From pitcher to painter: Louisville native seeing big success as artist after baseball career

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB)--  Artist Richard Sullivan does his best work under pressure.

"You really have to get into another mental state," Sullivan said as he painted in his Portland studio.

The stakes are high as he takes on the greatest faces in sports. Athletes like Muhammad Ali and LeBron James are showcased in his art.

"I want to get the emotion in the players face," he said.

He uses water colors to capture the intensity of the movement. 

"When everything's on the line and you have to be so focused and in control, I just try to put that into my artwork," said Sullivan, who knows the feeling well.

"I still need that connection and I think it's because I know what they're going through in that moment," said Sullivan.

The painter is a former professional baseball player. 

"Loved baseball and art was something I just did naturally. Whenever I picked up a pencil I would draw," said Sullivan.

The lefty pitched at Ballard High School before heading off to the Savannah College of Art and Design on a baseball scholarship.

"It was the only art school in the country that had a baseball team," said Sullivan.

He was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 11th round during his junior year of college.

"I played five years with the Braves. I was in double a for three of those years."

His biggest moment was a spring training game at Turner Field against the Minnesota Twins.

"I got to go in the 10th inning and pitch the 1-2-3 inning and got the win that night," said Sullivan.

Nothing beats pitching in front of 10-thousand fans, but that euphoria of staring down a batter and getting the win now carries over to the canvas.

"Every time I finish a painting I get the same feeling as if I just pitched," said Sullivan.

After retiring from baseball in 2013, Sullivan was thrown a curve ball. He was unsure what to do with his life. Then he rediscovered his love of art.

"Because when you get done playing something after 25 years you don't know what else to do. I'm very lucky to have something else."

He began by painting his former teammates. Just like his baseball career, going pro in painting takes dedication and determination.

"I think I have a natural talent, but it's a lot of work and it's a lot of painting every day," he said.

His ability to capture the love of the game in water color has landed his paintings in the Baseball Hall of Fame. And the organization that launched his baseball career just commissioned 16 of Sullivan's pieces. His artwork is featured in the Braves' brand new stadium, Suntrust Park, which opened this season.

"It's basically just like family and having them recognize my ability and there's something special we can connect with. Bringing me back and trusting me to do a good job, I really can't describe it. It's just amazing," said Sullivan.

He's now painting a new dream with the same pressure and pay off as pitching.

A poster Sullivan is working on can be seen at a Kentucky Derby Museum event honoring Charismatic on April 30th.

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