One of the things that makes trading cards work is that they are easily seen in a store. But the cards are not just small objects; they are also images. And the image is what the person buying a card wants to look at, so if you have a nice picture, and a nice price, and it’s easy to find in a store, you can make some money selling cards.
Every day I see people who want to illustrate trading cards. They are young guys with little or no art training. They send me their portfolios, which show them drawing cartoons for some magazine or comic strip, or making poster art for a movie studio or something. But I’m not interested in those kinds of illustrations. I want people who can draw realistic pictures of whatever it is that people want to buy from me–a sports team or an album cover or whatever–and get them done quickly and cheaply so I can start selling them immediately.
I don’t know how often this happens: maybe one out of ten artists does well when they try to illustrate trading cards. If you’re lucky enough to be one of those ten, you will have made what amounts to a bet on yourself: that you have the right kind of talent and interest and determination to do well with trading cards
Making a trading card illustration is a lot like writing comics or making a picture book. It’s all about being self-critical and open to new ideas. If you’re not willing to buck conventional wisdom and experiment, no amount of practice will make you good at it.
I’m not saying that making a trading card illustration is easy, or even that it’s a good way for professionals to spend their time. Rather, I’m saying that it’s important to have the right attitude towards it, which is what separates the professionals from the amateurs. You can have the best knowledge, tradesmanlike skills and equipment in the world, but if you don’t feel like experimenting, you’ll never become good at it.
In addition to art, I write a blog and have an online store selling trading cards. The blog focuses on the process of creating trading cards (or “tokens”). To that end it gives specific advice on how to produce trading cards, how to deal with distribution, how to market yourself and your products, how to acquire sponsors for cards, and much more.
The blog and my store show off work from artists of all levels of skill and experience. There are a few high-level professional artists with galleries, but most of the work is from more amateur artists.
The blog isn’t about this kind of work. Rather it’s about the process involved in making the things you are making (cards). It’s about learning how to do those things from start to finish in order to make better cards.
I started my blog because I’m interested in fine art but not an artist myself yet; I want to learn what artists have to go through in order to create their work. My store is also a way for me to sell my wares and learn as I go along; so far I’ve figured out the best way for me is DIY self-distribution.
I have been trading cards for many years, but I have never seen a better explanation of how the art is created. This blog is more than a collection of beautiful and inspiring images; it is an excellent introduction to the process by which trading cards are created.
It’s always a challenge for me to explain my work, which always includes images made from very small photographs. My first impulse is to say “Well, it’s all about perspective.” But I think that would be too simple. Of course perspective matters, it’s what makes all of our lives look roughly flat and 2D (though not everyone sees things that way; this blog explores another view).
This post explains in detail how the art is made, and other posts explain how it’s designed and printed. You can even see the original photographs used.
If you want to make a living as an artist, you need to do two things: get your art in front of buyers and make money from it. That’s where trading cards come in.
Trading card artists tend to be very poor, because they earn little or nothing from the art itself until after it is sold first to a collector. And that’s why there are so many bad ones; if you’re not in that category, it’s difficult to understand how badly you’d benefit if everyone stopped buying your cards.
The business works by two basic principles: you sell your artwork at a low price and then buy back the same amount of cards at a high price. The price you pay for the artwork is less than the value of the cards, but that makes your buying back the cards less expensive than buying them at face value. This can work out OK; some artists make money by selling their cards more than once.
Trading cards are a unique art form, in which the artist has no control over the finished product. The artist simply shows an idea: what could be done with that particular subject, whether it’s Simba and Timon from The Lion King, or one of the many characters from Final Fantasy VI.
The publisher looks at the card illustration, sees a possible drawing they can use in their game, and then tells the artist what they want to see. After a brief period of negotiation, the artist makes two versions on paper. One is for approval; the other is for printing. They don’t know what gets approved because it’s a surprise.
It takes enormous discipline to get through this process without throwing up or losing your cool.
I don’t know if the statement is true or not, but it sounds like an interesting idea. I’ve suggested a few times that the way to make trading cards work would be to make them not like trading cards at all.
If you are making a card game, simply put the rule inside the card. Everyone can find out how to play in a few minutes, and then they can play against other players over the Internet instead of playing against each other.