Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Interview with Paul Allan Ballard

How did you get involved in sketch cards/What was your first sketch card job?
I had been doing freelance for a little while on the side not really getting anywhere with it and trying to break into the world of sketch cards. With some great and much appreciated help and advice from Cat Staggs and Grant Gould, I ended up working on the first season of NBC Heroes cards.

How do you feel about working on such a small surface/how do you approach it?
At first the small surface was very daunting, but scarier was the fact that there was a limited amount of cards, leading to not being able to make any mistakes. When I'm working on something there's always a huge pile of wadded up paper next to me of all these various sketches trying to get the drawing right. With sketch cards I do the same thing, working out the problems before I even approach the card. When it's time to make the actual marks on the card, I have it already plotted out and understand how the markers are going to blend. That said I still make mistakes and it's a battle with myself to make the cards still dynamic after all the prep work.

How do you feel about the entire process?
I love the idea of working in all these various sandboxes. What other job would you get the chance to draw everything from giant robots to elves, to spaceships, to evil nazis? When I'm doing my cards, I try to think about the person on the other end opening the package for the first time. I remember how excited I was opening packs as a kid; a sketch card would have blown me away. It's that kid I do the cards for.

Have you done any of the larger incentive cards? Would you like to?No I haven't, sounds interesting though.

Do you have a lot of contact with collectors regarding your cards?

Yeah lots of contact with collectors and that's really what makes the all nighters all worth it.

How do you feel about some collectors wanting more detailed cards versus what sketch card artists are paid to work on the cards?
Well I'll admit this is a battle for me. I put way more into the cards than what I feel I should be getting paid. But I've been using these cards as promotion of showing what I do. So I see these more as calling cards of my abilities. Hopefully it gets me more work in the long run. It's one reason I created the sketchier vehicle style (heavily influenced by Joe Johnston and Doug Chiang),because I could do those much faster.

Have you had any bad experiences with collectors?
The collectors have been awesome. Lots of them have been very patient with me and that rocks. It's been crazy juggling work with commissions and I really feel like I'm just learning how to make this all work.

Do you feel that your cards are consistently collectible or does it depend on what set you do?
It's very interesting, sets vary all the time. But that said, I'm glad to do something like Voltron and bring in different people to my cards.

Has your career as an artist benefited from doing sketch card work?
I would say definitely yes. I had been plugging away at various projects and my name was slowly getting out there, but when I started doing LOTR cards and Star Wars, people started recognizing what I do. I'm very grateful for this opportunity.

What was the most difficult sketch card set you have worked on to date?
The Clone Wars widevision set was very challenging. As with other animated projects I wanted to approach it with my style. It was a lot of fun translating the characters, but lots of hours involved.
Also I had become very interested in the history of Topps, particularly a 1950's card set about the Korean War called "Freedom's War". I had a goal to invoke similar colour palettes and compositions with the Clone Wars. So there was lots of practice getting the feel just right. Hopefully when you look at those cards you'll get this retro feel of a war from the past.

Are there any cards that you are particularly proud of?
Those CW Widevisions hold a place in my heart, but my favorite cards to do were the Flying Wing from Raiders, soaring above the pyramids and the skyhoppers in Beggar's canyon, something we never got to see in in the movies. Plus I really enjoyed doing the treasures of Indiana Jones. I did just one of each, one ark, one staff of Ra, etc... Then I used real gold leaf to add to the card. I saw them as little treasures to be unearthed.... or unwrapped in this case.

Some companies provide return cards for working on sketch card sets. Do you keep any of the cards returned to you?
Nope, I wish I could sometimes.

Do you see yourself continuing with sketch card sets?
I have a set coming up, but I think I'm going to start cutting back on sketch cards. I love them and will probably always do them to some extent, but it takes a lot out of me and I'm anxious to getting the chance to work on my own projects. Maybe someday there will be a sketchcard set for my characters.

Is there any advice you would like to give to people wanting to break into the sketch card ‘biz’?
Draw every day and bring something new to the card business. There are a lot artists doing hyper realistic images, but the key is to be unique and have your own voice. I'm always struggling to add the touch of uniqueness to the card, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

Where can people see more of your work?
You can check out and click on my journal to see what I'm doing currently. I have some big projects coming up later in the year including some personal projects that I'm very excited about.

Thank you so much for your time, Paul!!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Interview with Nathan Ohlendorf of Sadlittles

Why did you decide to do your own sketch card sets?
I was unable to get work with other companies, so I started my own on a whim.

How did you begin? Was it difficult at first (materials, legalities, etc.)?
I started by drawing the art for the L&L Thor promo card. I then contacted a printer and had the cards made up. I didnt even have the website yet, but I posted it on a couple different forums and people sent for them. So I knew I had to put my money where my mouth was. I began contacting artists and friends. Anyone who could draw. I was hoping I didn't fall flat on my face.

What were you looking for in the artists you recruited?
Free art!! LOL...No I just wanted artists with a desire to see the project through and a good work ethic. Had a few fall off, some quit. Overall I,m really happy with everyone.

What do your sets consist of (base cards, regular trading cards, sketch cards, etc)?
Promo cards, Preview cards, Trading cards, Sketch Cards, sometimes Collector Proofs and sometimes Test Sketches.

Have you had any setbacks so far, or has it been "smooth sailing"?
I've had artists quit, printing errors. I've really pissed people off because I can be a jerk sometimes. Had packaging all worked out.

What type of sketch card sets are you looking to put out?
Anything and everything I can think of. I dont think there are any limits of what we can or want to do.

Can people find your card sets in stores?
No, we cater to the true collector, someone who is a purist of the hobby. So we sell exclusively on our website.

How/where do you advertise?
We dont really, we just are a word of mouth type thing. We do use and NSU had a Promo card. Scoundrel forums is a place you will find me peddling a lot.

Were you able to see a profit right away?
I was able to pay everyone and that made me happy! Lol. We are at the point where profit is flipped to the next project, we are doing 5 this year so we are good.

Are you planning on your company being around for awhile? Will you branch out to other products?
I hope we are around for a while. I want to make a mark in this hobby before branching out. Comics are a goal down the road.

Will you be looking into doing licensed properties in the future?
Yes, we have one set coming this year actually. It will be something you could compare to Women of Marvel. Indy comic fans will love this set.

Will you be attending conventions as a exhibitor/dealer?
We are hoping to be at a few of them this year.

What should an artist do if they want to work with you?
Send me an email and samples. I read every email and look at all art. I just don't have time to respond to them all right away. Don't send me an email that is all formal. I'm just a regular dude who started this in his basement. LOL.

If someone were to approach you about starting up their own sketch card series, what advice could you give them?
You need the right graphics person and printer. The printer will make or break you. You need lots of money. Or in my case a very expensive toy collection sold on ebay.

Where can people find more information on you and your company?
We have a Sadlittles facebook page I update regularly, and of course the website:

Thank you for your time, Nathan!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

2010 Treasure Chest of Art charity project

Pretty tight deadline, but if anyone is interested, contact Paul! -Jess

We are working on a charity project for the Pediatric Oncology Treasure Chest Foundation, their website is I would like to know if you are interested in participating in this special project.

Attached is the information.
Below is some additional information.
I would provide special commemorative trading card blanks, standard size 2.5" x3.5", 97# vellum, non glossy. I leave it up to the artist if you wish to do b & w, color or a mix of both. The subject matter is open, 100 % of the net profits, less expenses will benefit the Treasure Chest Foundation. We do have official permission to do Star Wars, Wacky Packages and Garbage Pail Kids, upon approval. Proper credit will be given to all license owners. The only restrictions I have are no nudity, vulgarity or extreme violence. Please note: Lucasfilm has given us permission for Star Wars images with a maximum number of cards to be done for the set. Currently, we are at the maximum number. So, although we are authorized to include Star Wars images, we have completed our given quota. I hope not to discourage those of you who can do other artwork for the set, to still participate and become part of this wonderful project. Original characters & artwork, including Sci-Fi & Fantasy artwork are welcome. The current art deadline is Apr. 2, 2010, extensions are available when needed. Please note: any quantity that you can help us out with is much appreciated. I understand schedules and workload help determine what can be done. Thanks so much in advance.
Please let me know how many cards you wish to help us out on and your mailing address and I will send. Currently, I am also asking artists not to post images just yet. Certain images will need official permission to do so. If you are interested in posting your images, please email me and I will add you to the list. The target time to post is April/May. Also, there will be an area for your printed name and signature on the reverse side of the card, please fill these areas out as well. Please pass the word, we currently are in need for additional artists for the project.

Thank you very much,
Take care,

Monday, March 22, 2010

Interview with Tom Hodges

How did you get involved in sketch cards/What was your first sketch card job?
My first sketch card gig was Star Wars Heritage for Topps in 2004. It was just after Lucasfilm announced the Web Strip I was going to be doing to run from Fall 2004 until post EpIII release. Steve Sansweet told Topps to use me on the set since I was now officially approved to draw Star Wars and was working with Lucasfilm directly.

How do you feel about working on such a small surface?
It's a love/hate relationship. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it. It mostly boils down to what winds up on the card. If I do a really bad card, it's because I'm not having one of those days. A good card means I'm enjoying that particular piece. It also comes down to the cards drawing surface. Some of these companies have NO IDEA what to print these cards on. Topps cards are always excellent. Rittenhouse does a good job as well. The card stock from the Marvel Masterpiece set I was on was excellent as well. But occasionally there will be a company that sends you cards on really bad stock that is difficult to work on and it makes the job less then enjoyable.

How do you feel about companies no longer doing aftermarket sketch card sets?
I was one of the first artists to offer the "Blank" on eBay with the Star Wars Heritage set. We also received 20 BLANK cards with to do as we pleased. Then the rules changed to 6 returns. The aftermarket cards were right after that. It was excellent for us to do it. I know we complain about getting X amount for each card and I know a lot of collectors complain about the effort we put into the sets depending on how many cards we do. So, when you received a card, in pencil, that wasn't so great, you could go to the artist that did that quickie sketch and have him create a full color card either from that image or a new one. I enjoyed it. It was a nice way supplement our income from the low pay we do on the cards.
It also opened the door for artists who were not on sets to erase cards and do their own thing on them and sell them privately or on eBay. But if I get into my feelings on that I'll piss off a lot of people. In the end, I think the end of the aftermarket makes for artists to do better return cards and less cards for the set. I know I'm down to doing 25 cards per set, all of which are full color.

What media do you like to work with for your cards? Is that different than what you normally use to produce artwork?
I usually use pencils/pens and marker on cards. When I'm producing art for say the Clone Wars Web Comic, I will use pen and ink and digitally color in Photoshop.

How do you feel about the entire process?
Deadlines are deadlines. You keep them, you get your work done. Occasionally the deadline will be ridiculous to meet, but somehow they are cool with extending it.

How do you approach your cards? Is there a lot of ‘prep’ time for you?
Here is my prep in this order: Oh! Cards arrived! Draw. Ship. I don't over think sketch cards unless there's specific needs.

Is your approach to your base cards any different than your sketch cards?
Entirely. I don't color with marker, for one. I do my coloring digitally... OH WAIT, NOT entirely true. My Lord of the Rings Legolas base card was marker colored. So I'm a liar right up front. LOL. As for putting more work into the piece, yes. I try to spend no more then 20 minutes on a standard sketch card, and even that is generous. More involved return cards I will spend a good hour on. Base card art, I'll spend a whole day penciling, inking and coloring one piece. I treat base cards like I would say a comic page or cover.

Do you have a lot of contact with collectors regarding your cards?
Oh very much so. I tend to have a specific group of people who I contact concerning returns. I also have regular clients of PSCs. A lot of collectors are very loyal to their artists and I for one appreciate that. I tend to suck at getting things done timely and sending things out, but I also regard them highly.

How do you feel about some collectors wanting more detailed cards versus what sketch card artists are paid to work on the card set?
I think I'm more offended by them feeling they deserve to know what we make and that we CHOOSE to get paid X amount per card. People want what they want, plain and simple. I'd feel cheated if I opened a case and pulled 20 squiggles on a card in pencil because some artist said it was Indy's whip. But if you complain about a pencil sketch that is pretty awesome because it's not a full inked/color card, you need to just walk away from collecting. This is why I 1. do far less cards then I used to and 2. stopped doing it for awhile.

Have you had any bad experiences with collectors?
If you don't have a bad experience with a collector at least once, you're a Saint! Nothing specific, but I had someone at a Con stand over my shoulder art directing me on a $10 head sketch. A F***ING $10 HEAD SKETCH!!!

Bad experiences with companies?
You know, honestly, most companies have been pretty good with us. For those that start out rough, once they "get it", they tend to be more artist friendly. My biggest issue is when they use you on several sets and then you never hear from them again. LOL.

Has your career as an artist benefitted from doing sketch card work?
Eh... I wouldn't say yes, but I also won't say no. I think my work on other projects and my con appearances have forwarded my career more. The sketch cards have, however, given me a fan base that has grown to collect beyond the cards. Do I think sketch cards have helped, yes, but I don't think my career is riding on Sketch cards. I mean, I stopped doing them for awhile and just recently returned because I do like my work reaching people it might now. Some folks JUST collect the sketch cards, nothing else. So why not reach them on a regular basis as well?

What was the most difficult sketch card set you have worked on to date?
The sets early on. I did 2000 cards for Heritage and 2000 cards for EpIII. There were days I was doing 200-300 cards in a day. THOSE would be the cards collectors would throw me into the fire for. Quickies of R2 and Battledroids made me less popular amongst the collectors. I've also had issues with the Strictly Ink cards. NOT the company or deadlines, the drawing surfaces were less then artist friendly. I also had a set of cards lost in the mail going back to them, which I regret.

Are there any cards that you are particularly proud of?
OH I have quite a few that whenever I see them I just LOVE that I managed to put them on a card(s). A lot of my LOTRS and M2 cards were like that. My returns on that first set were among my favorites. There was a Frodo pencil sketch card I did on that set that I absolutely loved. It was simple, completely in my style and I thought it worked so well. I REALLY liked, surprisingly enough, my HALO cards I did for Topps. There's too many Star Wars cards to name, but the G5 set recently, to me, had many cards I really enjoyed.

Some companies provide return cards for working on sketch card sets. Do you keep any of the cards returned to you? What are you planning to do with them?
I sell them. I don't really collect cards. I usually keep a base set and whatever "bonus" cards come in the set, unless they're a card someone might want and I sell them. My returns I also don't hold onto. I sell them all. I can't take it with me and better someone else has my work to enjoy.

Do you see yourself continuing with sketch card sets?
I took a break for awhile and was surprised I missed it. I'll do any Star Wars sets that are released for sure and anything that really peaks my interest. I'd like to do more Marvel/DC cards. I really loved the Marvel Masterpieces line.

Is there any advice you would like to give to people wanting to break into the sketch card ‘biz’?
Stop emailing me to get you work. No, I'm serious. I am NOT the editor at Topps, Rittenhouse, Upper Deck... etc. POST YOUR ART ON FORUMS. Get a website. Get yourself seen. If you have something to offer, you'll get work. These companies troll the sites/forums. If you're good and/or interesting you'll get work. Emailing me will get you the exact same advice. I have in the past seen artists on sites and sent emails to editors and said "Check this guy/gal out!" I know other artists have as well. Just put yourself out there and don't be afraid to hear criticism. Nothing better then having someone ask your opinion, giving it and then have them tell you that you're just jealous of their work and should go F*** yourself. Be humble. Take advice and run with it.

What are you working on now?
Currently wrapping up Season 2 of the Clone Wars web comic for, just finished a new Acme Archives/StarWarsShop Limited Edition print for the 30th Anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back and gearing up for a very busy con season... OH! and bringing my Red 5 Comic "MidKnight" back with a new writer.

Where can people see more of your work?
My website is currently in a state of construction, but you can check out my work on my DV art page here: and if you go to, you can check out Season 1 and 2 of the Clone Wars Web Comic. I'm the lead artist and I have a killer team of other artist working on the comic as well. Grant Gould, Jeff Carlisle, Daniel Falconer (Season 2)and Katie Cook (Season 1).

Thank you so much for your time, Tom!!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Interview with Rafael Kayanan

Do you have an educational background in art or are you self taught?
I only had a couple of years of formal art training. I attended Ringling School of Art and Design in Florida but was recruited by DC Comics after my first year. What I learned from art school was having been exposed to various styles and perspectives about art which forced me to define and think about my own work. As far as developing the skills to support that, then it didn't come from art school but constant practice prior to attending school and never stopping the learning process - Always exploring style and not allowing a comfort zone to impede my evolution. There's many ways to grow as an artist. You can stay within a set of aesthetic "rules" and explore those limits, stay within a genre / industry or play in various mediums. Personally, I like the problem-solving process, the elements of story-telling and exploring different formats and mediums so I tend to fit into all of those categories.

How did you get involved in sketch cards/What was your first sketch card job?
Topps approached me to work on the Clone Wars cards. I was already an approved LucasFilm artist having drawn for the Dark Horse Star Wars comics and getting approved to work on a Phantom Menace related book at Random House. I really didn't know much about the sketch card industry and I approached the cards with the same attitude I have with all jobs - present a work that I would purchase. I had no idea the cards were going for so much. I was just thinking of the young card collector in me when I used to collect the Star Wars cards in the first sets Topps ever put out. How cool would it have been to actually get a surprise original doodle mixed into the photo cards?

How do you feel about working on such a small surface?
I've worked in comics for a long time and drawn tighter panels in a smaller space so it wasn't a problem. When I first started sketching in middle school, my father who was an architect gave me an old set of rapidographs that I cleaned out and used all through high school. I learned about india ink preserving the black over time longer than markers (of that time) so I did all my doodling with these extra fine nibs. It actually took venturing into painting to relearn how to use broader gestures and sweeps of the drawing arm to cover a larger surface.

How do you feel about the entire process? Is it similar to working in the comic industry?
It is similar in that there's deadlines. The whole approach is different because comics is about piecing fragments of images to tell a story. Sketch cards for me is about celebrating a character or film you are already a fan of. You want the viewer to get a bit of what made them like that character or moment and preserve it. So it does not have to be a super detailed card, most of my cards appear detailed but they really are just swatches of color that give that illusion. That's probably why many seem to like them, because they can be interpreted as realistic but still have the gestural qualities of fast sketch. It's a balancing act that is actually harder than it seems, but that's probably what attracts me to them.

Do you prefer to work with a specific media on your cards?
Every set I do, I try and do something different. Therefore, if you saw a Star Wars set from five years ago and compared them to a set three years ago, you can see the same character but you know right away they are from different sets. I like the risk of staying with one approach on a set and going with that. I'd probably get pretty bored doing the same thing every time. I mean, I've been drawing Star Wars characters ever since the seventies, when I tried to draw my own version of the original film in comic form just for kicks. So there's many characters there that I've depicted hundreds of times before I even ever drew my first sketch card. It allowed me to not get intimidated but instead have fun and try something different each go. This goes for LOTR as well.

You did some puzzle sketch card work that Topps made into a foil set for LOTR Masterpieces, correct? Was coming up with that concept very different than how you approach your other sketch cards? Can you elaborate on that whole process?
That was more a collaborative effort between me, Topps and the LOTR owners. More back and forth in terms of which character is allowed to be in it and what scenes to depict. I added a little bit more with the back ground to tie the whole image together because they were essentially all isolated full figure drawings so that every card would have a clear shot of a main character.

Did you receive any of those original cards back, or were they all inserted into packs?
I didn't get to keep any of the cards so the deal itself was very different than regular sketch card work. I did find the whole printed piece interesting due to the various materials they used.

Your cards are very painterly and detailed. How long do they usually take you to complete? Depends on the image. A few minutes or half hour - maybe more if I get crazy. I try and pick one element that I put a little extra attention to. Because if the card has everything completely rendered, your eye darts around it. Now you place it in a pack and it gets lost because it has too much detail, and vice versa - if it's too loose you might alienate the viewer. It may seem like you're just doing an under layer so that you can capitalize off it later on, perhaps not even use the structure or set of lines you placed on there in the first place. I'm sure there's very valid reasons why someone would do that but I want the card to stand on its own merits. It's done, it was a sketch and that's that. Not a promise of something good if the price is right, but here it is man, enjoy it - you bought a box, or pack and you deserve getting something special. That resonates in the buyer on a subconscious level. This is supposed to be fun and that's why you bought it right? Now, with the return cards - that's no longer a risk on anyone's part - the buyer is making a business deal to purchase a work you made that you'd rather keep for yourself. They don't have to find that card in thousands of packs scattered all over the world. It's a win-win situation all around.

Do you have a lot of contact with collectors regarding your cards?
Off and on. Since I don't do sketch card commissions - that whittles it down greatly. However, I really appreciate reading or meeting collectors at shows who enjoy them.

Do you welcome commission requests?
I used to get more, but I think everyone who seriously collects knows I don't do sketch cards on the side, not even in cons. Because that's a commission already - more like the return card deal. I have less interest in that. In fairness to the buyer, I'm notorious for being slow on commissions that aren't sketch cards in the first place. I have to find the time to finish them, and I like to do them in straight sittings rather than leaving it and coming back to it months later. So those moments are rare and anyone who asks for non sketch card commissions are saints if they can sit out the waiting period. I discourage anyone to pick up commissions from me. On very rare occasions I will have a short window to take them and that's it.

How do you feel about some collectors wanting more detailed cards despite was artists are paid to work on sketch card sets?
You mean collectors commissioning cards or buying them from packs? The artists dictate how they want their work to be presented and how finished they want it to be. What the collectors want may not match that. so it is really the call of the artist whether they want to meet that demand or stick to what is logistically feasible for them. For myself, I turn down more sets than work in them just because I know I can't meet that deadline the company is asking for or that I don't want to do a hundred cards. A hundred to 500 cards is a lot of work. If I had nothing else to do then sure - bring them on but really you can't survive on that. They are special for a reason, so if you want to do a ton of cards then you have to figure out whether your style is suited for that or find another way to express yourself. Be honest with yourself and your capabilities. It isn't fair to the publisher or to yourself if you are now in turmoil over how you can finish a set. Collector's tastes will be diverse, and if you have a cute style or a realistic one, or more graphic design in nature, if done well - then someone will like it. But first you have to like it.

What was the most difficult sketch card set you have worked on to date? What made it difficult?
I found them all equally fun. None of them were difficult because I signed on knowing it will be a fun gig.

Are there any cards that you are particularly proud of?
Probably the ones I end up asking back as my returns, but there's a few of the multiple card images and some cards that probably wouldn't be considered the ones most people would go for that I favor. It probably reminds me of something else than the actual image, like the time I was drawing it or what I was listening to etc.

Do you see yourself continuing with sketch card sets? If so, can you tell us what future sketch card sets you'll be working on (base or sketch cards)?
At the time being I'm thinking about doing a set but it really depends on my schedule for the project I'm working on now. Always like the Star Wars sets, maybe a Marvel set, but it's more about time to set aside for it.

Have you had any bad experiences working with card companies or collectors?
Not really. The company I have dealt with mostly is TOPPS and they were always good to me. Even others I never got to work with but wanted to were always gracious and professional - the planets just didn't align in terms of schedules.

What are you currently working on?

Finished up my stint as illustrator for director Julie Taymor on the Spider-Man musical that Bono is doing the music for; did a one shot What If for Marvel featuring Elektra; concept art for one of my favorite visionary directors, Tarsem, and in talks on another fight choreography gig on a film in the near future.

Where can people see more of your work?
Just had a cover come out for ALTER EGO 92 published by TwoMorrows, it's a sword and sorcery themed issue edited by Roy Thomas.

Thank you so much, Rafael!!

More Dead @ 17 preview cards

Monday, March 8, 2010

Interview with Arie Monroe

Do you have an educational background in art?
Yes I started studying art at a fine arts high school. I attended a 4 year college but the school didn't fill all my needs so I went to the Joe Kubert school to study animation and comics.

How did you get involved in sketch cards/What was your first sketch card job?
I first encountered sketch card at a comic convention. One of my friends was doing them and he gave me one and I framed it and hung it on my wall I loved it so much. A few years later one of my school mates was telling me how she wanted to start selling sketch cards online. I drew one with a caricature of Paris Hilton on it and people really liked it so I started doing personal sketch cards. About a year after that I submitted some samples and was hired to work on the Marvel Masterpieces 3 card set. It was really exciting because it was one of my first professional jobs. I finished about 50 cards for that set and it was a lot of fun.

How do you feel about working on such a small surface?
Actually I really like it. I can experiment with different drawing and painting techniques on the cards and honestly my work has improved a great deal from doing sketch cards.

How do you feel about the entire process?
The great thing about working as a sketch card artist starting out is it gives you a chance to peek into what it means to work for a client. I have learned that when doing a large amount of cards that it is best to space your cards out to do a little every day and try to have them have similar look or theme so you can finish them quickly. I have missed a deadline on cards by about a day or so but it was because I didn't properly prepare myself so I could do a large volume of cards. I have done sketch cards for Upperdeck, Ritten House, and 5Finity. Every company is different and is looking for a certain quality in what they will accept on a set. Some places prefer you do all color where others think a simple sketch is all that is necessary. So it really just depends on the company. They are all different.

Do you prefer to work with a specific media?
I enjoy all medias. I honestly prefer doing watercolor and acrylic because I think it looks more vibrant than markers and I feel I can experiment more freely. At the same time Markers are faster and less messy. I see all media though as a chance to experiment and learn new techniques.

Do you have a lot of contact with collectors regarding your cards?
I use to get a lot of contact from collectors but I found myself getting to caught up in trying to please buyers rather than having fun and being creative on a set or commission so I actually prefer to just draw them and put them out there for people to enjoy than to see who is collecting what and where it is going.

Will you be at conventions and/or accepting commissions?
I love going to conventions. I am not sure though which cons I will attend this year out side local ones. I am not accepting commissions at the moment cause I am working on a book for someone but once it ends I will be available.

Has your career as an artist benefited from doing sketch card work?
Yes, my art has improved, I have learned to have a better relationship with clients, and I have been able to use it to make connections in other areas of the art field.

What was the most difficult sketch card set you have worked on to date? What made it difficult?
The Xmen Archives was the most frustrating set for me. I had taken on another full time job at the time and the company had me working really long hours and sometimes with no days off and I was trying to meet my deadline for that set at the same time. I wanted to do a good job and was taking the cards and my paints with me to work and trying to get them done. In the end I had a lot of problems and was not able to finish the full set of cards even though I got the ones I did in sent in on time. It taught me a big lesson about working as an artist. I think sometimes it can be an all or nothing occupation cause it takes a lot of time to finish a piece sometimes and when you have other things competing with that it makes it very difficult to meet deadlines. After I left that job I decided I wanted to do art full time so I wouldn't have to many competing priorities.

Are there any cards that you are particularly proud of?
I was pretty happy with the cards I did for the Mandy sketch card set. I thought they were fun and I really felt like I was in a groove while working on them.

Some companies provide return cards or Artist Proof cards for working on sketch card sets. What do you do with yours?
LOL! I actually lost one somewhere in my house! I need to look for that. I have some sitting around I like to even keep a few for myself. Other than that I will sell then on ebay.

Do you see yourself continuing with sketch card sets?
If people continue to ask me to work on sets I will continue to do them.

Is there any advice you would like to give to people wanting to break into the sketch card ‘biz’?
Honestly I think sketch cards can be a very easy "biz" to break into. And a great way to start out if you want to be a commercial aritst. As I said before it gives you a great opportunity to improve your skills and it can lead to other opportunities down the road. I would suggest starting out by doing some personal sketch cards and if you feel comfortable try submitting your work to some companies and see what happens. Some places might say no but I have found that you will also get a lot of yes's 'cause the demand for artists is sometimes very high.

Can you tell us what future sketch card sets you'll be working on?
I recently finished work on Dead @ 17. There is another set based around the work of Dean Yeagle I will be working on and I might be working on another X men themed set for Ritten House but I need to wait for them to get back to me.

What are you currently working on?
I am finishing up a comic called Stayout for an Austrailian company, and I have been doing daily sketches for my personal blog.

Where can people see more of your work?
I have a few places I lurk. You can see my daily sketchs on my blog @:

I also have a site with my more professional work:

And I have a great home on Deviantart!

Thank you for your time, Arie!!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Interview with John Watkins-Chow

How did you get involved in sketch cards/What was your first sketch card job?
My first card set was Lord of the Rings Masterpieces, back in 2006. I was fortunate enough to have a friend who was on a previous LotR set for Topps and he passed my name along. Somehow I was invited to join in on the LotR Masterpieces set.

How do you feel about working on such a small surface?
It’s just the right size to put the amount of detail that I can come up with in the time that I usually have! I’m grateful that it’s just small enough that I don’t feel compelled to draw a background!

How do you feel about the entire process?
I’m much better at the quick sketch than the more labored finished product, so many of my cards are really just that—sketch cards. Having had no formal training in art, I am, alas, a prima donna in that I usually only do art when I’m in the mood—when I’m trapped in traffic miles away from home, I’m itchin’ to get to the drawing board, and when I’ve blocked off some time to get to my cards, I realize, “Hey, the bath tub needs to get recaulked!” As a result, I’m terrible with deadlines. Somehow the first few sets that I was on, I managed to finish early. More recently, I’m practically working on the last few cards as the FedEx guy is picking ’em up. I haven’t had any contract-breaking late contributions (yet), but I’d still like to streamline my process a little. I’ve been fortunate that my interactions with all the companies so far have been positive. (at least from my point of view!)

Do you prefer to work with a specific media?
I work exclusively in marker. As little talent that I have for drawing, I have even less for painting. I’ll usually sketch in pencil, ink with a Pigma Micron pen, erase stray marks and lay down color starting from the lightest and work my way to the darkest. I wish I had a little more bravery working with higher contrast and putting more shades in faces but mostly my work suffers from looking a little washed out, if you can get past the scribbles.

Do you have a lot of contact with collectors regarding your cards?
I don’t have a lot of interaction with collectors, unfortunately. The Scoundrel Art message boards are a terrific way to interact with collectors and other artists, but lately I barely have time to finish my cards, let alone keep up with collectors. It’s terrifically sad, because getting and giving feedback is really important, and I have grand intentions to reconnect, but my day job as a math teacher is a major time sink, and I’ve been less and less willing to put off time with my family to do my art work.

Has your career as an artist benefited from doing sketch card work?
Tremendously. Doing sketch cards has let me share my art with many more people than my typical forum (refrigerator at home), so that’s been a bonus. I’m too undisciplined to do regular sequential art, not talented enough to even post at deviantart, busy enough teaching that I can’t devote more time to my art, and lack any entrepreneurial spirit to promote my own work: sketch cards align perfectly with my current situation.

Are there any cards that you are particularly proud of?
Every now and them I’ll stumble upon a card of mine that I really like—very rarely do I begin a card thinking, “this one is going to be one of my Artist’s Return Cards!” I usually spend a bit more time on panel/puzzle cards—ones that join together to make a larger image. I take great pains to lay them out so that each card can stand alone, in terms of having a character on it (instead of, “Ah! Yoda’s left foot!”). I’m really pleased to hear that Rittenhouse will begin offering at-size cards for upcoming sets to accommodate multicard panels (their cards usually come larger and then are later trimmed to size). For some a card that is part of a panel makes the cards more collect-worthy; for many others, probably not.

Also, on some sets, I’ll make a Tarot set—selecting 22 cards to represent the major arcana of a tarot deck. Occasionally, there will be a serendipitous revelation of just the right card for the imagery, theme, or title of a tarot card. I remember working on the tarot set for the season one Heroes sketch cards and gave myself the additional constraint of selecting an image from episode 1 for card 1 (Magician), episode 2 for card 2 (High Priestess), episode 3 for card 3 (Empress), etc. There were several instances that lined up just so… Other sets that have gotten the tarot treatment: Lord of the Rings Masterpieces, Star Wars 30th Anniversary, Indiana Jones Heritage, Marvel Masterpieces, X-Men Archives, and Star Wars Galaxy 5. These are always fun to do. Every now and then I think, “maybe I’ll do the 56 minor arcana as well—the coins, swords, cups, wands”—because I like the idea of selecting images with another meaning or that fit into a grander design (“This would be perfect for a 10 of swords!”), but I haven’t followed through yet. Ah, the power of inertia.

I’ve had a crush on Jean Grey since I was in kindergarten (I remember sitting in my friend’s house while in 4th grade and he was talking about a girl he liked. And when he asked whom I liked, I sorta looked sideways and mumbled, “…she doesn’t go to our school.”), so I’m always looking forward to drawing her one more time. Yes, my wife is a redhead.

Some companies provide return cards for working on sketch card sets. What do you do with yours?
Most of them are sitting in a little pile on my bookshelf collecting dust. Some have been given away to friends who have been generous (and are interested in a baseball-card-sized sketch). Occasionally a collector will ask if I have any returns; sometimes I’ll remember to bring them to a convention to show to passersby. I usually choose cards that I liked working on (“I drew this card while drinking a Jamba Juice! Ah, happy memories!”), and not necessarily ones that I think, “Wow. Some collector’s going to want to pay money for this!” since I’ve never been a good judge of anything but my spouse. That being said, I haven’t really advertised, “These are available for sale!” so perhaps they’ll just be inherited by a grandchild, or, more likely, by a neighborhood kid whose mom said in earshot of me, “My little boy really likes Mace Windu!”

Do you see yourself continuing with sketch card sets?
I really enjoy working on cards, but my time has been increasingly limited. I’m planning on cutting back on my sketch card presence, contributing only to sets that I’m really interested in and invited to join. Having a day job means that I never work on a set of cards for the financial compensation—but it also means that the only time that I can work on cards is, like, 2am–5am. As long as I’m excited about the property and I remember to budget my time well, I’ll be a happy contributor.

Is there any advice you would like to give to people wanting to break into the sketch card ‘biz’?
If you’ve not gotten in despite repeated attempts, it’s probably one of two things: 1) it’s a really crowded market and editors are already inundated with artists with whom they are already familiar, or 2) you need to work on your craft. In both cases, patience and perseverance are almost certainly essential. If it is the second case, do not confuse “style” for “my art is flawed.” Honest feedback is both difficult to get and difficult to take, but it may be the best way to find out what you need to improve upon. I was extremely lucky to have been able to join when I did, so perhaps it couldn’t hurt to try to build up karma in other areas of your life!

Can you tell us what future sketch card sets you'll be working on?
At the time of this writing, I’ll be contributing to 5Finity’s P’ups, and Bad Axe Studio’s Treasure Chests & Booty. Perhaps there may be more…

What are you currently working on?
I always have grand intentions to return to my work on Talismen, a comic series that I wrote and drew a decade ago. Some collectors are still waiting on commissions. Mostly, though, I’m trying to make up for a few years’ worth of “Daddy, can you spend time with me instead of drawing cards?”

Where can people see more of your work? will periodically update with my art.

Thank you so much, John!! It was a pleasure to interview you.