Everyone exists on a spectrum of the desire to communicate.  Some choose to avoid society altogether and live in a bunker in the woods, while others post their private moments and stories on the internet and TV for all to see.  Your ability to get in contact with any given person will be largely dependent on where they fall on this spectrum, and, for those trying to track down a specific person for a specific purpose, that can be quite the challenge.

Magic Art and signed card collectors will quickly run into this problem.  Whether it be a prolific artist that prefers to avoid the con scene and doesn’t publish their address, or an artist of a single card that has since moved on from Magic and wants nothing to do with it, you will run into situations where the common avenues of contact will dry up and contact will seem impossible.

In the summer of 2012, I was in that position.  After tracking down every artist website and email I could find, I had only scratched the surface of the 500+ artists that have illustrated for Magic.  Sure, I had found some great pieces and added to my collection, but the mystery of what was still out there would not release me.  Greener pastures, wanting to know what was behind door #3, whatever it was, I wanted to go deeper to find more art.

Dive I did and I’m still astonished at what I uncovered with a bit of luck and a lot of effort.

It Takes Money to… Find Art?

Envelopes (including Return letter) – $0.04

Stamps (including Return postage) – $0.92

Paper & Ink – $0.04

Uncovering an Artist most had thought impossible to contact – Priceless

Turns out, in the digital age, sometimes resorting to the basics works out.  That was my thought last summer at least, as I raided Costco for bulk stamp books and envelopes in preparation for a mailing blitz that I had high hopes for.  The plan was to get a letter out to every artist that I had so far been unable to contact, along with a list of my favorite pieces of theirs, and then see what happens.

Was I expecting a 100% response rate?  No.

Was I secretly hoping that would happen any way because I was so super awesome?  Maybe, but I blame that on rampant narcissism in today’s culture.

I’ve written before about what my approach to collecting was at the time.  By that summer, I had gone full octopus and was trying find and secure as many great pieces as I could with no underlying theme.  To aid that, I armed myself with an arsenal of letters and aimed at those more reclusive artists that had so far evaded me.   $150 later and some dry salivary glands later, the letters were on their way, so I kicked back and waited for the anticipated flood of replies.

An Aside on Finding Addresses

Not to interrupt, but for those that want to ever try something similar, in your search for art or artists, here are a few good locations to track down addresses:

Magic Traders (last updated July 2012)

WotC Mothership (last updated in 2007)

If you fail to find the artist contact info that you were looking for, you can always resort to the approach I went for and use the “Care of Wizards of Coast” tactic.

Simply address an envelope to:

(Insert Chosen Artist Name)

C/O Wizards of the Coast

PO Box 707

Renton, WA 98507-0707

My recommendation is to include a signed letter with your message/request along with a self addressed return envelope with postage attached.  Yes, it’s double the cost, but you aren’t picking daisies here, tracking down artists requires commitment.  Gosh Darnit!

As for how successful you can expect to be in contacting an artist with the above C/O Wizards approach, read on.

Waiting is the Hardest Part

You know that feeling you get when you really want something to happen but since you never know when or if it will occur you can’t determine how you should feel about it at any given time?  It doesn’t make sense to get disappointed since it probably just needs more time, but then again, you can’t get too hopeful because the resulting disappointment will just be all the worse.

Yep, I turned checking the mailbox into a Schrodinger’s cat dilemma.  For weeks after I mailed out the letters, each trip to retrieve the mail was a test of the “did they”/”did they not” reply hypothesis.  In the beginning, I was heavily weighted towards “they did”, but as month 2 rolled around without a single return letter, my inner pessimist had taken control.  The cat was always dead, the disappointment ever present.

Until it wasn’t.

The first letter wasn’t much, just a response saying that all of their art was sold, but it was something.  Of the 120+ letters I sent out, I had gotten a handful of responses 3 months later.  Over time that number approached 20 replies, so if you ever do go for a blanket letter writing campaign-a-palooza like mine, I would expect around a 17% response rate.  Sample size of one and I’ve got my answer.  Science!

Did I end up uncovering the vast treasure trove of un-purchased Alpha paintings that just happened to be lying around that I was hoping for?  No, but I did find some gems in recompense.

Six months after I sent out the written barrage, I received an email response from Rick Farrell, artist of Shadowmage Infiltrator and Diabolic Tutor.  Not only did he end up having everything sitting in a closet, ready for purchase, he turned out to be a great guy as well.  Openly talking with me about his history with Magic and where his career started and has gone since then, that letter was the key to unlocking his story and I’m so grateful that he took the time to respond.

Zuberi, Golden FeatherThe longest response time absolutely goes to Alan Rabinowitz, clocking in at a full year between licking the envelope and hearing back from him.  After finding Rick, I was fairly certain that the well I had dug with my past campaign was dry.  Fast forward to the 12 month mark and I get a random email response from a guy named Alan saying how much he appreciated my letter and that his art was still available.  After taking a second to remember who this Alan character was, I replied and we played email tag for a few more months before finally working out a deal for one of his pieces.

Not only was I able to add to expand the Elf collection with Natural Order, but I was able to get several friends in contact with him who also purchased some of his available pieces.  My experience with Alan greatly reinforced the idea of emphasizing patience in my collecting efforts as you never know what you might get when you throw out a line in the water, or how long it might take to get it.  Just as with Rick, Alan was great to talk to and if it had not been for that “C/O Wizards of the Coast” letter and year’s worth of patience, I would never have been able to make it happen.

Now, would I define Alan and Rick as hermits?  Hardly.

Both have functioning and updated websites and, once contact was achieved, they were quick to respond and pleasant to deal with.  Artists are busy people.  Most illustrations don’t pay the big bucks so they are constantly looking for new work.  Replying to a request that may or may not involve selling an original is going to take a back seat to putting reliable food on the table from corporate clients.  Just because I use terminology like hermits or imply artists remove themselves from the public, it is typically because all of their time and manpower is already 1000% allocated.

Was I lucky that they replied?  Definitely, but luck is seldom enough.

I know many have tried to get in contact with both artists in the past to no avail, yet I was fortunate enough to have caught them at the right time.  Luck always has some part, but fortune favors the prepared.  If I had not spent the time and treasure on my arsenal of mailers, I would never have had the chance to find out.

More Than One Way to Track Down a Hermit

In the years I have been collecting art, I have used a variety of methods, from letter writing campaigns to email extravaganzas, I’ve tried it all.  Nothing works all of the time, but some things works some of the time.

Here are a few extra places you might try looking if you haven’t already:

    • Deviant Art – Many artists, especially the newer mixed media artists have profiles and post regularly here.  I’ve never had much luck contacting artists on the site, but then again I only tried a couple of times.  Friends have reported success, so might as well give it a shot
    • CGHub – Since this site is for Digital art it’s rare that you will run into an artist here that has originals for sale, but if you are looking for sketches of digital work I would not pass this site up
    • Facebook – From directly contacting the artists, to viewing their pages and more recently to joining the Magic and Art related groups, Facebook is a resource that can’t be passed up for any dedicated collector.  I have bought and sold art, tracked down otherwise un-contactable artists and much more through Facebook.  If you don’t have a Facebook account yet, get one, your grandmother is waiting for you by now.
    • LinkedIn – This is just based on the links I see on searches and accounts from friends, but many artists, especially freelancers, have profiles on LinkedIn and can be contacted there.  I don’t feel I would get enough out of the service and haven’t bit the bullet to become a full member, but if you already have an account there for work, I would definitely reach out to any artists you find there.

I don’t want to give away all my secrets, but for the most part those few extra destinations along with the staples of email and artist websites will get you most of the way there.  In the end,  it comes down to being willing to put the time and effort into the search.  As with everything that matters in life, the more effort you put in and the more focus you apply, the more you can accomplish in the end.

I wish everyone reading this good luck in your efforts and I can’t wait to see what you uncover in the future.