An interview with Jon Ren
During the course of my research into the work of Chuck Ren and the Damac range of posters, I came into contact with Chuck's son, Jon, who very graciously shared some of the stories behind his father's work for the NFL, his techniques and how he himself learned from his father. I interviewed Jon not so long ago, and despite being incredibly busy with his own work, he happily gave us some of his time to answer some questions about his Dad and also his own paintings. Many thanks go to Jon, who has been behind this site project from the beginning.
Illustrated NFL: Aside from the Damac work, roughly how many pieces did Chuck do for the NFL?
Jon: A lot...lol. I know he did at least 2 of every team in the Damac series. He also did alot of pieces for different NFL books and magazines. He also did the poster and program cover for Super Bowl XIV.
Illustrated NFL: Do you know how he came to get the work, or who he dealt with mostly?
Jon: The Damac posters were licensed through the NFL by Bob Vinson. He was the same person I did mine with back in the early 90's. He passed away in the early 90's. My Dad also worked very closely with David Boss of NFL Properties.
Illustrated NFL: Can you briefly cover the NFL's general criteria with regards to player identification and the like?
Jon: The NFL and the NFLPA had seperate criteria. The NFL would supply all uniform and helmet designs and colors so my Dad could match them correctly. They would also supply alot of photography of players and stadiums. The player's association would not allow the likeness or number of a player without the player getting paid a royalty. Bob Vinson only had a license with the NFL and didn't want to pay the royalties to the player's association. That's why the Damac posters have hidden or changed numbers and different likenesses. The real trick was trying to convey in a poster that it you were looking at Terry Bradshaw, but not being able to prove it was really him. My Dad didn't have this problem with the work he did directly with the NFL.
Illustrated NFL: Did your Dad have access to the NFL's photo archive, or was he given a free reign to just use photo references from magazines and such?
Jon: My Dad did have access to the NFL's photo archive and was also given free reign to use any references he found.
Illustrated NFL: For the posters, what was the size, materials and surfaces used for them, and were they done in any particular way or method?
Jon: I believe the Damac posters were generally 18" x 19". He would draw them out in detail on vellum and then rubber cement them onto illustration board. All the lettering and background designs and colors were done in airbrush. Everything else by brush. They were all done in acrylic.
Illustrated NFL: Many of the posters were redesigned, and there are usually at least two variations for each team/city theme. Do you know roughly how many paintings were done solely for the poster range? (We're trying to make an exhaustive list including variations!)
Jon: As I said before there were at least 2 of every team. If and when I get my collection, I'll count them and let you know the exact number.
Illustrated NFL: Several of the originals were sadly lost many years ago; do you have any idea how many originals survived and any of their further histories?
Jon: Yes, many of them were destroyed in a fire. My Dad was only paid $500 per piece for the first series and Bob Vinson kept the originals. After that, my Dad made more and kept the originals. So I believe all the rest are out there somewhere. I own a few of them.
Illustrated NFL: Deadlines from the NFL were pretty tight to say the least. Did this affect the way your Dad worked in any way to make sure that those deadlines were met?
Jon: My Dad had a week to do each piece. If you look closely at the pieces, you can see the differences and shortcuts he took compared to pieces where he had more time. He used alot more washes and let the pencil work show through.
Illustrated NFL: How did your poster work come about? Were you approached by the NFL or a poster company, and how long after the Damac range finished did this come about?
Jon: In 1991 Bob Vinson contacted my Dad about doing a poster for Tulane University. My Dad was too busy doing his Western art and recommended me. I sent my portfolio to him and he ditched the Tulane project and decided to do a new NFL team poster series.
Illustrated NFL: How many posters did you paint for, and were they of a similar style and size as your Dad's original designs?
Jon: I did five pieces before Bob fell ill and passed away. They were the same size and a similar style to my dad's. My backgrounds were different than my Dad's. His were more illustrative and airbrushed. Mine were more painterly, usually depicting a scene from the area of the team.
Illustrated NFL: Your paintings are uncannily like your Dad's, how much training and in what way did he teach you? Was it mostly how to paint sports, or painting in general? Do you work in a similar way to what he did or have you developed your own way of working over the years? (Lots of questions in one there, sorry!)
Jon: I learned everything I know from him. I've developed some of my own techniques through the years. I started watching and learning from him when I was 5 years old. I remember copying his NFL posters at the age of 8. He taught me how to paint everything, not just sports.
Illustrated NFL: Do you have a personal favourite work of your Dad's?
Illustrated NFL: What are you working on presently, any exhibitions or new works on the way?
Jon: I am doing mostly wildlife now. I still do a few commissions, I've always loved doing the sports pieces. I am in print with Wild Wings and was recently in the Southeastern Wildlife Expo in Charleston, WV. All my new pieces can be seen on my website: www.jonren.com
Thanks again to Jon Ren for a fascinating and informative interview, and also for the great painting tips he kindly gave me!