Interview with Garrett Prentice

Last November I wrote about how Fox Sports has been using junk wax baseball cards as inspiration for its web graphics. It was a fun piece to work on and one of the best things about it is that it came to the attention of the designer at Fox who worked on those graphics. Garrett Prentice (@garrett_psd) has been a designer for Fox Sports for two years and has previously designed key art for television and movie releases. He has also designed for both the Washington Commanders née Redskins and the Los Angeles Rams.

We’ve been following each other on Twitter for a few months now and when it became clear how popular the baseball card graphics were with this community I asked him if he’d agree to answer a few questions about himself, his designs, and his relationship to card collecting. Garrett graciously agreed to answer my questions and put a lot of thought into his responses. What follows here required basically no editing.

Nick: Looking at the Fox Sports story cards as well as your portfolio shows a lot of designs that distinctly reference physical prints. From things like worn edges, wrinkled paper, and scotch tape to seriously geeky things like reproducing halftone rosettes, creating two-ink looks, and including printing crop marks and registration it’s clear that you appreciate the history of graphic design and the fingerprints of its production. Can you talk about your design influences and whether the baseball cards are a natural progression from this or if they were something special for you?

Garrett: I make it a point to include a decent amount of texture and familiar printing techniques in my work so that it doesn’t feel digital and synthetic. Sometimes, all the little extra things that you mentioned can really elevate a design. It shows attention to detail. I used to go to antique stores a lot in college, and would keep an eye out for fine details that I could incorporate in my work.

While in college, I loved the work of Fraser Davidson, Michael Schwab and Darrin Crescenzi. Although they have extremely different styles, I was really drawn to each of them. Davidson has a fun and playful side to his work that I really love. He is also probably the best sports logo designer in the world. Schwab has an iconic and vintage style that is timeless. Lastly there’s Crescenzi, whose work is so elegant and modern. I always thought he had the coolest style of any designer. He made a pretty sweet Game of Thrones poster you should check out.

These days, I’m influenced by Neil Jamieson, Matt Lange, and TRAN LA. Most of the time I try not to pull inspiration for my work. I just try to make the best design with the images I find. I’m also inspired by the social team at FOX Sports. It’s pretty awesome that I have access to their PSDs* — not only because I can incorporate them into my work, but because I can dive in and see how they did something.

*.psd is the native Photoshop file format which preserves all layers, masks, etc.

I think making baseball cards at some point is a natural progression, but I just need to keep working hard and learning. There are so many great designers out there to learn from.

Nick: How did you choose the card designs you’ve been using since they’re as old as you are? Do you just like the “junk” era of cards or is that part of the general nostalgia marketing that’s currently directed at my generation?

Garrett: I gravitate to the ’90s era of card design simply because it reminds me of my childhood. I started asking my mom to buy me cards around at 10 years old, so that would be around 1996–97. I had mostly Topps and Upper Deck — which I always revered the most because I loved the shiny logo. Another reason for this is that I didn’t have the money to afford the “premium” cards.

Nick: Making digital web graphics look like physical objects is something I’ve thought about for long time with things like the Topps Bunt App. Sometimes I feel like it’s not fully embracing what digital is best at. Other times it’s a reminder that we have centuries of practice about what works best for communication. Outside of the way they look, what are your thoughts as a graphic designer about what it means to maintain and reference the concept of a physical object in the digital realm.

Garrett: I think it’s nice to have a little bit of both. Sleek and polished digital design certainly looks awesome when it’s executed the right way, which is how a lot of my favorite NFTs look. But adding the printed or real-world mistakes and imperfections just shows me that the designer took the time to add another layer of detail. I think there should always be room for digital art that looks organic or is a reference to mixed media. It gives things a warmer feel. Take a look at the work by Sergio Santos (@elsantosbaseball). He does this to the extreme, mostly because he paints everything, but also because he doesn’t care if it’s perfect, which is why I love his work.

Nick: Both regarding cards and regarding the other reference materials you’ve used (like the Harry M. Stevens scorecard), what’s your reference library like and is it part of your personal collection?

Garrett: My reference library includes a ton of cards from my youth, about 100 Sports Illustrated magazines that I saved (mostly from the late 90s) and hundreds of Starting Lineups. I also love buying printed things on eBay, like old postcards, money, and recently, a map of The Masters golf course at Augusta National. Aside from that, my main reference sites are Behance, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, IMP Awards, The Cardboard Connection, and Automobilist.

Nick: If you have a personal collection what do you collect and how long have you been collecting?

Garrett: I have a respectable junk card collection that isn’t worth anything from a collecting standpoint. Upper Deck and Topps were my favorite brands as a kid, and I would jump at an opportunity to work with either of them. Although I love cards, what I cherish most are my Starting Lineups. I love the packaging and they’re just nostalgic for me. My favorites are the 1991 Michael Jordan, and two Kobe Bryants (1996, 1998). They’re all in very good/mint condition, but I’ve never sent them in to be graded. I’m too nervous they will get banged up in delivery.

I bought three (Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Steph Curry) of the newly released NBA series, but I was underwhelmed. I really don’t like the new branding, and the size and packaging style of the originals can’t be beaten.

Nick: Your portfolio shows off the vertical images. Fox Sports however tends to emphasize the horizontal versions due to mobile site and social media preview reasons. I appreciate that the two versions are actual redesigns. Which aspect ratio do you prefer (if any) both in terms of creating the cards and in terms of the final product?

Garrett: I start with the vertical since that’s what the user sees first on the Home Screen. The art used to go full-bleed on the home screen before the FOX Sports app was recently redesigned, so that was always the main priority. I typically prefer the vertical also, since it’s more similar to one-sheets I’ve designed in the past.

Nick: How do you feel about people printing your work out and putting them into binder pages?

Garrett: It’s a huge compliment. It’s always nice to see people appreciate your work, with whatever you do. I appreciate the time they took out of their day to do something like that. It’s really cool.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at njwv.wordpress.com, and the web at vossbrink.net

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