Don’t Chew With Your Mouth Full

Posted in Feature on June 21, 2006

By Matt Cavotta

Matt has worn many wizard hats in the 18 years he has worked on Magic—art-mage, logomancer, lightning bard, and (of course) Planeswalker.

I received an email this week that suggested an article topic that I probably should have addressed long ago. But it is better late than never. The email, from Thiago Miranda, asked these questions before going on to ask that I write an article on the subject:

  1. What is the etiquette for getting your cards signed at Magic events or Gaming/Comic Book conventions? That is:
    • is there a fee?
    • how many cards are acceptable to ask an artist to sign at a time?
  2. Do artists accept cards to be signed via mail? If so, what is the correct procedure?
    • are there any fees?
    • is the artist website the best place to find addresses?
    • send SASE with the cards?
    • again, what is an acceptable number of cards to mail to an artist at a time (and how often should one do so, etc)?

Wonderful questions – all of them. While I am not going to answer them in the order they were asked, I will get to all of them, and more. Getting cards signed and going to conventions to hob-nob with artists is an entire meal of its own, and it is important that everyone knows the proper etiquette so nobody gets upset and nothing gets spilled, Elbows off the table.

Getting Cards Signed Via Mail

  1. The first thing I want to say about this is to remember that this is a service provided by artists because they are nice people and great ambassadors to the game of Magic. It is a favor to Magic fans, so please don’t treat the whole thing like it is an artist’s duty to sign your cards. Most of the dos and don'ts just have to do with being polite and considerate. Very few artists have other hoops that you must jump through to get your cards signed, (though I think Arnie Swekel demands that all cards are encased in lead – so the government spy cameras cannot see what is in his mail.)
  2. Email first, if possible, to see if it’s okay to send cards and if so, how many is acceptable. Many artists, yours truly included, are happy to sign cards but may, from time to time, have something going on that keeps them from signing cards for a while. Just because you or someone you know has had cards signed by a particular artist before does not mean they are able to do it this time. Be considerate and inquire first.
  3. Start small. It is a good idea to send just a dozen or so cards the first couple times. This gives you a chance to see how the artist responds and determine if he or she is open to a bigger bunch. It’s like when you meet a new pal; in the first few months you can ask for a lift to work or change for the meter, but not for bail money or to hide some stolen diamonds.
  4. Humanize the process: write a note to send along with your cards. There have definitely been times when I felt like the President’s signature machine, mechanically cranking out the John Hancock for some faceless card collector from Whoknowswhere. It is nice to hear a little bit about you as we scribble on your cards.
  5. Packaging your cards correctly is an important key to card signing success. Not only does it show that you are considerate of the artist’s busy schedule, but it also keeps your cards from getting destroyed or left in a pile at the bottom of the artist’s closet.
    Most important of all is the SASE (Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope). This requires a little work on your part. In addition to the cards and your friendly note to the artist, you must also include the SASE - complete with enough paid postage to get it back to you. (A good way to do this is to put the same number of stamps on the SASE as you did on the package to the artist. If it’s enough to get there, it’s enough to get back.)
    Be sure to write legibly - you don’t want your cards lost in the postal void because no one could read the chickenscratch. Also, when addressing your SASE, do not put the artist’s address as the return address. If there is postal confusion (illegible address or insufficient postage), you want the package coming back to you, This way, you pay the extra postage and get your goodies back. I would guess that the artist is not all that excited to pay extra to have your cards back, then pay more to mail them to you again.
    This is probably a good time to mention the very real possibility that cards you send out may not make it back to you. A lot of things can go wrong (postal machine eating your envelope, envelope addressed incorrectly, artist annoyed by inconsiderate packaging uses cards as coasters.) It is usually wise to mail only the cards that you are not deeply attached to.
    Last, it is also important that you use the right packaging materials. Don’t overstuff envelopes, they’ll get stuck in the post office machines. Don’t send cards in plastic boxes - they’ll break. Bubble Pack envelopes are usually the best for bunches of 20 or more cards. For small amounts of cards, regular envelopes have always seemed to do the trick. If you’re worried about them getting wet - put ‘em in a sandwich baggie and then in the envelope. (Sleeving cards is a good way to protect them, but also a way to annoy some artists. If you do sleeve your cards, do not sleeve them individually - it’s really annoying to have to desleeve 20 or more cards before signing them.
    Good packaging is all about consideration (Okay, and protecting your cards too). You want to do whatever you can to make it easy on the other end. The artist should be able to open your package, sign your cards, put them back in your SASE, and pop it in his or her mailbox. The last thing you want is to make the artist leave his or her home to get your cards back to you. (Hint: They almost never leave their homes unless it is for food or comic books. Those cards would likely never be seen again.)
  6. “How long should I expect to wait for my cards?” Put it this way - if you need them for a tournament next month, or really for anything at all in the next…well, at all, don’t send them. I try not to let cards gather dust too long, but I must admit that I get to them only when there is no work to be done. It is very rare that there is no work to be done. It’s card signing roulette - if you get lucky and mail in your stuff right as a job is ending, then you could get your goodies back in a couple weeks. If you’re not lucky, it could be a few months. This is another good reason to start small (see number 3 above). If the artist is a procrastinator, you’ll know it, and you’ll know not to send your collection of 56 foil Hundroogs because you have trouble sleeping without them standing guard at the foot of your bed.

Dealing With Artists At Conventions and Tourneys

First of all I want to let it be known that artists are almost never paid to appear at cons. In some cases they are paying to be there. For many artists, selling art on the con circuit is a significant part of their livelihood. Please respect that the artist may be there to do more than just sign cards. (It is a real downer to have some schmo walk up to my table, drop his pile of cards in front of me, and then look at me wondering why I have no hopped to it yet. It’s no joke, this happens more often than it you’d think. In hours one to three or so of a ten hour day of signing, I would just brush it off and sign the cards. But I am human (except for the cytoplasts, of course), and this sort of rudeness can get under my skin like Riot Spikes. Toward the end of the day, I’d probably deal with this by having a silent staring contest with the guy until he asked me to sign the cards or took them away in bewilderment. Don’t be that guy.

  1. Say hi. This may not seem like much, but it keeps the above scenario from playing out and I makes us feel less like the Presidential signature machine I spoke of earlier.
  2. Ask the artist to sign your cards. Again, it seems like a given that the artist is there to sign cards, but sometimes he or she is there to showcase and sell art or to do self-promotion. This, in addition to saying hello, will start you off on the right foot and keep you out of staring contests.
  3. Have your cards signed in small amounts. If there’s a line, pick your 12-20 faves and then come back when the line dwindles. Everybody in line wants a chance to get their cards signed. Often, people only have a short while ‘til they have to leave or the next round of the tourney starts. Don’t bogart the artist’s time with a towering stack of cardboard. If there’s no one in line, bust out the tower and ask if the artist is willing to attack it.
  4. This is a No Chalupa zone.Take your cards out of the binder before you get to the table. There are two good reasons for this – 1) People are probably waiting behind you. 2) People often flop their binders and card cases on the artist’s table where valuable prints and original art is displayed. It is very rude and, in some cases, destructive to drop your goods on top of an artist’s work. While artists are generally easy-going folks, mess with their babies (meaning their art… or their babies) and they’ll let lose with Urza’s Rage. Similarly, keep your Chalupas and Dr. Peppers off of the artist’s table. Spill salsa on an original painting and things could get ugly.
  5. Be a pal and chat with the artist while he or she is scribbling away.
  6. Say thank you. It means a lot to us. Remember – the artists are mostly human - they won’t bite (except for Jarvis) and appreciate kindness and courtesy.

Drawings on Binders, Cards, Artist Proofs, and Playmats

  1. Many artists will happily draw for you, but do not expect them all to do it. Some will do it for free, some for a fee. Feel like the artist is on the fence about it? Buy something from him. This oils the doodle-hand and shows the artist that you really appreciate their work and their willingness to draw for you. Understand that the ones who do not draw for free are not being cold or mean - they are protecting the thing that they do for a living, drawing. We do not run around expecting doctors to sew up cuts for free, and we should not expect artists to draw for free.
  2. Oh yeah, all the rules about saying hello and asking and being nice apply here as well.
  3. Don’t ask the artist to draw for you when the line is long. You’ll get a better drawing when the artist does not feel pressured to move the line along (and it’s more considerate of the folks behind you too). Come back when there’s a lull and you’ll be glad you did (and so will the artist).
  4. Don’t leave your stuff up at the artist table. I used to let people do this, but I don’t anymore. Too many times I have had to leave before the binder/playmat’s owner returned. I have no idea if the thing made it back to its owner, was stolen, or was thrown away. If you want your stuff, keep it with you. If you want your stuff drawn on, hang with the artist while he or she draws on your stuff. You won’t lose your goodies, and you can chat with the artist. Effective and polite!
  5. Unless you’re really dead-set on a particular thing - let the artist draw what he or she likes. I guarantee you’ll get better results this way. Artists do their best work when they follow the muse of the moment, not when the 81st person asks for another multicolored cat on his binder. (I was at Pro Tour--Chicago and every kid and his buddy asked me to draw Noble Panther on his card/playmate/tee shirt/forehead. As the day wore on, and I got more and more tired of that cat, the drawings started mutating and degrading until I kept myself sane by giving the cat wings or a toupee or a Bears helmet. The people who let me draw whatever I wanted were not only getting better drawings, were contributing to my mental health as well.)
  6. Not all artists “customize” cards (drawing hats/swords/lollipops and what-have-you on the card art). Ask nicely and, if the answer is “no” or “not right now”, accept the answer nicely.
  7. Doodles on artist proofs are not built in to the price. Sure, the white backs are just begging for doodles, but do not expect all artists to do this for free. Ask nicely. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Other times, however, it may take the help of a few dead presidents.

* * * * * * *

As I said before, many of the artists you meet at cons are there to earn a living. While you may be there just to get cards signed, please respect that the artist may be there for business as well as signing cards. If you want a huge pile of cards signed, or drawings on your artist proof cards, or a customized playset of Niv-Mizzets, or a drawing of the Golgari guild symbol on your bald head, the way to get what you want from the art peeps is to give a little in return. Buying stuff from the artists works for you and for the artist. You get a better drawing of Lord of the Pit on your Ultra-Pro case, and the artist is happier doing it. It helps pay for the artist’s travel expenses and booth fee - now she’s willing to come back next year and you get to have more cards signed. Also, at the very root of it all, this lets the artist know that their sweat and toil is appreciated.

(When I do cons, I welcome subsistence offers just as happily as I welcome the purchase of my art. Fellas have received extra-dandy drawings on their playmats when they offer to bring me treats. Chocolate chip cookies have been known to result in free Artist Proof cards, doodles, and other goodies. You know the old saying, “chocolate talks.” Okay, I just made that up, but for me, it does.)

Artists are there for you - to make your experience with Magic and fantasy gaming/art more rich and deep. But remember, they are not employees, they are your pals – and pals do things for each other. Artists will sign your cards and draw moustachios on your zombie tokens and be-doodle your binders. As the artist's pal, you should do all the things I’ve detailed above. Most importantly, be nice.

Latest Feature Articles


November 15, 2021

Innistrad: Double Feature Product Overview by, Wizards of the Coast

More monsters! More horror! More drafts! More of everything you love about Innistrad arrives January 28, 2022, with Innistrad: Double Feature. Available at your local WPN game store,...

Learn More


November 12, 2021

The Legends of Innistrad: Crimson Vow by, Doug Beyer, Ari Zirulnik, and Grace Fong

We managed to get ahold of the guest list for Innistrad: Crimson Vow, and it's looking kind of wild! We've got faces old and new, fanged and un-fanged, human and . . . uh . . . slime mons...

Learn More



Feature Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All