Aviles Talks Art, Baseball, and Collecting
Growing up, New York-based artist Angel S. Aviles wanted to draw Spider-Man comics and play centerfield for the New York Yankees. That didn’t happen, but the next best thing did — he became an artist working for Topps. Since 2018, Angel has been creating sketch cards for Topps Baseball and Star Wars Masterwork and has become one of the industry’s most recognizable sketch card artists.
We talked with Angel about his art, background, and excitement about being Topps MLB Living Set®‘s newest artist.
How did you get involved with the Living Set?
I’ve been doing sketch cards for Topps for almost six years, mainly Star Wars. And I have a connection with a lot of the artists and collectors in the Hobby. Once Mayumi Seto announced that she was retiring, a lot of people reached out and said, “Hey, we think you would be great on this.” Then Jared Kelley helped make the connection, and we went from there.
How did you get your start in sketch cards?
I’ve been an artist all my life. I stopped drawing for about ten years or so. I was doing performance poetry. My father passed away, I was depressed, and I remember something he always said to me growing up: “You have talent in your hands … promise me you won’t waste it.” And so I thought about it, and I decided to draw a little sketch card. So I did one, and it sucked. So I did a second one, and it sucked, right? So I tried a third time, and It wasn’t that bad. I posted it, and it sold within two minutes. A month later, I got an email from Topps saying people had reached out about me and asked if I wanted to draw Star Wars. I got a FedEx package with blank cards and a contract two months later. I’ve been addicted to drawing sketch cards ever since.
How would you describe your work?
I try to capture emotion in the subject matter. I try to draw in a way that connects with the audience through the subject – something you can see in the eyes, the countenance of the figure, or something like that. Technically I started with pencil, watercolor, and then acrylic and oil – then I started using markers a bit. Now I pretty much use ink, marker, and colored pencils for the Living Set.
I fancy myself a hyper-realist, even though I don’t necessarily think I qualify, like, you know, as a Chuck Close kind of level. But that’s what I aim for. No, I won’t get every pore; there’s only so much you can do with cards. But I’ve gained a lot of popularity for drawing full-figure minis – that’s an entire character from head to toe on a 2.5″ x 3.5″ sketch card. I try to achieve a nice balance of technicality and intangible qualities.
What’s unique about the Living Set?
It’s iconic. In my mind, it’s the premier baseball set, particularly because of the artwork produced by Mayumi Seto and Jared Kelley. I’m so grateful to be connected with it — it’s an honor. The fact that it’s based on the 1953 Topps set is such an awesome idea – the 1953 set is probably one of the most beautiful sets of all time. It carries on that tradition of an artistic representation of baseball players in a classic way but in a modern format. It’s as if the graphics are upgraded — almost like Atari versus PlayStation5. But I can’t stress enough the idea of it being iconic on so many levels — from the artists, the prestige, and the connection to the 1953 Set.
What is your connection to baseball and collecting?
I collected as a kid in the ’80s and early ’90s, the Junk Wax Era — of course, I didn’t know that then. I loved Don Mattingly, Ken Griffey, Jr., Tony Gywnn, Wade Boggs, and all those players. I went off to college and everything and became a lapsed collector. But I had all my old boxes at my mother’s house, and my passion for collecting reignited six or seven years ago. I’ve collected vintage stuff, Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, and Mickey Mantle’s third-year Topps card. I’m a big Ichiro guy. I probably have almost 96% of all his rookie cards. It’s funny; growing up, I thought I would draw Spider-Man comic books and play center field for the New York Yankees for a living. But how I ended up is close enough. I’m living my dream.
Be sure and collect Angel’s work for the Living Set all season long.