BY KEVIN CZERWINSKI
Though the pandemic rendered so many people housebound in 2020 it also proved to be a new start for many others. Count Jason Plona among the others.
Plona, 42, was one of the people stuck inside for the better part of that year and he can, in some way, point to the pandemic as a reason for his recent success in the relatively new field of baseball card art. The chain of events, which included some chiding from his wife, led Plona to discover that he could combine two of his loves – baseball and drawing. Slowly, he has begun to make a name for himself in the sports art world, forging a path by recreating that which has already been created.
The Baltimore resident has taken existing baseball cards – primarily some of the more specialized and higher end cards put out in recent years like the Topps 70 Project – and repurposed them by adding his own style. He will make additions to cards, adding smoke or fire for example, while also creating an image on the back on the card, using it as a tiny canvas.
His work, which can be found on his Instagram page [jcpcards] and on Reddit [r/CoffeeAndACard], has become quite popular and he now has a long backlog of commission work to go along with the sales he has made over the internet.
“We were all stuck in the house and at the time my wife [Meredith] said we have to start cleaning up,” Plona said. “I started cleaning random stuff and came across my cards. That’s when Meredith told me I should finally try Reddit to see if there was a way to possibly sell them. That’s when I saw ‘card art’ for the first time. I said I bet I can do this. My wife said, ‘Mr. I can do anything but never do anything over there running his mouth again’.”
“So, I organized my cards, painted one and threw it on Reddit. Then people started asking me to do more and it started to take off. Next thing you know I had to come up with logos and stickers and cases.”
Plona has since created several dozen cards, which he calls JCP 1/1s. These sell for as much as $75 apiece. He was in the middle of working on a half dozen cards when a plumbing issue in the room that he uses for a studio sidelined him for a bit earlier this year.
“I need to get back on to them but I have nowhere to setup right now,” said Plona, whose day job is as a packaging buyer. “I live in an old house from the 1920s and I had a sewage pipe leak. It took out the whole ceiling and now I have nowhere to paint.”
While Plona has always loved to draw, he has no formal training as an artist though he says he has always been good at mechanical drawing perspective and scaling. So, he began watching Bob Ross videos and began painting on canvases as practice. Now, he can complete a card in three hours, start to finish. Plona said the process involves painting, layering and drying and because he uses acrylic paint, he has to be careful that the card doesn’t stick to the cardboard canvas he uses as a support.
When a collector sends him a card to paint he will discuss what that person is thinking about in terms of recreating the card. If someone commissions a piece and doesn’t send him a card, Plona will go through his hundreds of old wax pack cards, looking for the player that he thinks will fit the collector’s needs. Or he’ll turn to eBay to find something that works.
“People will see stuff and they will reach out on Instagram, there or on Twitter,” Plona said. “I’ve been very fortunate because someone will buy one card and then they will want to buy another. That’s how most of my artwork is done. Some people are very particular about what they want. One guy drew the back of the card the way he wanted me to paint to it.
“It’s all about figuring out what a person wants and getting it right; making sure that their reaction tells you that it turned out better than they wanted it to be. That’s the whole point of doing this. It doesn’t matter what they want or how long it takes as long as I get it right.”
An example of a JCP 1/1 is his reimagining of the Topps 70 Project Card #812 of Rickey Henderson, Record Killer, which was originally created by Alex Pardee. The original card features Henderson on a 1984 Topps card with the speedster looking like a zombie/skeleton as he takes off from a base in an attempt to steal. Plona took the card and added a black, smokey background, eliminating any evidence that it was once a baseball card. Additionally, he painted a graveyard scene on the back of the card, featuring a prominent tombstone that read “Career Stolen Base Record 8/29/77-5/1/91”.
“That whole card is kind of spooky,” Plona said. “I knew right off the bat that I wanted it to be gray scale. It’s all black and white and gray with just a little bit of green because it’s Rickey with the A’s. I’m making him run through a graveyard so why not do a tombstone? It’s just the day Lou brock had it till Rickey killed it.
“It’s sort of what you can fit into that space and create the best atmosphere for the player on the card. Those came out good. You can do a lot with smoke, fire and color shading. Everyone wanted fire and smoke. Those colors come out great with acrylic. It wasn’t until about my 20th card that I decided that I needed to do something on the back. For $65 to $75 they are going to get as much art as I can fit onto it. And I just wanted to make it something totally unique.”
Plona has also begun working on painting on canvas in addition to JCP 1/1s. His first commissioned canvas, “The Wright Catch”, came from a member of the Reddit sub which Plona runs. He created the group, which has grown to more than 1,000 members, so collectors could share their collections and thoughts in a toxicity-free environment.
One of those members asked Plona to recreate their favorite baseball moment – former New York third baseman David Wright’s barehanded, over-the-shoulder catch at Petco Park on Aug. 9, 2005. Plona was able to work in more than a dozen ‘Easter Eggs’ in the painting in a process that took several weeks.
“I wanted to make sure this painting was absolutely theirs,” Plona said.
Plona said he’d like to drift more in the direction of doing canvas work once the space in his home becomes usable again. While he has gotten requests for commissions on cards and canvases, he doesn’t see it ever turning into a full-time profession.
“I will always find time, though, to create art for people that they will absolutely love,” he said. “To be able to make stuff which people truly love is an honor and a privilege that is incredibly humbling. That’s what art is all about.”