Stranger Things Illustration: Visions from the Upside Down

I am thrilled to announce that one of my illustrations was included in the Stranger Things Artbook: Visions from the Upside Down! This book was printed by Printed in Blood and is available at local comic stores, Chapters, and Amazon!

Original Illustration for the Stranger Things Artbook: Visions from the Upside Down, created by Matt Stewart
Original Illustration for the Stranger Things Artbook: Visions from the Upside Down, created by Matt Stewart

As my illustration was included in the book, I have a very limited print from it! This print is limited to just 200 copies and can only be purchased direct from me! I will have a few copies available at the local Red & White Show in Calgary and might have a few copies available at the Comic Expo in Prince George, but that won’t be till May of 2020. If you’d like to buy a copy of the print from me today, then please contact me here! The prints are $60 each plus shipping if ordering online, and they come with a free mini art print of one of my other drawings!

About the Limited Prints

stranger things art print drawn by matt stewart
Stranger Things art print drawn by matt stewart

My Stranger Things art print measures 16×12″ and is printed on high quality, Mohawk paper. Each print is hand signed and numbered, and you would receive a random numbered print when ordering, however print number 11 is reserved for the person who purchases the original drawing! The prints are shipped unframed via FedEx.

The Original Drawing

The original drawing I created for the artbook is also for sale. I am asking $525 for the original drawing, plus shipping. The original drawing was created with Copic markers, polychromous pencil crayons, gouache and acrylic paints, with a protective archival quality UV spray added overtop. The original is 11.5×9″ with a 1/2 or 1″ border.

Buy Your Copy of the Artbook

Please follow this link to Amazon & purchase your copy of the book today! By purchasing the book through this link you will also help support me in creating more artwork!

What are Sketch Cards?

I’ve been creating sketch cards for licensed trading card companies for over four years now. I’ve been creating sketch cards for fun and commissions for much longer than that. However, even though I’ve been drawing and collecting trading cards since I was a kid in the 80s, and despite sketch cards existing since sometime in the 90s and being picked up by trading card companies in the early 2000s, I only discovered them in the late 2000s.

Many people that I’ve met online or at conventions do not know what sketch cards are. That group of people, who are the collectors of art, comic, and everything else geeky, often really like sketch cards once they find out about them. I think the appeal is found in the wide range of subject matter, the oftentimes affordability, and that their unusually small size allows people to easily build a collection of them without sacrificing a room in your house to store them in.

What are Sketch Cards?

A sketch card is a surface that measures 2.5″x3.5”* and is used to create an original, one-of-a-kind piece of art upon.

I purposefully tried to make that definition as broad as possible as really the defining features of a sketch card is its size and its originality; however, size receives an Asterix as explained later. Some artists and collectors may disagree with me, but to me these are the defining characteristic and then you can have a multitude of sub categories after that. For instance, painted or penciled or licensed or personal sketch cards.

A generic, blank sketch card.
A generic, blank sketch card.

There are no restrictions on what medium or style can be used to create a sketch card, much like how there is also no restriction on what material the sketch card is made out of. One trading card company, Upper-Deck, has recently been making some of their sketch cards on sheets of chrome and acetate! I have seen artists use paper collages, spray paint stencils, oil paints, acrylics, and simple 2b graphite pencils to create sketch cards. These aspects of sketch cards seem limitless, like any other arena within the art world!

Origin of Sketch Cards

I may not be entirely correct, but it is my understanding that sketch cards began as ACEO’s, or Artist Cards, Editions and Originals. These were traded between fellow artists and given out to non-artists as a form of exposure. There was a strong emphasis on them not being sold, but rather an exercise in free art. ACEO’s are still common, and are still commonly freely traded, but ever since their inclusion in packs of trading cards, their

 

Sketch Cards and Trading Card Companies

‘Art De Bart’ Sketch Card from Skybox drawn by matt groening
‘Art De Bart’ Sketch Card from Skybox

In 1993 the first trading card product included sketch cards. These ‘Art De Bart’ cards were rare, chase cards with only 400 produced. These cards were all drawn by the show’s creator Matt Groening, but in subsequent trading card sets a variety of artists would be used. It was a mixed bag on who the artists were too. Some were experienced published professionals and some were people working on their first paid art project. This definitely produced cards of wildly differing levels of quality, but it also allowed for collectors to obtain artwork from rising stars and for said rising star artists to obtain a modicum of experience.

The highly talented Adam Hughes drew this sketch card for the 2008 Indiana Jones trading card set.
The highly talented Adam Hughes drew this sketch card for the 2008 Indiana Jones trading card set.

Throughout the 90s and exploding in the 2000s, sketch cards began appearing in numerous non-sports trading card sets. Sets based on movies and cartoons used the sketch cards as an incentive or chase in the product. Oftentimes the sketch card would be exceedingly rare even if there were tons created. What I mean by that is that thousands of sketch cards would be created but 10 or 100 times that many boxes of cards would be produced.

The sketch cards created right up to the late 2000’s were largely simple and quick sketches done on paper trading cards. In some cases, artists were tasked to draw 1000 or more sketch cards for one project. There was no way an artist can do more than simple pencil sketches when such quantities are so high! Sometime around 2010 this all changed and sketch cards gradually became more and more detailed. Some artists were using oils, some water colours, and some markers. Bottom line though, is that sketch cards were often being done in colour and to a higher degree of detail and quality.

Incredibly detailed sketch card by Julio Nar of the green goblin
Incredibly detailed sketch card by Julio Nar.

Trading card companies in the late 2000’s also started changing sketch cards by altering their sizes and materials. Some companies introduced Box Topper Sketch Cards that were 2, 3 or 4 times the size of a normal sketch card. Booklet sketch cards were also being introduced, where multiple regular sketch cards were attached in a way that they could be folded on top of one another to fit into a pack of cards. Different materials like plastics and metals were also introduced. The moral of the story is that not only have the artists continually changed in what they were producing but the companies also changed the types of sketch cards, ultimately enlarging the original definition of what a sketch card is.

What’s in it for the Sketch Card Artist?

Fame and glory is not something a sketch card artist receives. Every so often a sketch card artist might obtain an opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise have had. An example is of an artist I saw online who created sketch cards for a project was then invited by the company that owns the license to the property he was working on to then illustrate a poster for that company. That is absolutely the exception. More often, sketch card artists work on these projects for a little bit of exposure with people who may commission them for more work, to say they worked on a licensed product and to build up their portfolios.

Sketch card artists are paid for their work but it isn’t exactly life changing bags of cash. Instead, a small handful of sketch cards are provided back to the artist that they can resell. These are called either Artist Returns or Artist Proofs, frequently listed as just AR or AP’s. The images the artist draws on these cards are all licensed by that franchise like Star Wars or Marvel Comics. The artists receive only a small number of AP’s in comparison to the number of cards the produced for the project; often the ratio is 1:10.

topps 2017 the last jedi captain phasma sketch card by matt stewart
Artist Return sketch card of Captain Phasma from The Last Jedi, drawn by Matt Stewart.

Some companies create their artist returns differently. Topps (one of my artist returns is pictured above), does not make their artist returns look any different from the regular sketch cards. Sometimes an artist (like myself) will write AP or Artist Return on the back of the card, but otherwise it will be indistinguishable from what one can pull from a pack of cards. Some companies, like Upper-Deck will stamp their Artist Proofs with an AP on the front (see below) and other companies like Cryptozoic have stickers for the back of the cards that say AP.

jay and silent bob artist proof sketch card from clerks
Jay and Silent Bob Artist Proof sketch card by Matt Stewart.

Sometimes particular types of cards will not be offered as a return at all. This is common with the more unusual sketch cards such as booklets.

 

Check out some of the sketch card projects I’ve worked on:

Walking Dead from Topps

Star Wars 40th Anniversary from Topps

Terminator from Unstoppable

Clerks from Upper-Deck

Garbage Pail Kids from Topps

Start Making Your Own Sketch Cards!

Below are links to the materials I use!

 

Creating Digital Graphics for Websites and Social Media

Recently I wanted to create a graphic that would contain information on a single product or event. My initial idea was that the graphic would be simple and based off a paper filing system card. These cards have a small part at the top that juts upwards. This part is visible when all the cards are placed inside a container, allowing for a particular card to be found amidst the masses of other cards. The body of the cards would have text on them and sometimes a supporting image of what the card was about.

The description of a filing system card is probably well known to many who are reading this post, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they are becoming increasingly uncommon in the workplace. However, just because they are becoming uncommon doesn’t mean their function has become obsolete. The problem I was tackling here was very similar to the solution that the paper filing system fulfilled, so in a very non-creative way superimposed an older idea on to a newer platform. Honestly, this is often a great way to solve many modern design problems: look to the past for a solution to today’s problems.

The Design

I began my design process like I always do -sketching on a piece of paper. Sometimes I’ll sketch a few different ideas but this time I knew exactly what I wanted, and it was based on something that already existed. Really I just wanted to draw the shape of an index /filing card and then sketch in some lines of text, a box for an image and an area for social sharing to see how these elements would look within the card outline.

Backing up a step, I suppose the start of my design process was identifying the problem and thinking about it. Sometimes I will do a little online research to see how similar problems were solved in the past. For instance I recently designed a brochure and to draw up some inspiration for that I researched brochure designs and existing brochures from big name companies. This practice of researching is no different than when I had a term paper in University. There I would research my problem, write about this previous research, and then write about my own results on this problem and the research I unearthed.

Adobe Illustrator
Skeleton design from Illustrator.

Illustrator is my friend. It is the first Adobe program I used (besides Acrobat I guess), and it is still my go to tool for creating digital designs. For this small project I used Illustrator to create a skeleton of the design. I played with the line thickness of the shapes and with the font styles. Bold Century Gothic is what I chose as I found it was easy to read, clean, and had a modern yet classic feel to it that works well in a corporate setting. This is a font a reader would take seriously! One thing I probably would change is the kerning. I think the letters are a little too tightly spaced.

I’m a big fan of drop shadows, and I used them again on this project. This effect is probably overused but I think it really adds a nice and simple effect to a design. Another design element I chose was to place the social media icons in small circles that have 1/3 of their space overlapping with the card. I wanted these to stand out while still being a part of the overall design.

Adobe Photoshop

The third and final step to this design was adding the colour /texture in Photoshop. I began by finding a good image of a wooden board that was available for free online. Some people have catalogs of images they’ve taken and use for their designs, but I do not have such a catalog. Instead I often use websites like Pexels that have free images that you can use for designs. Once I find an image I don’t just use it ‘as is’. For this project I reduced the satuaration, increased the brightness and played with the black/white levels on the image in Photoshop.

The Illustrator design was imported into Photoshop as a LINKED file. This allowed for me to make changes to the design in Illustrator and have those changes immediately appear in the Photoshop file. A marquee selection was taken of the Illustrator design within Photoshop and that shape was then cropped out from the wood image. As the Illustrator design had a white fill, I then set that layer’s property to multiply, dissolving the white into the background wood layer.

Final design.

The design was nearly complete with the wood texture incorporated into the black Illustrator design. All that was left was to give it a little more realism and increase the readability a tad. To do that I added some minor white and grey highlights to the black outline. These highlights were added to one side of the black outline to suggest a light-source to the upper right. Secondly, underneath the areas with text I added some white brush strokes set at 30%-ish opacity. This allowed the black text to be more readable on the slightly darker wood background.

Last Step

After I leave a graphic for a day or two I will come back to it and possibly tweak it here or there. I may realize I misspelled a word, didn’t make the graphic clear here or there, or God forbid accidentally have part of my design look phallic -the last part has happened to many a designer. Once I am happy with it I will alter the text and include a product image to suit it’s purpose. The image will be saved as a 500 kb ‘ish jpg or png file and used on social media. The other idea is that it will be uploaded to a website where the text will the idea is that the text will be removed in Illustrator and then coded in the website. The graphic will be inserted as a PNG file, and using the z-index and other CSS styling codes, the text and product image will be positioned within the graphic. As for the social media icons, those will be hot linked to their respective platforms. Again, this part will be coded into the website with simple HTML /CSS.

 

Thanks for reading my post! I wasn’t meaning to write something so long but it was rewarding to think back on how I created this design. I’ve recently posted about other design projects I’ve worked on too. One was about using the Sketchup program to create a 3D house and two were about using Adobe Illustrator for layouts and creating infographics. Let me know in the comments field below if there is a topic you’d like me to talk about next!

Learning Powerful 3D Modelling in Sketchup

Since the new year I’ve been playing with SketchUp. This software allows one to create 3D models that can be used in videos, 3D printings, and print or digital designs. The program has been used in a number of fields, most notably architecture for designing homes and their surroundings.

One of the nice things about SketchUp is that there is a free version. This free version allows one to create 3D models and geo-locate models (which is really cool as your models can be integrated into google maps for a geo-reference). However, the latest free version of SketchUp does has many downgrades from the Pro, or paid version. The paid version of SketchUp allows you to physically download the program, create 2D models, export animation videos, create construction drawings, licensed for commercial use, and to utilize actions, components and groups. Those last abilities are what I am currently working on, in addition to playing with a rendering software you can import into SketchUp, called VRay.

At first glance, SketchUp seems like it is very similar to Photoshop. This similarity quickly disappears after diving deeper into the program. These differences are also a downside in that SketchUp is not entirely intuitive to use. Tools that react different from how you would expect them too, moving objects in a 3 dimensional space is definitely something that takes awhile to wrap your head around, and the software is frequently glitchy.

Despite the downsides to SketchUp and its $695USD price tag, it is a very powerful program and one that I hope to continue to become better at. I’ve put up some examples of what I’ve been doing in SketchUp below. These are all basic designs of house exteriors and interiors. From here I want to continuing improving my skills with structures and creating better environments, and then start playing with my own designs for small objects that can be printed.

Structures Created in SketchUp

Let me know if you’ve ever used SketchUp and what your thoughts are on this program. Is there another 3D modelling program you prefer over SketchUp? Would love to know!

Creating Solid Graphic Layouts through Practice

Yeah, not sure how much I buy into my own title here. That’s not to say I don’t like what I created. Just that I’m not sold on how ‘solid’ of a layout design it is.

In all I believe I spent about 1-2 hours making this design, with the majority of the time spent on looking for images to use in the final version. I started this little exercise  when I was exploring some different layout designs. There’s a nifty website called canva that I was exploring and they had a bunch of layout examples. Really loved some of what they were showing and was inspired to play around with some enlarged text to help frame images. Thought that this might work for redesigning the home page of this website. Currently I’m not too keen on the hero image as the only element on the home page. Thinking of redoing it to be one long scrolling page that has little snippets of what else is on my website.

Anyways, I took my inspiration from canva and then doodled a few ideas on a piece of scrap paper. I then created a few mock-ups in  Illustrator. I created six different designs that all riffed off the same idea and grew from one another. The final design I created here was the one I opted to go with, which it’s somewhat funny that either I find that the very first or last design I create when experimenting is the one I end up going with for the final design.

I imported the chosen design into Photoshop and then looked through some of the images I had already put up on my Facebook page. For some reason or another I decided to just use jpg’s I could save off my Facebook page instead of using higher quality images off my external hard drive. Oh well, this was all just for practice anyways.

After pulling enough images, which would cover-up the black squares in the design, I decided the image needed some texture. With that I opted for a logical texture of art paper, which was pulled off the net. I then started combining everything in Photoshop. With the images I decided I’d go for blown up sections of them, and I think if I did this again I would create even bigger blow-ups of the images so you can see my brush strokes or pencil marks more clearly. The idea is that this is to communicate to the viewer that these are hand-drawn hence traditional pieces of art that I have created, and to entice the viewer to seek out the full images of my artwork posted here.

Above is the final version of the design. Not sure if I’m sold on how light the background is (perhaps boost the texture), and not sure if how I broke up the word Traditional is working for me. Regardless though, it brought up some ideas and that’s what the point was. One should never stop practicing and sometimes one should post their less than perfect work. They, as in ‘they’, say one should only put their best foot forward on their portfolios. Well, this website is my portfolio and while I want good artwork to be showcased here, I also want to post my steps. I want to post my progress and sometimes things that don’t work out quite so well.

Let me know below what you think!