Paul Kariya Concept Sketch – 12″x16″ – James Long

Although it can seem like it, not every project is a winner. This particular piece was my first official rejection.

Back in 1997 I was riding on the success of a series of projects, including a few NHL ones, and I decided to paint a piece of one of the hottest players at that time, Paul Kariya of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. I contacted his agent Don Baizley about a potential project, and after a few conversations the interest was clearly there. Awesome! California here I come!

It just so happened that a very close friend of mine was looking to advance his writing career in Los Angeles. So on the promise of an exciting future in Hollywood we decided that we’d pack up what little we owned and drive with our hopes and dreams from Toronto to California. After some creative storytelling at the border to explain our hockey equipment and purpose in the U.S. (explanations I’m sure would never fly today), we stopped in Detroit so I could meet the agent for the Hanson Brothers (of the film ‘Slapshot’ with Paul Newman).  A brief discussion later lead to a contract for a painting of the brothers. The U.S. was delivering the goods already!


Terrors of the Federal League – James Long

The next two unforgettable weeks on the road saw us hitting every National Park, wrist shooting pucks into the Grand Canyon, dodging a mountain lion in the Rockies, having a very uncomfortable shaving experience with a Neo-Nazi, and trying our luck in Vegas ( I left $20 richer). We finally arrived in Los Angeles and found a place to live in Sherman Oaks.

NHL projects cost money. A lot of money! And I had none. At least not the tens of thousands required for the player and the NHL. To get around this, I sold spots for thousands of dollars to advertisers in my paintings. These were the days before the internet was in everyone’s home and you could Google countless pics of almost anybody. Reference photos were only available through magazines, newspapers and hockey cards. The available material was very limited and often not the best quality for capturing a player’s likeness. I always solved this dilemma by meeting with the team photographer to find the highest quality images for my final painting reference. This normally happens after the project has been approved. It hadn’t been approved yet.

With that in mind, and armed with a handful of pitiful quality pics, I laid out this rough colour sketch. You can clearly see the spots available for advertising, even up on the scoreboard. This sketch was never intended as the template of the final painting I’d be doing since I would have some fantastic photos from the team photographer once the project was green lit. I could add all the energy and character of the player when I got my hands on those great action shots!

While I was busy securing potential advertisers, Kariya was being considered to represent Team Canada at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. This was awesome news! I had visions of new paintings of Paul Kariya with Wayne Gretzky in Team Canada uniforms and a Gold medal. This project could potentially be much bigger than I originally planned!

I had finished the rough sketch, the NHL was ready to license me, and I had enough sponsors lined up to cover my costs. So I contacted Kariya’s agent for final licensing approval. He was good with everything and asked me to mail the sketch and my final proposal and contract. I very happily did that on January 15, 1998.

February 1, 1998, Paul Kariya gets a brutal cross check to the jaw by Gary Suter of the Chicago Blackhawks. Kariya has a concussion that finds him unable to finish his NHL season with the Ducks, and he cannot play for Team Canada at the Olympics. Absolutely devastating for Paul Kariya and hockey fans.

Almost 2 weeks later on February 16, 1998 I received this letter from Paul Kariya’s sister explaining the project is a no go. Obviously Paul had much more serious things to worry about than some artist who wanted to paint him. The project died then and there. I took the rejection a little personally and I was gutted. Was it because of the injury? Or was it because the colour sketch was uninspiring and lacked the star quality Paul deserved? Or did they just not like my work? Who knows? I don’t. You’ll have to decide yourself. 


Nevertheless the project was not going to happen. However my schedule was now clear and I was free to pursue a much larger project – the Olympics! This was the inaugural year for NHLers at the Olympics, so I set out to paint the 3 best goalies in the world representing Canada – Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, and Curtis Joseph.


The Canadian Shield – James Long

If there’s a lesson in all this I guess it would be that not every piece is a winner. Failure happens and it sucks! But it very often leads to something a little bit better.

Side note:  Paul Kariya was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2017.  Canada did not receive any medal at the Olympics in 1998, and I was offered a job by Warner Brothers Studios…but that is another story.

2 thoughts to “Paul Kariya -The Project That Got Away

  • David Nye

    Are you looking to sell this Kariya sketch ?? I would love to have this hang in my house with my kariya goods!

    • james

      Hey David,
      This sketch is unavailable.
      I actually had a free draw for my Facebook group to win this sketch and it was awarded to one of my members.
      If you’d like to join my group so that you’d be in the loop for other free draws, discounts, info, etc. you can find me on Facebook under: Artist James Long or James Long Fine Art & Illustration.
      I will be doing another art give-away in February.
      Thanks for the interest. Paul Kariya was a great player and I would’ve loved to do a final image of him.


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