Keith Parkinson:
Success is in the cards

An interview by Tom Knapp,
July 1994

Keith Parkinson was a little disappointed that there wasn't any bubblegum in his pack of trading cards. But it was a minor vexation. After all, it wasn't just any pack that he picked up in a store. They were his trading cards.

Parkinson, a well-known fantasy artist whose illustrations have fronted many best-selling novels, has released nearly 100 of his paintings in card form. The Lititz, Pennsylvania, resident's work is selling rapidly, standing toe-to-toe with other big names in the fantasy art world such as Boris Vallejo, Greg and Tim Hildebrandt, and Frank Frazetta.

The days when trading cards glorified only sports heroes are over. Parkinson's cards come in packs of 10, wrapped in shiny paper covered with dwarves, treasures and a ferocious blue dragon -- a scene lifted from Norse mythology. His subjects are standard fare for fantasy and science fiction. Armored knights duel with ferocious dragons near lofty castles. Barbarian warriors wander the wilderness with scantily clad maidens and strange, supernatural monsters. Galactic heroes nosh in space bars or whiz about in starships.

The front of each card has a glossy reproduction of the art. On the back of each is one of Parkinson's early sketches and a brief note from him about some detail of the work. But these days, few cards come with a pink, semi-chewable slab. "That was one of the first things I asked," said Parkinson. "Do they still put gum with these things?" They don't. But Parkinson, who never collected cards and entered the arena at the suggestion of a friend, is pleased with the results. "I was amazed at the scope of this market," he said. "It's really big." He doesn't mind that his paintings have been reduced to 3 1/2-by-2 1/2-inch rectangles. "If it's a good composition, it's going to look good at any size," he said. "You sometimes lose some detail, but I was surprised how much they kept."

The trading card market has grown immensely in recent years, he said. About 150 new sets are released each month. "I get so much more reaction from the cards than I do my book covers," Parkinson said. "I never get calls on the covers. But trading cards? The Federal Express guy even brought cards in to get them signed." Although book covers were Parkinson's bread and butter for many years, he said he is drifting into other areas of art.

On the way, his pictures have adorned novels by some of the best-selling writers in the science fiction and fantasy genres. Among them are writing giants Terry Brooks, C.J. Cherryh, David Eddings, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. "I was really lucky and got good writers," Parkinson said. "I got a lot of great exposure." Though many people are familiar with his work, he said, but few know his name. He hopes the cards will help link them together.

The creative process takes place in Parkinson's studio, an addition over the garage of his suburban Lititz home. Although Parkinson believes in doing art "the old-fashioned way" with paper and brushes, he uses his computer for sketches and revisions. When artists' block rears its head, he uses a drum kit in the corner to work off energy and work up inspiration.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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