CINCINNATI – Tony Lipps is an artist behind a badge.
The Cincinnati native makes a living as a Hamilton County Sheriff's deputy, but he is also developing into a successful professional artist - with some help from Pete Rose.
Lipps sold his first painting – the Reds great at the plate – for $3,000 at an All-Star Game art exhibit in July. Lipps had mixed feelings, though, because secretly he was hoping no one would buy it.
"It was neat. I didn't expect anyone to buy my artwork for that much. I put it at $3,000 so nobody would buy it and I could keep it," Lipps said.
— Tony Mirones (@TMironesWCPO) September 22, 2015
"It worked out in my favor anyway. I'm on Twitter and I got a lot of followers out of it. It was nice to get recognized and get my name out there."
The Cincinnati native puts his artwork to good work helping the community. Lipps got an art degree from Kent State and came home to work. He became a corrections officer in 2005 and was promoted to patrol officer in 2011.
Lipps loves to paint sports figures – he's done Aroldis Chapman, Johnny Cueto, A.J. Green, Giovani Bernard and more. He says he mostly paints as a hobby and as a way to relieve the stress of the job. But he also uses his talent to give back.
Lipps donates many of his paintings to be auctioned for charity. One such gift led Lipps to take on a special mission – painting portraits of fellow deputies who passed away. Two of his portraits are hanging in places of honor in the sheriff's offices.
"When one of our officers had a violent bout with cancer, we were having a benefit auction for him and somebody asked if I would do a sports painting for the auction. I said, 'Absolutely. I'd love to.' So I did a Giovani Bernard painting," Lipps said. "It was kind of a nice way of giving to him."
That officer, Roger Hinkel, a helicopter pilot for the sheriff's department, lost his battle with cancer.
"While they were trying to figure out a way to memorialize him, because he was very much loved throughout the county … I thought it would be nice for me to go ahead and do a painting," Lipps said.
That painting is hanging at District 1 headquarters.
"Shortly after that, we lost another beloved officer, Nick Hoevel, to cancer … Everybody just admired Nick. When he passed away, it was a great shock. So the first thing I did was get a canvas and I told them, 'I'm already on it. I'll get started on this right away.'"
That painting is hanging up at District 3.
"When it comes to my paintings, I like to do what I can to help people," Lipps said. "I figured with the sheriff's department, we're a giant family ... When it comes to helping the community out, I don't have a million dollars to give, so I can use my talent."
Two days after one of his deputies was shot at, Sheriff Jim Neil came to Lipps' studio Tuesday to praise him and encourage the community to think of his deputies as people like them.
“The men and women who work for me are mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters … They have talents like Tony, who is a painter. We have gifted singers and writers, etc.," Neil said. "Law enforcement are more than a uniform, badge and gun, but people just like everyone else who want to do their job, serve the public and return home to their families each night.”
"I think people need to see we are people. We're human. It's important to bring that aspect to the badge and humanize it a little bit. It's not about always catching the bad guy - it's about helping people. And if we can help people understand that and put us on the same level, we might be able to tie the community together better," Lipps said.
Lipps rented an art studio in Walnut Hills in July, but he's not ready to quit his day job yet.
"I would love to be able to treat this like a full-time job. You've got to spend a lot of time doing this if you want to be a professional artist. That would be a wonderful way to finish, but I haven't really set that goal yet," Lipps said.
"It might be nice to do when I retire."