Nate Rupp walked away from a potential baseball career when he was in college but he never walked away from baseball.
The 37-year-old Georgia resident’s love of the game is as strong as it was 20 years ago when he thought he’d be playing for the Berry College [Ga.] baseball team, the first step in what might have been a journey towards bigger and better things. It didn’t take long, though, for Rupp to realize that the world of collegiate athletics was not one in which he wanted to live. The art world, however, was.
“I played baseball there for very short stint,” said Rupp, who was trying out for the team as a pitcher. “I wasn’t willing to dedicate my life to it. The program was incredibly time consuming and I didn’t love it enough to keep playing. The pitching coach was all about running and that’s not for me. I’m not about running.
“Ideally my goal was to play baseball and open up my own art gallery but that didn’t happen [either]. But that was my goal.”
Rupp’s life and career[s] have turned out just fine, though, and they both center on art and baseball. He ended up majoring in art education after switching from business and leaving the baseball team. He has been an art teacher in Georgia for 14 years, the last 12 of which have been at North Cobb Christian School, where he also coaches baseball and softball.
He’s also combined his love of art with his passion for baseball to produce dozens of exquisite pieces focusing on the game in general and the Braves in particular. Rupp is one of the genre’s hottest new artists and gained a tremendous following after he began posting his work on Instagram [@paintingapastime]. His students encouraged Rupp to create an Instagram account and it was through that account that he began to get noticed and find other artists.
What sets Rupp apart from many of his contemporaries, though, is that he usually doesn’t sell his original pieces. Rather, his prints can be found on his Etsy page, which is called Bravelyartistic1, and range in price from $25 to $200 depending on whether they are autographed.
“I can’t let them [the originals] go,” Rupp said. “I literally have them stacked in piles in my art studio. The ones of players that are still alive I am trying to get signed. I have a few signed by Ken Griffey, Jr. and Hank [Aaron] before he passed, [Greg] Maddux and Chipper [Jones]. I think I’m going to have to start selling them when it gets to the point where I can’t walk around my studio.
“My wife [Whitney] has been trying to get me to sell them for years. She said I really need to start getting them out of the house. I do take a couple of commissions but I keep them to family and friends. The Sid Bream I did was a commission for a good family friend and the Freddie Freeman holding the [World Series] trophy was a commission. Eventually I think I will sell some but I get attached to the originals. My students say how in the world are you not selling these paintings? They don’t understand how one can get attached to something.”
It isn’t all that surprising that Rupp gravitated toward the arts. He said his parents created a great deal of art when he was a youngster and his father remains an active artist, traveling around the country teaching art classes and holding workshops. His brother is a graphic designer and when they were teenagers, they were known as the art kids in their high school.
“When I wasn’t in the art room, I was on the baseball field,” said Rupp, whose wife also teaches art at North Cobb Christian. “People always said it was a weird combination but I loved being in the art room. Then I’d step out on the baseball field and love that and then go home and paint. It was baseball, art, baseball, art.”
So, it was a surprise to many that Rupp decided to major in business. It took him a year before he figured out he was on the wrong path and switched to art education. Rupp said his art teacher in high school always said that he would become an art teacher someday and that proclamation was always met with a laugh. When Rupp switched majors, his former teacher was the first person he called.
“It was probably the best decision I’ve ever made,” said Rupp, who teaches grades 9-12. “I make art and share my love of it and develop it in so many kids, which has been a huge blessing. They repeatedly ask me why I don’t do it for a living. I would miss dealing with the students. The value of art education is too high. Helping students develop their artistic abilities is very rewarding. We need more Christian artists in the art world.”
It was because of his students, though, that he finds himself in his current position. Rupp had been doing painting demonstrations for students and he began to realize and remember how much he loved painting. When CoVid forced him and his students into remote schooling, he found that he had more time to paint. The opportunity presented itself and eventually Rupp was back in his home’s top-floor studio.
Rupp admits that he hadn’t been in his studio for a while but once he was back in there, he brought out the oil paints that he hadn’t worked with since college and had an epiphany.
“I thought, oh my gosh, and I fell in love with the medium all over again,” said Rupp, who grew up in Orlando. “This is an absolute blast.”
It wasn’t as if Rupp was unaware of baseball artists prior to his venture into the field. He’s a big fan of Graig Kreindler, one of the premier baseball artists in the world. Rupp even commissioned Kreindler to do a piece for him. Now, the two speak frequently with Kreindler often providing tips.
Additionally, Rupp, like Kreindler, draws inspiration from legendary photographer Charles Conlin, whose pictures were staples in the newspaper industry during the first half of the 20th century. His photo of Ty Cobb sliding into third base remains one of the most well-known baseball shots in history.
Rupp says he now paints almost every day. He loves creating likenesses of some of baseball’s greatest stars such as Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Roberto Clemente in addition to his Atlanta-centric work. He estimates that he has painted some 80 pieces over the last three years.
He doesn’t limit himself to a one size fits all approach to his work. The smallest piece he does is 16X20 and it moves up from there.
“You name it and I am going to try it,” he said. “I’m a big fan of creating dynamic sizes. I find squares very interesting and that sometimes an oddly shaped canvas is fun to paint on. I try to squeeze in some oddball shapes now and then but working large is my go-to. I prefer to work as big as I can.”
Rupp, however, said he is cursed with the gift of speed. He works very quickly and can knock out a painting in one, two or three days over the course of 20 hours.
“It’s one of my faults,” he said. “I need to slow down. In the classroom, you have to hurry up. When I come into my studio, I have that mindset. I work at lightspeed and I really need to slow down and take a step back.”
Taking a step back might be tough, though. Rupp has a very large folder containing all his ideas and lists of the players whom he wants to paint. While he often finds his way back to the Braves, he said that he would love to paint Barry Bonds because the former slugger “might be controversial or not, but when I was growing up and watched him, I was mesmerized”.
He’s currently working on a painting of Aaron and former Braves third baseman Eddie Matthews and he is working on plans to start a large-scale Lou Gehrig once that is completed.
“Surprisingly, I haven’t done Babe Ruth as a Brave,” said Rupp, whose 8-year-old son Andrew also loves to draw and paint. “But I probably will.”
Rupp will have the time to work on painting more once he leaves teaching. He said he doesn’t see himself teaching for another 12 years but the end is coming sooner rather than later.
“I find myself loving the painting process more and more very day,” Rupp said. “I find myself thinking about time in the studio more and more often so it has been in the forefront of my mind. My wife has given me the okay; she knows how much I love it. She’s a huge supporter of mine and I know I can take that route if I choose to. I would love to hang on a little while longer, though.”
While Rupp would like to someday reach the artistic heights enjoyed by Kreindler, he has already carved out a strong following. His friends and family keep pushing him to reach out to the Braves, who currently collaborate with artist Noah Stokes.
Who knows? Perhaps Rupp will collaborate with the Braves someday and fulfill a dream even if it doesn’t involve putting on an Atlanta uniform.
“I probably wouldn’t have ended up changing my major if I stuck with baseball,” Rupp said. “I would have stuck with business and my whole life would have been different. I often wonder what life would have been like had I stuck with it but I feel the choice I made was definitely the best choice.”