Monday, December 27, 2010
Interview with sketch card artist Kate Bradley
Do you have an educational background in art?
Yes I do. I studied Graphic Design for a little over a year. Then I switched to Cartoon Animation. I completed the course in 4 years and got a shiny diploma.
How did you get involved in sketch cards?
It really came out of the blue actually. Tone Rodriguez, who was working with Inkworks at the time, happened to come across my profile on Myspace whilst browsing a friends friends list. So he added me as a friend and shortly after that, BAM! “Would you like to draw sketch cards for Hellboy animated: Sword of Storms?”. I had no idea what sketch cards were, but I jumped at the chance to find out! He gave me a call and assured me that I "could do this". He was extremely supportive and helpful during the whole process. Which was really appreciated as I was a nervous wreck.
How do you feel about working on such a small surface?
At first it was really awkward. How do you hold such a tiny piece of card whilst drawing on it? I eventually got used to it through trial and error. It really forces you to consider composition a lot more because every square centimeter of space really counts. It’s a challenge I thoroughly enjoy. However, with working on sketch cards for so long, it’s actually become awkward for me to draw on a larger surface! I’ve got to make sure I keep going back and forth between sizes to keep my skills sharp.
How do you feel about the entire process?
The process is pretty straight forward. A company sends you blanks, you have to draw on them and send them back on time. If only it were that simple. The part of the process that rubs me the wrong way is approvals. Creativity and imagination are what drive artists to apply pencil to paper. Holding back those elements of our being is almost painful. I understand the need for imposing limitations when producing product for a wide audience, but when those limitations cut into the very heart of the subject matter, it somehow renders the process lifeless.
Is there a type of media you prefer to work with (marker, pencil, etc)?
Back in animation school, we were taught to use Col-erase pencils, which are preferred in the field for many different reasons. I came to love them for their variety of colours and for their soft, waxy quality. The red is particularly fun to draw with. I recently discovered that they also blend well with markers, creating a sort of watercoloured effect. I enjoy working with ink and markers, but I get a special satisfaction out of drawing freely without expectation of cleaning up my lines. My skills aren’t fine-tuned enough yet to maintain the same fluidity when I ink and colour my pieces. It’s definitely something I strive for, but I doubt I’ll ever lose my love for the unfinished, scribbly look I get with pencils.
Do you have a lot of contact with collectors regarding your cards?
So far, most of the collectors I’ve come by have been very forthcoming with their appreciation of my work. It really is an amazing feeling to get unexpected feedback from people who have pulled my cards. When taking on private commissions, I do tend to communicate quite a bit with the client. I sincerely try my best to develop each commission considering each individuals likes and dislikes. I don’t always find the inspiration I need to create something truly unique, but by asking the client some questions and by researching the requested characters, I can usually come up with something the client will appreciate. It’s really important to me that the person who has requested the art be truly happy with the result, rather than just satisfied. I simply can’t achieve that without contact.
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, in a way, disrespectful to the artist, to expect them to spend hours on drawing magnificent cards when they are being paid such small amounts per piece. It’s surprising how some collectors don’t see a problem with artist being paid a few dollars for producing a jaw dropping card, when they themselves value the work, once pulled from a pack, at prices that often exceed a hundred dollars. There are many different reasons artists decide to do amazing work despite being underpaid. It can be to promote their work and to develop their skills. It can be because they want the collectors to get beautiful artwork or because they enjoy drawing that much. Regardless of the “why”s and “why not”s behind the artists decisions, the fact that some artists continue to produce phenomenal work for low pay, does not justify the expectation of phenomenal work for low pay from collectors or companies.
Have you had any bad experiences with collectors?
No I haven’t. I’ve heard some horror stories, but I’ve yet to be in one. Knock on wood.
Bad experiences with companies?
Again, I’ve heard some bad stuff, but I’ve never actually experienced anything specifically offensive with regards to sketch card companies. What worries me is the apparent inequality of treatment from one artist to another. Although, I’m afraid status has always affected how we treat each other, and companies are no different.
Has your career as an artist benefited from doing sketch card work?
Absolutely. The sheer quantity of art that doing sketch card sets produces helps enormously to grab people’s attention. Also, the wide variety of subject matter allows for perspective clients to see many different facets of your art. I enjoy drawing a multitude of styles and sketch cards is the perfect medium to show that off. The high quantity of cards that sets require also opens the door to a lot of practice and experimenting, which helps to improve one’s skills. Having more refined skills obviously helps with getting work. When approached with vision, doing sketch cards can definitely be a stepping stone in one’s career.
What was the most difficult sketch card set you have worked on?
The most difficult has to have been my first set: Hellboy animated: Sword of Storms. I barely knew what sketch cards were. I was using markers for the first time since I was kid, arguing with my colour blind brother that I hadn’t left the cap off the purple, ‘cause I had only used the blue. It was my first big gig since school and Tone was depending on me to do a good job. I pulled an all-nighter to finish the work. My boyfriend stayed up as long as he could to support me. And when the FedEx dude left with my box, I literally burst into tears from having been so incredibly stressed by the whole experience. I was hard, but it was worth it.
Are there any cards that you are particularly proud of?
I’d have to say that I am most proud of the cards I drew for Marvel Masterpieces 1. The art itself is far from my best work. It’s the ideas I came up with that stand out in my mind. I let myself have fun. Though, I must admit that is was the very loose approval requirements that allowed me to do so.
Some companies provide return cards for working on sketch card sets. Do you keep any of the cards returned to you? What are you planning to do with them?
I do keep a couple actually. I’ve been keeping them as souvenirs. I look at them sometimes and remember how I felt when drawing them. As I wrote in my Deviant Art ID, “my life is like a rollercoaster with crooked tracks”, and I tend to associate each set with whatever climb or drop I was going through at the time. So yeah, I just look at them and remember.
Do you see yourself continuing with sketch card sets?
I do. Despite some of the draw backs, it’s still a really fun medium.
Is there any advice you would like to give to people wanting to break into the sketch card ‘biz’?
Be realistic! Sketch card sets aren’t a direct line to stardom. See them for what they are and use them to your advantage. They can help you become a successful artist, but you really have to work at it, as with any other medium. As for breaking in, forums are a great place to start. That’s where you’ll find information on upcoming sets, on the various companies and it’s a great place to make contacts. But most of all, forums are where you’ll find amazing support and encouragement from collectors and other artists. It’s hard to keep up with forum life all the time, but it really is worth popping in at least on occasion.
Can you tell us what future sketch card sets you'll be working on?
I’ve got a couple sets coming up for Upper Deck which could be really fun.
What are you currently working on (doesn’t have to be sketch card related)?
I’m currently working on Star Wars Galaxy 6 sketch cards for Topps. I also have a bunch of overdue commissions to work on, which I tackle when I can, when I feel up to it. It takes a lot of energy to draw commissions. Energy I unfortunately have great difficulty tapping into. My clients are more patient with me then I deserve, for which I can only be grateful.
Where can people see more of your work?
Thank you for your time, Kate!!