Saturday, January 16, 2010

Interview with Matt Busch

Do you have an educational background in art?
Yes. I have my A.A. from Macomb College near Detroit and my B.A. from the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. A lot of people don't know this, but I've also taught at several colleges and am currently a professor at Macomb College.

How did you get involved in sketch cards?
The first gig I got was doing sketch cards for WITCHBLADE: MILLENNIUM, through Dynamic Forces. Not sure if that was the first set of trading cards, but it was the first I had ever heard of them. Other artists doing the sketch cards included Jim Lee, Michael Turner, J. Scott Campbell, Jae Lee, and Joe Jusko. It was an honor to be included with them!

How do you feel about working on such a small surface?
In short- not a fan. But- I love sketch cards. I love that they are this unique one-of-a-kind collectible. I also like seeing how different artists utilize the space to do something creative and cool with the small surface they have.

How do you feel about the entire process?
It's all fine. It does get tiring cranking out card after card. It's a small amount of money for an extraordinary amount of work, so it has to be a labor of love. I'm sure every artist would say that!

Is there a particular media you like to work with on your cards? If so, why?
I find that I like to change it up quite a bit. I used to do all my sets in pencil- then moved to pen and ink... Some in full color markers, and I've even done a bunch of sets in full color! It takes longer- but I've gotten to the point where if it isn't fun, it's just not worth it.

You have done base cards too, correct? Do you find the process of base cards similar to your illustration work, or different?
Yes- doing base cards is just like any other illustration gig. You have to provide sample sketches of what you want to do. You make changes that need to be approved before doing the final painting- and even then you may have more changes. It's a lot more work than what goes into a single sketch card, but literally pays 500 to 1000 times more.

Do you have a lot of contact with collectors regarding your cards?
Not as much as I'd like. I've been on Scoundrel less times than I have fingers. It's hard for me to stay on top of everything I'm juggling. Most of my interaction with collectors is at shows- which is great because I can really get to know them and vice-versa.

How do you feel about some collectors wanting more detailed cards versus what sketch card artists are paid to work on the cards?
It's a tough scenario, because collectors don't understand how the process works. Artists are paid peanuts to do the cards. We are expected by the licensees to do 30 second sketch cards. Hence the name and the low pay. And way back in the day- that's all quick sketches were. And fans were content with that. Then, when sketch cards became a bigger market, many artists used the opportunity to make the most of the exposure- doing incredible 30 minute pieces on each card. The first I recall doing this was Cat Staggs- every single card was a masterpiece. This was kind of awkward for some artists, as Cat had totally upped the bar for what could be done on a tiny card. Some felt that it's not fair- as some fans compare that to what other quick sketch cards you see. But I think Cat was very smart. She has played her cards very well (no pun intended) and has taken the industry by storm since then. She makes sure that every piece she does is worthy of her signature. And in a round-about way, I have Cat to thank for doing that. I used to do an upwards of 2000 sketch cards per set. Mind you- these were 30 second sketches. The quality was okay, but I got burned out doing so many. Now I usually do 100 or less- but I usually go the extra mile to make each card a killer piece of original art. And I have more fun doing it.

Have you had any bad experiences with collectors?
Never. Everyone has been really supportive. I feel blessed.

Bad experiences with companies?
Nope. Not yet. I guess the pay could be improved for artists- when you consider the amount of work we do versus how much they improve the sales of the trading card sets. Many collectors buy up boxes just for the incentive sketch cards and signatures. But- that's the business. For each artist, they have to gauge which jobs are worth it and which aren't. Some might not be worth the pay, but are worth the exposure, etc. My take is, the fact that I get to do what I love and get paid at all is a dream come true. I'm having way to much fun with this, and the day I don't is the day I hang up the hat.

Has your career as an artist benefited from doing sketch card work?
No. But I was already a full time professional illustrator before the sketch card arena came around. Sketch cards have certainly helped a lot of other artitsts, though. I think it's a great way to break in- not only cutting your sketch chops, but to get experience working with licensees, deadlines, etc...

What was the most difficult sketch card set you have worked on to date?
There was a Classic Sci-Fi and Horror set I did a few years back for Breygent. Those were difficult because they were full color painting on each card, and you had to duplicate an existing poster. Any design you submitted had to be approved first. The work itself wasn't hard- it just took all the fun out of having the creative freedoms you normally have on sketch cards.

Are there any cards that you are particularly proud of?
My favorite set was the STAR WARS 30th Anniversary set. I only did 106 cards, but I hand painted each and every one. I put a lot of time into it, but felt I really wanted to give back to the fans who have been so great. I had a blast doing that.

With all of the work you've done on sketch card sets, do you find that you have your choice of companies you want to work with (Rittenhouse, Upper Deck, Topps, etc)?
Nah. I like working with everyone. To me, it's more about the content. If it's a property that I'd like to work on, I'm in. If it's something I'm not as much a fan of, I pass.

Some companies provide return cards for working on sketch card sets. Do you keep any of the cards returned to you?
I should be selling them on Ebay or Scoundrel, but I just don't have the time to set it all up. I usually keep them in a binder to sell to fans in person at shows.

Do you see yourself continuing with sketch card sets?
Sadly, I've scaled back the number of sketch card sets in the past few years. But from time to time I jump on a set. I find that if I take breaks, I enjoy them much more when I do a new set.

Is there any advice you would like to give to people wanting to break into the sketch card ‘biz’?
Yeah- for many artists breaking in- this is your first shot where people around the world will be exposed to your work. When doing your first set- you will be drained. It's like nothing you've done before. You may even hate it! But- do the best job you can. Make every card a mini masterpiece. These cards all have your name on them and you never know who is going to see the work or own the card. Make each card worthy of your signature.

Can you tell us what future sketch card sets you'll be working on?
I'm currently doing some for STAR WARS GALAXY 5. Not sure what's in the pipeline after that.

What are you currently working on?
I'm wrapping up the final season of the How To Draw STAR WARS videos. I've had a blast with these. When complete, there will be 21 episodes in all. I've got a huge over-sized sketchbook in the works. I'm also wrapping up a ton of pieces for a new Planet of the Apes book.

Where can people see more of your work?
First and foremost, the official site is I'm also on Facebook: and Myspace:

Thank you so much for your time and insight, Matt!!

1 comment:

  1. It was an honor to be included in your blog, Jess! Thank you!