This article resided for many years at Daydream Graphics, and as it has still proven helpful, I have decided to update and reprint it here now that DDG is gone.
Many Collectible Card Game players enjoy collecting and showing off cards signed by the artist who painted its image. Over the years that I signed by mail I had a very open card signing policy and encountered what I feel are typical mistakes made by card owners in sending their cards to be signed. It is for helping everyone involved that this how-to is written. These mistakes are often innocent, but sometimes quite annoying, and who likes feeling annoyed? Read on and increase your chances of getting your cards back in a timely fashion.
The short message here is: 1.) I am not currently signing by mail, but this article is to help you with those artists that do. 2.) Your #1 goal is to make sure the artist can sign and return the cards to you with the absolute minimum of hassle 3.) Be considerate with an artist's time, as these are usually done for free.
Now for the longer article.
SENDING CARDS THROUGH THE MAIL
Start small - Some artists don't mind signing 70 cards in one go, but often it'll mean your cards will take longer to return, if they return at all--an artist may get a bit upset at huge stacks of cards sent on a first attempt--especially if the faux pas is compounded by other mistakes. Start with up to, say, a dozen of your favorite cards. And please, until you know how a chosen artist deals with card requests do not send cards you couldn't stand losing the first time around! Perhaps include a little returnable card where the artist can fill in whether they sign repeat card requests and if so how many per request--this would be a very considerate, helpful gesture. Once you know how long an artist takes and that they will sign more cards, you can risk more expensive cards. If you can get a hold of the artist via email, ask them ahead of time if they sign, and how many cards per batch.
Packaging - Thick stacks of cards in plastic box cases, in standard letter envelopes have a habit of sticking in mail sorting machines. I received a few badly damaged packages of this type. Small amounts of cards in standard envelopes work fine overall, and for larger stacks those bubble pack envelopes are wonderful. Never had a problem with them. And please, please, please--don't sleeve each card individually. Nothing makes me put off a signing request like 30 cards, each in their own little sleeve. If you're worried about getting your cards wet, try one of those little plastic boxes in a bubble pack envelope. Or, stuff a few sleeves with multiple cards. Better yet, don't sleeve 'em at all and put the cards in a folded, taped piece of paper.
Addressing - There is really only one thing to say about this--include a Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope (SASE) and write on it legibly. Do not put the artist's address as the return address on your SASE- if you didn't put enough postage or something else goes wrong, it'll go to you and you'll have to pick up the tab on the postage--otherwise we get the letter back and have to deal with it. If I get letters returned it takes a long time to run it down to the post office, if I ever do. Your goal is to allow the artist to send your cards back from home. Artists aren't usually happy to run down to the post office just to buy postage for your cards. Not to mention some artists don't live very close to a post office!
Other niceties - We both know what an envelope of cards is for. Let me tell you though, most artists I've met (and that's a lot) don't mind signing cards, and others actually get a kick from it. But nothing annoys artists almost across the board than just an envelope of cards and an SASE (and sometimes we don't even get that). We're going to spend a bit of time signing your cards, repackaging them and making sure they get home. You'll get a nice collectible that you can enjoy or trade. At least include a post-it note *asking* for the cards to be signed. Tell the artist something about yourself, offer some praise about their art. Just be polite. Artists want to like fans, and learning a little about you is nice. We can't help but feel a bit used at impersonal stacks of cards. If an artist regularly signs stacks of cards for you, include a little more info about yourself or what your friends/family thought of your signed collection. One guy had sent me maybe a dozen card sign requests, and each one had a handwritten note, exact to the word each time which said "I'm ___, from ___, please sign my cards," like I wouldn't remember who he is. And then there were the ones who printed out a generic request line multiple times on a page. You could tell, because it was a thin slip of paper torn off a standard sheet. You could tell they were just accompanying multiple mailings to different artists.
Be patient and understand the risks - Card signing requests can take from a few weeks to a year or more to be returned. Really. Things that can influence this time--popularity/schedule of the artist, number of cards sent, was an SASE enclosed for the proper postage, international requests (see below), special requests, and more. This is partly why you want to start small. If you send a ton of power cards, you may be out of power cards for a loooong time if not permanently. Even if an artist has returned cards to you in the past never assume you'll get the cards back. Unless you have some business deal set with the artist there is no guarantee the artist will return the cards within any period of time. Most try to get them back, but I can think of a dozen reasons why an artist may forget a card signing to the point where the envelope simply disappears, never to be found. Again, the easier you make it to sign your cards the better your chances of them getting returned quickly.
SENDING CARDS THROUGH THE MAIL - INTERNATIONALLY
Postal considerations - Postage for you international types is going to make returning your cards more difficult. Don't despair--here are some postage tips. CANADA--your postage is useless in the USA, so do not put Canadian postage or stamps in or on your SASE. Sorry, but you have the same problems as people from Singapore. Your best bet (especially for those who send out lots of card requests to lots of artists) is to send standard numbers of cards, find out what one packet costs in US postage when an artist returns one, and try to acquire US stamps in that exact amount. You can use the USPS Shipping Calculator--get an accurate weigh of a sealed envelope (with SASE inside) as a test, and use it to figure out the Airmail rate from their ZIP code to your country. If you have any friends or family in the States, try to get them to send you lots of stamps, or try to buy what you need online. I guarantee you'll get your cards back sooner and more often if you can accomplish having your SASE pre-stamped in US postage. Remember the goal above about keeping us from having to go to the post office! Barring that, here are some other options, remembering that these are all less favorable options because they probably require a trip to the post office. That's always going to be a big issue.
Cash - I can't really recommend sending cash as it has the usual dangers but a dozen cards sent internationally costs about a buck to send, and I've had some people include a dollar in their envelope. This works, but I'd hate to have someone accuse me of ripping them off--especially if their cards actually cost $3 to send and they only sent $1. You see? I might not have gotten around to sending it off and it seems I ripped you off. Additionally, I may never have gotten your cards, or may have any number of legitimate reasons for not returning them, none of which mean I was out to scam you for your dollar bill. It also puts the onus on the artist to figure out the postage, usually requiring a trip to the post office.
International Reply Coupons (IRC) - The most confusing way, but perhaps your only option. Even some US post offices don't know what to make of them, as they aren't that commonly used. Basically, these are coupons you buy on your end and have your post office stamp in the appropriate box. If done correctly, my post office will give me postage enough for 1oz. of weight per IRC. You see the problem--1oz. Some int'l card requests weigh more to send back. So the artist loses money by sending your cards back. Again, find out what a standard number of cards take to return, and send the correct number of IRCs. Please see this article for more information on IRCs.
Now then, your local post office MUST stamp the IRC--I've gotten unstamped ones and they are worthless. One more tip--the left-hand box has your country's name in it perhaps. Your country's stamp goes in the box with your country's name in it. If your country's stamp goes in the wrong box, they are worthless on our end. So while the IRC could prove to be a solution for you, they are complicated. It would be wise to ask an artist if they accept them.
Remember - Often, if you're from another country, your address names make no sense to us stupid Americans. It is very important that international requesters write as legibly as possible. The French are the worst (best?) offenders in my experience--they have beautiful handwriting that I can't read. If I have to rewrite your address because you didn't send an SASE with it on it I'm likely to mess it up. So I have to clip the part of the letter you wrote on with your address and tape it to an envelope. You see how these things can make a simple request difficult?
HAVING CARDS SIGNED IN PERSON
Sometimes artists are fortunate enough to be able to travel to a tournament, convention, store, or wherever to sign cards. There are still etiquette issues here, primarily in keeping your fellow players/fans from getting annoyed! Remember--we've been flown or driven out, often from far away, specifically to sign your cards and chat, perhaps doodle. So, a list of do's and don'ts for you all:
- Do check the event website ahead of time to see if an artist is coming. If there is no information, email the organizers--maybe they never got around to it. If none was planned and you'd like an artist to come to a local event, ask if it's possible for next time. I can't tell you how many folks have said, "Oh man, I didn't know you were going to be here! I left all my cards (X00 miles away)!" All the while, I had been mentioned on the event website for weeks ahead of time....
- Do check the posted signing schedules. We'd hate for you to miss us.
- Do pick out one to two dozen cards to sign, and please take them out of your binder and sleeves ahead of time.
- Do ask us to dedicate cards or write little messages on them. Just only pick a couple for this kind of treatment.
- It's ok to make a mistake and accidentally give us a card that was illustrated by someone else. Most of us will not, however, sign that card on the front. Don't be upset if we don't. If you have none of our cards, most events have vendors that can provide you with some. Barring that, we usually have some White-Backed Artist Proof cards with us.
- Don't take a huge pile of cards and toss them casually on the table without a word. We're people like you, so at least say hello or acknowledge us. Say more--we're all chatty, even the more physically intimidating of us! Don't be embarrassed by language barriers, we're patient if your English isn't so good, and some of us speak other languages ourselves.
- Do ask if the artist would mind signing more than 1-2 dozen cards. Most will be happy to, but in consideration for those that wouldn't, start with this smaller amount. Don't assume that we're mean for not signing your pile of cards--you don't know if we maybe have arthritic conditions or Repetitive Stress Injuries. We'll sign what we can gladly, but we ultimately need our hands for making art. If you have a lot of cards and the artist has accepted to sign them all, do maybe 20 at a time, then get back in line if there is one behind you. It can take 10 minutes or more to plow through some large stacks, and if the line behind is full of people with 2-3 cards each, that's a little unfair to them.
- Don't toss your binder/box/backpack on the table without looking. Often artists will have valuable prints and sometimes more valuable original artwork on the table for display, and the nicest of us can get awfully upset when you toss your pizza box-sized card container on our $500 painting because you weren't even looking at us, but were talking to your friend the whole time.
- Do ask the artist about their work. Do also be warned that we may talk your ear off.
- If an artist has been particularly kind and helpful, do find the event coordinators and let them know--they'll enjoy hearing it and it may influence their future choices of who to bring along for events. If an artist is difficult or very rude, first try to resolve the matter with the artist and see why they are refusing to draw/sign/whatever for you. If the artist is just being horrible, shows up drunk or high, or something similar, do find the event coordinators and let them know this as well. We're supposed to be there to help you have a fun time, and terrible behavior isn't really acceptable from anyone. Oh and when you find those event coordinators, don't bother them if they are judging a tournament, or look particularly confused or overwhelmed. These people work insane hours at events and often there isn't much left in them when an event starts if they've been working long hours just setting up!
- As a favor to all my artist friends, can I recommend that if you like an artist's work and they've been kind to you, that you buy something from them? Here's a secret many don't know--by and large we are not paid to appear at signings. We are flown out, yes, and in many cases get a small per diem so we can eat and buy travel incidentals. But a trip to sign, especially overseas, is often at least a Thursday-Monday commitment away from our studios and our ability to earn income by working (we get no vacation pay). While at an event, therefore, do have a look at the prints, drawings, paintings, cards, books, whatever an artist has and if you can, consider buying something. Most artists count on earning some income at these events. Some artists have failed to sell enough and so have stopped going to them because they end up losing money vs. staying home.
By all means ask if we can draw on your whatever. Don't assume that we will. Signatures are free, but some artists consider their artwork something they make a living off of and don't feel it is something they can give away. By and large more artists will draw for you than not, it's just a question of whether it's for free. However, don't ask us to draw when there are large lines of people behind you! We need to sign everyone's cards first. After the line dies down, sometimes near the end of a shift we're relatively lonely and that's a great time to ask for your drawing. Please don't ask us to hold on to your T-shirt, binder, or whatever until we can get around to drawing on it. We may give it to the wrong person, we may be asked to do something special by staff instead of a shift, or we may have our times moved and then you'll never get it back. It's happened.
"Make it Funny" / Alterations: Many players have taken to asking for what they might call, "Alterations." I have literally also had this requested as, "Make it funny." What you're typically asking for is a small drawing that changes the printed art in some way (a sword becomes a fishing pole, add a hamster on a character's shoulder, that sort of thing). Can I tell you another secret? Almost to a one, no illustrator I know likes doing these. In fact, most really dislike them and some will deny you. The others may say yes, but because they don't want to seem mean. There are many, many reasons for this. Your best bet is to just not ask, or at least don't be surprised or hurt if the artist either doesn't want to do this, or just does one or two.
Be respectful. At one particular signing, people were asking for sketches quite a lot from the artists present (none of us were charging at the time). Because the sketches were free, the people got ridiculous, to the point where one guy asked us to draw on the dirty, greasy empty pizza box he'd just finished eating his lunch out of. Look, we're no precious artistes, but at some point everyone feels devalued. That was the worst offender, but I've had other disrespectful requests of the sort over the years. So, I and many others have stopped sketching for free. It cuts down on silliness and requests for sketches from people who don't really want them.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I shelled out a lot of money for fans who didn't send postage or enough postage during the years that I signed by mail, which along with the time, were part of what prompted me to stop doing so. And that's just me--many artists are much more famous and likely have much more mail. Also, I enjoy signing your cards in person and often I enjoy drawing for you, as do many of my colleagues, but our opinions on these subjects vary wildly--some artists get very mad and verbal when they feel disrespected, even if most of their fellow artists would disagree with them! The suggestions I've given should help save you time and money, and should help your in-person meetings be even more fun. I look forward to seeing or hearing from you!
DO feel free to pass this article along to others! The links below will help you do so.