Saturday, February 6, 2010

Interview with Jeff Chandler

How did you get involved in sketch cards?
Believe it or not, my foray into sketch cards stemmed from some fan art I had lying around and decided to send off to the Star Wars Insider. (I had drawn up a bunch of cover illustrations for Dark Horse’s collection of the SW comic strips that ran in newspapers throughout the late 70’s and early 80’s as well as a handful of ‘kiddie’ cartoons for the short-lived Star Wars Kids magazine.) Nothing ever came of my submissions and the drawings languished in the ‘what might have been’ file of my studio for years.

One day I came across them again and decided to give it another shot – this time redrawing one of the pieces in Photoshop and emailing it directly to the Star Wars Insider’s ‘Bantha Tracks’ Editor, Mary Franklin – within minutes she responded, telling me how much she enjoyed the piece and was going to run it in a future issue!! (Bonus points to anyone who can find the issue number cuz I’ll be danged if I remember) As a life-long Star Wars nerd, life couldn’t get any better than that, or so I thought cuz a few days later, Mary shot another email off telling me that she has just passed my name on to Topps Trading Card Company as a potential artist for one of their Star Wars projects, so expect someone to contact me.

My initial thinking was one of disbelief and that it probably wouldn’t amount to anything… well, was I ever wrong! Topps’ Editor, Matt Saunders called me within 10 minutes of Mary’s email and I was off and running! (That project turned out to be the official set for “Revenge of the Sith”!) And since Mary had submitted my name, I was already pre-approved as an Official Lucasfilm Artist!! (I found out later that SW guru Steven Sansweet also had a hand in my fate – so to Mary and Steven, my undying gratitude for the honor to play in such a prestigious sandbox!!)

Do you have an educational background in art or are you self taught?
I’ve drawn all my life but had very basic rendering skills coming out of high school (Embarrassing as it is, I had no clue what a T-square was!)
I attended SUNY @ Farmingdale on Long Island, NY majoring in “Commercial Illustration and Graphic Design” – I applied to the school not so much for it’s prestige – it was actually an Agricultural School! – but because it was all I could afford within the proximity of Manhattan. (I grew up 4+ hours North in a VERY rural part of New York state… think snow and cows, so to me NYC was my Emerald City – it just seemed so magical that I HAD to work there)

How do you feel about working on such a small surface?
The tiny surface definitely gets some taking use to – at first I hated it, but over time I’ve learned to tackle it as a challenge. Each card company uses a slightly different stock for their sketch cards, so that’s another challenge in and of itself.

How do you feel about the entire process?
As a Commercial Illustrator and Designer, I thrive on deadlines – to me that’s one of the most important aspects of any job. I’ve learned that no matter what your skill levels are as a professional, as long as you meet deadlines, you’ll continually get work.

As for the card companies themselves – my experience is that for the most part, they are professional and honor their agreements for payment and such… When I started doing sketch cards, there weren’t even contracts! The business was so new that I don’t think some of the companies knew how to handle the ‘talent’… the whole thing seemed very cavalier and I don’t think anyone; artist OR card company, knew what was being unleashed upon the collecting public.

Do you prefer to work with a specific media?
I mainly work in colored pencils, Sharpie markers (Yes, Sharpies! I love the vibrant feel they give) and Micropens. I’ve been known to go old school with just non-repro blue pencil as well or throw some acrylics on a card – depending on the subject matter and card stock.

Do you have a lot of contact with collectors regarding your cards?
I can’t begin to tell you how many collectors (and artists) have become true ‘friends’ through sketch cards and the ‘Scoundrel’ message boards. In all honesty, I probably would have given up on sketch cards a while back had it not been for collectors who continually support my work! I love each and every one of them and realize that at the end of the day, I toil over these silly little pieces of cardboard not for me, but for them!

How do you feel about some collectors wanting more detailed cards versus what sketch card artists are paid to work on the cards?
While I understand the demand, I think ultimately we, the artists, have literally and figuratively painted ourselves into a corner. I remember working on the first LOTR set for Topps where one of the artists had set up a secret blog so we could show off our cards to each other – and as one artist would show a card where they had added color, someone else would just HAVE to one-up them and do something a bit more elaborate…
It was actually a great time to be working on these cards and the whole artist community seemed to be just a bunch of friends hanging out and showing off – I have very fond memories of that and how tickled we were to do something in full color cuz it was a complete departure from the rough B/W sketches we had been assigned to do. If only we had known!
Ultimately we outdid each other to the point where collectors sought the full-color-super-detailed card and actually started to throw distain on the B/W cards.

Have you had any bad experiences with collectors?
I can honestly say that I have NOT had a single bad experience with a collector – ever!
I can’t say that of some other artists though… I’ve heard stories of harassment or pure hatred poured onto their work from collectors (and even from other artists), but by and large, that is an exception and not the rule when it comes to sketch card collectors.

Bad experiences with companies?
No bad experiences with any company either – just disappointment in not getting a chance to rise above the cream on certain projects… but hey, that’s the way the cardboard crumbles, right?

Has your career as an artist benefited from doing sketch card work?
Absolutely! When you draw day-in day-out for a month+ straight, it can only benefit you as an artist – not only in your rendering skills but also in your speed.

What was the most difficult sketch card set you have worked on to date? What made it difficult?
I think the most difficult set was “Avengers” for Rittenhouse. Marvel was particularly judicial in their choosing of artists and I went against my better judgment and switched up my approach from a less ‘cartoony’ look to a more ‘comic book’ style. They approved that style and I fought it every step of the way as I wanted to make them all cute, not heroic… I was able to sneak in a few silly cards such as ‘Thor Frog’ and Spidey in space but overall I feel it was my least satisfying set.

Are there any cards that you are particularly proud of?
This may sound like hyperbole, but in all honesty, I’m really proud of 99.5% of my cards out there!! “Revenge of the Sith” was my very first set so I’m super-proud of them just for that achievement alone… but I have a real fondness for my work on “Lord of the Rings: Masterpieces” and “Indiana Jones: Heritage”
I try to vary my style with each set and LOTR: Masterpieces was a lot of fun because I decided to render the characters as if they were in some Manga/anime style movie. No action scenes, simply head shots…
Indy was simply due to the love I have for the movies, especially “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. We (the artists) had access to all three original films but I decided to go frame by frame through ‘Raiders’ and draw each key scene in full color. I really poured my heart into that set more than any other. (I had ulterior motives though as rumors were circulating that Topps was reviving the SW Galaxy set and my holy grail has ALWAYS been to land a base card assignment on that set – my thinking was that I’d hopefully impress the editors enough to give me a shot… sadly that was not the case.)

Some companies provide return cards for working on sketch card sets. What do you do with yours?
There was a time when my Return cards were spoken for long before I had even rendered them yet! I had quite a few collectors who would hear I was on a set and actually ask me for one of my returns – sometimes even requesting a specific scene or character, which I was more than happy to provide. It was a smart move on the part of the card companies because they could pay us pennies and we’d jump at the chance simply because the return cards could be sold for big bucks! Mine never reached the levels of some of the other top-tier artists, but it was nice compensation none-the-less.
Unfortunately the bottom fell out a year or so ago and Return Card prices plummeted, at least for me they did – without that incentive of money on the back end, it became clear that sketch cards were just no longer worth the time and effort needed to create them and I quietly walked away.

Do you see yourself continuing with sketch card sets?
“Star Wars Clone Wars” was my last official set. I get the itch every now and again, especially when I’m trolling around on message boards and peruse all of the cool cards other artists are producing – but so far nothing short of a base card on SW Galaxy could bring me out of retirement. (Although, even as I write this, I AM working on a secret project concerning sketch cards – so never say never, eh?)

Is there any advice you would like to give to people wanting to break into the sketch card ‘biz’?
If you DO get invited onto a set – take it serious and act professional! Deadlines are meant to be honored. Take pride in your work and don’t worry about what anyone may or may not like – art is too subjective to try and please everyone – just do your thing and everything else will fall into place.
Oh yeah, I guess you could buy your editor a drink the next time you’re hanging out during a convention as well, I heard it couldn’t hurt! ;)

What are you currently working on?
Currently I am working on a series of online comics for a new line of stuffed animals called “Flopalongs”. The first comic is up now at with more to come as the product line gets bigger.
I’m nine books into a series for Weekly Reader’s publishing line entitled ‘Grammar All-Stars’ as well… They are educational books that teach kids their basic grammar skills through fun stories that center around sports.
There’s an “Oddly Normal” short story sitting on my drawing table for the past year or so that I desperately owe Otis Frampton – perhaps now that I’ve revealed my shame in not finishing it, I’ll find the time to wrap it up.
A few other graphic design projects here or there but mostly I devote my free time now to my family.

Where can people see more of your work?
I’d love to tell you to visit but the reality is that I have not updated my site in years! Maybe in 2010 I’ll finally get around to it…

I cannot thank you enough for your time and insight, Jeff!!

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