BY KEVIN CZERWINSKI
Chris Zupan doesn’t sell many of the cards he makes. Rather, Zupan prefers to trade with other card artists, give them away or simply keep them for himself.
That’s not to say that the Washington native doesn’t sell his work. He does create cards on commission and will sell a few items when he needs to restock his supplies. Overall, though, Zupan has a bit of a different approach to the work that he calls “mostly a hobby”.
Zupan didn’t go to college and didn’t study art. He has mainly worked with his hands throughout his adult life and that vocation has helped lead him down the card art path he currently travels. He’s been making his own cards since before the pandemic and his sunburst design is among the more popular with today’s collectors.
“Card art for me, when I first got into it and saw what people were doing, it was a way for me to make the shiny cards I never could afford growing up,” he said. “I’ve never done bad in life. I’ve always collected stuff and been interested in sports cards. I love baseball primarily. It has been a way for me to create something that is beyond my affordability. And, for me, the biggest part that I enjoy is the process, coming up with an idea and making it.”
Zupan estimates that he has made roughly 1,300 cards since 2017 with about a third of those being baseball. He also produces a lot of football and basketball cards as well as cards depicting characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe [MCU] and other comics and his work can be found on his Instagram page.
Most of the cards he creates are standard size, but he enjoys making smaller pieces such as T206-sized cards. His popular shadowbox cards with a sunburst background usually take about an hour to make [that’s without drying time]. Other more complicated pieces take longer like the card he created of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. That one took nearly 10 hours over the course of a week.
“The most common one I do is the sunburst with cut-up pieces from refractors,” Zupan said. “I challenge myself to do a little more in the style of the Kard Killer [Rod Christiansen], I’d say a more layered version of it. His stuff is just amazing. For the most part, though, it’s the sunburst shadow box. That has kind of evolved a little into more embellishment, cutting pieces out and putting them one by one over the card.
“When I make a shadow box, I start with card stock and glue pieces over it. I used to use card stock to fit in the border. I never liked the idea of foam tape at the start. For me it’s always been about trying to bring attention to the background of the card. I stopped doing it the other way because they discontinued the card stock I was using. It’s easier to use tape inside the border. I’ve been kind of getting away from shadow boxes, though, and doing more two-dimensional cards.”
Regardless of the style he employs, Zupan seems to head back to the Mariners often. He still lives in Washington and gets to as many Mariners games as possible. His father introduced him to the game as a youngster, taking him to the Kingdome to watch the team that had yet to hit its stride.
The Mariners have seen more bad than good in recent years and a big reason for that is Julio Rodriguez. Zupan says that it’s “tough not to go to the well often” with Rodriguez, who is not only the face of the team but one of the faces of baseball.
“I’ve done a few of him, offhand I’d probably say five or six,” said Zupan, who added that when he does do commission work, he usually charges $45-$50 for a shadow box piece. “I have a pretty big box of Mariners cards so it’s always one of the easier ones to do when nothing else comes to mind. I do a lot of Mariners stuff.”
Zupan has also collaborated with other artists such as Eric Kittleberger and Luke the Card Artist. Additionally, he likes to trade with other artists. He also wants to add to his collection of signed materials, which currently numbers somewhere just north of 120 pieces. He calls those pieces “the gems of my personal collection”. He plans to do his first card show in December.
Dock Ellis collaboration with Optimus Volts
“It’s fun [at a show] to set up and show off,” Zupan said. “But the financial part isn’t something I am too concerned about. I’m enjoying the process. I don’t know, though, how sustainable it would be to do this consistently [as a full-time job]. I’ve always been kind of realistic about how I look at things. When you have expectations of customers, it becomes different.
“I think it’s possible to do it permanently but with the saturation [of the market] more people are doing it than ever before and that hurts in a way. There are probably ways to do it full-time but I have never been concerned with doing it full-time. I spend the time on it and have gotten joy out of it. That’s been my main goal and I’m having fun with it.”
The market’s oversaturation can make it daunting for an artist to rely solely on his/her work as a main source of income, particularly when it comes to standing out in a field that gets more and more crowded seeming by the month.
“All of the artists have their own original things like Optimus Volts, Donnie B or Heavy J,” Zupan said. “Early on, my sunburst was my original thing and its fun seeing all these people because I love their style and their art. Everything changed with Instagram and its algorithm. I was lucky because I got in early. I tried to do something a little different and I stayed true to that.”
He stays true to whatever he does, though. Zupan, who has been married since 2001 and has two children [a daughter, 24, and a son, 22], currently works for a company that produces railing assemblies. He has in the past worked in the automotive industry and at a shipyard, the latter being a position in which he says he has a great deal of pride because of the work he did.
That pride shines through when you see one of his trademark sunbursts on a card.