Monday, April 25, 2016

The A-To-Z Challenge 2016: How "U" Can Get Sketches

In case you haven't seen my ComicArtFans page . . . no, I don't have any sketches from any artists whose last name starts with "U." Originally, I was thinking of displaying the two Ultron sketches I've collected. Then I was contemplating spotlighting an artist I wound up relegating to "Honorable Mention." With that, I'm thinking of waiting until after April. Instead, I'm going to give you the basics on how to get sketches from artists at shows and events.

What do you need to start? Let's begin with the basics.


The first book I had was spiral-bound. It took me years to get that filled out, and it wasn't made for that. Eventually, the front cover came off due to wear and tear. I graduated to hardcovers after that. They're tougher to scan (I'll get to that later), but you get fewer accidents that way. Also, the page quality is better, and you don't get too many blank pages messed with ink from a prior sketch. I usually get a sketchbook at Barnes & Noble. I also look for inside covers I can write entries in, so I can catalog my collection.

If you can't get a sketchbook, a comic book board will do in a pinch. I've gotten a few sketches on behalf of people who couldn't make it to a con . . . like the time I got a Lenore sketch from Roman Dirge for my friend Nicole. You can also find comic books with blank covers at comic shops and conventions. I try not to pay above cover price if I can help it. According to my CAF account, I've gotten 64 cover sketches. They are addictive for me to collect, especially since I can get two or more commissions done at the same time. One warning about getting blank-covered comics, sketchcards and other "loose" art: be sure to put them in a safe place. I've lost a few items amid the clutter at my place. By comparison, I usually put my sketchbooks on the shelf.


I have to admit . . . it's a little easier for me to go to a show full of artists. I live on Staten Island, NY, which is a ferry ride away from Manhattan, and where I can drive to parts of New Jersey without being too big a trip. The longest commute I had for a con was when I went to Wizard World Philadelphia, where I'd drive 75-90 minutes each way. Eventually, the bigger companies withdrew their presence, I found myself skipping the final day of that con, and I stopped going altogether. I'm also open to driving to cons and staying at the location for a few nights. In addition to taking road trips to Baltimore Comic Con, I also went to my first Doctor Who-themed show last year, Long Island Who in Hauppauge, NY.

A good place to start looking is Convention Scene. Usually, I go to "All Upcoming Events" and use the list view. Sometimes, I get wind of a show that I would have missed. is also useful for finding smaller cons. Even if there are no artists, I would recommend going to an anime-themed show, especially if you want to see a lot of cosplay. You can also check your favorite comic shop's website, as well as those of individual artists. Maybe somebody you like will be in your neck of the woods, and you'd want to meet that person. For me, I found out about AnimeNEXT in Somerset, NJ, while following the abridgements of Yu-Gi-Oh! by Martin Billany, aka LittleKuriboh. I wound up attending that show for one day in 2010; enough for me to get his autograph, as well as four sketches. I kept going back to AnimeNEXT for the full three days through 2015, and I would have gotten an advance ticket for that this year if it didn't move to Atlantic City, which is too far a commute for me. Instead, the Garden State Exhibit Center will be hosting Anime Fan Fest next month. I'm hoping it will be as fun as AnimeNEXT.


Artists have to eat, too. When I first started getting sketches in 2000, I attended two shows unaware of the existence of "Artists Alley." As a result, I didn't pay for a sketch. At larger cons, if you're willing to wait on line, you can get freebies at the booths of the bigger companies. While I don't consider myself to be a "Marvel Zombie," I wound up getting quick sketches at New York Comic Con from "name" artists at no cost. I would have done the same at DC Comics' booth, except they moved their operation from the show floor to the other end of the Javits Center, and they only made their schedule available via app. On the other hand, I lucked into hitting the Titan booth at the right time. They are the official publisher of Doctor Who comics. I wound up getting three freebies, including a long-overdue Captain Jack Harkness.

Getting back to the point . . . you will need money if you want something more detailed. Because I'm not employed, I have yet to break three digits on a single piece. I think the most I've paid was $75. I try to be conservative when it comes to paying, but I tend to hit the ATM while attending a con. I don't negotiate prices . . . at most, I ask the artist about rates if those are not displayed. I usually prefer pencils and inks, though I'll take a headshot over a bust or full body. I don't get special rates from certain artists for being a repeat customer. I always try to be nice to artists. After all, you never know if you'll be going back to them in the future. Why burn bridges?


This is probably the only thing I'm anal about. I am a sloppy mess in most areas of my life, but I'm always ready with material for sketches. Usually, I seek out relevant material via Google Images, paste it in MS Paint, and print that out. I use a color printer, though I think a black-and-white reference can work as well if needed. I don't bring heavy books with me. Instead, I opt for softcovers and manga volumes, with the proper characters bookmarked. Sometimes, the artists have devices to look up references, but I never take that for granted. Looking at my most-viewed sketches, I notice that only one of my top ten did not require references. If you're only interested in getting characters that your artist is familiar with, then you don't have to sweat material. I find that having stuff at the ready gives me more options. At my last show (MoCCA Arts Festival), I gave references to four artists, and then I got a watercolor piece from Priya Huq after seeing Star Wars characters that she was selling. I wound up getting a very nice Rey from her.

Online Presence/Scanner

Since I have little to no artistic ability (ever read my 30-Second Recaps? Brutal stuff), I like showing off my sketches. Once a year, I pay a flat fee to get unlimited storage space on Flickr. In addition to being able to display the pictures I take at cons, I am also able to upload sketches there. That is the site where I have posted most of my sketches from during the A-to-Z Challenge, since I can do so at multiple sizes.

In 2009, I discovered I don't pay for premium access because my needs are basic. I just post what I get, occasionally writing accompanying stuff about it. There was also a chat room that is currently out of commission. From that, I befriended other CAF users and got to see their original art. You can also search artists in order to get a feel for their skills.

When I commute to shows, one of the first things I do after coming home is scan my acquisitions immediately. I don't use anything high-end. I just look for a printer/scanner hybrid that gets the job done. Hardcover sketchbooks are a little more difficult to process . . . I usually have to leave the lid open and press down on the book in order to get the best scan possible. When I'm away from home and want to share my stuff, I try to take a good picture of the sketch and I upload it from my camera. When I get home, I replace that with a scanned sketch.


It's good to have a basic gameplan in place. I find myself juggling visits to artists with panels, food, and general browsing. If I'm at a larger con, I try to time things where I don't have to spend a lot of time on line. When I am on line, I kill time by reading. Manga and magazines make for lightweight material. When dealing with an independent artist, I usually leave my cell phone number with him/her, so that I can get a text when my commission is complete. This is an area where improvisation is key, because a lot can happen over time.


If you look through my CAF account, you'll notice that I have a wide array of sketches. Some people devote their sketchbooks to individual themes. I started out getting sketches of characters that the artists were currently drawing, but I eventually had ideas for running themes. I never find myself that hellbent to complete a theme, but I like getting them drawn out as soon as I can think of them. Over this past month, you've noticed that I've gotten sketches based on particular shows, comics and manga/anime. Here are a few examples:

South Park characters as Lanterns

Emotions from Inside Out (all acquired at New Jersey Comic Expo 2015)

Characters from Death Note

Characters from Fullmetal Alchemist

Characters from Yu-Gi-Oh!

Superman (I like starting off a book with the Man of Steel)

Characters from Doctor Who

Transformers I owned as a kid (I never got Slag the Dinobot, but he was the robot Triceratops I wanted the Doctor to ride)

I'd like to know what you're into, whether you're starting to collect sketches or have done so for years. Stories, themes, fails . . . drop me a line in the comments section. Happy hunting!

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