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Catching Up: The Chief Artist Of Kansas City, Chris Sembower, Part 3

In our closing conversation with local artist Chris Sembower, he discusses his brilliant defensive painting "Getting Pressure" and gives us some great news.

Chris Sembower's "Getting Pressure"
Chris Sembower's "Getting Pressure"

Thank you for joining us to continue "Catching Up" with the artist behind the amazing "Posterized" Kansas City Chiefs series, if you missed the earlier segments, you should check the first post here and the second part here.

At Arrowhead Pride and various other Chiefs blogs around the internet, Chris Sembower is widely known and beloved for his incredible paintings. At SBN, we realize that is only a small portion of Chiefs Nation, so we wanted to share his work with you and let you get to know the man behind the art:

SBNKC: What are some of the biggest hurdles that you have faced in getting your "Posterized" series out in to the world?

Well, I've encountered a number of challenges along the way. Some in regards to selling the artwork, which I cannot currently do, and some in regards to actually getting exposure and spreading the word. The first challenge I had to overcome was making my artwork accumulate value, without having to make people pay for it. I was having a hard time seeing people going to my website or Facebook page as often as I would have liked them to do it, so I had to shake up what I perceived to be the "standard route" for artists to go online -- online digital portfolio.

I wanted to do more online than simply display my artwork. I wanted to try and create my own little space somewhere between how digital and traditional artwork has been used in the past. So what I decided to do was give up a little bit of pride and offer all of my work for free as desktop wallpapers digitally, and let the digital aspect work to my advantage in a viral way instead of letting it frighten me as it does with some artists. What I ended up with was a very unique combination of topical, original artwork that people could "hang" on the backgrounds of their most used electronic devices, without requiring them to have internet access to see it.

The result was more than I ever dreamed it'd be, at almost two million downloads in the past two years from my website alone.

SBNKC: Can you tell us about your first experience with a Chiefs player contacting you about your work?

Well, I've been contacted by a number of players, reps, autograph agents, and player family members. I think the first actual communication I had with one of the players directly was more recently with Kendrick Lewis. I get a lot of Twitter love during the season also when people tweet them to these guys.

SBNKC: Have there ever been any moments in sports that you couldn't duplicate with your artwork?

I'd sure like to hope not. I've been trying hard to work on angles & points of view that can't be captured with a traditional camera in a game setting. The Bowe circus catch, and the Christian Okoye paintings are good examples of this I think.

SBNKC: How much has your Arrowhead Pride membership helped you in your career so far?

Immensely. The following I've been able to create in the last couple years would have been much harder without all the good people at Arrowhead Pride. I have a lot of love for the people that hang around that site. The series was welcomed with open arms when I introduced it, and that certainly didn't have to be the case. A big hat tip to the Thorman brothers for allowing me to contribute there regularly as well.

SBNKC: What advice would you give to someone trying their hand in sports art?

Make the artwork move! I think that creating movement and energy inside an illustration is one of the hardest things to create from scratch, but is also one of the most rewarding if you can find a way sell it.

SBNKC: Have there been any people guiding you from behind the scenes through all of this, or are you out there on an island?

To be honest, it's been a healthy combination of both. I'm very much doing this on my own, but I've been continuing to network and have begun to meet some very helpful and generous people along the way. I'm feeling less and less on an island by the day.

SBNKC: Who are some of your biggest supporters?

Without a doubt, my family. We've been on a long ride together through some pretty hard stuff, and I'm not sure I'd be here without the unwavering support I've received from them.

SBNKC: How much did your parents influence you in your career path?

I would say very heavily. My mom is and has been a calligrapher at Hallmark here in Kansas City for my entire life, and my dad dabbled in lettering / advertising / artistic R&D kinds of things as well. They taught me at a very young age that the computer, despite it's projected rise to supremacy in the art / design world, is and would always be just a tool. So I learned both simultaneously. Digital and traditional. I have been drawing and painting since I was in preschool, and that was my main focus until I was 16 when I got a job airbrushing t-shirts at Worlds of Fun in KC.

When I was about 7 my dad brought home a very early version of Adobe Photoshop, and that was my first introduction to this amazing medium. My parents helped me stay grounded about what exactly that computer offered, and encouraged me to develop my traditional skill set, with the computer just being essentially an extension of that. They were absolutely crucial in this whole process.

SBNKC: Have you ever wanted to quit doing your work because of hurdles in getting it out there?

Absolutely. There have been a number of hurdles in all of this for me, and some of them have been (and / or continue to be) pretty deflating at times. I can actually point to a number of specific incidents early in the first year that almost canceled the series in the blink of an eye, and that still amazes me when I consider how all this has materialized.

The only thing that has kept me in it has been this absolutely incredible Chiefs fanbase. Their support cuts through any of the doubt that I've had the last couple years.

SBNKC: The Kansas City Chiefs fans base is the best; what was the overall fan response to your painting "Getting Pressure" when you introduced it to the public? We all know that Chiefs fans want that 1990s style dominant defense to return... Are you suggesting that it is making its triumphant with this painting?

I think the response was pretty good on this one. I was experimenting with a stylistic approach that I hadn't used before and was relieved to find that it wasn't a failure (after all, I'm not the ultimate judge of that).

One thing I feel was received pretty well was the fact that I gave all of these guys realistic jobs in the painting. Jerrell Powe is splitting a double team. Glenn Dorsey stands his ground using two-gap technique. Justin Houston begins to give us a taste of what's to come later that season.

Derrick Johnson sets up for the inevitable pick. Tamba Hali proceeds to not only beat his man, but to do so in spite of a regularly occurring, neck-wrenching facemask (non) penalty. I think each one of those are things that the avid Chiefs fan could recognize while doing a scan of the piece. That's the depth and consideration that I've been striving for lately.

Part of the reason I think the defensive stuff is so popular, is because of exactly what you referred to. The defenses here in Kansas City in the 90's were downright scary. That fear on the field was intensified by what was happening around it: A Sea of red.

As we move on further and further from the Marty / Carl days, the more appreciation I have for what they actually built here. It went way past the product on the field. They enabled and empowered us to create an unrivaled tailgating mystique, and gave us something to aim it at once we got in the stadium.

No, they didn't garnish Arrowhead Stadium with the Lamar Hunt trophy even, but what they did do was give every Chiefs General Manager in the future a blueprint of how to win this town's heart. It's our equivalent of Mile High air. But it's not unconditional. It takes the right kind of team, and I do think the prototype is centered around the defense. Scott Pioli was watching, and it looks to me like he took notes.

That's the real reason why my defensive pieces are so successful. We just love us some defense.

SBNKC: Jerrell Powe makes an appearance in "Getting Pressure", can you envision a scenario this season, where you include him in a "Posterized" painting with the Chiefs first round draft pick, Dontari Poe? Would it be easy to use the obvious theme with their names, or do you try and avoid gimmicks?

I'm not sure. I sure hope so. I'd love to do a Po' Boys piece.

From what it sounds like so far, Dontari Poe might have a better chance of landing in the series this year if for no other reason than he'll actually see the field. I liked the Powe pick but he looks to be a little buried on the depth chart. We look to have quite the rotation along the D-line this year with the interior being the biggest question mark. So there are definitely snaps up for grabs to whoever wants to claim them. I'm hopeful until I see something otherwise.

SBNKC: It seems as if Derrick Johnson is a little underrated in your "Posterized" series. Correct me if I am wrong, but he hasn't been featured primarily in his own painting yet, and in "Getting Pressure" he is hiding in the background getting ready to pick of a pass... Chris, are you trying to keep DJ a secret from the rest of the league, or is it something deeper than that?

Unfortunately, you're right. DJ hasn't really been featured in my series heavily while guys like Charles and Bowe have been featured a number of times. I'm afraid that DJ has become a victim of circumstance the past few years. There is always some reason why he doesn't get chosen. Bowe had a big game. First time TD/Int by Berry. Bowe set the Chiefs' touchdown record...

I'm going to try and get him into the series this year in a big way. I'll be looking for any opportunity at all to give him his own painting. I try to sneak him into the background whenever I get a chance, but I'm afraid that just doesn't cut it. He's really the only elite level player that I haven't given his due yet.

One thing I'm pondering at the moment is a way to step up the desktop wallpaper experience. I know a lot of people set their desktop to rotate between my various wallpapers, so I'm thinking about doing a 3 pack or something like that with DJ that would be a little mini-series that everyone could use for a change of pace. Maybe something that told a 3 frame story like a graphic novel (his 3 consecutive stops against Oakland?), or a few pieces showing off his various skill sets. I'm still not sure what it'll turn into, but I'm excited about rolling that out.

SBNKC: In a perfect Kansas City Chiefs world, what would your ideal "Posterized" project entail for the 2012 season? In other words, what is your dream scenario for your artwork?

I would say the dream would be lots of wins, and lots of memorable moments. To be honest, the perfect scenario for myself and the series doesn't necessarily coincide with what's best for the team. It's sort of like fantasy football. I'm looking for "star moments" and ESPN highlights rather than team victories, because those are tied into specific memories and feelings. But we have a team that isn't built around individual stats. So sometimes I have to take what I can get.

At the end of the day though, just as with my fantasy football team, the Chiefs win trumps the perfect Posterized moment any day.

SBNKC: With all of the talent on the Chiefs defense this year: Eric Berry, Brandon Flowers, Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson, Tyson Jackson, Glenn Dorsey, and newcomers, Stanford Routt or Dontari Poe, just to name a few. Who is Chris Sembower's defensive MVP in 2012? Or at least, who is your "Posterized" champion of the defense for next season, prediction wise?

I think I'm going to stick with a theme in this interview and say Eric Berry. I really think he's primed for something serious that will just send this defense into the next dimension in 2012. We learned to play without him last year, and even though I wish that hadn't been the case, I feel like we overcame a lot by the end of the season. Throw Berry back into that mix and you should have an elite product. At least that is my personal expectation. These aren't the Herm years any longer. We've even got a little depth now. I'm not even sure how long it's been since that statement was true...

SBNKC: What has been you're proudest moment since starting your series?

I would say hands down that has to be the call from the Chiefs. Though in second place would probably be the current number of collective wallpaper downloads from my website alone, which, like I previously said, currently stands at close to two million from the last two years. I was absolutely shocked when I first saw that number.

SBNKC: Finally, we would love to hear about what comes next for you, any plans with the Kansas City Chiefs?

Well, this season I'm really anxious to get back to my 2010 productivity. Late in that first season I was getting pretty winded on the whole process (at that point I was doing a painting a week outside of regular freelance work) and I felt like my attention to detail and overall product started to slip a little bit. I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't put a piece out anymore unless it was at a place that I was at least happy with it, even if it wasn't "finished."

That is what I did last offseason and I could tell it was paying dividends not only in the quality, but the response from Chiefs fans. I wanted to create more last year during the season, but it was pretty hard to maintain a lot of optimism into the colder months. This coming season I have a sneaky suspicion that there will be a lot of things to paint.

Outside of my own personal plans for the series, I'm absolutely stoked about what will be coming out this season with the Kansas City Chiefs officially. I was contacted by the team back in September of last year about the possibility of developing a relationship that I've been building since. They also asked if I would be interested in being featured in an upcoming 30 minute episode of The Kingdom, which they have been winning regional Emmys for left and right. Obviously I was on board with that immediately.

There will also be a piece of this that will actually bring some of my artwork into Arrowhead in an official capacity, so everyone can definitely look out for that at some point this fall. I'm hoping this is just the beginning.

You can follow @ChrisSembower on Twitter.