Drake Ramberg is Portland through and through. He was born in the city, went to college at Portland State University, is an avid fan of the local Timbers and Trail Blazers, and has worked at Nike—headquartered in nearby Beaverton, Ore.—since 1987.
Unsurprisingly, his passion for the Rose City and its sports is evident in his artwork. When he isn’t spending time as Senior Design Operations Manager at Nike, watching his beloved Arsenal FC or playing soccer himself, Ramberg is drawing. He recently featured iconic Portland Timbers (MLS) and Portland Thorns (NWSL) players in a series of paintings and caricatures at The Toffee Club in town.
“It’s an outlet for me to get back to my roots,” said Ramberg, who has designed soccer kits for clubs including Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain. “I grew up always drawing people. I have sketch books filled with drawings. I was always interested in doing caricatures and illustrations of athletes.”
The Toffee Club is an English pub owned by fellow Nike employee Peter Hoppins, wife Niki Diamond, and Hoppins’ brother Jack. When the trio were looking for artwork to display in the establishment, Peter spoke to Ramberg and they decided an exhibit featuring the city’s soccer legends would be a great addition. Ramberg feverishly created his collection called KICK, which was on display in the pub through May, featuring former and current Timbers and Thorns players including Darlington Nagbe, Alex Morgan, Nat Borchers, and Clive Charles. In fact, Borchers, who won the 2015 Major League Soccer (MLS) Cup with Portland, liked his illustration so much he bought it from Ramberg.
“There are a lot of caricature artists out there and everybody has their own style and bag of tricks,” Ramberg said. “I try to focus on how the person looks to me. Some people go crazy with exaggerating noses and foreheads and other features, but I just try to pick up on a few slight details that make that person unique whether it’s a bit of a crooked smile or bushy eyebrows and exaggerate that a little bit, but I want them to look semi-realistic. That’s where I found my comfort zone.”
Ramberg, though, doesn’t want to be defined by one style. He continues to test his skills by trying new techniques. Recently, he has begun to utilize his colored pencils on a background base of watercolor or draw illustrations on toned paper with black and white color pencils. Ramberg has also expanded his subjects, and is starting to focus on some of the world’s greatest athletes including Pelé, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Muhammad Ali.
Much like his artwork, his influences are equally as varied. Ramberg, “like most red-blooded American kids”, grew up reading and appreciating the caricatures in MAD Magazine. He is also fond of the style, passion, and energy of legendary artists like Salvador Dali and Vincent van Gogh. Ramberg calls cartoonist/animator Bill Plympton (also from Portland) and caricaturist Kerry Waghorn influences. He also appreciates the countless talented artists he’s come across on social media, especially Instagram.
His illustrations are far from a second job, even though he gets his share of commissioned pieces.
“I enjoy doing it,” Ramberg said. “It’s relaxing and fun.”