Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Interview with Allison Sohn

How did you get involved in sketch cards?
Another card artist forwarded my work to their editor, who invited me to participate in the first Lord of the rings card set: Evolution.

How do you feel about working on such a small surface?
It was difficult to get used to at first, but once I did, I liked it a great deal! You can create a mini-masterpiece, and it doesn't take a week or two to accomplish, the way larger pieces can. Also, I like that I can throw 6 cards in my bag, and go to my favorite coffee shop for the afternoon to work. I feel like I've got the day off and am lounging enjoying snacks and hot beverages, but I'm really working!

How do you feel about the entire process?
I like the sketch card process A LOT. I often tell people its the perfect amount of work for me. The deadlines have a little flexibility, the editors are all very nice, and you can offer to do as little or as many cards as you can manage in the given time frame. So its very accommodating to the other work I take on and my travel schedule. I also feel that because these are supposed to be "sketches" and because there are so many to do for any given set (I've done upwards of 400 cards per assignment) that I can get experimental with this work the way I never could with a piece for print. So sketch cards really allow me a freedom to try out new styles and new mediums that I can later integrate into my other work if I choose.

Do you prefer to work with a specific media?
Right now I'm very much in love with Copic markers. They give me a result that people often mistake for paints. And they play nice with other media as well; so I can mix in some pencil and some white paints for effects.

You have done base cards as well, correct? Can you explain what they are, exactly?
I have done base cards; I'm really grateful to my editors for thinking of me for these assignments. A base card is a piece of art done for a printed trading card for any given set. It's not done to size the way a sketch card is (although I suppose it could be, if you wanted to) so you can work larger, and get greater details or more of a "story" going on in the piece. I've got a few of them under my belt now; my first base card was for Lord of the Rings Masterpieces, but I've since done cards for the DC VS trading card game, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones, to name a few sets.

Is that process (coming up with the concept) very different than how you approach the regular sketch cards? Can you elaborate on your base card process?
It's very different, for me. A sketch card is sort of a throw away; you know you are going to do hundreds of them, so it sort of frees you up to be creative, and to take risks and be experimental. If it's not your greatest card ever, well there are 100 more you can work on to try and get to that end. But for a base card, you may only have the one chance to get that image right. I think I re-drew the artwork for my Star Wars Galaxy 4 base card five or six times before I began coloring it. And once it was colored, I went back in with Photoshop to adjust those colors. But I didn't think about the printing process, and when it went to press, the colors all shifted very yellow. At that point I realized that I had never calibrated my computer monitor for printing purposes. So while it looked the way I wanted it to on my computer screen, it printed out very differently.

Do you have a lot of contact with collectors regarding your cards?
I have some contact; probably not as much as some other sketch card artists. It's always flattering to read online when someone likes your work, and it can be devastating to read when fans or collectors think you did a poor job. So I try and limit my time online reading feed back or chatting with collectors and fans. But I do a fair number of conventions during the year; and I do get to meet a lot of collectors that way.

How do you feel about some collectors wanting more detailed cards versus what sketch card artists are paid to work on the cards?
I feel that a collector should not influence how any art will ultimately end up. That being said, I feel that an artist has an obligation to do their best work on whatever job they accept. No one forced you to accept poor pay rates, no one twisted your arm to do the job. Having agreed to do the work for the set pay rate; do the BEST work you can. That's my personal mantra.

Have you had any bad experiences with collectors?
Of course. And I'm sure collectors have had bad experiences with me. I've been doing this for 4 years; people are bound to not agree in that time frame.

Bad experiences with companies?
Not really. I don't work with as many companies as some artists do, and I think that has helped me avoid a lot of problems. I did have some return cards get mixed up and not returned; but the company sent me blank cards to make up for it, so I wouldn't call it a bad experience in the end.

Has your career as an artist benefitted from doing sketch card work?
Absolutely! I don't know that I'd be getting any printed work if not for my years spent doing sketch cards. I think its impossible to do all those hundreds and thousands of tiny little drawings, do the best job you feel you can do, and not come away from your drawing table a better artist for it. I have often called sketch cards my "mandatory practice time". Left to my own devices, I would NOT draw hundreds of little pieces of art, over and over. But sketch cards require it of you. Now if you are just hacking those sketches out, of course you aren't going to improve as an artist. But if you are doing good work, someone is going to notice. And when that someone is an editor, sometimes it results in more work.

What was the most difficult sketch card set you have worked on to date?
I think my first set was my most difficult. I loved the material; I've been a fan of the Tolkien novels since I was a child. So to have my first professional job be drawing Lord of the Rings: Evolution was both a personal treat and intimidating. Also, that was the set where I had to learn how to draw that small.

Are there any cards that you are particularly proud of?
I really liked my work on the Women of Marvel set that Rittenhouse Archives produced. I was asked to do incentive cards for that, and they were larger than regular cards, measuring 5 by 7 inches. Artistically, the material was a dream come true to work on, and having that extra little bit of space was wonderful! I feel I really knocked those cards out of the proverbial ball park.

Some companies provide return cards for working on sketch card sets. What do you do with yours?
I sell them, when I can. I have kept some, for sentimental reasons. I still have a card from my first ever set, and a card from my first ever Star Wars set.

Do you see yourself continuing with sketch card sets?
I do, though maybe not as many as I have done in the past. I'm being more selective with the sets I choose to work on, so that I can do my best possible work for that set.

Is there any advice you would like to give to people wanting to break into the sketch card ‘biz’?
Heh. Yes. I'm always amazed at people that think they are going to get rich doing sketch cards, or transition from sketch cards to comic books within a few months of starting. Good luck with that. I would suggest that people have far more realistic expectations, and that they bring their very best work to the cards they agree to do. There's enough mediocre garbage out there; no one wants to see more of that, and that sort of work isn't going to help you build your portfolio or advance your career as an artist.

Can you tell us what future sketch card sets you'll be working on?
I'm currently participating in the Marvel 70th Anniversary card set for Rittenhouse Archives, and Star Wars Galaxy 5 for Topps.

What are you currently working on?
I'm also trying to coordinate a charity art auction for a local animal rescue. If you are reading this and you are an artist, don't be surprised if you get an email from me, begging for drawings of dogs. :-D

Where can people see more of your work?
I have a very poorly designed and out-dated website at
My Deviant Art site is only marginally better updated, and can be viewed at:

Thank you so much for your time, Allison!

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