BY KEVIN CZERWINSKI
The precise and exacting nature of working as an engineer are two of the reasons why Kevin Espina’s work as a card artist has made him so popular.
Espina, 35, spent more than a decade working as a civil engineer in Southern California, taking the training he learned while studying structural engineering at The University of California San Diego and putting it to practical use. Evidence of the training with which he was provided and the tasks he was charged with performing while working as an engineer can now be found in Kev’s Kards, which are some of the more high-end creations in the burgeoning card-art field.
“I’m kind of a perfectionist,” said Espina, who lives about 10 minutes east of San Diego. “I like the clean cuts, I like the right measurements when putting the backgrounds [on the cards] together, keeping all the pieces nice and tight together. There’s a little of that influence from my engineering background.”
There are more than 300 Kev’s Kards on the market today with dozens more in the works. Espina began creating cards three years ago and has since carved a niche in the baseball, basketball, football and soccer collecting worlds, using a mixture of mosaics and textures to build some of the fanciest products on the market.
His cards have a base price of $150 but can go as high as $275 depending on the complexity of the creation. While Espina does sell his work retail – it can be found on his Instagram page kevs.kards – currently he has been focusing on commissions. He recently had a backlog of more than 100 commissioned projects that he has whittled that down to about 75 in recent weeks.
“I will usually give some a [price range] depending on the player, the card material I use and the time I have to spend on it,” said Espina, who has donated auction pieces for The Jackie Robinson Foundation. “A lot of it depends on the time I spend on it. That’s usually the driving factor. I like putting 3D aspects into things, highlighting the shadows and the depth. The thickness is usually 130 point and the max would be about 200 point. It’s quite thick, but that comes with adding layers and the 3D effect into my work.”
Espina said the simplest pieces he creates usually take about two hours. The more intricate pieces, however, can take as many as eight hours to complete depending on the background and the detail work involved. The whole process begins once he has an idea about a player or has been commissioned by a customer. Espina heads to eBay where he looks for a card that has the right image, usually something featuring the player’s entire body.
“Usually, I prefer swinging action or someone making a nice catch,” he said. “That’s the first thing I look at. After that, it’s the frame. I’m a big fan of really cool frames. I do a lot of research into what goes together and what doesn’t. I like bringing together modern players with older designs and meshing them together.
“Once I have that, I choose some sort of background. I like doing jersey patches, I have a ton of those. Those are my favorites. It’s kind of a geometric, mosaic background. I also love a lot of colors. It’s collages and mosaics; that’s kind of my specialty.”
While Espina purchases all the materials he uses in creating cards, he says he also gets many donations from fans and customers who want to see him incorporate their suggestions into his work. He tries to use “everything and anything” when putting together a card. When Espina posts the card on Instagram, he will include a list of everything he used to make the card, including the player, the frame, the logo, etc., in an effort to provide the public with an idea of all the components that go into his art.
Recently, many of his productions have highlighted Allen & Ginter cards and have featured Latin players from countries such as Cuba or the Dominican Republic. Of course, Shohei Ohtani remains popular but Espina also has intentions of doing a series of cards on MVP candidates such as Freddie Freeman, Mookie Betts and Ronald Acuna, Jr.
Espina’s first card, though, was of Tony Gwynn, one of his idols while growing up a Padres’ fan. He created that card after rummaging through his garage, finding all the cards he had stored. He also had many of the materials on hand and decided to get to work, seeing what he could make. That was in the summer of 2020.
“I’ve maintained my style from the get-go, using cards as material,” he said. “I deviate every now and then and use a postcard or a jersey but I have kind of stuck with this style since the beginning. I’m pretty big on backgrounds and will use anything I can find.”
His favorite creation is the card he made of Mike Trout. It has a gold border from a Topps Gold Label card. Espina incorporated modern abstract art into the background and calls that card one of “my more important pieces”.
Where this all takes Espina is anyone’s guess, including his. He has been on sabbatical from his work as an engineer, taking time to focus on his family and, to a certain degree, his art. Whether he can make card art a full-time gig is something he is considering.
“I’m still trying to figure it all out,” said Espina, who ran track as a youngster rather than play baseball. “There is definitely an opportunity to go bigger. In the past year I’ve had some work signed by [NBA star] Steph Curry so I am definitely going to try and incorporate more athletes into my work and get more signed. I’d like to do more charity auctions, too.”
It will take some planning, that much is certain. The engineer in Espina, however, relishes the idea of the planning, the precision and the execution.