Sunday, January 31, 2010

Interview with David Rabbitte

How did you get involved in sketch cards?
My first job was working for Topps on Star Wars Heritage in 2004. I was walking around San Diego Comic Con as I did every year showing my portfolio around and went up to the Topps booth where I saw some of the Clone Wars sketch cards were being displayed, so I asked if they had need for artists. I wasn’t really expecting more than ‘well, give me your card and if we have anything we will contact you’. But immediately the editor at the time, Matt Saunders, said yes and had a look at my portfolio. He asked me to give him my contact information and that he will need to get my art approved by Lucasfilm. Even now I was still skeptical if they would get back to me. But a few days after Comic Con I got an email and said they were interested in getting me on the next set. The rest is history!

Do you have an educational background in art?
Yes. Well it actually helped that my mother was an art teacher before she had a family so she was a good critic and encouraged my drawing and painting. But later I went to college, one year in the Regional Technical College in Galway in Ireland doing a foundation course in art, and then later I moved to Dublin where I studied for three years in graphic design, illustration and animation.

How do you feel about working on such a small surface?
I don’t think it ever bothered me. It’s very good practice as you get a lot of drawings done in a short amount of time. I think it has helped me for when I have done larger art.

How do you feel about the entire process?
Overall the deadlines are pretty fair. It also helps that you get to choose how many cards you feel you can do in the amount of time you are given, so I can’t complain. Generally I stick with the companies I like working with. I will say Topps and Upper Deck in particular have been very good to me.

Do you prefer to work with a specific media?
Usually I like to do pencil work for my sketch cards, but I try to add color where I can, depending on how much time I’m given to finish them. It’s really been up to me if I want to add color. Sometimes I will mix it up and ink some cards, also do grayscale art with Prismacolor markers.

Your cards are very painterly. How do you begin work on your sketch cards?
For the painted cards, I start with drawing it out in pencil. I do an overall wash with watercolor as it is easy to establish the colors I want. Then I add gouache and acrylic as those paints are more opaque and the colors are stronger, and they help define the character more. Sometimes I will use some inks for added intensity. I usually then finish off with pencil colors and some airbrush work.

Does each painted card take you very long to complete?
Depends. Pencil cards take me 20 minutes to an hour (if I am putting a lot of detail into it), color can be anywhere from one to three hours.

Do you have a lot of contact with collectors regarding your cards?
I get quite a few collectors contacting me about buying return cards. I really appreciate all the people who have bought my work and have continued to support what I do. The majority of collectors I have dealt with have been very professional and very polite. And it’s not just people from the U.S. – I have heard from people in Europe, Australia, I even had a buyer from China.

Has your career as an artist benefited from doing sketch card work?
The one thing I found since I started doing sketch card work is unlike a lot of jobs in the past that offered ‘great exposure’ this work actually does! Once my name was attached to some high profile properties I started getting a consistent flow of emails from collectors to either buy my return cards or commission me to do a personal sketch card or larger art for them. It really has generated a lot of work for me which I am very grateful.

What was the most difficult sketch card set you have worked on to date? What made it difficult?
The most difficult set was definitely Aliens vs Predator: Requiem set. Normally I am used to doing 100-200 cards and I am given around 4-6 weeks to complete them. With this set I had to complete 300 cards in three weeks and was told half of them had to be in color! I got it done, but that was a little much for me.

Are there any cards that you are particularly proud of?
I must say I loved doing the Star Wars Galaxy series 4 set for Topps. It gives you the most freedom to do whatever you want from the Star Wars Universe, with the exception of the Star Wars Holiday Special. (which I think is a shame, I would like to draw the Wookiee family, and the characters from the animated short).

Some companies provide return cards for working on sketch card sets. What do you do with yours?
Well as mentioned above collectors often email me about buying them. Sometimes I sell them privately; sometimes I put them on Ebay. There are a few that I have decided to keep, simply because I like them.

Do you see yourself continuing with sketch card sets?
For while, yes I would think so. I think I have done somewhere around 15 card sets and I’m still not tired of them. Plus they keep my drawing skills in practice!

Is there any advice you would like to give to people wanting to break into the sketch card ‘biz’?
If you are looking to have an art career I definitely think it’s a good place to start and get your work known. The best place to show your work is by going to conventions – especially places like San Diego Comic Con – and visit the card company booths where editors can see your work. If you get turned away don’t get discouraged. I have shown my portfolio to editors who did not like my work at all only to meet up with someone else who loved what he saw and was interested in offering me work. Try every year, and never give up.
And if you are looking to do sketch cards for a particular set, show samples that illustrate what the editor is looking for. If you are looking to do Marvel cards, show Marvel samples. Lord of the Rings, draw the characters from the movie or books on your own sketch card stock. Don’t just assume they will know you can do it from looking at a drawing of your aunt.

Can you tell us what future sketch card sets you'll be working on?
I am currently working on Star Wars Galaxy Series 5 and I’m having a blast! Like Series 4 I have the freedom to draw most characters from the Star Wars universe, whether it is from the movies or the Expanded Universe (comics, novels, etc). Also I am very excited to have a base card included this time around, as it is more difficult to get accepted to do this kind of work. Being a part of the base set means the bar has been raised for me and can’t help but feel both proud and humbled to be among great artists and friends like Russ Walks, Joe Corroney, Randy Martinez, Cat Staggs, and many more which are not mentioned here. Can’t wait for this set to come out!
A small version of my base card may be seen on Topps’ sell sheet which I have posted over on my blog at It is shown in the the top left hand corner of the flyer, the one of the Stormtroopers vs. Boba Fett. I will post a larger version later when I get the ok from Topps.

What are you currently working on?
I have a few projects that have been in the works for a while. One I am very excited about is I have done a painted cover for Boom Studios for their Muppet Peter Pan series, in which Kermit (of course) plays Peter Pan. It was originally meant for an alternate cover for one of the issues, but is now planned to be used as the cover for the hardback collection of the series. A really nice turn of events! I have no word yet when it will be released, though I would think sometime in 2010.
I also have collaborated with an established artist and writer on a comic book mini series, which I am working as a colorist and I am penciling two of the issues. It’s a horror/adventure comic, that’s pretty much all I can say about that for now though. We’ve been working on it for a while, but we have covered a lot of ground. It’s really a great story, and I think readers will dig it.

Where can people see more of your work?
My main site is though I also like to direct people to my more extensive gallery at which is updated more often. Also my blog, which I mentioned before at is where I post news updates.

Thank you so much for your time and input, David!!

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