Card Artists #1 | Todd Aaron Smith

Discover Topps Artists

Date: Apr 18, 2024
Author: Greg Bates, Senior Writer
Topics: Greg Bates, Todd Aaron Smith, Topps Artist
Length: 1138 Words
Reading Time: ~6 Minutes

It’s always a special feeling for Todd Aaron Smith when he receives a delivery from Topps.

Inside the package are blank cards, except for the distinguishable Topps logo.

It won’t be long before Smith turns each clear cardboard rectangle into a canvas depicting one of the top current or former Major League Baseball players. Since 2012, Smith has been a sketch artist for Topps. He is one of the company’s go-to artists to contract out for projects.

The Kansas City native has worked on cards for Star Wars, Mars Attacks, Topps Chrome UEFA Euro, and a variety of MLB releases over the years. In all, Smith has drawn a total of 2,111 cards for Topps.

To be able to be an artist for Topps and have his name on iconic cards is a dream come true for the 55-year-old.

“It’s just such a huge honor to do baseball for Topps,” Smith said. “I opened my first package of Topps trading cards when I was five years old, and I still remember that day. I was sitting in the back seat of our family car, and my dad went into a store. When he returned, he had a pack of baseball cards, which he gave to me. I opened it right then. I looked through the cards to try and find my favorite teams and players. I remember that being magic.

“What I’m hoping is the cards that I draw produce the same kind of magic for people when they open packs now and find something I’ve done there.”

Breaking in with Topps

Hoping to break into the industry, Smith sent Topps samples of his artwork to gauge the company’s interest. It wasn’t long before Smith heard back from Topps, which offered him work on the 2012 Star Wars Galactic Files set.

Smith grew up a big Star Wars fan, seeing the original movie in a theatre in 1977; he even collected Topps trading cards from that year. Smith felt honored to work on the Star Wars cards 35 years later.

Smith continued his relationship with Topps, working primarily on non-sports cards. In 2018, he was presented with the opportunity to work on his first baseball product.

“That’s when my heart jumped because that’s what I wanted to do in the first place,” Smith said. “I jumped on that opportunity. I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Smith has produced sketches for many Topps Baseball products over the years.

“I think my strength in doing baseball cards or any cards is that since I was young, I’ve drawn faces of people. I got to where I was pretty proficient at doing that just by practicing it all the time,” Smith said. “If I draw Johnny Bench, it will look like Johnny Bench. I want people to look at the picture on the card and know who it is without having to look at the back of the card.”

Sketches for 2024 products

Most recently, Smith sketched 50 cards for 2024 Topps Baseball Series 1. When Topps contacted Smith, he was asked how many cards he’d like to sketch for the set. Smith received 50 blank cards in the mail soon after.

“Right after I’ve received the cards, I get back to the art director, and I say, ‘Here’s a list of who I’d love to draw for this set. I’m drawing mostly current players. But here are five players that I would really like to draw. They are Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Nolan Ryan, and Johnny Bench.’ And they’ll get back to me and say, ‘OK, you can draw everybody on your list except for (this player).’”

After Smith completes his sketches for a product, he ships them to Topps. If approved, those sketches are reproduced and inserted into the product’s packs. The original sketch card Smith works on is also placed into a pack.

When Smith sits down to produce a sketch, he has a couple of different methods for approaching his subject.

“There’s one type where I draw the entire thing in blue and black pencil, and I think it’s very nice looking,” said Smith, who recently sketched 30 cards for Topps Baseball Series 2. “But there are other ones that are full color, and full-color ones take longer. I’m going to guess that ones that are just blue and black, I can do one of those in possibly two, maybe three hours. The full-color ones, probably five hours, maybe six.”

Two of Smith’s favorite Topps sets to work on are Museum Collection and Gallery. In the 2020 Gallery release, Smith was thrilled to be able to sketch Babe Ruth, one of his childhood idols, Nolan Ryan, and Ty Cobb.

“I did a really nice sketch of Ty Cobb on a card, and they reproduced that for all the sets,” Smith said. “That was a lot of fun. Ty Cobb is one of the greatest ever.”

Searching for his cards

Smith loves producing sketches of players equally as much as he loves collecting cards. But that can make for a bad recipe for his bank account.

“They pay me to do these cards, but I actually spend more on them than they pay me,” Smith joked. “I ought to quit that because I have so many darn cards.”

When Smith knows his sketches are in a Topps product, he enjoys buying packs to see if he can pull one of his cards. He’s never been lucky enough to pull one of his original 1-of-1 sketch cards. However, he has pulled some of his unnumbered cards and reproduced by Topps.

“When I opened up a pack and found the Babe Ruth card that I did, it was just a giant honor,” Smith said. “It’s a thrill that’s hard to describe with words.”

Smith has been gifted some wonderful opportunities through his association with drawing Topps cards. In the Topps Gallery releases in 2019 and 2020, Smith was a featured artist and had two cards with his image on them. In July 2023, Smith threw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Royals game.

Smith had another surreal moment when the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum reached out to him to see if it could feature some of his sketches. Unique pieces of his artwork were officially accepted into their rightful place in the Hall in 2018. “If it hadn’t been for me doing Topps cards, I would not have artwork in the Hall of Fame today,” Smith said. “I have a huge appreciation for Topps for letting me do cards. My artwork is there right now in the permanent collection. To me, that’s the top of the mountain. There’s nothing better at all.”

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