Friday, January 22, 2010

Interview with Mark Raats

Do you have an educational background in art?
Yep, after serving two years in the army I went on to qualify as a fine artist. I chose Fine Art because while I was studying I was also working part time at an advertising agency - so I figured that doing a graphic design qualification was a bit stupid since I was already doing the 'real thing'. I really wanted to develop my painterly techniques and I felt that traditional graphic design and illustration was far too limited in its approach to finished art.

I can't say that I enjoyed the fine art environment much because I had no tolerance for the artsy-fartsy bullshit a lot of my fellow students were wrapped up in. That said, in the end I did find and learn from some very serious artists who were dedicated to producing good art and I ignored the others who were all about zen and wiping butt's with fig-leaves.

How did you get involved in sketch cards?
Actually, I resisted getting involved with sketch cards for ages but David Waldeck came to find me at Celebration IV and very kindly invited me to do work for TOPPS. My biggest problem is that I don't have much spare time and making significant time available for a set of cards can be a real challenge. In the end I agreed to work on the Indiana Jones card sets not only because David had been incredibly patient with me but because I really LOVE the Indy franchise!

How do you feel about working on such a small surface?
The tiny surface is another reason I resist working on them generally. Since I'm such an old fart my eyes really take strain working so small and generally my technique tends to demand a much bigger surface to run riot over.

How do you feel about the entire process?
Well deadlines are always a problem no matter what discipline you work in. Obviously, it would be really great to have more time to do anything but lets be honest, this is the real world.
In the end I believe its important to ensure that that the work you produce is 'fit-for-purpose' (I'll discuss what I mean a little later on) because, if you are determined to produce the Sistine Chapel ceiling on every card then you are going to be on a hiding to nothing when it comes to meeting your deadline..! The idea is to work SMART not HARD.
As far as the various companies go, I can't speak for all of them because I've only produced work for TOPPS. Although it can on occasions be hard, one must also remember that a man like David Waldeck is answerable to companies like LFL so, when artists don't produce their quota or produce shit work then his job IS sometimes to be hard-nosed and on the odd occasion, inflexible.

Do you prefer to work with a specific media?
For the cards I tend to prefer to work with pencil for the general cards and then if there are card returns in the set, I like to do those using Copic markers, pencil and a little paint.

Do you have a lot of contact with collectors regarding your cards?
No, not really.. Its not that I don't want the contact, but my official cards just seem to just vanish into the collector's worlds - which in all honesty is a foreign world for me! As far as unofficial cards go, I do get a lot of requests for cards but unfortunately this is not something I feel comfortable in producing.

How do you feel about some collectors wanting more detailed cards versus what sketch card artists are paid to work on the cards?
There are two perspectives here - the artists and the collectors. The problem is that the collector has no idea how much an artist is being paid to do the job and generally they think the artist is getting really well paid. Because of this incorrect perception the collector justifiably expects something more than just a scribble. The artist on the other hand knows what he or she is being paid and therefore the responsibility ultimately comes back to the artist to decide how detailed to make each card. This great thing about doing cards is that aside from giving you a licensed artist's title, it also gives you the opportunity to play in some of the worlds coolest yards doing these little masterpieces! Its hard to beat!

Has your career as an artist benefited from doing sketch card work?
I can't say that my career has benefited from the card work and this is probably my own fault.
In my opinion, if you want to be known by the fans and studios, then its wise to do as much work and as many cards as you can! My name is certainly not as well known as: Adam Hughes, Allison Sohn, Cat Stagg's, Grant Gould or even your own - to name but a few - and this is because my work is not nearly as prolific and this impacts on my overall profile as far as fans go.

What was the most difficult sketch card set you have worked on to date? What made it difficult?
I can't say any of the cards sets I've worked on have been that hard but this is in reality because I haven't done many sets.

Are there any cards that you are particularly proud of?
I liked the cards I did for Crystal Skull because the subject matter was brand new. I'm sure like me, nearly every artist feels the same about drawing from the same old reference over and over again! Although I didn't really like CS as a movie, I relished drawing Harrison as Indy again - as well as all of the new characters the movie introduced.

Some companies provide return cards for working on sketch card sets. What do you do with yours?
I never put them up on eBay and this is generally because I'm in absolutely no rush to sell them. The problem I have with places like eBay is that you can get a feeding frenzy over the sheer volume of work posted there and this can often dilute the card's individual value. In the end its often an email out of the blue that sells them and because there's no pressure, I always get a price I'm happy with.

It has been awhile since you've worked on a sketch card you see yourself doing any in the future?
I guess its wise to never say never but at this stage I'm not planning on doing anything soon. As I've mentioned before I generally don't have free time available and so for something to work out I need to have a number of different things all coming together at the same time so that I can get the opportunity to do another set.

Is there any advice you would like to give to people wanting to break into the sketch card ‘biz’?
I think the most important information any newbie needs to know was covered by the talented Allison Sohn in her brilliant entry on your blog. In addition to what she said I think new artists also need to realise that they will not be given the same latitude as older artists and that they must be prepared to work their way into the system - through hard work. A few other points I would like to make are as follows:
An artist must respect the collector! Please remember that someone is paying hard earned $$ to afford the card and there is nothing that irritates me more than when a so-called artist produces some shit little scribbles that they then have the audacity to try and pass off as cards. I know that cards generally don't pay well but either refuse the commission or look at them as an official opportunity to promote your work as a licensed artist - and have FUN! If you take on 3000 cards and produce 3000 disgusting results then you don't deserve your place as a licensed artist and you also don't have any respect for a collector who is saddled with a card nobody in their right mind will want to own.
Make the card fit-for-purpose! When taking on a card assignment you must decide before hand what type of work you want to produce. There are some fabulous artists who produce the most astonishing sets of cards but its wise to remember that they do so because they are dedicated to making great art and not necessarily great money. In my case I have taken the term "sketch card" quite literally and this is what I produce. Knowing that the general remuneration (for the set) will be poor, I set a time limit to each of the general cards I produce (about 20 minutes per card). I work in pencil with a little paint and while I'm not always successful, I try to harness my rather exuberant style to suit the tiny format. With the return cards, I know that I will be able to dictate the price of their sale so I try a lot harder to produce something that is more meaningful. In the end I try to produce something that will retain a certain value for the collector - the general card will attract a lower price so they are done fairly simply while the returns are designed to attract a higher price and thus dictate more time spent on their making.
Respect the client, the industry, the franchise and your fellow artists! As Allison pointed out, please remember that if you produce poor cards then the client is put in a tight spot themselves and with the studios. Only take on what you can comfortably produce because if you let the side down, it impacts on every one of us in the pipeline. Another thing to remember is that if you do make the ranks of Sketch Card Artist you join a fairly exclusive band of creative people. There are thousands of keen and willing artists simply clamouring for an opportunity so if you are not prepared to deliver then stand aside and give someone more deserving a place in the group.

What are you currently working on?
I'm busy working on a cover for a Hollywood based publication house.

Where can people see more of your work?
My official site is: I also have a Deviant Art account (which tends to contain more of the working stuff):

Thank you SO much for your time, Mark! I was a real pleasure!

1 comment:

  1. That is so cool!