Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Interview with Gabriel Hernandez

How did you get involved in sketch cards/What was your first sketch card job?
At my friend Monte Moore's urging, I submitted some samples to Topps for the Revenge of the Sith sketch card set as they were looking for more artitsts. I never heard back from them, but, oddly, later I was approached about doing the Lord of the Rings Evolution set. That was my first foray, and was a real lesson in pain an misery as I tried to get accustomed to working on a small surface as well as trying to generate a useful style for the type of work.

Do you have an educational background in art?
None. I have been drawing since I was a toddler, according to my mother. I have been working as a professional illustrator for the past 17 years, honing my skills. I have had the fortune of being around some very talented artists and gleaning whatever I could from them.

How do you feel about working on such a small surface?
I think it's challenging, but the forced "frame" of the card lends itself to great compostion, especially for portraits.

How do you feel about the entire process?
I have had a great time with all the companies I've had the fortune to work with. The editors have been very forgiving and helpful. I don't feel that any project has had an unmanageable deadline; I've just fallen prey to overcommitting myself (at home, art projects, and my day job).

Do you have a preferred method of working on the cards?
I start every card in pencil, and depending on the set, how many cards, and the look I'm aiming for, many cards stay pencil only. I have fallen in love with Copic markers, and have done numerous sets where many card have been grayscale marker over pencil. If time permits, or a certain card seems to demand it, I then color with marker and some colored pencil over the grayscale. I think I really hit my stride on Lord of the Rings Masterpieces.

Do you have a lot of contact with collectors regarding your cards?
There are some collectors who I interact with regularly. Most of my artist return cards and commissioned work seem to go to a core group of people.

How do you feel about some collectors wanting more detailed cards versus what sketch card artists are paid to work on the cards?
I think it's a collector's prerogative what they want to have/collect. I think to make it their expectation is a little naive. I would even toss out the argument of what the artist is paid (although many of my peers use the defense); the truth is, the better argument boils down to what the artist is contracted to deliver. Some sets call for just a sketch, others call for full color, others demand one character per card, others specify no scenery shots, etc. The product is what the card company asks for. If I choose to deliver more, that is my choice. Because some of us are a (little) competitive, I think that's what opened the floodgates on high quality, intensively worked cards getting pack inserted. If collectors choose to fight over those little gems, they can. There are a few artists out there whose simple sketches are superior to my full-color works...

Have you had any bad experiences with collectors?
Quite the contrary. The collectors have been grand. I'm surprised that they still like me. When people commission things from me I really want it to be special, regardless of how little or how much they spend, so oftentimes I take longer than I would like to ensure that the work they receive shines. I do attempt to stay in touch as much as possible to make sure they know they're not forgotten.

Bad experiences with companies?
Never. The companies have always treated me well.

Has your career as an artist benefited from doing sketch card work?
Up until LotR Evolution, I worked in virtual anonymity. My career in art as well as my skill level have benefitted wildly from the sketch card world. Certainly this was a great way for me to get involved with a number of properties that I could only have dreamed of working on.

What was the most difficult sketch card set you have worked on to date?
The Spider-Man archives set for Rittenhouse was the most chellenging as I was trying to find a new way to do cards, and I really wanted the cards to look like fine art, still comic book art, but fine art nonetheless.

Are there any cards that you are particularly proud of?
On every set, I have had some stand-out cards. Some sets seem to be much stronger than others (wish I knew why so I could tap into that every time), but I think the cards I felt were my best were the rogues' gallery of Spider-Man villains I did for the Rittenhouse set.

Some companies provide return cards for working on sketch card sets. Do you keep any of the cards returned to you?
I always entertain selling the cards. When I was younger, I hoarded my original work. Thanks to scanning and storing, I have no problem parting with the returns... although there've been a few I really wanted to hold onto as I loved just looking at them, until I realized I was petting them and calling them 'Precious.' That's when I knew it was time to find a buyer.

Do you see yourself continuing with sketch card sets?
Yes. The sketchcard community is very familial. I enjoy the work, and I enjoy the interaction with collectors and other artists. That's what keeps me going.

Is there any advice you would like to give to people wanting to break into the sketch card ‘biz’?
That's tough. I think my greatest advice is that you work very hard to be competent at your craft; always practice, always assume there's room to improve. Understand that you need to get good before you decide on a "style." Too often, the comment I hear from people whose work is rejected is that the editor didn't understand their "style." I have been at this long enough to know the difference between actual talent and style. "Style", unfortunately, is the crutch term for underdeveloped artists. You cannot develop a style until you understand what you're doing, right and/or wrong. Many new artists dive into the medium by emulating the styles of artists they admire without ever buidling a foundational skill first. Believe it or not, the lack of development is completely visible to skilled artists and especially editors.

Can you tell us what future sketch card sets you'll be working on?
Presently, I'm taking a brief hiatus to get caught up on commission work and a few personal projects that may otherwise never see the light of day if I'm perpetually caught in deadlines.

What are you currently working on?
I have two comic book related projects I'm working on. One for a brilliant writer who has trusted me with a unique and clever project. Thus far it's just the first eight pages, to use as submissions for several companies each of us has worked with in the past. The other project is a very personal one, a comic book based on my own material. There are some interested parties, so I'm excited to see where it goes.

Where can people see more of your work?
http://www.scribbleandscratch.com/ and http://gph-artist.deviantart.com/
I have to apologize for my web site in advance. There's a lot of older material there to see, but my brother and I don't update it often enough. Deviant Art is easy to keep plugging new work, so I spend more time there. Also, for those interested, the comic my brother and I submitted to Zuda, "Joe Comics" is still up on their site: http://www.zudacomics.com/node/272
One day, Joe may live again. I'll let you know.

Thank you for your time, Gabe!!

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