Good morning and welcome to back to Masterpiece Theater here on Hipsters of the Coast! Last time I finished my art exploration of Dave Palumbo’s Marvel Masterpieces 2020, and with this article will start in on a handful of adjacent topics that help round out the Marvel Masterpieces experience for collectors. Before I get started, if you’d like to learn more about what Marvel Masterpieces is and check out the set review first, you can find each of those articles below. You don’t need to have read them read this article, but a brief skim of one of the introductions should do you just fine:

Volume IVolume II | Volume III | Volume IV | Volume V | Volume VI | Volume VII | Volume VIII | Volume IX

Today is all about Preliminary Art: what it means to Dave Palumbo’s artistic process, how it shows up in the set, and how you can collect a piece of your own. Let’s begin.

The Palumbo Preliminary Process

Before we go too far down the rabbit hole about the physical preliminary paintings, we should take a moment to understand what they are, and why they’re important.

Preliminary Art for Spider-Man, Canvas Gallery Card. Collection of the Artist.

If you’ve seen artist sketches and color studies before, these probably look a bit different, and are as far as I can tell Dave works in a wholly unique style within the genre. He explained his process in a Muddy Colors blog post some six years ago, way back in 2015 when he first started creating these red studies. I’d encourage you to read the full article, but he distills down what we see as the ‘final product’ near the beginning of the article:

I decided my surface should be the same as my typical go-to (Masonite primed rough with acrylic gesso).  I wanted to work monochrome, but decided a colored ground would help give the pieces a bit more tonal variety and allow me a “spot color” if I needed it, so I coated each panel with cadmium red acrylic.

Dave goes on to explain how these preliminaries changed his work flow: he now had to shoot extra reference, and the preliminary would take a bit longer. But in exchange, it ultimately allowed him to go straight to the final oil painting once approved, and he had a physical preliminary to keep or sell as a result. He explains in the article that he never went back to digital studies, and I think that’s still true today.

With the origin story of these preliminary sketches behind us, let’s fast forward to today and what they mean for Marvel Masterpieces 2020.

Preliminary Art Cards

The main way to interact with Palumbo’s preliminary artwork in Marvel Masterpieces 2020 is through the Preliminary Art insets, found approximately one (sometimes two) per box. They showcase his oil sketches for each of the 90 base cards found within the set.

Preliminary Art Card for Black Widow, Base Set.

On the back of each card, he gives a bit of insight into the work, from inspiration to technical application, and oftentimes we learn something undiscovered that became a part of the final painting. Each one is specific to the painting on the front, and direct from Dave.

Back of Preliminary Art Cards. Image: eBay.

I drew upon many of these for my art exploration series, and they’ve been a wonderful subset of cards to collect for an art nerd that loves going behind the scenes. I’m still missing about two dozen of them to complete my 90-card set, but hope to finish it soon.

Redemptions & Collecting

As cool as the Preliminary Art cards set is, maybe you really like these, and totally dig Dave’s red/monochrome style? I have some really good news for you.

Preliminary Art Redemption Card. Note the scratch off area—underneath contains the code corresponding to an unknown piece of Palumbo preliminary art.

Each one of the base set cards, #1-90 has a Preliminary Art Redemption card that can be opened in a pack, redeemed directly through Upper Deck, and sends home one of the actual preliminary paintings! They are randomly inserted throughout the product, and you don’t know which preliminary artwork you’re going to get until it shows up in 12-16 weeks (or longer, turns out). All you see is a code which aligns to one of the works at Upper Deck HQ. Each is oil on panel, and measures five inches by seven inches.

Somewhere between 20 and 25 of these redemption cards have been spotted so far, either within the MMC Facebook group or on eBay, meaning more than half of them are still hiding within the unopened physical product and ePacks available on the Upper Deck website. ePacks are due out this week, and folks will be watching and waiting for these redemptions especially.

I’ve managed to acquire three of them in hopes of tracking down a very specific character (guess who). For anyone reading this, I’m always interested in buying or trading for a redemption piece, either unredeemed or once you’ve received the actual painting!

I should say though, that redemptions are not the only way you could have collected a piece of this work. Cards #91-135, also have a red monochrome prelim work, although they do not have a corresponding physical card. These were offered direct from Dave at the end of last year, and we’ll take a closer look at them next!

A Closer Look

On Sunday November 22nd, 2020, Dave made the majority of the preliminaries in his possession available to the masses in a single art drop, just as he had done in the past with most of the final paintings. This included most of the cards from the Canvas Gallery, Battle Spectra, and Holofoil insert series, save for a few he wanted to keep or had found homes during the painting process. There was one I was after, and you can probably guess which:

I had purchased the original final painting just a few weeks earlier, and was fingers crossed I’d be fast enough just one more time. I was successful, and am one step closer to completing my ultimate rainbow collection for this character. The entirety of the group sold out in less than ten minutes, save for the Holofoil version of Namor, who I believe ended up selling a few hours later.

I want to take a bit of article to look at a couple of standouts in this group, and talk about some things we haven’t touched on in any previous article! We’re going to go fast. Ready?

The Unused

Dave mentioned in his art drop announcement email that there would be several unused preliminaries available as a part of the group. These paintings were either abandoned at the concept stage, or in some cases taken to the final painting but eventually cut from the printed set before release.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Ikarus and Sersei, both members of the Eternals, had preliminary paintings done, and the fact that they did not appear in the set didn’t slow their sale one second. No character from the Eternal bloodlines (outside of Thanos) made the final set, but I really hope we see Sersei especially made into a promo or special card in the future.

Shang Chi, the Master of Kung Fu, also had a preliminary artwork created but did not make the final set, even with his feature film due out later this year.

The final unused version made available was an alternate for the Canvas Gallery X-23. I actually really, really like this version, and probably would have chased it if not for the other I purchased. I understand why Upper Deck may have preferred a full frontal assault X-23, but there is something mysterious and cunning and beautiful about this over-the-shoulder composition.

The All-Stars

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Some of the works that sold instantaneously upon release (not that they all didn’t sell lightning fast, let’s be honest) had preliminaries available here for those that missed out, or who needed something within a different collecting budget. These are in many cases fully representative of the final, from Mystique’s white outfit to Thanos’s ring flare, and were fantastic alternatives for collector’s trying to own a piece of art from the set.

Your Only Chance

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For others, the prelim round was the only chance to buy a piece of a particular image. Dave kept a handful of preliminaries and around a dozen paintings total of the 135, with six of those having preliminaries made available in his big art drop. If one of these happened to be your favorite artwork, this was your only chance at owning a piece of it, and collectors responded accordingly.

Wrapping Up

I hope you enjoyed a little bit of behind the scenes on how Dave created these Marvel Masterpieces, and the resulting art nuggets that are his monochrome preliminaries. His oil sketches are truly one of a kind and beautifully illuminate his process, both the planning and hard work that go into every single painting. They’ve proven to be extremely popular with collectors, seemingly even more so than the previous two sets, and I’m honored to be able to own a few of them.

You can find all 135 of the final paintings in a single three-page gallery here, and the prelims #91-135 in their own gallery. The preliminaries have long since sold out as we just talked about, but there are a still a handful or final paintings that can be collected.

Next time on Masterpiece Theater is the long awaited Sketch Card Showcase, where I’ll reveal some of my new MM20 sketch collection, talk about the artists, and delve a bit into this collecting journey of these tiny pieces of art. I’m not sure yet whether this will be one or two articles, so stay tuned to find out. Remember you can keep up with all things Marvel Masterpieces 2020 by following me on Twitter. Feel free to ask questions or retweet to continue the conversation. Thanks and see you next time!

Donny Caltrider has been playing Magic since 2002 and collecting original Magic art since 2017. He has an M.A. in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University and enjoys telling stories about art, objects, and the intersection of fantasy with real-life. You can find him on Twitter talking about #mtgart, museums, and other #vorthos related goodness. Follow along and continue the conversation!

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.