Sunday, September 13, 2009

Concerning sketch Cards

A lot of discussion has been going on between fans and artists concerning sketch cards.
(Sketch Cards are individual hand drawn piices of art on blank trading cards. They are manufactured by trading card companies and then randomly inserted into packs of retail trading cards. The card companies pay popular artists to do sketches on several cards, up to 3000 in some cases).
The most heated debates are over the subject of drawing repeats (multiple drawn cards that share the same "image"), and what some fans consider "less" effort.

For a little background, Sketch cards were started as a "chase card" in packs of cards where popular artists would "sketch" a drawing in black and white or very limited color. Collectors took to this hobby right away, and the popularity of this one of kind card collectible took off. Over the last 4-5 years sketch cards have evolved from simple sketches to some artists doing full finished art.
Fans naturally liked the finished art and demanded more. The problem is the pay for these sketch cards is very very minimal, sometimes as low as $1.00 each. Some artists are happy to accommodate the demands for finished art at their own expense, while some artists have continued to only do what they are contractually obligated to do, "sketches".
Some collectors have slowly but surely categorized Black and white white sketches as "lesser". Some have even taken as a personal attack on their enjoyment of the sketch card collecting Hobby.
There has been heated debates and arguments over the subject matter.

Recently on a sketch card forum this debate arose regarding a new set of Star Wars sketchcards that are being produced as we speak.
This is a post I made that I thought you might find interesting regarding the artist point of view on why some of us ONLY do "sketches". I believe it illustrates quite clearly that it is not a question of effort. It is a very calculated decision on behalf of our careers.

This is all stuff we (Matt Busch, Cat Staggs, Brian Denham, Denise Vasquez, and I) just talked about at our panel about sketch cards at Dragon Con.

The big issues we all tackled were things like repeats, and "sketches" vs "finished art" on sketch cards.

I wish we had video taped it because I think everyone here, and the sketch card collecting world would really have gotten a unique point of view from all the seasoned sketch card vets.

Titling them 1 of 1 is always accurate if each piece is hand drawn.
This is not just a sketch card thing.
Anytime there is a "series" of some sort, art is usually numbered in some way.
In this case it is a series of sketch cards. Since the sketch is unique in terms of it is not "reprinted", then it is a 1 of 1. this is very important to those who collect art.
I've had people who are not Sketch card collectors by my cards simply because they are 1 of 1 pieces of art.

But I do understand your sentiment. However, the more the consumer understands what they have, the more they will understand the value of each piece, whether or not the IMAGE has been repeated.
Another thing to consider is the ODDS. Out of the 1000's of cards that are illustrated, If I or some other artist does 4 sketches of the same Yoda image, Do you know how astronomical the odds of pulling 2 or more of those particular sketches would be? It's nearly impossible.
Obviously, the more cards you sketch, and the more repeats you do then the odds get lower. In defense of the card companies this is one reason they don't like to give out thousands of cards to one or two artists anymore. Lets take Topps for instance, they are very realistic in terms of understanding that many artists have to do repeats in order to get the job done in time.
If they tried to hold artist to do NO REPEATS...
1. No product would ever come in on time. MANY MANY artists would not be able to finish on time.
2. As a result many artist that the fans like would not do sketch cards anymore.

Lets remember that these are called "sketch cards". Some artists elect to do full art work for pennies. But that, quite literally, is coming out of their own pockets. When you think of the amount of time they spend on a card ,for $1.50, when they could be working a minimum wage job. That's a loss of $5.75 an hour. that adds up.
Now lets say you have other illustration jobs. lets say a job comes up for $1500, and it needs to be completed in a week. the same Full art work style they do on the cards. But, the cards are due next week too?
If the artist elects to do his cards full art, there is no way they can take on the $1500 job.
Lets take it a step further. Lets say an artist is able to take on both jobs. They complete both jobs doing full art work.
Now put your self in the place of the employer who hired you to do 1 piece for $1500, and then you find out the artist you hired did the same "finished" style of work on a sketch card for $1.50. Wouldn't you be upset? Would you ever hire that artist again? Not a chance.
The thing is folks, this is a REAL situation that working illustrators MUST be conscience of. If you start charging full price to one client, then giving it away to another, word will get a round quicker than you can imagine, and no one will hire you based on your reputation.

Sketch cards by definition, have always supposed have been "sketches".
That is where they started, and that is what our employers expect from us. The idea from the beginning was to give fans a "part of the process".
A "sketch" is part of the process, and in reality is a very RARE thing for anyone to own. Most artists throw their sketches away once they finish the art. I find it very unfortunate that many people have disregarded sketches as less valuable or somehow less effort. What I am illustrating here is that it is not a question of effort, it is a matter of understanding what you are receiving from the artist. Owning a part of the process is Quite valuable, and I believe the more collectors understand what they have in a "sketch" the more they will feel EXtremely happy to pull a "sketch".

So, lets say you don't care about the process, and you still want full finished art on your sketch cards.
Why not hire the artists you like to illustrate something for you that you know you will like rather than spend your money on a box of cards that you may be disappointed with?
Too often I feel collectors want something for nothing. Most artist love the fact that people are such fans of their art that they want "finished' work from them. But the fan also needs to understand that the artist is trying to make a career, and many can't afford to spend hours on one card for $1.50. I have to say, that MANY fans understand this, and I thank you, but some fans/collectors do not.
If fans are really into loving the artist, and wanting more art, then the better way to do this is to support the artist by buying their art from them or ordering commissions.
I'm not saying don't buy sketch cards. I'm saying collect all aspects of the artists styles and process, but support the artist by buying finished art from the artist rather than trying to get it for cheap from a pack of cards.

Artists need their fans, not only for strokes and accolades, but we really need you guys to help mold the trends, and life of what is popular.
The most unfortunate thing that is happening, as a result of the "expectation" some fans have for finished work on pack pulls is that many artists are NOT doing sketch cards anymore, and you can trust me when I tell you, I have talked to MANY of your favorites who are ready to follow suite. With no offense intended towards young or new artists on sketch cards, but the sketch card industry depends on keeping some well known names (artists) on the sets. If they lose those artists, it could spell doom for sketch cards as collectors/dealers will stop ordering cases.

So how is doing full finished art on pack pulls hurting artists?
I've asked many artist who have done full finished art on their pack pull cards over the years. It was my theory when people started doing full art for pack pulls (way back when), that it could potentially hurt their commission sales (For those who don't know, commission sales are VERY important to the career of many illustrators.). It came as no shock to me that 4-5 years after I made that statement that more artists than not (who did finished art on their pack pulls), saw the popularity of their cards on ebay go up, but their commission sales go WAY down. The reason? supply and demand.
think about it, why would someone pay you a good price for an original commission, if they can get one (that you did for $1.50), for half of what you charge for a commission (on Ebay)?

Hopefully, if your still reading, you are getting a clearer picture from the artists point of view, concerning the dilema of doing "full finished" art on your pack pull sketches.
In short, one could wrap it all up by quoting the Joker from "The Dark Knight"..."If you good at something, never do it for free."

So why do sketch cards?
I can only speak for myself. But speaking with other artists I know many share some of my reasons for doing sketch cards.
1. They are fun. Who wouldn't like to draw fun stuff?
2. It's extra money. For the most part, if a sketch is all they require, then I feel the pay is pretty fair. If they want more, they pay more. If I don;t feel it's fair, i don't take the job.
3. It's a great way to report with fans.
4. It's an introduction to new fans of my work. If a fan likes the sketches, they usually go check out my website. If they like the art there, there is a good chance they will follow me as a fan, and perhaps even buy some of my art directly form me.
5. It's challenging sometimes.
6. It's an opportunity to try new art styles.

Okay, I've been procrastinating long enough this morning. Better get back to work.
In closing, I know not everyone will agree with what I wrote. I'm definitely not telling anyone "how it is", I'm just sharing my point of view and information I have gathered from speaking to other artists about the subject.

Take care,

1 comment:

  1. This is a FANTASTIC blog!!! A Must read for everyone interested in the sketch card industry!