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Turning the WSOP into art

30 June 2009

LAS VEGAS -- For more than a century, the nexus between the art world and poker has been "Dogs Playing Poker," which began with a series of oil paintings by C. M. Coolidge. In the decades since Coolidge first released his painting, artists everywhere have taken the "Dogs Playing Poker" genre into their own hands, adding new twists and storylines – like dogs cheating at poker. And young men everywhere have been hanging the paintings on their walls.

But one artist is trying to trying to take poker art in a new direction. Shawn David Baker spends his days in the Amazon Room at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino sketching scenes of the action going on at the tables and rail below him.

Dogs Playing Poker

'Dogs Playing Poker' is one of the most recognizable pieces of poker art in pop culture.

Standing on raised the platform that serves as the Jack Links Beef Jerky Wildcard Café, Baker peers down on the action, his hands busily sketching away, trying to capture every detail of the scene in front of him.

When asked what he enjoys most about sketching poker scenes, Baker's answer is simple.

"The energy," Baker says. "I paint in color, but I draw in pen here. But I see the color. And that's how I translate it from pen. It's the personalities here that are unique."

The 37-year-old from San Diego said he knew he could draw well in the second grade. "Catholic school," he's said chuckling as he remembered his childhood.

But he didn't start drawing for a living until just 10 years ago.

Artist holds his work

Shawn David Baker holds up the sketch he's been working at the World Series of Poker Tuesday. (Photo by Vin Narayanan, Casino City)

"I started with Web sites and animation," Baker said. "I've been painting since 2000 and drawing every day."

"I started (drawing) the ocean," said Baker as he traced his evolution as an artist. "Nature came next, then the anatomy of the human body – which became something of nature.

"Then I (drew) the human figure and the human figure translated into landscapes and landscapes became the whole environment that captured a special moment, that now I do for a living."

Baker first started drawing poker scenes two years ago.

"One of my best friends lives in Vegas," Baker said. "I was painting a mural for him in his office – he's a doctor – and I turned on the radio and heard about the World Series of Poker.

"I was like wow, I've got some casino paintings and we were joking and he said you 'have nothing to lose' and gave me his truck and I brought a couple of paintings down here and met Jamie Gold and a couple of other bigwigs.

Artist at work

Baker works on sketching a scene at the WSOP. (Photo by Vin Narayanan, Casino City)

"Of course, I didn't know that until I watched television and I was shocked. I've done the Rincon San Diego (poker tournament) the last two years and that was fun. (Harrah's) is generous and I'm honored to be able to showcase my work to the world."

Baker, who also illustrates golf tournaments and boxing matches, says poker players have responded favorably when seeing his work.

"Awesome," is the best compliment Baker has received so far. And that's O.K. with Baker.

"I try for epic, but I'll settle for awesome," Baker said laughing.

Turning the WSOP into art is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
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Best of Vin Narayanan
Vin Narayanan

Vin Narayanan is the managing editor at Casino City. When he's not writing or editing stories, he likes to play Chinese Poker, Badugi, Razz and any other "non-traditional" poker game. He also thinks blackjack is his best game and loves game theory.

Before joining Casino City, Vin covered (not all at the same time) sports, politics and elections, wars, technology, celebrities and the Census for USATODAY.com, USA WEEKEND and CNN.

A proud graduate of Michigan State University, Vin can be found on most nights and weekends trying to find a way to watch the Spartans play football or basketball.

Vin Narayanan
Vin Narayanan is the managing editor at Casino City. When he's not writing or editing stories, he likes to play Chinese Poker, Badugi, Razz and any other "non-traditional" poker game. He also thinks blackjack is his best game and loves game theory.

Before joining Casino City, Vin covered (not all at the same time) sports, politics and elections, wars, technology, celebrities and the Census for USATODAY.com, USA WEEKEND and CNN.

A proud graduate of Michigan State University, Vin can be found on most nights and weekends trying to find a way to watch the Spartans play football or basketball.