I first discovered Rob Schamberger on Twitter, around the time the Kansas City native was promoting his artwork and prepping for a trip to Wrestlemania 29. His work has featured the likes of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson; Hulk Hogan; Randy Savage; Mae Young; and even 11th Doctor Matt Smith.
His recent work includes a special mural image celebrating the 30th anniversary of Wrestlemania, commisioned by the WWE. (See gallery above)
Schamberger and I chatted via e-mail about his artwork; who inspires him; how his artistic process works; and what he'll be up to in Chicago while the WWE visits for the PAYBACK pay-per-view at the Allstate Arena this weekend.
He also provided Geek To Me with the EXCLUSIVE REVEAL of his "30 Years of Wrestlemania" mural image! (Click HERE to view in hi-res):
Geek To Me: How long have you been creating these portraits of professional wrestlers?
Rob Schamberger: I started about three years ago, first with what I call 'The Champions Collection', where I'm painting every world champion from all of the major American wrestling promotions going back to 1905! I'm still working on those, but it's also umbrella-ed out to lots of other wrestling-related art.
I worked as a professional illustrator and comic book creator for about 15 years prior to the wrestling work.
Geek To Me: What's the process involved? Do you work off of a particular photo that catches your eye? A screencap from a television broadcast?
Schamberger: I'll do both, to start from, but then I add a lot of other elements so that I'm not just making it look like the subject, but to feel like them as well. Capturing the energy of their persona is really important to me.
Geek To Me: On average, how long does it take for you to complete one?
Schamberger: It really depends on the piece. A small watercolor headshot may not take as long as a 7' x 5' mural with dozens of elements. It can really range from doing six in a day to one piece taking three weeks! The haughty artiste answer is that I work on them until they feel like they're done.
Geek To Me: Your work has caught on with the WWE, having been featured on their store and in auctions, how did that come about?
Schamberger: I had become friendly with Jim Ross through the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, and I was later putting together a Make-A-Wish benefit show when SmackDown was coming through Kansas City. I reached out to Jim to put me in touch with WWE about helping with the show, and that in turn led to us talking about other ways to work together.
On top of that, it allowed me to work with the Ultimate Warrior, and I have the honor of having hand-painted the jacket he wore in his final appearance the next night on Raw.
Geek To Me: Who are some of the artists that you follow that inspire/inform your work?
Schamberger: I spend about half an hour every morning just looking at other artists' work. My background in comic books and illustrations still inform what I do, but I've also really gotten into global street art and what other portrait artists are doing.
At its core, I see art as problem-solving, you know? How do I create this image, how do I get that nose right, how do I use acrylic paint to get that effect, etc. So I look at how other artists solve those problems and then how I can bring it back to my own approach.
Geek To Me: I remember following you on Twitter last year when you had that terrible accident that cost you a lot of your artwork for the fan access event. How long did it take for you to recover from that?
Schamberger: It was pretty terrible. I got t-boned by a semi just three miles from the venue for WrestleCon, totaling my truck and destroying thousands of prints and paintings. Luckily I walked away with literally just a scratch, but it was a tough situation.
Amazingly my printer saw what had happened and over-nighted a whole new run of prints for me to sell at the show, and within short order I created new paintings.
It really reinforced my faith in my fellow man, and has led to me doing a lot for charities since to give back.
Geek To Me: Outside of wrestling, what are some other geeky subjects that you like to cover? (By the way, I love your Doctor Who prints!)
Schamberger: Really whatever interests me at the time, when I have a little break between rasslin' projects. Doctor Who, superheroes, pin-ups, it really varies!
Geek To Me: And finally, what can we expect from you in the near future?
Schamberger: There will hopefully be several new prints and posters coming soon on WWE Shop, plus we have new original paintings going up every week at WWE Auctions! I'll be in Chicago for Payback doing something top secret that I'm excited about. Being vague isn't just for social media!
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