In Comic-book culture, there’s been a long tradition of doing convention sketches for fans and collectors. Back in the 70’s and 80’s, these used to be quick and free, but thanks to the secondary market, they have evolved into what can be occasionally both expensive and elaborate. If you are a comic artist set up at a convention, there is usually an expectation that you will be doing commissions. This is usually a pretty good source of supplemental income, and it can be thoroughly satisfying to see a fan’s reaction to a well executed piece. On the other hand, you are making art in a high-pressure situation, sometimes submerged in unfavorable conditions. It’s noisy. It’s busy. It’s loud. Convention centers are notoriously cold. Maybe you’re hung over. None of that matters, because someone just paid you half a weeks’ salary to do a sketch of Kraven the Hunter, so by god, you better deliver, sailor.
I’ve often found it demanding to do my best work this way. Some of these artists cut through those sketches like Aragorn whacks his way through a herd of scarred and stinking ogres, yet other artists experience a feeling akin to taking a final exam without even remembering they were enrolled in the class. Some artists hack them out with a sharpie, because it’s just a convention sketch, right? Like most art pursuits, I’ve carved my way into making acceptable sketches through mileage, brute force, and a few abject and disgraceful failures. Ok- I can already tell I need to lighten up.
You gotta think fast. There are some formulations that always work- Batman on a gargoyle, Hellboy being assaulted by an octopus (this only really happend once in the comic but it’s 90% of the convention sketches for some reason), or maybe Nightcrawler emerging from a cloud of foul-smelling smoke, ready to dish out some violence with a clever smile on his face. Some artists only do busts instead of full figures. Some artists do full cover-quality illustrations, while still taking time to sign books and review portfolios. Some do sports-card sized little head shots. For my last batch, I wanted to push what I could do, either from a narrative perspective or technique-wise. I used every inking trick I know and tried to over-deliver. I forgot how good that feels. Here are a few I did for New York Comic Con last month. They are all quite small- 6×9 inches. These are raw scans/photos.