To obtain approval for a card design, artists will often send in a preliminary pencil sketch to the Art Directors at Wizards. These range from quick concept sketches to fully rendered and shaded illustrations. For artists that finish their art in digital media, these sketches represent the only physical original of their work. While the idea of owning paintings of Magic art is becoming more mainstream, I still run into plenty of hesitation with regards to these original pencil drawings.
One of the questions I receive most often about potentially collecting original Magic sketches is how to properly display and care for them. Consider this article my attempt at a guide for curious collectors.
Hard Learned Lessons
After collecting original sketches for a few years, I’ve run into a few of the pitfalls of the hobby and thought I might share them here:
- Avoid smudges at all costs. If you are handling drawings, ensure that your hands are clean and dry or, even better, use some archival gloves to avoid oils being transferred to the material. I’ve had some close calls in the past and always keep a pair handy when I get my sketches out.
- Be Careful! Some of these sketches are on 20 year old tracing paper and are prone to cracking and tearing. When handling the papers, ensure that your work area is clear of catch points and pay attention to your surroundings. Errant tape from packaging has nearly elevated some existing tears to disastrous proportions on several occasions.
- Ask the artist to apply a fixative to the drawing before purchase. This will reduce the chance of damage during shipping and make the piece easier to handle. Fixatives can darken the image, but as we are typically dealing with line drawings, this should not be a significant source of concern.
- Valuation of Sketches can be tricky. Valuing sketches follows a general trend of about 1/10th of what the painting would sell for. For primarily digital artists, this rule of thumb breaks down, as they tend to apply a premium to the drawings as there is no other physical original.
- Whether framing or storing your sketches, always use archival, acid-free materials. Paper is highly susceptible to yellowing over time, so it is imperative that you take every measure to safeguard your art.
Framing the sketches is an obvious choice, and the route that I chose when I first started collecting Magic art.
After meeting Matt Cavotta at Gen Con some years ago, I purchased two paintings and he was generous enough to add in several pencil sketches, including some of his digital work. Treating them like any of the other paintings I had acquired, I took them to Micheal’s for custom framing.
As you can see I went a bit overboard with the framing of Takeno, Samurai General. I was just so excited that Matt had sold me the sketch, the painting, and some artist proofs, that I wanted to take full advantage and display them all together. While the framing bill was the highest I’ve ever paid for Magic art, the unique approach cemented the piece in my collection.
I’ve since framed more sketches, individually and with prints, to mixed degrees of success. Overall, I’ve found that it is a great idea for a specific and meaningful piece, but it is simply too costly to justify framing more than a few drawings.
When framing original sketches, there are several key factors you must consider when choosing materials:
- Pencil drawings will fade in direct sunlight. Ensure that your glass is UV resistant. Most off the shelf frames will not have such protection and use of them will endanger your original art.
- Give your sketches room to breath. Just like paintings, pencil and ink drawings require air circulation to prevent moisture damage. Matting sufficient to provide 1/8″ of space will provide this breathing room. With standard mats at 1/16″, double matting is your best bet for long term safety.
- Use the proper materials. Ensure that all mats, tape, and other materials that will be in contact with the sketch are Archival quality and Acid-Free. If it doesn’t say as such on the packaging, consider it insufficient for the task.
- Keep it simple. Since most sketches are going to be in pencil, you don’t have to worry about fancy framing set ups. A simple black frame and white matting will allow the drawing to take center stage.
When you have sketches that you don’t want to go to the expense of framing, you still need to store them properly to ensure their integrity and prevent damage. In my experience, the best way to store sketches is in an art portfolio using photo corners to secure the drawing on the page.
There are several options for portfolios and corners available in our Amazon store. Personally, I use two sizes of portfolios; 9″x12″ for standard size sketches and 13″x19″ for large scale and oddly shaped drawings. You can always use the larger of the two for standard sized papers, but it doesn’t look as aesthetically pleasing with that much blank space on the borders.
As I did with framing sketches, here are a few tips for properly storing your sketches:
- Portfolio or no portfolio, keep them safe. While you can use alternatives like acid-free cardboard backers or file folders, I’ve found that the portfolio is the best way to store a collection of drawings and color studies. Regardless of the method, you must ensure that your storage system will not damage the paper over time and ruin your art.
- Avoid the Creeping Mold. For goodness sake, keep your sketches in a cool, dry place, away from potential moisture, sunlight or heat damage. As these drawings age, they will become more and more susceptible to damage, especially if they are not stored in a safe location.
- Consider Matting. If you are going to be displaying your sketches, consider matting them to keep the drawing out of contact with the storage medium as they are moved. Even with a portfolio, you can still get smudges if the pages are turned often and vigorously enough. Charcoal drawings are especially prone to this and should be handled with care.
Collecting original Magic, paintings or sketches, is a very rewarding hobby. Recapturing memories of games played with friends or meaningful moments in your life, all tied to a single image, it’s surprising how far the art of Magic has ingrained itself in our experiences. Original sketches, coming before the paintings and final illustrations we are familiar with, give us a window into the artist’s creative process. While, to some, not as flashy as the final painting, they are still just as unique and play their own role in creating the world of Magic.
Hopefully this guide will make you more comfortable with the idea of owning and collecting original sketches and will ensure that they are properly cared for. If you have any tips or ideas for future articles in this series, make sure to let me know in the comments.