I occasionally will “google myself” to see what my art is selling for online, if anyone is selling any of my supposed “lost sketchcards“, or has been selling bootleg copies of my art. Hey, it happens…
Before I go any further, some of you may not know exactly what a “sketchcard” is– and that’s okay. Many people aren’t sure, or even know that such thing exists- much less that they are a collectible thing to buy, sell, or trade. I have to explain them from time to time and they are a pretty simple but collectible pieces of unique art that can range in details and price.
Some cards are completely blank on the front, some have a printed border and/or logo, or sometimes just a light watermark. Usually the back has the set info printed on it and sometimes a place for the artist to sign. The thickness, surface, and quality can vary. I’ve worked on card-stock that was awesome, and some that were complete nightmare educing crapola! Some sets it takes me a few cards to get the feel for how the paper and markers are going to work together- or not work together.
Artists draw on them in whatever medium they choose, although these days many companies prefer full color work- either markers, colored pencils, paints, dyes, watercolor, etc. You can see some of my process above or click here.
I mostly work in markers (Copic, Prismacolor, Letraset), pens (Pigma Microns, Gelly Roll), pencils (yellow #2 and Prismacolors), and some other materials like Copic White and a spray fixative sealer. I use the same for most of my sketchcover comics as well. I’ve got several step by steps of how I work on my website if you need more info.
There are artists of varying skill levels and styles, and the prices for each card and artist can vary greatly. Some people go fully rendered, some folks do just a quick sketch on them. Usually I go fully rendered, sometimes I go cartoony, sometimes full color, sometimes gray-scale or black and white. I like to experiment on these assignments and my style and art medium will vary depending on the set, number of cards- and the closer I am to the deadline!
Once the art on the front of the card is finished the artists can sign the backs of the cards.
Since my actual signature is pretty illegible I usually just print my name to make it easier for collectors to identify who drew the cards.
When completed and the artwork has been approved the finished pieces are sent back to the card companies by the artists to be randomly inserted into card packs to be sold.
The odds of finding a sketchcard or other chase cards can vary, but many of the card sets I was a part of guaranteed at least 1 sketchcard per box.
I always describe it as finding a golden ticket in a Wonka chocolate bar, especially if you get certain artists or celebrity autographed cards.
I’ve done several “sketchograph” cards that are sketchcards that the celebrity playing the character has signed, too. It was really hard to send the Carrie Fisher and Mark Hammill cards back..!
People buy the cards as a single pack, by the box, or even whole cases- either at a retail store or online. Again, odds of getting chase cards vary, as do the amount of cards per pack or box.
Some folks are fans/collectors, some are “flippers” who sell them online (usually eBay) or at shows, retail shops, and other places, and some are both who sell and/or trade to support their hobby and obtain the cards they want for their collections.
The artists that work on each set get to keep what are known as “artists returns” or “artist proofs“. The number of how many additional cards the artists get varies from company to company, but usually is in relation to how many cards they draw for the set- example: draw 100 cards and get 6 additional returns, plus 3 additional if all of your cards are in color. It has really varied for me over the years, but the more I did them the less cards I had to draw went down and my number of returns went up. Sometimes we also get a box of the cards sent back with our returned cards.
The number of cards assigned by the company to the artist can vary as well. I’ve done over 100 at a time, and have done as little as 10-25 for a set. I had a friend, Steve Stanley, get me in touch with Topps to work on a Star Trek set but I never heard anything back from the company.
Steve was surprised, and when their “The Empire Strikes Back” set call went out for available artists Steve told me to try again since they were having a hard time finding artists to work in color and actually complete their cards- and on time! I sent another email with samples of my work to the art/talent director, but this time in the subject line I wrote, “Have markers- can hit deadlines!” I got an almost immediate response, got the Empire gig, and worked for them off and on for several years.
Artists get paid very little money to draw the cards, and make their money on selling the artist returns/proofs at shows, personal websites, eBay, retailer, or others.
Some also sell the whole box of cards they get, or the chase cards in them. I’ve gotten a few cool cards that are still in my collection!
So far I’ve worked on about 16 or so card sets: 1 Mars Attacks set and 8 Star Wars sets for Topps; 1 Star Wars set for the 501st Legion; Dead World, Fantsy Z Cards, and Transformers for Breygent; DC Comics: The Women of Legend for Cryptozoic; SPACE 2 and Carnival sets for Viceroy; and The Art Of Robert Aragon for MSN.
I’ve also drawn dozens of personal sketch cards, which are one of a kind hand drawn “one off” cards done on my own sketchcard blanks and aren’t part of an officially licensed set. You can find packs of blank sketchcards online or at many art and hobby stores. I had fun being part of the “Secret Sketchcard Society” at the Comic Geek Speak Ep300 anniversary event, and their CGS Super Show convention where many of the artists traded sketchcards with each other.
I was selling my cards at shows and on my website, but now I only sell them and my sketchcovers (soon paintings as well) exclusively through a local comic shop- The Cellar. It helps fund my comics buying habit.
Still have a good variety of my art available there (including some of the ones above) for anyone who might be interested. Stop by or give them a yell.
Anyway, back to the reason for this blog entry…
Last week I ran across an online blog about sketchcards that featured a couple of my own DC Comics Women of Legend sketchcards- and some of their comments and remarks in the comments sections. Thankfully they apparently liked my work, but not the prices I charged for it. They were able to find some on eBay or other sources that were at a fraction of the prices that had been on my site. I’m not going to post a link to their blog- I don’t want anyone to contact or harass them. Just thought I’d share what some collectors think of my work- and it’s worth…
“After taking a break yesterday from Sketch Card Week, I am returning with another sketch card featuring DC character Power Girl, from the Cryptozoic DC Comics: The Women of Legend set. This card features Power Girl in her short-lived New 52 costume, and the artist is Lin Workman. He’s got a card with Power Girl in her more recognizable costume for sale on his website, but the asking price is a little out of my range at the moment. I am still pretty happy with this sketch card, though, as I had been wanting to get one of his sketches for a while. The right one finally popped up and I was able to acquire it for my Power Girl sketch card PC. Pretty cool stuff!”
“He’s got some really cool sketch cards on his site… especially the r2d2 and yoda ones. Not sure about the $165 price tags though.”
“Yeah, that number seems a bit high to me. It would be hard to price your own art. That number is even harder to digest when I consider that I got this roughly equivalent sketch for right around 10% of that.”
“Maybe he sells them on a regular basis at that price. If that’s the case… I don’t blame him for pricing them at $165. You’re definitely the goto guy when it comes to artists and the going rates, so I trust your judgement way over my own. I personally just stick to sketch cards in the $20 and under range. Although I paid $27.50 (+ $2.50 shipping) for my 2008 Stadium Club Steve Carlton sketch card… and it’s a terrible rendition of Lefty.”
“He very well could sell them at that price. If I had the money I would probably buy them at that price. I don’t have the budget for that, though, so I tend to pick and choose and snipe auctions for sketch cards of favorite artists or characters. Most of my sketches come in under the $20 mark as well, but on occasion I will go higher for one I really like. I am surprised at the amount of quality stuff that slips through eBay for just pennies because of poor auction titles/descriptions, weird auction ending times, and low Buy It Now prices. Because of my low ceiling I miss out on a ton of sketches that I really like, but I’ve got a sketch card Watch List several pages long that I am constantly updating, so if a seller drops a price or an auction is getting close to ending with no bidding action I am ready to snatch it up.”
And their other blog post…
“This is a Supergirl sketch card by Lin Workman, from the Cryptozoic DC Comics: The Women of Legend trading card set. I already have a Power Girl sketch done by him for this set, depicting her in her short-lived New 52 uniform. I grabbed this one on eBay. I am not particularly a Supergirl fan, but I recognized Workman’s art style and signature and the price was right, so I jumped on it. I like the sketch cards I’ve seen from him, and I was happy to add this one to my collection for the price of a few packs of cards.”
(Above my artist returns from that set.)
“Wowza. Just checked out his store. He has a sweet Yoda sketch, but his price tag is way too high for my budget.”
“Yeah, the sketches in his webstore seem to be priced pretty high. I’m sure he has his reasons. He’s got a sketch of Power Girl in her more famous uniform that I’d like to have, but I can’t justify spending that much on it.”
(end of conversation)
So, they apparently like to stay in the $20 and under range for sketchcards (BTW- that’s the R2-D2 mentioned above). I’ve sold some of my more quickie personal sketchcards for $20 or under, but I really can’t let official licensed sketchcards go for that little. Even if the market has become somewhat flooded, I can’t devalue them- especially ones I spent over an hour or more on and have spent hundreds of dollars on art supplies to be able to do them. Sorry, but I can’t give them away for pennies on the dollars for what goes into them. I have had sales before on my website a few times (even on my paintings), and have even given discounts for ordering more than one before (usually dropped the prices $15-25ea), but some folks have wanted me to go half price on them, and I just can’t do that. They are what they are- take ’em or leave ’em. ( Here are what a few of mine went for on eBay when they were released. I just did a quick google search and found several of my cards available for $20-100, and some for more than what I charge. You have to shop around if you want bargains.)
I’m not mad at them at all, and I’m glad they like my work. That was actually nice to hear and I appreciate the compliments. As a collector with limited disposable cash I can understand where they are coming from. I love when I can find a bargain on some original art for my collection- although I personally would pass on paying $30 for a sketchcard with “terrible rendition” of anyone. Yikes…
If I was faster and doing quick doodles came easy for me I’d do cheaper sketchcards and con sketches. Just not the way I work, even though I wish I could. I always wanted to have the collectors feel like they got a good card if they discovered one of mine in a card pack. I also wanted the card companies to like what I did and call me back for future projects. I really want to be proud of the work I put out.
Hey, this isn’t the first time I’ve had folks say that I charge too much- and I’ve suffered from sticker shock when I’ve wanted cool art, and not just original art but prints as well. I think I’m fairly inexpensive compared to others out there and have even done free sketches at shows (even though that wasn’t good enough for one person- long story).
One of the reasons I’ve stopped doing conventions, commissioned work, and any sketchcard gigs is that it’s just not worth the hassle anymore. People don’t want to spend the money- at least not on my art. There are celeb photo ops and autographs to get, and Harley Quinn and Deadpool art prints to buy from the ‘wall-o-prints” guys.
One of the reasons I loved doing sketchcards for companies was that it was a legit chance to draw these characters I loved, and try to make a living off of it. Same for drawing sketchcovers- they are made to draw the licensed characters on and sell.
I’m better off drawing what I want when I want for how much I want than trying to make money at cons or over the internet. I feel much more sane these days and enjoy my art more when I do it. Plus I don’t have the cost of setting up at shows and travel expenses. It’s gotten really hard for me to make money or even break even at shows. Most times I end up going in the hole.
I decided to contact the blogger and let them know why I charge what I do. Here is what I sent…
“Hey, saw a few of my cards mentioned on your blog. Thought I’d reply back to some of the things said in it and some of the replies.
Don’t know if you’re aware of what the going rate from companies like Topps is or not. The reason the prices artists ask for their returns/APs are high is because sketchcard artists usually only get paid $1.50-$5ea to draw the ones that go in sets. We usually only get a few “returns” that we can sell online or at shows to make it worth doing any at all. Folks like Katie Cook and Adam Hughes cards go for crazy bank! (Flippers love finding them!)
I’ve retired from doing sketchcards because the pay works out to way less than minimum wage (even IF the returns sell), have had net 30 invoices become 6mo ones after several unanswered emails, the cardstock is usually poor (or has graphics printed on them), deadlines are ridiculous, the market got over saturated, I’ve had people offer me half of my asking price (or less), and I’ve had Topps “lose” 10 of my finished returns and another company almost misplace my entire set (thankfully they were signed for when delivered and eventually found).
Most of my early Star Wars cards sold for $150-$300ea, which helped a lot when I was laid off from my day job & freelancing- especially the Empire Strikes Back Widevision and first Galaxy sets I did. They sold really well for the first few sets, then started to drop off. I got a new job and only did a set or two a year after that.
I dropped the prices down from $165 (which included s/h & ins.) to $150 and then $100 on my site for a while. Had been willing to do a discount for more than one when I had them at the $150-165 price. Saw some flippers asking for more than that on eBay- “Good luck!”. Heck, I’ve had people turn their noses up at my non-set personal sketchcards that I sell for $20-$30.
Glad you have enjoyed my work, and I understand not being able to spend a lot. There’s a lot of art I can’t afford to own. Would buy more from others if I could’ve sold more of mine.
It was fun at first to draw licensed characters and try different art styles, mediums, and techniques, and keep in practice but sketchcards are just not worth the hassle these days.
I occasionally do a sketchcover or painting here or there, but have pretty much cut back on most of my art. Have quit doing any art commissions of any kind, and no longer set up at shows/cons.
I took all of my art (sketchcards, sketchcovers, paintings) off my website and sell a few of them through a local comic/card store (The Cellar) now. They’ve been moving well there, and I don’t have to worry about dealing with the USPS. 😉
I didn’t get a response, and I don’t know if it educated them any on what freelance artists can go through. I just felt like I had to let him know how things were for me and why I charge what I do for my art.
Now you know, too.
I did enjoy my time doing sketchcards. They were a part of my life when I could use the extra income and I loved the drawing practice. Heck, my first Star Wars TESB Widevision ones helped pay for my wedding!
But when it comes to sketchcard gigs I just don’t miss the low pay, short deadlines, long nights, or drawing THAT small! For the right property I might come out of retirement, but that list is a very short one.
SPACE monkeys recently did it for me, and I could see myself enjoy doing a Ghostbusters, Doctor Who, Harry Potter, ’60s Batman, or maybe a couple others.
We’ll see- never say never, right..?.