Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Industry Interview: Rich A. Molinelli, Sketch Card Artist

As I posted about a couple of weeks ago, Topps looks like they're about to push sketch cards, featuring original drawings. Sketch cards are set to appear in both 2008 Topps Updates and Highlights Baseball and 2008 Stadium Club.

Rich A. Molinelli has been working on sketch cards for a while now, contributing art to sets centered around such licenses as Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, Marvel and DC Comics, C.S.I., Indiana Jones and The Lord of the Rings. He's also done work for TK Legacy's football lines and appeared in the recently released 2008-09 Upper Deck Legends Masterpieces Hockey.

Molinelli was very gracious to answer a few questions about his work and what sports collectors can expect from this non-sport staple.

What drew you into illustration as a professional? (no pun intended)
HA! Well, I have always loved cartoons and comic books. So when I was younger I was always being taken to the comic store or Toys "R" Us by my mother and my uncle to get cool Thundercats, He-man or Batman merchandise. Being a guy with NO ATHLETIC ability other than being able to knock down anyone I want too with my size, I chose drawing over the more popular football. Pro Wrestling also has a huge impact on my life as guys like Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior, with their larger-than-life characters, always had me creating fantasy worlds in my mind.

How would you describe your style?
Well I don't know. I used to say Bruce Timm with a little Japanese Anime thrown in, but as of late I have been taken more turns towards realistic artwork with a comic flair. Depends on what the job calls for. The MLB sets for Topps were a really nice challenge, as I had to nail the likeness or presence of the player in order to get the card across. Whereas, say for a set like Fantastic Four, I can stretch my wings and take the time to come up with my own poses and look for the characters.

How did you get started with sketch cards?
Actually, I used to post on Deviantart and DigitalWebbing very often. Went to a lot of conventions, but I have to give major props to Cat Staggs, as if she hadn't introduced me to the world of Topps Sketch cards, who knows what I may be doing now? Heck at the time I got the job I was living off commissions, and that was very plentiful for someone relatively unknown in the comic book field.

What were your experiences with sports art prior to the upcoming Topps baseball sets?
I had two other sports run-ins before the Baseball set. I had just finished working on 08-09 NHL Legends Masterpieces from Upperdeck. I contributed 50 sketch cards to this great release and I didn't think it could get any better until Topps contacted me to work on Stadium Club and Updates and Highlights. I had also done some work for TK Legacy on their college football licenses. That ended about 6 months in and I was later replaced by my good friend Jim Kyle as their resident sketch card artist. Jim is uber talented and I hope to see him doing some sports cards for Topps soon enough.

What sorts of references did you use to select the images for Topps’ upcoming baseball sets?
We were given high resolution files from Topps, but really MLB was easy enough for me. Myself and fellow MLB sketch card artist Brian Kong had tons of references, and I used magazines and the world wide web. I also have a huge Baseball card collection, that I used for reference. I tired to stick to old timers for Stadium Club, Gary Carter, Nolan Ryan, Reggie Jackson, Mickey Mantle and Cal Ripken Jr. to name a few.

Did you use any “famous” photos or old cards as references?
Gary Carter, I have a very extensive collection of his cards, but I am truly a Topps baseball Carter collector. If their is a card from when he played I have it.

Do you have any favourite players to work on? If so, do these correspond with your favourite teams and players?
::chuckles:: Yeah I picked any and all NY Mets players from my list of approved players. Jose Reyes, David Wright, Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran, Gary Carter and Nolan Ryan all made their way onto my cards from the releases. So if they were a NY Met at one time I found a way to draw them in that uniform.

From the Topps sketches you did, do you have any favourites collectors might want to look for?
Well, the Stadium Club cards are my favorites. I got to do some nice compositions on them and I love each and everyone of them. If collector's are looking for color though, my returned 8 cards are the ONLY color cards I did for the sets and each card I got back in my returns are true 1 of 1 cards as no other version of it exists in the sets. If you are looking for more classic ball players or legends Stadium Club is for you. Updates and Highlights I did modern day players and will really go over well I feel with today's baseball fans.

How is working on baseball sketch cards different from your work in non-sports? Do you consider it any harder or easier?
It's much more difficult, but not so difficult that it hurts the dun aspect of the work. For sets like Star Wars, Indiana Jones or Lord of the Rings I can take those characters and put them in any situation in the movie and make it my own. Complete Avengers, DC Legacy or Marvel Masterpieces I can create the picture from my own vision. The baseball cards were more difficult because these things I were creating were based off real-life events that have already happened and hold a special memory for millions of people. I did a card of Cal Ripken's walk around after he beat the most consecutive games played record and I was so nervous I wasn't doing it justice. It was like getting to add my own vision to the a piece of Sports history.

What sorts of limitations did you have on what players you could select? Poses?
As I said before they sent me a list of players on a cd and I stayed true to that list. I would have loved to draw more legends like Don Mattingly or Keith Hernandez, but maybe if there is a next set, these guys will be on that list.
As far as poses go we had full reign to draw them doing anything baseball related.

What kind of a response are you hoping to get from sports card collectors as they begin to get their first sketch cards?
I'm hoping excitement. Honestly I feel that this is a HUGE step for Topps to take. Baseball collectors have been asking for something new for a long time now and I feel that this really delivers to them. It reminds me of the Donruss Diamond Kings inserts from back in the 80s and how excited everyone was for those. So I'm hoping collectors get really excited for this release and future ones, well assuming there are future ones. ;)

If you're not into the players in the Topps sets or you can't manage to find one busting packs, Molinelli is available for commissions where you can request any players you like in whatever size you need. Generally, his price is $25 per card plus shipping. If you're interested in a commission, you can email Molinelli directly at

As part of their payment, sketch artists also get a select number of their sketches back. As stated above, Molinelli's eight "artist's proofs" from 2008 Topps Updates and Highlights Baseball (pictured below) are his only full-color cards. If you're interested in one of them, contact him and he'll let you know the cost.
Rich's website includes shots of his work should you want to see how his distinct style transfers over to other sets and genres.


tastelikedirt said...

That was interesting. Thanks!

Ingrid said...

Great interview, Mr Molinelli!! Your best work yet!