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!

 

#inktober2017

Inktober is a challenge to artists of all levels to create one inked drawing a day for the entire month of October. There are other iterations of this challenge, such as Drawlloween, where the theme is based on Halloween imagery but the challenge is basically the same. The point of it all is to encourage people to draw more frequently, for practice is the absolute key to improving one’s drawing abilities.

inktober theme listThere can be any theme, or no theme at all for Inktober. I chose a prompt list I saw another artist post that listed various monsters from books and film. I stuck fairly closely to this list but at times deviated when a character didn’t interest me or I had a better idea, such as drawing Hellboy, a Victorian type ghost, and Jack from Nightmare Before Christmas.

During the month of October I was also working on several other projects and went on a quick vacation at the end of the month. This meant that some of the drawings were more rushed than others, however I went into this with the intention of only spending 30 minutes to an hour for each drawing. My intention was to do fairly quick sketches that may or may not be perfect, but challenged me more on creating an interesting concept /design.

Some artists create digital works for their Inktober sketches, while others work in traditional mediums. The amount of time and type of materials people use for these varies but for mediums I wanted to stick with a more traditional approach. I drew each of these in a spiral bound 7×10″ 98lb mixed media sketch book. The pages are nice and thick, holding ink well and providing a nice tooth in the paper to create texture in the inking. On some of them, like Godzilla, I felt that a splash of red would work well. I didn’t want to use full colour but rather one colour to make a certain element pop.

Inktober Sketches for 2017

all of the #inktober2017 sketches from matt stewart

All of my Inktober sketches are for sale. I didn’t necessarily create these or do the Inktober challenge to sell artwork, but I did feel I should make them available in case someone liked a particular drawing I did.

If you are interested in purchasing one of my sketches, I am offering them at $20 each if you live in Canada or $25 if you live in the States, plus whatever you feel the drawing is worth. The $20 or $25 covers the shipping and materials of the drawing, and the extra money will help me buy new art supplies but figured I would leave that amount up to you, the person supporting my art. Send me a message here if you are interested in purchasing, just tell me which one and how much you would like to pay for it!

EUGENE CERNAN (1934-2017)

I’ve always been fascinated with space, NASA, and those that pushed through the impossible to explore the unknown. Eugene Cernan was born in 1934. He was an American astronaut, naval aviator, electrical engineer, aeronautical engineer and fighter pilot. In 1972, the last and final NASA mission to the moon took place, with Cernan, his third trip to space, as commander of Apollo 17. This final lunar landing was to have Cernan be the eleventh person to ever walk on the moon and be the last man to re-enter the Lunar Module.

This sketch of Mr. Cernan was done on 8 3/4″ x 6″ illustration paper. I used a black #14 Kuretake brush pen and white acrylic paint. The NASA emblem was coloured with copic marker and then edited in Photoshop to give it a grainy texture and added the white splash marks overtop of it.

 

Milt Schmidt (1918-2017)

A sketch of An nhl legend

Milt Schmidt was born in Kitchener Ontario, March 5, 1918 and passed away this year at the age of 98.

Milt was a WWII veteran in the Canadian military and a Boston Bruins legend, playing from 1937 to 1942 and 1946 to 1955. He won two Stanley Cups, coached the Bruins from 1955 to 1966, and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961.

This sketch of Mr. Schmidt was done on 8 3/4″ x 6″ illustration paper. I used a black #14 Kuretake brush pen for inking the pencil sketch. Grey markers were used in places on the portrait and a yellow marker with a white grease pencil overlain overtop was used for the background.