For 2020, Topps is commemorating the entire year with their “Project 2020” series, in which 20 acclaimed artists of diverse backgrounds reimagine 20 of the company’s most celebrated cards. Dodgers Nation had the privilege of interviewing one of these artists, Blake Jamieson, by phone. We discussed his work on reinterpreting Sandy Koufax and Jackie Robinson cards, as well as other legends, his background as an artist, and his childhood card collecting with his father.
DN: Tell us about your life and background as an artist. I see you’re a fellow UC Davis alumnus like myself!
BJ: Oh nice! Go Aggies! I graduated in 2009/2010. I actually studied economics at Davis, and from there I went into marketing – digital marketing – for almost ten years, just kind of thinking that was more safe than pursuing art full-time.
So on my 30th birthday, I actually decided to quit marketing and pursue painting full-time, which is something I’ve always been passionate about, and I finally got the courage to give it a shot. So now it’s been almost five-and-a-half years of doing it full-time, of which I’d say the last two-and-a-half I’ve been doing primarily professional athletes.
That was honestly kind of lucky…I met an NFL agent who used to play in the NFL, and now is managing other players. He really liked my work and suggested I start painting some of his clients, which I did, and it just kind of snowballed from there.
So I started out, I’d say the first year or so, I did primarily NFL players. And then about a year-and-a-half ago, I started branching out to some other sports: baseball, hockey, lacrosse, soccer. I’d say it was probably six months ago that Topps reached out to me for this specific project. Which was awesome, because of all the sports, I actually haven’t done very many baseball players, but I loved collecting Topps cards as a kid. It’s super exciting!
DN: You mentioned all the sports and athletes you’ve worked with. Your art is sought and collected by many people of renown, including over 250 professional athletes. Who have been some of your most memorable clients?
BJ: Oh man! I guess it depends on the definition of “memorable.” I did a piece, kind of a collaboration with Drew Brees, which was auctioned off for charity. He signed the piece, and we kind of presented it together. So that was a very special, cool thing, he’s a super nice guy.
And then there’s some other players. He’s actually not currently active on a roster, but C.J. Anderson, who won a Super Bowl with the Broncos, he was actually the first player that I ever painted. He was one of the clients of that manager I had met, and over the years we’ve become very good friends, and he continues to support me art and collect more pieces. I think he has five or six pieces now in his collection.
He also runs a summer camp for inner-city kids, giving them something to do in the summer in his hometown of Vallejo…and so I do the art program there every summer where I’ll go out and work with the kids and teach them how to do the art. Like I said, there are different types of memorable players, but both of those are very special to me for very different reasons.
DN: That’s great! So, how did you get involved in the Topps Project 2020 series, and how did you get paired with the Sandy Koufax 1955 rookie card?
It’s funny, because when they reached out to me, which was like I said about six months ago, we had been planning it for quite some time. I had just like the week before been talking to a good friend of mine that I went to Davis with asking if he knew anyone at Topps, because I had seen another artist that I really liked do some work with them, and I just thought it was a really cool potential collaboration.
He actually didn’t have any connections at the time, but he was like, “I’ll keep my eyes out for one.” And it was like a couple days later that Tim Pechmann from Topps emailed me out of the blue, he filled out the contact form on my website, saying “Hey, we’re doing this project, we’d like to talk to you about having you involved.” I mean, I couldn’t have manifested it any better if I wanted to!
So when he told me about the project, the way that it works is they choose 20 iconic cards, Sandy being one of them…there’s also another Brooklyn Dodger, Jackie Robinson, which I’ll actually be painting today, which is cool! And so they pick 20 artists and 20 iconic cards, and every artist gets the same 20 cards as the reference.
So what’s gonna end up happening is, there’s gonna be 20 different Sandy Koufax cards painted by 20 different artists, that are all based on that same card. And so some collectors, Dodgers fans for example, might just want to collect all the Sandys from all 20 different artists.
And then other collectors might say, “Oh, well I really like this artist, Blake, I’m gonna get all 20 of his cards as his set.” And then obviously you’re gonna have some superfans who buy all 400 cards, which will have 20 artworks from each artist!
DN: That’s really cool! I thought it was just one card per artist.
BJ: Yeah, so the Sandy that actually launched…and it’s funny, because I had another interview a couple days ago, I don’t remember what outlet it was, but they were also talking about the Sandy card. So the Sandy card that launched a couple days ago is actually not my artwork, that’s one of the other 20 artists. So I will be doing a Sandy card, I’m not sure when that card is due. I believe it’s going to be in a month that my Sandy will launch.
DN: Got it. So which card have you started with?
BJ: So my first card is launching on Thursday, and it’s a Nolan Ryan card. And also this Jackie Robinson one which I’ll be painting today…my studio is in New York, I live in New York now, and the Topps headquarters is in New York! So the content team from Topps actually came out and dumped some content of me creating a Nolan Ryan card. It’s pretty awesome to be local in the middle of where everything’s happening.
DN: What’s your approach to reinterpreting these cards? What artistic styles do you use?
BJ: So my art that I’ve kind of developed, my style I guess, is very influenced by street art and graffiti. It’s just a type of art that I’m very drawn to. However, I am usually working on canvas instead of out in the streets. So in painting what is now around 350 athletes over the last two and a half or three years, I’ve kind of developed a style where a lot of people who follow my work could pick it out of a lineup and say, “That one is Blake!”
It’s hard to explain exactly why that is, but it’s just because I’ve done something over and over and over, and have that repetition and have this distinct, graffiti style. So when reimagining these cards, first and foremost, I want to pay tribute to the cards themselves, because I collected baseball cards growing up as a kid.
I’d say maybe half to a third of the cards that they selected in these 20 are cards that I have at home in a binder that I collected with my dad. So I want to make sure that comes across, but I also want to find that balance where I’m getting to put my own spin on it and have my distinct style.
DN: What are some of your most cherished Topps cards in your collection from your childhood?
BJ: So I was an Oakland A’s fan as a kid, I’m a Giants…I’m an “every team” fan now because I’ve painted for people on every team, so I appreciate all teams. But I grew up loving the Oakland A’s. so I’d say Mark McGwire’s rookie, which was actually the USA jersey, is probably my most memorable. The Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card is also a part of the 20-card set, I’m doing that one this week, that one’s really cool.
I’m trying to think…so my dad and I, it was my dad really, he bought every set from 1985, which was the year I was born, probably until 1995. And during that time, cards were very heavily printed, it’s not like they’re rare. But he thought, “Oh, maybe these are gonna be worth something to pay for Blake’s college.”
And so it’s fun now, looking at all of these cards from the 20. One of them is Frank Thomas, I think it’s either ‘91 or ‘92, and there was a misprint on some of the cards where they forgot to put his name on the front. So that particular card is worth anywhere from $20-40,000 dollars depending on the condition.
When I was just home about a month ago, I busted out all of our baseball cards, we’ve got these full sets in boxes, me and my dad were just digging through trying to find if we had the super rare Frank Thomas card. So that was pretty fun!
DN: Beyond the current set for Topps 2020, are there any other baseball cards and/or players you’d love to render artistically? Perhaps any other Dodgers legends?
BJ: Oh man, that is a good question! It’s not a Dodgers card, but it is part of the set, I’m really excited to do Mike Trout. Because…I mean, it’s just fun to do a current legend.
DN: I definitely understand the enthusiasm about Mike Trout. That’s a great one, not only because Mike Trout is a current legend, but he already feels like he’s in that pantheon. Like at this rate, he’ll probably be the greatest player of all-time.
Last question: Beyond Topps and baseball, what else can we look forward to from you in the near future?
BJ: Sure! So like I mentioned, I’m starting to branch out to other sports outside of football, which was kind of my base for the last few years. The other project that I’m very excited about that will be launching, I guess, in about four or five months assuming that sports actually start up again, I’m actually partnering with the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL). And I will be, I don’t know exactly what the title is going to be, but essentially their artist partner for this upcoming season.
For each game, I’m actually doing a painting which will then be printed as posters, and that will be the giveaway. You know how sometimes they do the posters, towels, or the bobblehead dolls. So for the entire season, at every game, it’ll be my artwork being passed out, which is super exciting, especially because I played lacrosse at Davis! So I enjoy that sport, whereas I never played football, I just happened to paint the players.
DN: Excellent! That’s a great, great gig. Keep me posted on that, I look forward to that.
For a look at Blake’s artistic process for this series, check out the video of him working on the Nolan Ryan card below!