He's made artworks using pennies, condoms, cigarette butts and McDonald's food packaging.
And in the last year, local artist Nicholas Schleif used 1,228 football cards to create "Sweetness," a portrait of the late Chicago Bear Walter Payton. Besides having the artwork hang at a gallery in Chicago, Schleif had prints made of it, which are signed by him and Connie Payton, Payton's widow, and available for sale.
Proceeds from the print sales will go to the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation.
Pictured are Brittany Payton, Nicholas Schleif and Connie Payton in front of the “Sweetness” portrait at the Zhou B Art Center in Chicago.
"After I finished itI was a big fan of his and hoped they would see it and thankfully, they did," Schleif said.
Schleif said the football cards he used came from a variety of sources.
"They're from my childhood collection, from friends and family," Schleif said.
Schleif said viewing Payton's image takes a little doing.
"It's kind of a matter of psychology, how the brain deciphers color," Schleif said.
So Schleif had to arrange the football cards in a way to create that image of Payton.
"When you back away from it, it would form his image," Schleif said.
Within the artwork, Schleif hid different things, which he tries to do with each piece.
"There's 20 Walter Payton cards, there's at least one from every year he played," Schleif said. Schleif said 13 of those cards were in his own collection. Payton played football until 1988.
Schleif also placed a Payton card right next to Eddie Payton, Payton's brother who played for the Vikings. He said it shows the conflict the two Paytons must have had when the Bears played the Vikings.
And yet Schleif, as a Minnesota artist, did a portrait of a Chicago Bear, the rival team, he said.
In the bottom right hand corner of the portrait is a football card of receiver Wayne Hawkins, who was drafted by the New England Patriots in 1992. Hawkins attended Southwest State University, now Southwest Minnesota State University, just like Schleif.
Once the cards were affixed to a piece of plywood, Schleif applied varnish over the top of it. "Sweetness" is 7 feet tall by 10 feet wide, Schleif said.
"So it fills up a wall," Schleif said.
Although Payton's rookie card is worth $275, Schleif said that was OK.
"The piece is worth quite a bit more," Schleif said. He said it took about eight months to complete the Payton artwork.
He started looking for a place to display "Sweetness." At first, Schleif contacted the Football Hall of Fame, but it didn't have the room, he said.
Then Schleif called the Payton Foundation, told it about his project and then asked about raising funds. The Foundation works with underprivileged kids in Chicago.
"I went to Chicago and met with them and showed them what a print would look like," Schleif said. He donated 1,000 prints. "All of them are hand-signed and hand-numbered by myself and by Connie Payton (Payton's widow)."
"Sweetness" was on display from December-April at the Zhou B Arts Center in Chicago. Schleif said it was well-received. The artwork was also debuted at the Chicago Bears draft party April 29-30.
Now "Sweetness" is back in Schleif's studio, but he would like to find a home for it. Schleif said he also made portraits of Ronald McDonald by using food wrappers and of Sigmund Freud.
"It was a really exciting venture and I'm glad I could contribute to a great foundation," Schleif said.