Blake Jamieson had a burning secret he held onto for months, not out of shame, but due to a contractual responsibility to keep quiet. As one of Topps’ featured Project 2020 artists, the lifelong baseball fan was forced to hide his excitement from family and friends.
“I was so excited,” Jamieson said. “What I was hoping would happen, happened, but then I couldn’t tell anybody. That was a tough like four or five months before I could talk about it.”
Jamieson is one of 20 artists Topps hired to reimagine 20 classic baseball cards for their on-demand Project 2020 series. The cards have been released in 48-hour windows throughout the season, allowing each artist to put their signature design on every card. During the initial release however, he had tempered expectations for how collectors would welcome the set.
“I didn’t have any idea how big it would get,” he said. “… My expectations were a low print run would be 200, and a high print run would be 2,000. I kind of had done that math in my head, the royalties and stuff that the artist gets. [I knew] it definitely wasn’t going to make me rich if that was the case, but it was something that I could continue working on and have consistent work through the rest of the year. As an artist, that’s a really rare thing to have.”
While Topps Project 2020 took some time to catch on in the hobby, Jamieson’s baseball card collecting instincts took over. He purchased his own cards from the start and sold signed copies to his fans. When his Nolan Ryan card sold out in one day, he not only knew this set was going to take off, he also set the blueprint for artists to work directly with consumers.
“When it’s switched in my head … is after the Nolan Ryan card came out,” he said. “… We sold autographs on those 70 cards, and they sold out within 24 hours. I didn’t even have them on a website. I was just messaging people on Facebook, saying, ‘Hey, you know I have autographs that are $200 bucks.’ Those moved so quickly, that then I’m like, ‘Oh man, this is gonna be a big deal.’”
Once collectors awakened to Topps’ Project 2020 appeal, Jamieson’s print runs exploded. He went from 2,623 on the Ryan card, to 74,862 for his collaboration with Ben Baller on their Mike Trout card. He suddenly realized he was going to need more help to support his operation.
“The biggest thing that I’ve done on that is hiring a good team,” he said. “The idea is that I should spend as much time as I possibly can either painting things, or signing things, because those are the really the only two tasks that I’m the only person [who] can do them.
“I’ve always treated my art like a business and always wanted to have these types of opportunities. Now that I’m here, I feel like this is what I’ve been waiting for.”
A former college lacrosse player at UC Davis, Jamieson has used the lessons he acquired from dedicating himself to sport and applied them to his artwork. He best explained the connection between the two as the final artwork being a product of long hours working behind the scenes.
“Sometimes people are thinking, ‘They can paint a picture in a day, why should I pay him a premium price for it?’” he said. “Athletes ask me that question because of my experience in sports. Understand that I played lacrosse for one hour during a game, but it’s not that one hour that’s important. It’s the double days. It’s the early mornings. It’s skipping parties, just all the sacrifices you make. I relate that to the athlete by saying, ‘Look, don’t worry about how long it takes me to make a painting, worry about all the time that I’ve spent prepping to make this painting.’”
Jamieson has reaped the benefits from the growing interest not only in his cards, but his artwork as well. For the first time in his career, he has a waiting list for his commissions. The increased demand caused Jamieson’s brand to develop faster than he ever imagined.
“The fact that people want to pay for my autograph or buy a hat with my logo on it … is something that’s never happened to me,” he said. “Now that I have this lightning in a bottle with the Topps project, I’m going to capitalize on it as much as I can.”
Jamieson has doubled down on his recent mass exposure by branching out past his original creations. In addition to his live YouTube stream that airs Monday-Friday at 10:23 PM EST, he started the “Pretty Big News” podcast with Matt Castello, as well launched his CardArt.com website, where he sells popular sports cards with hand-drawn art. He feels these endeavors will ultimately prepare his business for long-term success.
“By building those type of platforms and businesses around the platform that I do now, those will continue no matter what,” he said. “I do hope to continue working with Topps, but if I don’t continue working with Topps, I still have three businesses that I’m partners in instead of just one coming into it.”