Robb Scott looks perplexed. He pauses, searching for the right words.
An Austin Matthews pencil drawing he is working on sits before him. The black, white and grey tones combine to create a detailed, realistic image, even in its unfinished form.
“I remember always drawing as a child, so, do you count that? Probably, it’s a lifetime of effort,” the Greenfield resident says.
“This is what it feels like to me. I’ve worked for 18 years at this career. I’ve wanted to quit many times. I’ve been bankrupt from it because I invested so much money in the signed stuff.”
His first big piece of signed art came in 2009 when he drew harness-racing sensation Somebeachsomewhere. That led to a deal for a cosigned print of Pittsburgh Penguins’ captain Sydney Crosby. It’s his most successful to date.
“So, quickly made about a hundred grand,” he says. “I said: ‘I finally figured it out. I know how to make a living now.’”
Or so he thought.
Next came Michael Jordan. Then Bobby Orr. But the cost of those signatures, especially Jordan’s, ate up most of the profits he had made from the Crosby prints.
“I was more about the ego of the name. ‘Look at me, I’ve got Michael Jordan’,” he says. “Never thought it through.”
That left him with two stalled projects, depleted earnings and uncertainty about how to move forward.
“It’s been up and down,” he says, “everything from bankruptcy to everything.”
Subsequent deals saw him produce signed prints of other NHL greats. None had the selling power to match the first Crosby print.
Looking back, Scott says he has always had a penchant for drawing. It took him awhile to get serious enough with his art to set up shop on the Halifax waterfront, selling his “touristy” landscape and scenic prints to passersby.
“When you’re younger and eager – and I’m 44 so I wasn’t young then, I was 25 –I was new to it and very excitable and I have always had that fire and drive,” he says, at home in his basement work space. “I knew there was something in me that I wanted people to know about or see, or whatever, ever since I was very, very young.”
For several years, drawing by the water’s edge, Scott averaged a decent living of about $100 to $150 per day before bureaucratic restrictions convinced him to pack up his easel and move on.In later years, still working as a struggling artist but with a wife and two growing sons to feed, there were periods when he was forced to take outside jobs that just never panned out.
“I’m not good at it,” Scott says. “Because I keep hearing that voice, that ‘you’re creative, you have something that you need to keep following.’ And I listened to that voice.”
Through thick and thin, amid times when he questioned why he wasn’t more successful, Scott continued to pursue his chosen field. While he’s continued to bring in a certain level of income, for more times than he cares to count, Scott’s wife has had to serve as the family’s primary breadwinner while he chased his artistic dreams.
“She has literally held all of it together,” he says. “I didn’t have any business smarts yet.”
In 2015, Scott partnered with Brian Ehernworth of Frameworth Sports Marketing in Toronto, a firm with major NHL connections. That brought another cosigned print involving Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon. The following year he did a signature print of Carey Price.
Once again, however, the prints just didn’t have the selling power he was looking for. So for the past several years Scott gave up on drawing sports icons. He concentrated on creating other pieces to sell through online auctions.
Still, he felt he could do better.
Another point he came to realize was that the month or two he was taking to complete a single piece of art, was simply too slow to be profitable.
“So, I basically took the whole year off from making money to try and develop a new style. But then it paid off because I realized, OK, I can now produce what will be this,” he says, pointing to the Matthews piece, “in six days, as opposed to the month it was taking me.”
Now Scott has secured a new arrangement with Frameworth. It enables him to create sanctioned prints of NHL and MLB’s Toronto Blue Jays players, past or present, without the expense of purchasing signatures to go with them.
“I have the licence to draw Tragically Hip, as well,” he says. “I went through a lot to get to this point, so it was a real success for me to be able to say, ‘OK, I learned all those lessons. I went through all that and now I have this.”
His plan is to create 20 drawings a year with a print run of 300 for each and with a portion of proceeds paid to Frameworth. But he doesn’t have to pay out big money for signatures and he pretty much has free rein to draw what he wants.
“Not many people get this, I’m very fortunate …,” he says, of his licencing agreement.
“I’ve been given the ability to work with big leagues so, to me, that was like I’ve made the big leagues,” he says. “I literally am creating my own line of NHL art, which is really cool.”
And, what is especially satisfying, is that he can still work at what he loves most.
“So, I’ve been through a lot to get to this point, ups and downs,” he says. “I had that thing in me that, ‘you just can’t quit.’