Monday, November 16, 2009

Interview with Art Grafunkel

How did you get involved in sketch cards?
I've known both you and Grant “Solid” Gould for a while now, although only online, because we seemed to hang out at similar internet message boards, like Steve Niles' Inner Sanctum and Ben Templesmith's Conclave... you know: “Best Friends I've Never Met”.

You were both doing lots of sketchcards, and I must've mentioned I was interested in doing them as well, because one day I get an email from Grant, asking if I'd like to do a try-out for doing sketchcards on a genuine card set for Topps. That was “Lord Of The Rings – Masterpieces II”. I quickly doodled some sketches, sent those to Grant, and he passed them on to the powers that be at Topps, who immediately got back to me. Which was nice. And a few days later I received my very first box of blank cards in the mail.

So I have to thank both you and Grant for introducing me to the biz!

How do you feel about working on such a small surface?
I'm used to drawing in small sketchbooks, little notebooks, post-it's and such, so the small size isn't much of a problem. I guess it might become a challenge if I start colouring my sketchcards with watercolors, or painting them all together. I'm in total awe when I see these highly detailed, painted masterpieces on some sets. I'm always wondering if those artists got bigger cards than I did.

How do you feel about the entire process?
It's a delicate balance: on one hand they're supposed to be sketches, the deadlines are fairly tight, you don't make loads of money on these projects... but on the other hand, given these circumstances, you still need to create something that would make both yourself and the buyer happy.

Do you have a lot of contact with collectors regarding your cards?
I'm still really new at this, so I don't think many collectors actually know either my name or my work. I do post stuff on my Facebook page and also at Scoundrel, the message board for both sketchcard artists and collectors, which is a good way to get feedback on your cards and to keep in touch with collectors.

How do you feel about some collectors wanting more detailed cards versus what sketch card artists are paid to work on the cards?
I'm still a newbie to sketchcards, but I've already noticed that, as with most hobbies, there is a lot of passion involved... and sometimes a lot of money invested. And that can cause some tension.

Collectors invest a lot of money, buying whole boxes and shipments, sometimes just to get a handfull of sketchcards. So I can understand it must be frustrating getting “only” a pencil sketch, but, considering the circumstances, sometimes that's all an artist can afford.

Have you had any bad experiences with collectors?
Not at all.

On the contrary, I (unwillingly) gave the guys that bought my returns a hard time. A simple payment from a U.S. bank account to a European bank account isn't that obvious, apparently. It involved some paperwork, and a small extra fee for the buyers, sadly.

But everything worked out fine: they got their cards, I got paid... and it showed me that these people really enjoy my work, so that's neato.

Bad experiences with companies?
Not really, although my first sketchcard set, “The Lord Of The Rings - Masterpieces II” series I did for Topps, wasn't really smooth sailing for me.

I was more than halfway through my 200 cards, when I got a mail from Topps, saying New Line Productions didn't like the initial sketches they saw... not the sketchcards, mind you, just the really quick sample sketches I sent them early on, to show my style... but Topps told me not to worry, to just keep on drawing my cards, and that they'd handle it. But New Line didn't want to negotiate, so they couldn't approve any of my cards. As such they weren't inserted in any packs, and technically can't be made public.

Topps did all they could, and the people at New Line probably have lots of people breathing down their neck as well, so it would be dumb to blame anyone... but, being a fan of the books and the movies, that was a bit of a bummer.

Has your career as an artist benefitted from doing sketch card work?
Illustration is more a thing I do on the side, but it certainly flexes artistic muscles which I don't get to use during my dayjob as a graphic designer. It's a challenge: catching that certain character, or expression, or mood, or pose, on a very limited canvas, within a limited timespan, while still concentrating on composition, texture, contrast and anatomy.

What was the most difficult sketch card set you have worked on to date?
I haven't worked on that many sets, but I'd have to say the least interesting to me personally was the “Indiana Jones and The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull” set, based on the last movie. The exclusive reference material we got was very sparse and non-descript: man in suit, man in suit with hat, man with glasses, man in suit with glasses and gun... I had no idea which ones were bad guys or good guys, no clue what the plot was, or what the movie stills were about.

Are there any cards that you are particularly proud of?
I did some pretty decent cards for the “Star Wars Galaxy 4” set by Topps. Probably because the Star Wars universe lies close to my heart: the characters are so dramatic and expressive, and the designs are so over-the-top, so I couldn't help but draw them jumping around, capes flapping behind them, or lunging their lightsabers right at you. The field of reference for this set was also wide open: comics, movies, cartoons, games, toys, almost everything was available.

The bounty hunters and the weird alien barflies at the cantina were paricularily fun to do.

Some companies provide return cards for working on sketch card sets. Do you keep any of the cards returned to you?
Yep. I still have my Indy returns.

What are you planning to do with them?
Sell them one day, hopefully, hah!

But if they don't sell, I might frame them.

Do you see yourself continuing with sketch card sets?
Sure, I'd love to do more. I'm a nerd, so I love sci-fi, and horror, and movies, and comicbooks, and that's what the sketchcard business is based on.

I really want to do a Star Wars set again. I didn't get to do a Darth Vader in the previous Galaxy set, so I hope I get to doodle old helmethead in an upcoming card series.

I'd also like to work on a Marvel or DC card set. That'd be so awesome, as I've been reading comics since I was about twelve, doodling little Batmen and Spidermen on every blank scrap of paper I could get my hands on.

Is there any advice you would like to give to people wanting to break into the sketch card ‘biz’?
The usual stuff, I guess.

First of all: draw. And draw all sorts of things, like comicbook heroes, movie characters, but maybe more importantly: draw from life. Your garden shed in the midday sun, the girl sitting at the other end of the coffee shop, the guy walking his dog in the park, anything. That stuff is very important if you want to draw convincing anatomy, clothing, and textures.

So just draw a lot, and get your work out there where it can be seen: blogs, online portfolios, message boards. And you probably could get in touch with the card companies directly through their contact info on their sites.

Can you tell us what future sketch card sets you'll be working on?
There's nothing particular in the pipeline, but I noticed on your blog that Topps is doing a “Star Wars Galaxy 5” trading card set, so I hope I can work on that one. I already gave them a little poke, to show them I'm still alive and kicking, so my fingers are crossed. Basically, I'll do anything that tickles my fancy, so to speak.

What are you currently working on?
Well, there's my dayjob as a graphic designer... And then there's my two kids... so that leaves about fifteen minutes of spare time each day.

And during those fifteen minutes I'm doing some research and preliminary sketches for a possible comicbook series, written by a local author/illustrator, but it's still very early on... and if it's published, it'll probably be limited to a local (Belgian) release.

I also have a few short comic stories lying about, some written by me, some by others, which I'm constantly playing around with.

Where can people see more of your work?
I post some of my artwork on Scoundrel, and most of it's on my Facebook page.

Thank you, Art!

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