Master of the Mosaic. Craftsman of the Collage. King of Card Art: all of these titles are befitting of artist Tim Carroll. Tim, a self-taught artist and elementary math teacher, is gaining a reputation in the niche sports art market for his unique works which are fashioned from a palette of solid materials relevant to the subject matter. He’s crafted Ted Williams (aka “The Splendid Splinter”) out of toothpicks and Frank “The Big Hurt” Thomas out of Band-Aids. He really hits his stride when he begins carving up cardboard – specifically sports trading cards – to piece together in the image of iconic baseball players.
Tim’s latest work is a dichotomy of past and present in sports cards. He chose as his subject Adrian “Cap” Anson, superstar of the national pastime’s first innings, having played from 1876-1898. There is a certain irony in recreating Cap’s rare and valuable 1888 Goodwin Champions N168 Tobacco Card using what most collectors consider worthless, mass-produced modern cards. That irony carries over in enlarging what was originally a miniscule 1 1/2” by 2 5/8” card found in tobacco tins to an oversized 17” x 27” canvas. New becomes old, old becomes new; commonplace cards morph into a rare treasure – until close-up observation shatters the illusion by exposing its mundane elements. But when the observer takes a final step back and sees the piece in its entirety, they slowly realize they are confronting an original work that perfectly entangles time, medium and subject.
Tim kindly took time out of his busy schedule – he’s much in demand these days creating artwork for private commissions as well as a client list that includes the Upper Deck Company, Major League Baseball, Coastal Carolina University, and several professional athletes – to answer the following questions for CapAnson.com.
How long have you been doing these baseball card collages? What card was your first?
I have been doing this for just over 6 years. I created the T206 Wagner back in 2009. I had a ton of commons sitting in the closet, and I decided to use art to "trade" those commons for vintage cards I could only otherwise dream of owning.
Can you describe your artistic method?
Lots of math goes into each piece. Being a math teacher gives me a little bit of an advantage. The piece’s outline is so important. Once I have that down to ensure the piece is proportioned, the rest comes down to color matching. Most of the shapes that are cut are random, but the image on the card dictates certain trimming.
Which exact series of cards were used in the creation of this piece?
This is where I have most of the fun. Having about 250,000 cards (most of which have been donated by some amazing people I have met along this art journey) makes it a bit easier to find the perfect set(s) for each piece. For the Anson, Donruss, Donruss, and more Donruss was used for the background and borders. I was fortunate that the backs of the late 1980's and early 1990’s Donruss came close to matching the colorful background. This allowed for continuity throughout the piece, solidifying the composition. Other sets used include: 1992 Pinnacle (letters in Anson's name, etc.), 1988 and 1989 Topps (faces, uniform), and a few 1990 Upper Deck (faces, uniform). I also used gloves pictured on cards to create Anson's hair - most of which were from 1989 Donruss cards.
What’s your feeling about junk era wax? Any qualms about cutting up the cards?
I'm 36 years old, so I grew up in the junk wax era (circa 1988-1993). I was too young to consider them an investment, so I wasn't let down later by finding out they were mostly worthless. I enjoyed them for what they were - pictures of players that I watched on TV. No matter how lopsided, book value-wise, a trade was....I would always make it. I remember trading a David Robinson Hoops jersey (a hot commodity at that time) for a base Will Clark card that I did not have. So, the junk wax era brings up great memories for me. Being able to go full circle and turn those cards into a career still boggles my mind. However, I have no problems cutting them up. I know there will always be people that are let down by collections they thought would provide for college educations or retirements, and there will always be a supply of cards from the junk-wax era for me to utilize.
Why did you choose to do this particular Anson card? Do you have any affinity for Cap Anson?
I made a list of my favorite cards - aesthetically pleasing cards - that I wanted to create once I realized I was having a ton of fun doing this. Some of those cards I still haven't gotten to, but I am slowly getting around to them. Two of the top cards on the list were the N162 Cap Anson and King Kelly cards. They are just beautiful works of art of their own right - true Americana. With the colorful background of Anson and the cloudy sky behind Kelly, and the prominent "Chicago" and "Boston" across their chests, they almost look too good to have been created during the 19th century.
Approximately how many hours did it take you to complete Anson?
I started working on this one back in November of last year. I usually have several pieces going at once so that I can take my eyes away from one piece for a bit and then return to it with a fresh view after working on another. I usually find mistakes or areas I can fix once I go back to the pieces. That rotation process helps me keep from rushing through any particular piece just to finish. I probably spent more than 65 working hours on Anson, and I assume Kelly will take just as long.
What was the hardest or trickiest part of this composition for you to do? THE LETTERING! All of the "Old Judge & Gypsy Queen Cigarettes" and "Anson, 1st Base, Chicago" letters were brutal. I threw more of those letters away than I care think about! The X-Acto Knife got a workout on this piece.
Are any of your past pieces on display in public collections, or are they strictly sold to private collectors?
The Ted Williams Museum and Hitter's HOF in St. Petersburg owns a Ted Williams piece, and the Sports Museum of LA owns both the Hank Aaron RC and other Ted Williams piece. There is a local business where I live (Conway, SC) that invests in my work. That business owns and displays 3 pieces. Other than that, I have many pieces in private collections (collectors and athletes).
How do you think your work compares to the original card? Did working on it give you any new appreciation for the original?
Great questions. As with most cards from the prewar/deadball era, I noticed that the printing on the N162's was very inconsistent. When looking for reference photos, I was able to see that some copies were much darker, some were lighter and some looked off-set. Some had Cap's eyes big and bright, while others not so much. I used several reference photos of the card to come up with a happy medium that I felt best represented the whole group. The dot pattern of the card was so intense that I decided against trying it. I mean that in the utmost respectful way towards the art of the original. Given all of that, I think that I have captured the essence of the card without it looking identical to a blown-up copy of it. It was my goal with Anson (and Kelly) to get back to the fundamentals of the art - which was trading those unwanted cards for a card I had always dreamed of owning.
Do you do commissions?
Commissions are my livelihood. I am a bit backed up at the moment, so it may take a few months to get a completed piece, but I welcome them all. I only create a piece once, so that is pretty much the only limitation to what I produce.
To view more of Tim Carroll’s artwork, visit www.timcarrollart.com or follow him on Twitter @timcarrollart. Tim reports the Cap Anson original artwork featured has been sold to a private collector, and he is hopeful the sale translates into him owning his very own Anson N168 in the near future.