Monday, February 8, 2010

Interview with Soni Alcorn-Hender

How did you get involved in sketch cards?
I was emailed by a lovely card collecting lady who said 'Sketch cards! You should do them!' and included a link to Scoundrel. I visited the forum and was instantly in love with the idea and the art there, but in the face of all that awesomeness I was too nervous to join, ha. A short while later the (terrifyingly talented) Katie Cook showed some of my work there and so I just sneaked in behind it. Shortly after that Grant Gould (another great artist) recommended me to the editor at Topps and I was invited to do 'Lord of the Rings, Masterpieces II'. I'm just batshit crazy about LotR, so my squeals were heard across the Atlantic.

How do you feel about working on such a small surface?
I love it actually. I'm a slow, fussy, detail-obsessed fiddly monster; so small suits me.

What media do you like to work with for your cards? Is that different from what you normally use to produce artwork?
I like a combination of chaotic colour and controlled line, so usually mix acrylics with pencil and inks, whatever the size; often with glazes in between for depth. I'm also a big fan of gold leaf and metallic paints because I like SHINY.

How do you feel about the entire process?
Ah, deadlines. The art industry's laxative. They're terrifying. Huge amounts of pressure to produce your best work in the shortest possible time. But they've also forced me to be braver in my work and (try to be) more self-disciplined. Yeah... I probably need more deadlines.

The size of the company makes a difference. With the large ones it usually means good exposure and prestige plus a rare chance to draw franchises that you usually can't touch (but want to); however with the smaller companies you have more artistic freedom - and more chance of having your emails answered.

How do you approach your cards? Is there a lot of ‘prep’ time for you?
Loooaads of prep time. Especially with 'Clone Wars' as I'd never seen it before, and watched the first season through twice to understand the story and who the characters were.

Before I draw a single card I need to work out the content and composition for every single one. If all the cards are from one big story (like Star Wars) I like to have a narrative theme running through many them so that when seen in the right order they tell that story.

However, it's not always easy to fit a wide cinematic scene into a portrait-format little card, so I often have to make my own reference images.
I also prime each card with paints and acrylic media to give me the right surface to draw on and some background colour, and to soften the sometimes intrusive patterns printed on the cards. All that stuff can easily take a week or more.

Your cards are very detailed, how long do some of them take you to complete?
For official sets it averages out to be roughly 3.5 hours per card (106 cards over three weeks at 18 hours a day). The cards I sell personally on ebay can take a day each; and commissions can be 3 days for one card because I always feel so much pressure to make them 'good'. Consequently I dislike doing commissions and for the sake of my sanity won't be taking many more in future.

Do you have a lot of contact with collectors regarding your cards?
I do! I'm always surprised and delighted when a stranger contacts me to say they like my work; and some of those people have since become very good friends of mine.

Has your career as an artist benefitted from doing sketch card work?
My work has been seen a lot more which is fundemental to any artist; but it's also improved my drawing skills and confidence. Also, due to the tiny size and improved chance of finishing it sooner, it's given me more opportunity to experiment - which I love.

What was the most difficult sketch card set you have worked on to date?
Topps' Clone Wars widevision. I'd never drawn cartoon characters before, even sophisticated stylised ones like these. A living person's face has a myriad of shapes, contours and imperfections; they're all unique in their expression. But with Clone Wars the faces are exaggerated, simplifed and to a certain extent quite static. I didn't know if there'd be enough in there for me to draw and still make my own - and yet still maintain a bit of that distinctive cartoon feel. I kind of managed it, but I'd like a second try at it in future.

Are there any cards that you are particularly proud of?
With LotR Masterpieces II I was asked at the last minute to do an extra 53 cards. They arrived on friday afternoon and needed to be back in the post monday morning; so with less than three days to do 50 cards they raw and rough. All the spidery contour lines that I use to build up a face were left visible and exposed (instead of being painted over or rubbed out) and I loved them! That weekend was stressful, sleep-deprived and terrifying, but I really liked those cards and have kept my spidery lines visible ever since.

At the other end of the scale where I could spend 3 days on a card if I wished, I loved the stuff I did for 'Legends & Lore' set. The entire experience was delicious. I indulged in Ancient Greek and Egyptian myth and loved every minute.

Some companies provide return cards for working on sketch card sets. Do you keep any of the cards returned to you?
No, ha, I can't afford to keep my own cards.

Do you see yourself continuing with sketch card sets?
For a while, definitely, especially for more Lotr work if it came up.
This year I have three sets lined up already: for I'm doing a Fairy set and then one based on Horror which I'm squeeing over (yay horror!) I'm also doing some wicked women for an Axebone pirate set later in the year - and plotting how to subvert the pirate theme into something steampunkish. ;)

Is there any advice you would like to give to people wanting to break into the sketch card ‘biz’?
Ha yeah - start with good eyesight and good lighting. Working on teeny pictures every day can really monkey up your eyeballs.
Be original, take an artistic angle that's unique and 'you' instead of copying other artists, and then post your work wherever you can get it seen and send samples to sketch card companies. If they say 'no', leave it for a few months, keep working hard, then re-submit. As your work and/or style improves there's a good chance they'll say yes in future.

Where can people see more of your work? - My website. I just keep my favourite pieces here from past and present, it has a bit of everything but I am a bit slow at updating it. *sheepish face* - My DeviantArt account, it's quite new so only has recent stuff (at the moment) but almost everything gets posted here.
And I have a blog on LiveJournal -
And Twitter -

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 the collectors have a right to a well-drawn, appealing card; a good sketch card. But a good sketch card doesn't need colour, to have taken ages, or even be very detailed to be visually pleasing - but it does need to show the artists' consideration and talent. And ideally it should stand alone as an image, rather than be an unrecogniseable part of something much bigger.
It's not worth doing these for the price we get paid per card, but rather for our love of the material, the exposure we get having our work seen, and hopefully from sales of return AND personal cards afterwards.

Have you had any bad experiences with collectors?
So far (touch wood) I've actually been really lucky with the people who buy my work: they've been inspiring, supportive, and lots of fun to work with. It means a lot to me, so I try to go that little bit further for them. There'll always a couple of nutjobs who get a bit close for comfort, but a tap on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper usually works.

Thank you so much, Soni. It was an absolute pleasure!!


  1. Soni's work is beautiful. Plain and simple. Stunning.

  2. A terrific interview. Soni's works are simply stunning.