BY KEVIN CZERWINSKI
That Nick Starn is one of the most sought-after sports card artists in what has become a booming but crowded field speaks volumes about his work. While his distinctive style has proven to be popular amongst collectors, his background only serves to make his creations much more interesting.
Starns, 41, has worked behind the scenes in the world of politics for nearly two decades, including a brief stint in the White House under George W. Bush, working extensively on Mitt Romney’s Senatorial and Presidential campaigns and even doing some work for Donald Trump through the Republican National Committee.
The Utah resident began volunteering in Washington shortly after graduating from BYU. That work put him on a path to a full-time White House position when he met Romney and was then asked to join his campaign.
“I was going to the White House every day for a few weeks but then [he] Romney said join me and I spent years dedicating my career to helping elect Mitt Romney,” said Starn, who developed a love for the Phillies when he lived in Philadelphia. “All in all, the bulk of the stuff I did was helping Romney. I started off as a body man, you know the guy that goes around, pick him up at the airport, always there whenever he needed to meet the press and do different things.
“I worked with logistics and then I went into operations, prepping his briefing materials, making sure he had everything. I was promoted a couple of times and then I was the headquarters operations manager. I did a lot of human resources stuff. During his second run, we had a consulting firm that did data analytics so we weren’t technically on the campaign. Then I joined a new firm and we helped him in Utah so it’s been a lifelong career of helping Mitt. I think the world of him.”
Starn, who has been married to his wife, Heidi, for “give or take 15 years”, now is a partner and Vice President of Operations at a company with about 30 employees that does data analysis. It’s a far cry from creating cards but after speaking with Starn it’s not such a stretch. He’s a kind-hearted, creative man who has always loved sports, particularly baseball. Working on his cards, of which he has created hundreds, is a combination of a lifelong passion for baseball and the need for an outlet from what can be a stressful career.
“If anything, a life of politics has driven me to a point where I can keep my brain sane by doing artwork,” said Starn, who has three sons, ages 10, 6 and 3. “There is something about doodling and creating. A lifetime of politics has driven me crazy to a point where I had to find something to do. Whether it is woodworking or putting ink to paper there is something to it [the dichotomy of his two worlds].”
Starn started out as an art major in college but quickly realized there wasn’t a financial future in being an artist. He also tried architecture before getting a degree in communications which ultimately led him into the political and data analysis arenas. It wasn’t until the last few years, though, that he returned to his artistic roots and began exploring and experimenting with the world of card art.
He was inspired by Texas-based artist Tanner Jones, who goes by the moniker Tan Man, and other artists to begin creating his own cards. Starn, like Jones, is a huge Jose Canseco fan and that also proved to be one of the motivating factors in his moving forward with his art.
“I saw the stuff the Tan Man was doing and I was always a huge baseball card collector,” Starn said. “When I was a kid we traded cards, had them in the spokes of the bike wheels, all of that. I had a neighbor give me a Jose Canseco sticker and it was the first time I had seen that card and I have been an obsessive fan of Canseco ever since. I put all my cards away during college until I got married and then I looked in the attic and found an old box of cards. I became re-obsessed.
“I have a lot of cards from the old junk wax era and I saw some guys on Twitter creating some beautiful things. I thought, it’s just some paint on cardboard, so why not me? I just started falling in love with it. I have a full-time job and a half-job sitting at night and creating art that people are interested in. It’s an outlet. I love to sit down at night after we put the boys to bed and just paint, whether it’s on-card painting with acrylic or ink or getting on the iPad.”
Starn has created hundreds of cards that range in price between $48 and $120, depending on the time it takes to make and the complexity of the piece. His digital paintings on the iPad can take two or three hours a night for as long as a week. His digital work is all one-of-ones on nice finishing paper. He’ll then do a five-print run on cardboard and then that’s it for that particular card. He recently released a six-card set of Yankees legends.
While Starn also does commission work, he mostly sells his work on his Etsy page. Currently, there are some 500 cards for sale on his page.
“Every time I do a football card, it’s usually gone in a day or two,” said Starn, who is part of a group that is trying to bring an MLB franchise to Salt Lake City. “Whatever [sports] season we are in, though, they seem to go faster. I just try to keep them in stock.”
Starn has also begun to make process videos when he creates cards and those, he says, are quite popular among his collecting fanbase. Those videos can be found on X, formerly known as Twitter.
He says he would love to get more involved and do more with his art. His wife is finishing up a successful fight against cancer and he has three children who are each beginning to explore their love of sports and, in some cases, art.
“It kind of just melts my heart, though, when people are interested in it [his art],” Starn said.
That Starn himself has such an interesting background and approach to his art only serves to generate more interest among collectors.