting to do something very special in 2012. You have Romeo Crennel seemingly ready to lead with him smoothly giving Eric Berry some love and all of the Chiefs players look ready to dominate under the brilliant Arrowhead Stadium glow... However, where is Matt Cassel and what are your expectations for the Chiefs this upcoming season?

Leaving Cassel out was a very tough decision in this piece. By far the hardest. I know some won't agree with me, but here is my rationale:

I'm personally a Cassel supporter. I think he has been dealt a very intriguing and difficult hand in his NFL career, with his lack of starting time since high school before Brady went down, and the number of good / great QBs he's sat behind during his post high school career. I root for the guy. He's scrappy, and he seems to have a lot of the "intangibles" (I hate that word) that make great quarterbacks.

But I feel like Chiefs fans in general were so spoiled so early on at the QB position, that even people like me who were born well after the great Lenny Dawson retired feel the reverberating impact that he had on this team. Lamar Hunt left Dallas, chose Kansas City as the Chiefs' adopted parents, and almost immediately rewarded us with a Super Bowl, and a fleet of Hall of Fame talent to marinate on for the next 50 years.

The problem is, when I think of the leader of the team, I don't think of Cassel like I do with a lot of other QBs like Lenny the Cool (even some non-elite talent). That isn't a knock on him per se, but I can think of a number of other players that I would personally place above him in that hierarchy (DJ, JC, and EB come to mind). I think of him as maybe the 4th or 5th player on that list. But that conflicts with my own personal feelings about where he should be placed in this painting. He doesn't feel like a fearless leader type, who can come in and demolish foes with a single pass like Rogers, Brady, etc. and that is why I didn't place him up front. But what kind of message would it be if he were buried in the back with guys like Routt or Winston?

I was conflicted, and that ultimately led to leave him out, along with Bowe, whose future I wasn't sure about at the time. I had planned initially to do a v2.0 that included Cassel along with a couple of draft picks. I'd still like to do that.

SBNKC: What will it take for the Kansas City Chiefs to contend for a Super Bowl in the near future, in the mind of Chris Sembower?

I'll take a page out of the Bill Belichick school of thought and say that all it will take is for this team to do it's job. Scott Pioli has had a very specific idea of the type of guys he's wanted to acquire these last handful of years, and slowly this team has started to become bigger, stronger, faster, smarter, and more disciplined. Exactly what Pioli told us he would do in his very first press conference as the Chiefs GM.

I will be bold and say that he has collected a nearly complete roster full of players that have the capability of doing their job according to the Chiefs coaching staff. It appears to have very few holes, and there are a number of players on either side of the ball that I would match up against the best of the best in the NFL. If the starters & role players on this team can do their job this season, and play into the gameplans of the coaching staff (I'm an eternal optimist and am giving Daboll the benefit of the doubt. Sue me.), this team should be in for quite the ride. It should be very fun to watch. I can't help but feel like we have the prototypical type of team to counter the good / great QBs within our own very division, at very least. That can't hurt.

Check out part two of our conversation with Chris Sembower coming up tomorrow.