Ingrid K. V. Hardy is an artist from Quebec who specializes in sketch cards, having worked on officially licensed sets including The Walking Dead Season 3, Return of the Jedi, and Star Wars Illustrated. You can find her art blog at RabidHorse.com and learn more about Showcase at showcase.rabidhorse.com
Black Ship Books: What were your formative years as an artist like? Are you formally trained, or were you just born with all that art talent coursing through your veins?
Ingrid K. V. Hardy: Ha, the only thing coursing through my veins is blood, last I looked! My formative years were honestly a mess. As a kid, I drew non-stop and copied from tons of comic books and nature books. High school offered art classes, which I took of course (and became known as “that weird girl who reads and draws”), but overall high school was a horrible experience for me, and as soon as it was over, horses took over my life. In Montreal there is a very good art/design college, and I’d entertained thoughts of attending, but because I’d failed English in HS, they refused my application. So I spent the next 17-18 years with horses. But all through that time drawing still kept its hold on me, and I drew and painted many, many portraits of people, horses, dogs, cats, a few landscapes, a couple of poster designs for local events, and it seems to me I drew a couple of parrots in there as well. Oh, and a rifle.
BSB: Since sketch cards are a relatively new format, I would be surprised if they had always been your preferred medium. Do you find it easier to work on pieces that are bigger? Harder?
IH: First off, sketch cards, as such, are not really all that new. A couple of years ago I’d tried to look into the history of them (and honestly, there are a couple of other artists who have done a better job of digging through the history of sketch cards), but it seems rather vague. It seems (but I can be wrong!) that sketch cards, with actual sketches on them, were introduced in the 1990’s. I fell into them in 2006.
It took me a while to get used to such a small format, but after a short while I really grew to like it. As a person with a short attention span, it is nice not to take weeks to finish a piece. In the beginning I was drawing/sketching the cards, and using Copics for color, since that was what I thought was the proper way to go. The results always left me wanting more, however, and a few years ago I tried playing with acrylic paint, which was completely a new experience for me. I’d used oils before on several horse paintings, but as someone who has mild asthma, I had problems with fumes from the oil paint, so I tried acrylic. For me, it is a big learning curve and that curve is nowhere near over yet, but I absolutely love the journey so far.
Switching between small and large formats is a bit of a trick (for me anyway) and before doing a larger piece I must stop and think a little about my approach. And use bigger brushes… Sounds silly, but after doing SO many small paintings, using particular brushes becomes a habit. Doing the switch back and forth, however, just teaches me new things all the time, so I’m happy about that.
BSB: How did you wind up doing sketch cards?
IH: Another artist told me about a forum community that focused on sketch cards, and he thought I might find it interesting. A quick note – I’ve only been participating in online “communities” since about 2005 so it was all very new for me. Anyway, after joining the Scoundrel Art forum (my second community at that time) and spending some time learning about them, people were nice enough to encourage me and bought some of my cards. It just continued from there. The Star Wars 30th Anniversary from Topps Entertainment was my first true sketch card set. And I must add that things have changed quite a bit in the sketch card world since those days, and even more so for artists such as Joe Corroney, Jan Duursema, and Randy Martinez, who (among others) have been doing sketch cards much longer than I have. Mind you, I think Jan has stopped, but I am not sure on that.
I keep working with these little things because I really like the idea of card art.
BSB: There seems to be a lot of overlap between artists who do sketch cards (even those based on movies and TV shows) and artists who pursue a career in comics, big- or small-press. Have you ever considered telling a sequential, beginning-to-end story with your art?
IH: The very first on line community I joined was a comics forum, Digital Webbing. Maybe you have heard of it? (lol) [Evan says: Ingrid and I met at Digital Webbing!] I really wanted to try my hand at drawing comics, but quickly discovered I wasn’t there yet, and perhaps may never get there. It still bounces around in my head though. When young, I used to write myself short stories, and invent tales that usually involved horses. Some years ago, I became involved with a Flash Fiction community, and had a great time writing really short stories, some of them truly awful (I mean, really bad!), but one or two were not completely horrible. One short was accepted and published in an anthology dedicated to raising funds for abused children. Another I sent to the Canadian-based publisher Edge/Tesseracts books, and though it was rejected, I got an email from them reviewing my story for me, and saying they’d like to hear from me again. I was thrilled with that rejection! I’ve since written 3 gosh-awful books that will never see the light of day, but a few ideas from those experiences have stayed with me, and one or two feel like they would like to be drawn.
So now, as I am editing a book I believe in, another is in the process of being drawn (not all of it as sequential art) and planning the third, there are sequential stick figures jumping around on my table, demanding to be seen and heard.
BSB: Take comfort in the fact that your short stories are invariably better than mine, Ingrid! Back to art-ing, though… What kind of materials (paint, brushes, etc.) do you prefer to work with, and why?
IH: Um… A toughie to answer. Depends what I’m working on. For sketch cards, by far and away I prefer my acrylics – I LOVE painting. For larger pieces (the biggest I go is 9 x 12 inches), if I am permitted by the art director to play with the idea I’m given, then once again I prefer my acrylics. I have done digital art, but that is a skill as well, and I’m still rather low on that learning curve.
For the project of my own I’m working on, I am finally getting a handle on my own way of using ink and line drawing, as well as watercolor. Pencils, I don’t even mention because being without a pencil is like losing a leg.
Oh, you asked “why”… I like paint because it can really put a viewer in a total state of “moody”, when things work. Inks are so nice and crisp, and watercolors are like stained glass.
BSB: What do you think makes sketch cards especially interesting compared to working at other dimensions or in other formats? Is there something creatively stimulating about having such a limited space in which to work?
IH: Sketch cards are like short stories: state your idea and get to the point, because the pool is really small. The small size really forces you to try and filter out the unimportant and focus on what you think the point of that card is. Each artist gives a very different interpretation of whatever they’ve been asked to do, so from a collecting point of view, that can make for a truly outstanding collection of a subject or topic. It is also (usually) a more affordable way for a person to collect original artwork, or anything or to focus the collection. I’ve seen some beautiful collections that have either been placed into lovely binders or even framed as a group of cards, to be hung on a wall.
BSB: Slightly different topic now! How about you tell our readers about Showcase: The Yearling Project?
IH: Ah. Gosh but I did enjoy doing that project. That was (one of my) projects of my own. At the beginning of the year I had free time, so I thought it would be a good time to do this – it was supposed to be a limited project for one year. The point at first was to learn Illustrator CS4 and have a point to doing so. I also adore asking people questions and finding out what makes their clocks tick. As soon as I began composing my questions and getting down to the basic idea of what I wanted Showcase! to be about, it quickly came down to the fact the “storytelling” is really what I’m after in life, in one form or another. And for some artists, that is precisely what they try and do. Nar comes to mind, as do several others…
I had to stop doing this project because that free time disappeared with the onset of some bigger project from employers, and of course, that comes first. It was sad to stop because I’d lined up some interesting people (many were interested). Artists, collectors, and even a couple of art directors. Of the ones I’d published, they were all incredible generous with their time, and a few really went out of their way to give their opinions.
BSB: It’s definitely an intriguing project, and as a latecomer to this whole sketch card thing I definitely enjoy getting the artists’ perspective on both the business and the process itself. Is there anything in particular you’ve found interesting about how your fellow artists approach the medium? Is there one thing (or two or three things) that stick out in your mind that Showcase has taught you?
IH: Showcase, as a project, taught me a surprising number of things for the short time I worked on it. First, the design aspect of it was just SO much fun to play with, and Illustrator is capable of much more than I thought. I wish I had a reason to work with it some more. The project also showed me how much work it really and truly is to put together a publication that features, well, anything… lol. It is really important to think ahead – to have things ready to go right away, to have others things in the works but that should be ready for a certain date, what to do if someone cannot participate, or doesn’t want to. Following a thread of interest is something else that surprised me: first, put an alarm right beside you so that you don’t spend all your time surfing the ‘net for info and then oops, the day is over all ready. That said, it is important to try and get things right, as well! I learned a little about editing, as some interviews just must be edited at least minimally, or else it won’t be understood. Organizing one’s time is such an important skill (for everyone, I think), especially when you have a job already, and you take another for your time-off.
Lastly, I learned that politics is everywhere, and I will leave it at that. 🙂
BSB: Much has been made of digital comics destroying or replacing print comics altogether, though I think it’s hard to dispute that there will be stories told through sequential art forever, whether in print or on a screen. Do you think the specifically physical (and collectible) nature of sketch cards makes them less vulnerable to competition from digital sources, or more likely to go by the wayside?
IH: Interesting question. May I answer this in a roundabout way? Yes? Great. Aside from artwork, I’m an avid reader (though not much time is available for it) of different genres, and write regularly. While I work, I listen to many, many podcasts. Storytelling is a fascinating topic to me, as it is EVERYWHERE, and it will not disappear. A few people had interesting points of view, in my Showcase project, on that point. The digital revolution is scaring many people – mostly those who make their business with print, of course. It is also frightening to those who are afraid of the technology, and/or don’t want to use it, or cannot afford it. Not everyone has money for an iPad or an eReader. Or even a cell phone, where the apps for ebooks are free, but of course the phone is not. Print offers certain things that digitally simply cannot offer, just like digital offers things that print simply cannot. As an example (I own a Kobo reader and a phone): speaking personally, since I got a cell phone, I read more. Since I got an ereader, I read A LOT more (comparatively speaking, for time available). Growing up, our living room at home had literally thousands of books on the shelves. Literally. Where I live now, that is simply impossible, for a variety of reasons. Now, the hard copy books I keep are ones that are special to me that I’ve owned for many years, or specialty books, art books, or signed books. I also own several very old, out-of-print books that I wouldn’t trade for anything. On my ereader I buy “fluffy” books (that I enjoy, but wouldn’t keep on my bookshelf), or books from authors I’ve never read before. If I absolutely love the book(s), I will happily pay again for a proper hard copy book to keep on my shelf to read whenever I want. That is also handy when you have bored kids wandering through the house and they can actively pick up the books in their hands to leaf through and read as their curiosity takes them. I think that is important.
Art books I prefer to have hardcover. I’ve tried digital versions, and I just don’t enjoy it. Same with cook books, much to my significant other’s chagrin, there are cook books all over the place. He would much prefer I got them digital, but that won’t happen.
I don’t see how digital could really do anything to sketch cards… Maybe digital copies? I don’t know, but I don’t think that is where the danger lies for them. The sketch card industry is in a big state of change. As I mentioned earlier, I have only been involved in this industry for eight years, there are a few others who have been in it longer (not many, but there are a few). When I began, most of the companies demanded that the artist do a minimum of 200 – 300 cards for each set, and sometimes the deadlines were only a few weeks or a month. That meant the sketch cards were precisely that: quick sketches. Out of true necessity. It was a really grueling job. On the bright side, “the return” cards (cards the card companies let the artist keep and sell as part of payment), were very easy to sell. There were fewer artists and more collectors, relatively to one another. Now there are vastly more artists, while the number of collectors – while growing – remain small. For now, at any rate. It is very difficult to make a living as a sketch artist alone – the number of artists who succeed with only sketch cards is very small. It is normally necessary to do other jobs and projects as well. Which I think is a good thing anyway.
There are a few more smaller companies now that are doing great things with the sketch card principle: Perna Studios comes immediately to mind. They are producing interesting trading cards sets with high quality artwork, give the artists ample time to work and create truly one-of-a-kind pieces of art. There are others as well, and offer a variety of topics that larger companies would not be able to produce.
BSB: This might be an appropriate way to end — what do you think the sketch card business will look like ten years or so from now?
IH: If I had to guess, I’d say the business will still be around, but it will be even more different than it is now. Financially (and like it or not, it always comes down to the money), it is difficult for a company to pay artists well for complex or time consuming work. However, sketch cards are like little puppies, you cannot look at one with smiling. People are almost always fascinated when they look at one for the first time. Sketch cards, like any really good story, will find their true fans, and like hard copy books, they might find a solid spot in the specialty markets. Sketch cards/art cards have a solid spot now, that is certain, but to survive the future, I think they will need to find a few more fans to keep it viable and dynamic. Stagnancy kills everything.