Tough Guys On Canvas

Bob Mueller is a passionate man.

He's passionate about football and he's passionate about art. But, most of all, Bob Mueller is passionate about former Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus.

Mueller has combined his passions into a venture that has earned the endorsement of the NFL Hall of Famer and caught the attention of NFL Films.

A karate instructor for nearly 30 years, Mueller has left the dojo for the art studio to create Tough Guy Cards, a series of men's greeting cards, inspired by his football related paintings.

"I actually started this artwork when I was 16, then I left it for 30 years," says Mueller.

I became a martial artist and taught karate for 25 to 30 years. Five years ago I re-found my passion for Dick Butkus and the art started to come out of me because of this passion that had built up."

He says the passion for art was always there, it just needed an outlet.

Mueller began painting about five years ago after an impromptu visit to EBAY.

"My wife left me alone for a weekend and I didn't have anything to do, so I went on EBAY. It asked what I was interested in and I said Dick Butkus."

He says about 800 items showed up, and he spent about six hours buying Butkus memorabilia.

"One day a magazine showed up from 1970 with his picture on it and I looked at that picture and went, 'My God." I went down to the art store and bought supplies."

Mueller says he painted the picture, thought it was pretty good and did another.

"Next thing you know, I'm just so enamoured in the whole thing. I was obsessed for about 18 months."

The idea for the line of cards came from a friend who Mueller says liked the paintings and thought they would really work as a series of men's greeting cards.

"The cards became a means to an end. I've been painting and it must have a reason, it must have a meaning and I didn't know what it was."

Mueller says the idea for the cards gave him something marketable that Butkus might look at.

While he has Butkus' approval for the project, Mueller still must get the go-ahead from the National Football League, something he says he is working on.

He says the original artwork is his property, however, once the images are re-produced in any form, they become property of the NFL through their series of copyrights.

NFL Films was in Kelowna recently to put together a feature on Mueller and his artwork. The feature will run later this fall on both ESPN and the NFL Network.

Although his inspiration came from Dick Butkus, Mueller has also painted a number of other NFL stars, including Gale Sayers, Mike Ditka, Joe Namath and Franco Harris among other Hall of Famers.

"The name of the card line is Tough Guy Cards. Anyone who is an NFL Hall of Famer has to be a tough individual, so I focus my attention on those guys, and particularly the one I admired, as well as Butkus, when I was a kid."

Mueller says he has a short list of about 30 players he would like to re-create on canvas.

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