Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Interview with Corbett Vanoni

How did you get involved in sketch cards/What was your first sketch card job?
I think my first set was Classic Sci-fi & Horror Posters, for Breygent. There was Wizard of Oz and Vintage Movie Posters shortly after that, around 2006 sometime. A mutual friend of ours, Darla Ecklund, suggested I contact Breygent and I was off and running. Those were all repeat-a-cards, where you design one card and draw it 10 (or 20) times, you know? I about killed myself designing these detailed approval sketches, only realizing after the fact that I had to replicate them several times.

Do you have an education in the art field?
Not in the traditional sense, no. I was self-taught up until I moved to Los Angeles in 1999. I was convinced I was going to make it in the animation biz and started taking classes at the animator's union, the Local 839. I did that off and on for about 5 years. I didn't do much in animation at the time, but I met some very talented people who were nice enough to show me a thing or two. Karl Gnass was one. A tremendous life drawing and storyboard instructor.
Aside from those classes, I've simply tried to surround myself with skilled artists and professionals. I've been very fortunate to hang out with many talented people and I would hope that I was paying enough attention to steal a little of their skill while they weren't looking. Spending too much time on websites like http://www.drawingboard.org/ and http://www.asifa-hollywood.org/ and enough artists' blogs to choke a bookmarks folder only helps fuel the fire.

How do you feel about working on such a small surface?
I've never worked in a large format myself. I was always the kid who was reprimanded for writing and drawing at an almost imperceptible size. "You'll go blind drawing like that!" (I'm still at 20/20 and spectacle-free, by the way) Also, I enjoy a challenge, and framing a subject in a 3.5" by 2.5" space is a fulfilling task sometimes.

How do you feel about the entire process?
I've been freelance for a while now and I suspect it all falls under the same umbrella. I'm not a fan of the unreasonable deadlines that are sometimes proposed, but I decided a while back to not take on sketch card sets requiring me to do insane quantities of cards, so tight deadlines are not as much of an issue anymore.

Do you have a lot of contact with collectors regarding your cards?
I did in the past. When I was really working the sketch card world as a large part of my freelance I would hear from collectors. Usually was the case that someone pulled a card of mine from a pack, liked my approach, and asked for a commission or two. I've been fortunate to have dealt with some really great collectors in that manner. I'm often surprised with how much research they do before contacting me. I tend to gravitate away from sci-fi and fantasy subjects and toward, I don't know, horror and humor and regular-joe type people. Cowboys and zombies and army guy type of subjects. (I think I just came up with a new story idea) Collectors would figure this out about me, and approach me with a project more suited to my tastes, though I would like to believe I would put the same amount of heart into ANY request.

How do you feel about some collectors wanting more detailed cards versus what sketch card artists are paid to work on the cards?
I love doing detailed cards for collectors. I genuinely want the people who pull my cards to feel as though their money was well spent. But I can't do that for a buck a card. Nobody should. I've always been told that we artists can make our money with the return cards, but that's never worked out for me. Not once.
"Detail" is also in the eye of the consumer (or vendor). Is a card which is drawn beautifully in pencil, with economy of line, worth less than a card drawn poorly, in color? I've been told yes. I've also seen people choose badly drawn cards on "official stock!" over fine pieces of art on regular cardstock plenty of times. People are weird, you know?
In the end, collectors know what they like - and they have the responsibility to assign a reasonable, monetary worth to that standard. Sketch cards are meant to be sketches, and anything beyond a WELL DRAWN sketch should be expected to cost a little more.

Have you had any bad experiences with collectors?
Nope! All my commission clients have been fantastic! I've had the rogue collector hassle me at a convention about pricing, but it's certainly not the norm. Sketch card vendors at conventions have been rude or obnoxious on occasion.

Bad experiences with companies?
Hahaha. Of course. I've had to chase companies down for late paychecks. I've done work on spec I was never paid for. I've not received return cards I was promised. I received return cards that were different than the ones specified. And I've had work rejected citing rules that weren't in place at the inception of the set. How's that! Hahaha. It's unfortunately business as usual as far as most of my freelance goes. You learn, you move on. In my freelance work I work from my own contract, which protects me against loss or frustration in many cases. But many of these card companies use their own contracts.
There's only one company I won't work with at all anymore. Anyone else eliminated from my personal roster is because I think their rates are too low and quantities too high. Simple as that.

Would you say your career as an artist has benefited from doing sketch card work?
I benefit from everything. Being a sketch card artist has yielded good and bad experiences and the whole lot in the end makes me a better artist — and business man, which any artist has to be these days to survive.
I can say that it has definitely given me a much better reason to attend conventions, as my other work the past few years has been mostly editorial and advertorial — stuff of little interest to a comic book crowd.

What was the most difficult sketch card set you have worked on to date?
The Vintage Poster sets for Breygent were difficult because we had to do type treatment. Marvel Masterpieces was difficult for me personally because I wasn't familiar with many of the characters in the Universe. I started with the well known ones, then went on to the aforementioned 'regular-joes' like Sgt. Fury, and then. . .well, punted. I had agreed to so many cards that by the end I was simply drawing whoever I flipped to in the Marvel Universe book who looked interesting. Which of course begat several threads on the internet like "Who the heck is THIS character?! It's drawn buy some guy called Vanoli??"

Are there any cards that you are particularly proud of?
Oh I don't know. I always feel a bit hindered on set-based cards. I haven't been able to put a proper amount of love into them. I'm fond of certain commissions I've done and personal cards I've produced for conventions. Those are produced with EXTRA love.

Some companies provide return cards or artist proof cards for working on sketch card sets. What do you do with yours? Do you still have any?
I'm still waiting for my returns on a couple sets from years ago, haha. I marketed my Marvel Masterpieces pretty aggressively when I received them but no one wanted them. Later at a convention someone told me another artist was selling theirs for like 15 bucks so I ended up doing one for him at that price. It was more than a little disappointing. I still have a Marvel blank and a Captain America, and somewhere I have a return from the Spirit set (though not the one I asked for). I don't think I'm supposed to be selling the Marvel one anymore so I'll offer it to your readers for free. (shipping is totally like 40 bucks)

Do you see yourself continuing with sketch card sets?
It's interesting you should ask that because I was just speaking to someone about it. I always welcome commissions, sketch card or otherwise, I love doing them — but I think I'm on hiatus from sets for a while.
I have many other projects I'd like to see get off the ground right now, so my focus is on those.

Is there any advice you would like to give to people wanting to break into the sketch card ‘biz’?
Advice on breaking in is pretty simple: talk to other card artists. Find out what sets are starting, get names and email addresses and start contacting those people with your work. As far as advice on working on the sets themselves I would say make sure that the detail of your work is in direct proportion to the number of cards you have to produce! Hahaha. Don't take on 500 cards if you want to do hyper-realism — by the end you'll be drawing little stick people! And keep the consumer in mind. I've had to remind myself in the middle of a set that someone is going to drop a chunk of money on a box of cards, tear open a pack and find my artwork. Do I want them to feel as though they scored? Or toss it in a discard pile with a resounding, "NEXT!"

Where can people see more of your work?
On the walls of some of your finer bathroom stalls.
Also find me on the FaceBook:
http://www.facebook.com/people/Corbett-Vanoni/1502231666 where I'm always adding to my little illustration galleries.
My website:
http://artsyfartsystudios.com/ is currently down for an overhaul but should be back up in the near future.

Are you on any recent/current sketch card sets?
No. I'd emailed someone about a particular license I thought would be fun but haven't heard back.

What are you currently working on?
Well I've always been a kind of Jack of all trades, Master of none artist. Right now I'm doing a lot of photo retouching and photo manipulation for magazines and as long as the work is there I'll keep at it. I've written or thumbnailed a number of children's books which need to be finished up, and I also have some gift store-type merchandise — greeting cards, that sort of thing — that I'm producing for a friend's shop, and hope to get those out soon as well. When the new website goes online I'll also start marketing my freelance and commission work again.

Thank you so much for your time, Corbett!!!


  1. Thank YOU for creating and maintaining such an informative blog, Jess.

    By the way - all of the cards shown here are available, as well as several others I have tucked away. I've just moved into a new place and I have no internet as of yet, but I'll be putting them online for all to see when things become less hectic!

    Yay sketch cards!