Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Interview with sketch card artist Mark RE Slater

How did you get involved in sketch cards?
How did I get involved with sketch-cards? The story goes like this: about two years ago, I drew a picture of Boba Fett giving the “gangsta” peace sign. Early this year, a dude named Lance Sawyer added it to his favourites on DeviantArt. I thanked him, checked out his page and, while I was browsing through his posts, noticed that he had been doing a lot of sketch-cards for various companies such as Topps / Lucasfilm, Upper Deck / Marvel and 5FINITY. I became extremely interested in sketch-cards and asked Lance how I could get into doing them. Lance, being the amazing person he is, for some reason took a liking to me and started telling the folks at SadLittles and 5FINITY all about me, and how I would make a great artist to add to their upcoming sets. Once I got their information I began contacting them directly saying “I would love to do some sketch-cards, could I please work on any sets you might have coming up?” They checked me out and, fortunately, they dug my style, and the first reply I got back was from SadLittles saying, “Okay, you’re going to be working on Damsels & Dinosaurs, Rantz Angels, and Dreamers of Darkness.” I was blown away and, quite frankly, overjoyed. I owe Lance and the guys at SadLittles and 5FINITY a lot – they took a chance on me and helped me break into this crazy world of sketch-card art, I can’t thank them enough.

My first actual sketch card set was Damsels & Dinosaurs – I was incredibly nervous and I did all 30 cards in about a day; I stayed up all night watching the Jurassic Park trilogy on repeat on DVD. I wanted my cards to be as good as possible and I was quite pleased with how they turned out.

Do you have an education in the art field?
I do! I have a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Fine Arts: Visual Arts from Nipissing University in North Bay, Ontario, Canada and, in 2007, I got my Bachelor of Education degree with my teachable subjects in English and Visual Art. My personal art education comes from years of practice and watching my grandfather – he was an avid painter in his spare time. I’m the only other person in my family that’s really artistic; I’ve been drawing ever since I could hold a pencil. I’ve also been heavily into comics since I was a kid and have used that to my advantage – constantly looking at how other artists work and drawing on their aspects of their styles to help develop my own.

How do you feel about working on such a small surface?
I don’t mind it at all, really. It can be challenging – for example, when I was working on Damsels & Dinosaurs, Dreamers of Darkness, or Zombies Vs. Cheerleaders, it was a little tough sometimes trying to work in the amount of detail I wanted to. Other times I’ve found it quite freeing – I can do a headshot or draw a figure large enough on the card that I don’t have to worry about filling in all the extra negative space. I think what is often the biggest challenge – but also the mark of a great artist – is being able to create an image that people look at and say “wow that’s awesome” on a tiny, 2.5x3.5 inch card.

How do you feel about the entire process?
So far so good! I haven’t had any major trouble with deadlines. I was a little worried when it really clicked in my mind that I was going to be doing 100 cards for the Clone Wars: Rise of the Bounty Hunters series, and that they had to be mailed in by September 3rd, but I managed to get them done by August 25th (before going to Toronto for FanExpo), so it was all good in the end. I’m a very specific sort of person when it comes to things like deadlines – I need to know if “the 3rd of September” as a due date means the cards need to be mailed out that day or they need to be in the director’s hands; each company works a little differently. All the directors have been very straightforward, very flexible, and very communicative. They’ve been very helpful to someone like myself who is still trying make sure I’ve got the whole process down pat. All the art directors so far have taken the time to reply to emails, to make sure I know what’s going on and to address my concerns. I’ve tried to do my best on every card set I’ve ever worked on and, according to Lance I’ve only gotten stronger (which is nice to know). All the companies I’ve worked for have been great – so far they’ve all continued to like what I’ve been putting out. With regards to my own artwork, I’d like to think I’ve improved since I started.

Do you have a lot of contact with collectors regarding your cards?
Not a whole heckuva lot yet, no. I’ve got one guy in the states, his name is Chris, who has commissioned me twice now for four cards at a time. He really seems to like my work and I could not be happier. I’d love to hear more from collectors who’ve received my cards in their packs – what they think of my art, if they liked or disliked the cards of mine they’ve gotten. The more feedback I get the more I figure it’ll help me in the future. I wouldn’t mind if more people commissioned me – I’m always open if people want cards and I really enjoy creating cards for people that want them. As it is, I’m pretty stoked to just have one collector who wants more of my stuff!

How do you feel about some collectors wanting more detailed cards versus what sketch card artists are paid to work on the cards?
I’ve tried to stay out of that debacle as best I can, quite frankly. But, I’ll throw in my two cents, for what it’s worth. I think if, hypothetically, a collector is demanding more detailed cards just because he/she wishes to turn around and sell said cards for a profit on eBay, that’s not cool. If a collector is demanding more detailed cards because he/she loves them and thinks they and the artist are the bees’ knees, and because they want to show their friends and cherish those cards forever, I can get behind that. The artist side to all that is, to be honest, we don’t make a whole heckuva lot of money on the basic cards that collectors get in packs – that’s not a slight against the companies that pay us, it’s just the way it is; it is unreasonable to suggest that companies could pay something like 10 bucks a card when they have hundreds of artists working for them. They offer artists a fixed rate per card and the artists can take it or leave it. I happily take it. We as artists do, admittedly, seek to earn an decent sum on our return cards as that is an additional part of what helps us earn a living. Personally, if you really like a particular artist, commission them! Let the artist know you like their work and take the time to support them. For me, if my art director is happy with the cards I produce, and if someone who commissions me is happy with the work I create for them then, in the end, I’m happy.

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’ve been selling them off, slowly but surely. As I say, I’ve got at least one fan in the U.S. who has commissioned me at least twice now for four cards each time. He’s been absolutely awesome and I’m stoked just to have even one person who likes my work enough to want more of it. I’ve also had a few friends and blog followers who’ve bought the odd card. A professor from Carleton University in Ottawa commissioned two; I sold some at FanExpo (but I’ll get to that in a minute). For anyone who’s interested I still have quite a few cards left over – I have 8 Zombies Vs. Cheerleaders returns left; 10 Damsels & Dinosaurs; 10 Rantz Angels; 3 Dreamers of Darkness, and four from Mixtape. With the exception of my Mixtape cards (and Clone Wars when I get them back), I’m selling all my returns off for about $25.00 a piece.

You recently exhibited as a sketch card artist at the Fan Expo in Toronto. How did that show go for you and your sketch cards? Do they (cards) seem to sell well at shows? Did you receive commission requests for sketch cards?
FanExpo was absolutely amazing. It was a life changing experience and I can’t wait to go back again next year. The show for me went great – I’m proud to say I managed to cover all my expenses and turn a small profit. The comic that Lance and I self-published and premiered at FanExpo (Dreadful) SOLD OUT, so that was pretty awesome. I didn’t sell a ton of cards while I was there as I was mainly trying to push the book, but I did manage to sell a few. One guy bought a card I did of Lance Henriksen as Bishop from Aliens, and then went and got it signed by Lance Henriksen! He came back and I got a picture of it (I’ll post it on my blog); one guy commissioned a PSC of Harley Quinn; another guy commissioned two PSCs – one of Anakin and another of Asohka from Clone Wars, when I told him I had just finished working on that set with Lance. One amazing thing was I managed to get the autographs of Adam West, Michael Dorn, Peter Mayhew, Lance Henriksen, Heather Langenkamp, William Forsythe and Bill Moseley, all in exchange for PSCs I did for each of them. I even tossed Stan Lee a card I did of the Green Goblin!

Do you see yourself continuing with sketch card sets?
Absolutely, one hundred percent. No matter what else comes or goes in my life I think I can say with certainty that I will continue doing sketch cards. It’s great fun and it keeps me drawing constantly, which is fantastic. Going from set to set I never really get a chance to stagnate or become rusty, and I’m always learning new things through chatting with other artist.

Is there any advice you would like to give to people wanting to break into the sketch card ‘biz’?
Making a friend helps, that’s how I got into it – find someone who likes your art, get their opinion. Try to contact various companies directly, most have a “contact us” section on their website. Send in samples of your work, do some personal sketch cards so you have a feel for it and send them in. Be proactive – I contacted a few people to no avail before Lance wrote me back. I even emailed the head honcho at Topps three times without reply until, out of the blue, I got a message inviting me to work on Clone Wars. This is gonna make me sound like an ass, but being a good artist helps too.

Where can people see more of your work?
Hooray for shameless self-promotion! People can see all my stuff either on my blog or deviantart websites. The blog:
http://slatermark.blogspot.com; DA: http://sharpiemark.deviantart.com/gallery

Are you on any recent/current sketch card sets?
As I say, I just finished up one hundred cards for the Clone Wars: Rise of the Bounty Hunters set from Lucasfilm/Topps. That was pretty incredible for me – I never thought I’d get to work on a card set like that. I’m forever grateful for the opportunity and I really hope people like my cards. Right now I’m just about to start work on roughly thirty cards for the Hack/Slash set for 5FINITY – I’m pretty excited.

What are you currently working on?
Well, as I mentioned, I’m just about to start on the Hack/Slash cards for 5FINITY – apart from that I’m also about to start work on the next issue of Dreadful with Lance Sawyer. We’ve each already got at least three to four stories planned out for the second and third issues. With a little luck and a lot of hard work we should have issue two done in time for ComicCon (in Toronto) in March and TCAF (Toronto Comic Arts Festival) in May. If anyone is interested in hearing more about Dreadful, drop by my blog and deviantart site – you can always find more information there.

Thank you for your time, Mark!