Keegan Hall left his passion for art behind when he was close to graduating from college because he was worried it would never lead to worthwhile employment. For more than a decade, his career pursuits ranged from the Seattle Sonics to small startups.
Less than a year ago, Hall started drawing again and his near-instant success in gaining attention and acclaim for his work now has the 34-year-old from Kirkland, Wash., taking stock of his entrepreneurial past and how it ties into getting a one-man business off the ground.
His stunning portraits, created with just a single pencil, capture mostly Seattle sports stars — including Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman of the Seahawks — in hyperrealistic detail. A more technical approach on the computer lends a colorfully abstract dimension to athletes such as Clint Dempsey of the Sounders.
A Northwest native, Hall grew up with a love for animation. He studied art at the University of Washington where he was the youngest student selected to the school’s Studio Art Program in Rome. But as soon as he finished his undergrad work in 2003, Hall said art was almost instantly gone for him.
“I was like, ‘OK, this probably isn’t a viable career option; I should probably find a real job,'” Hall said. He had a deep interest in sports and got an entry level job with Seattle’s former NBA team. “It cost me more money to park than I actually made. It was insane. It was literally just foot in the door.”
Hall eventually worked his way into a successful sales position with the Sonics, but didn’t want to leave the Seattle area when the team vacated for Oklahoma City in 2008. He moved on to a position at Live Nation as director of sales.
With the economy tanking at the time and discretionary spending, like concert tickets, drying up, it was then that Hall decided to pursue his MBA.
“I’ve kind of always been interested in the startup space, even growing up, selling cards and comics and that kind of stuff,” Hall said. “I decided to go back and get my MBA and while I was at the UW doing that I participated in the (2010) Business Plan Competition. We ended up taking third place overall and from there we got enough press that we made it into a real company.”
That company was Emergent Detection, makers of a hardware device geared toward the health-and-fitness and weight-loss sectors.
After Emergent, Hall joined a Kirkland startup named Pirq in 2011 as, essentially, employee No. 1. The company was acquired about a year and a half ago by iPayment and in addition to his sales and marketing role at Pirq, Hall is director of marketing for the parent company. After his day job, he spends time with his wife and 8-year-old daughter before putting on his headphones and finding a release in his artwork late into the night.
“I always thought I was going to be an animator for Disney growing up, I have a bunch of comics and grew up on animation,” Hall said. “I just ended up taking a different direction upon graduation.”
Return to art
After years pursuing other lines of work, Hall picked up his pencil again just about a year ago. Coping with the recent and unexpected death of his mother, Hall sat down one afternoon last March and felt what he has described as something strong pulling him toward drawing. He emerged from his first marathon session with a very detailed rendering of basketball superstar Michael Jordan.
The next piece he did was of Seattle Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor, celebrating his first career interception for a touchdown. When Chancellor posted the image to his own Instagram account and sang Hall’s praises — to the tune of 16,000 likes — Hall was blown away.
By Far the Dopest Pic I've seen yet. This was all Pencil Drawing By hand. S/O to the man himself @keegan.hall for accepting this challenge and even stepping out of his box to make it to my liking. All I can say is this man is Truely Blessed with a talent for Art and it's a blessing for me to have encountered your work. ???
The artist told NBC’s TODAY.com, “As I started to see the ways in which other people were affected by my work and feeling something, it made me want to keep drawing.”
And for months now Hall has been returning to the drawing table, each time with what he considers greater skill, detail and success. Through self-promotion on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and through the personal website he uses to showcase his story and sell prints of his work, Hall views himself as a case study, as he puts it, “pulling all these different levers to see how all of this keeps evolving.”
Professional sports teams and athletes in Seattle have certainly taken notice.
Hall teamed up with Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman for a charity offering of his Legion of Boom print “The Huddle.” Hall sold 200 prints at $200 each in less than 12 hours to raise $40,000 for Sherman’s charity. And he just heard from a 12th man in Spain who had the image tattooed on his arm.
After a fire damaged the home of Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, the pitcher reached out to Hall to commission an artwork for a trophy room he was putting in his new home.
The Seattle Storm used a portrait of stars Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd as a promotion for season ticket holders, and the Seattle Sounders FC will be featuring Hall’s portrait of Clint Dempsey as a match day poster this season.
Flexing technical skills
The Dempsey portrait offers a glimpse at how Hall deviates from his hyperrealistic pencil style into a more technical line of work. He draws and colors individual triangles on his computer to come up with the abstract pieces.
“They’re two very different skill sets,” Hall said. “I think with anything digital there’s this assumption that you didn’t do the work, that the computer did it.” And while the triangle art features strongly in his body of work, Hall thinks people appreciate something that’s done with a pencil. “It’s something so simple that anyone can relate to.”
Hall’s home studio consists of a simple desk with a camera mounted over it between a couple of lights. The camera shoots an image every minute during the creation of a piece of art and then Hall runs a program to pull all of the images into a time-lapse video. His site features several.
A 60-hour drawing will consist of 3,600 images stitched together. Hall uses the image count after he’s done finishing a piece to determine how many hours he spent working on it. “It’s a painstaking process,” he said.
So is the pain paying off for Hall? Does he want it to?
“Everyone always asks me when I’m going to take the leap and just do it,” Hall said about being a full-time artist. “I don’t know when you make that call. If there’s a number or a figure or a progress point.”
Right now he charges $30 for a digitally signed print of one of his available pencil drawings. A print signed by hand goes for $70. There are about 12 artworks to choose from on his site.
Hall said he has a lot of friends who are tech entrepreneurs, so he does think about the scalability of his business. But there is just one of him and his process is not volume based. He finds value in growing his body of work, at his own pace, and exposing more and more people to it.
“I’m definitely excited to see where this goes, if it is a real business, if it’s a fad. At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. It’s kind of just like my outlet and I would do it anyways … I don’t want to lose the joy by being forced to live off it 100 percent.”