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Mudville: May 28, 2024 9:03 am PDT

Mountaineer Made

BY KEVIN CZERWINSKI

Joshua Clarke can’t sit still.

The West Virginia resident needs to stay busy. It’s just in his nature.

When the pandemic took hold of the country in 2020, Clarke, 42, needed something to occupy his time. He is a project manager for an IT company but needed to be doing more. So, Clarke reached back into his past to find what he was looking for and in the process helped create himself, at least partially, a new future.

Clarke returned to baseball cards, the hobby that occupied so much of his youth. He didn’t just start collecting cards again, though. He began making them, joining the legion of card artists who sprung out of the pandemic, making one-of-a-kinds that have become some of the hottest pieces on the collectible market.

“I was very big into the hobby when I was little,” said Clarke, who has lived his entire life in the Mountaineer State. “During my teenage years, it kind of dropped off. But, like a lot of other people, I picked the card hobby back up. I saw stuff on social media and what other people were doing.”

The result has been J. Clarke’s Custom Cards, a company that has produced about a thousand cards over the last three years. Clarke said 75 percent of his creations are baseball cards but he also dabbles in other sports such as basketball and football. Additionally, he creates many Marvel, Star Wars and other pop culture pieces.

Cards, however, were not his first creative endeavor. Clarke had been creating vinyl wall art from the rolls of vinyl that can be purchased in most craft stores prior to working on cards. He created many pieces for himself and sold a few as well before turning his attention to something smaller.

“I would cut stuff out and layer it on wood canvases,” said Clarke, who has been married to his wife Stephanie for more than a decade. The couple has an 11-year-old son. “I would put it together layer by layer until I finished the project. I am a big Marvel, horror movie, action fan so I did quite a bit of Marvel stuff with that and then turned to sports. I did a piece of the famous Bo Jackson card with the shoulder pads and the bat.

“But I ran out of wall space and needed something to keep my hands busy so I turned to cards. I’m an artistic person by nature and I’m a big model guy. I’m always putting something together with my hands. Something fell into place with the cards and it’s something I enjoy.”

Clarke said he has always been artistic, a trait that he inherited from his mother. She was, according to him, “insanely good at portraits” and he remembers her hand-drawn pencil pieces vividly from his childhood. The combination of Clarke studying art “a little bit” and his mom’s influence helped push him on the road he has traveled.

While he has a day job, that hasn’t stopped Clarke from working on cards. He makes cards every week, whether it’s for commissions or just because. He has personal ones that he keeps for himself, posts many of his creations on X [formerly known as Twitter] and doesn’t see himself slowing down anytime soon.

“Whether or not I sell anything it doesn’t matter, I just like keeping my hands busy; it’s what I do for fun and to relax,” said Clarke, who has also made cards of his family friends. “It’s what I do to unwind for the day or if I’m working remotely and I have some free time I’ll do it because it keeps my hands busy. All around my room [workspace] I have hundreds of my own and dozens of others from other artists.”

Clarke’s cards range in price from $25 to more than $100 depending on the complexity, materials he uses and time it takes to put one together. He does commission work and sometimes the customer will supply photos other times he has to hunt around for them himself. He has “oodles of materials” that he can use and will create unique pieces featuring chrome borders, prism borders or shiny and flashy borders. Occasionally he goes back to vinyl and will make a card by incorporating holographic vinyl.

“I have gotten into digital design as well,” he said. “I’ll do refractors and print them on a clear piece of acetate film; it’s almost like the old-time projector things. I’ll print on those and add a holographic background. There are also ones where I do spiral, mosaic strips or I will do a patch card where I embed a patch into the background instead of gluing it on top.

“I’ll also do a big booklet style card where there are two or three panels. They may have a patch or not and those start at $110. Everything comes in a magnetic one touch.”

Clarke has always been an Atlanta Braves fan. His best friend was a Twins fan and he remembers the two jousting over the 1991 World Series, which Minnesota won. So, it’s not surprising that he has created many Braves cards, particularly of Ronald Acuna, Jr. He has many favorites that he has made, including a Michael Jordan Fleer rookie reprint. The real ’86 Fleer rookie is “the one card I want before I die”.

Because Clarke lives in a rural area, he has a dream of someday owning a store where he can sell his work.

“I’d love it [art] to be my main job,” he said. “But right now, I don’t think it will pay the bills. I’d like to get incorporated my ultimate goal in life, because I live in the country, is to have a corner country store. Who knows? Maybe if I get picked up somewhere here or there. I do have some friends who have done some stuff for Upper Deck and Topps so you never know what can happen!”

It’s impossible to tell what will happen but with Clarke’s inability to remain still, anything is possible.

Covered a Mets-Astros doubleheader in 1987 and never looked back. Spent eight years at MLB.com, more than half of that as the Mets beat writer. Had one beat writer from another newspaper threaten to kill him in an elevator at the winter meetings. The other half was as MiLB.com’s staff historian. Worked three years in Philly at Comcast covering the Phillies’ minor leagues and doing weekly TV spots. Author of the popular blog The Bobblist, which covers everything A to Z in the world of bobbleheads. Really.

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