Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Interview with Nina Edlund

How did you get involved in sketch cards?
You and Grant Gould! I can't remember which one of you contacted me first but you guys offered to pass my name along to Topps if I was interested in doing sketch cards (which I was, obviously!). I sent the art director an email, dropped your names and attached a few samples of my work. I was so anxious about doing a good job because I wasn't only representing myself but, since you both vouched for me, reflecting on you as well.

How do you feel about working on such a small surface?
I don't tend to draw very big anyway -- most of my drawing takes place in the margins of my notebook during meetings so drawing small is my natural state of being. However, it was an adjustment compositionally. I'm used to doodling across an entire page so it was a mental realignment to place things correctly in a small, specific area. I'm still trying to figure it out!

How do you feel about the entire process?
In a perfect world, the artists would be given long deadlines and only be asked to take on a small amount of cards. Also in this perfect world, I would have a house made of diamonds and ride around on a pink, sparkly unicorn. Although I would like more lead time, I certainly have no problem with the way things are. You just have to know, as an artist, what you are able to take on within the parameters of the deadline and commit yourself accordingly (I learned this the hard way. Oy.).

Do you prefer to work with a specific media?
I definitely prefer working in pencil. My lines are much more confident in that medium and I feel like a lot of the subtle beauty of my work gets lost when I try to take it to ink and color. Knowing that collectors far and away prefer inked and colored pieces, it becomes a dilemma for me. Do I give them what they want and have the product be not as good as it could be? Or do I stick with pencil and make something that I feel happy with? Maybe some day I will figure out how to achieve the things I want to express in a full-color format so everyone's happy.

Do you have a lot of contact with collectors regarding your cards?
Not too much! I'm pretty shy and I am awkward at best when it comes to praise regarding my work; it's makes me want to blush, punch the person in the shoulder and say 'Oh my goodness, crazy pants!' Yes, praise reduces me to elementary schoolesque bashfulness. I post a little bit on the Scoundrel message boards but I don't ever have a table at any conventions. Maybe someday!

How do you feel about some collectors wanting more detailed cards versus what sketch card artists are paid to work on the cards?
This is such a tricky thing. I completely understand the collector's desire to have a mini-masterpiece with each sketch card they pull. And I certainly try to do a good job on the cards I draw. However, the amount artists are paid per card is extremely minimal. I have several friends who are artists professionally and if there is one thing they all agree on, it is this: do not devalue your art. If a person is willing to give away their art for practically nothing, it impacts the value of other people's work as well because folks come to expect something for nothing from all artists. I think it is great when artists do beautiful, fully-painted cards that just take people's breath away to look at and a lot of them do it simply for the love of the subject matter. I think the thing for collectors to remember is that they should cherish those cards as something special and not expect it in every card they come across. If they do not want to risk paying for a case on the possibility of just getting true sketches, they should probably hold back their money and use it to buy return cards since they can be sure of what they are getting. Case breaking is a gamble after all!

Another aspect of this debate has to do with an artist investing in themselves. Doing quick sketches and keeping the value of the art in line with what they are being paid is not going to really advance an artist. However, if they devalue their art in the beginning of their careers (as in doing fully painted, intricate scenes), that is a strategy of getting a future return on investment. Because if they go above and beyond, they are more likely to make a name for themselves amongst collectors and eventually be able to command much more when they sell their return cards. Additionally, establishing oneself could lead to opportunities beyond the sketch card world.

So what's right and what's wrong? Whether an artist wants to do a full-color mini-painting or stick to true sketches, neither is the wrong way to go. It really depends on what the artist's goals are and their personal philosophy when it comes to their art and collectors should accept that diversity in opinion. And I'm not even getting into the subjectiveness of art and how beauty can be found in the simplest of lines!

Have you had any bad experiences with collectors?
Nope! Everyone I have dealt with directly has been really nice. And while there will always be someone voicing an unhappy opinion on message boards, criticism is information an artist can use to improve.

Bad experiences with companies?
I've only worked with Topps and I have no complaints (although if they decide they want to up the pay rate, I certainly will not object)! No one has kicked me in the shin or anything so it's all good!

Has your career as an artist benefited from doing sketch card work?
I'm not sure how to answer this! Hmm. I'm not an artist by profession and I don't actively seek freelance jobs. My day job is being a web designer at NBC and I mostly do sketch card sets every once in a while as a personal side project. I do them for fun without the intention of using it as a stepping stone to other things. Although if the stone presented itself, I would step on it. Oh yes I would. I would step all over it. Maybe even skip!

What was the most difficult sketch card set you have worked on to date?
Clone Wars Season One Widevision. Why? Because I had never seen the series! I'm familiar with the Star Wars movies but not the tv show so I didn't have any ideas about pivotal scenes and I had to research the characters (all within a short span of time with no DVDs to pounce on). However, the larger cards were nice to work on so that was a good trade off.

Are there any cards that you are particularly proud of?
I really like the style that emerged on my Clone Wars Widevision cards. I've also done a few cards in a sort of art nouveau style that came out nice; I'll probably try to do more of those in the future.

Some companies provide return cards for working on sketch card sets. What do you do with yours?
I sell them! Although I did keep one of my Lord of the Rings Masterpieces II cards. It's a pretty simple pencil sketch of Gollum; it probably wouldn't interest collectors and I just really love the expression I pulled off on that one. Plus it was the first set that I did so I wanted to keep something from it.

Do you see yourself continuing with sketch card sets?
As long as they'll have me. Although I really need to stop agreeing to sets that fall around a holiday or vacation! My family is scattered across the country and I don't get to see them too often; I think they are getting tired of me working on sketch cards during Christmas vacation when I should be hanging out with them! But it's just too hard to refuse when a Star Wars set comes knocking.

Is there any advice you would like to give to people wanting to break into the sketch card ‘biz’?

How to Break into the Sketchcard Biz

10 Blueberries, freshly picked
Twine, enough to encircle your head
2 Trout, whole fish about 1.5 lbs. each
pinch of salt
On the third full moon of the year, string fresh blueberries on a length of twine and fashion it into a crown to wear upon your head. Make slippers out of the trout and put them on your feet. At exactly midnight, dance counter-clockwise in a circle three times and then throw a pinch of salt over your shoulder. This should please the Sketch Card Gods and you will receive a positive omen from them within a fortnight.
But seriously... I just kind of fell into it so I don't know if I have any specific advice for people wanting to get into sketch cards. As far as general advice on improving oneself as an artist? Draw from life whenever you can. If you are just starting out, do not spend a lot of time on style or mimicking someone else's; work on your foundation skills of composition, perspective, form, function, line quality, etc. When your foundation is solid, you'll know what you can realistically exaggerate, which rules you can break and which ones you can only bend; when that happens, your own style will emerge and you can kick ass all over the place. And when you kick ass, opportunities have a way of finding you.

Can you tell us what future sketch card sets you'll be working on?
I'm not working on anything currently and when I do sets, it's usually an email out of the blue a few weeks before the deadline so I don't know what I am working on too far in advance. I'd love to work on a Harry Potter set though and I will always, always make time for Star Wars.

What are you currently working on?
I'm working on developing superhuman abilities. I would like to figure out how to breathe under water but flying and invisibility would be cool as well. Unfortunately, my success in this arena has been minimal. I am also working on getting a Ragdoll kitten sometime in 2010 and organizing my closets.

Where can people see more of your work?
If folks wanna see my day-time work, they can go to! Yay NBC! But I guess you mean my art work? In that case, I can be found at and

Thank you so much, Nina!!

1 comment:

  1. How can I get into the sketch card business?
    Roger Shepard