Oct 042013
 
painting1

Artwork by Normie Herd

Let me set the scene for you. That image above is what I’m working towards. Now let’s take a look at where I’m currently at.

land4

Artwork by public domain

That right there is a pretty accurate depiction I think of where a finely polished game design can end up (top artwork), and where many designers start out (bottom image). They also both happen to be images I’m using for my latest project, Gaido. How does a budding game designer get from the bottom bit of clip art to the top piece of art? Let’s dive in!

Game imitates art

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about small, compact yet satisfying card games. I’ve been reading up on a lot of them, dreaming about Seiji Kanai’s Love Letter and toying with ninjas, zombies  and pirates. All of that is very fun and totally worth it as far as gaining design experience.

I wanted something a little different though – something that was inherently my thoughts in theme and design and not a reflection of popular or easy mechanics and pop culture. I had also been spending a little time thinking about the artist in the above picture and all of her artwork. Normie Herd was I think an exceptional artist, who loved Japanese culture, language and art. She also didn’t start studying all of this until in her late 50’s. The painting above was done when she was nearly 80 years old, about half a decade before her death.

That picture above, combined with my thoughts on compact games sharing what little space is left in my head inevitably smashed together and I knew I was going to use Normie’s artwork in a game of mine. Preferably a nice, subtle and almost calming card game, but with a bit of the bite and whit that I enjoy playing with in other games.

Last, I want to keep this game very small – on the order of 24 cards or less. I was really looking to challenge myself to do this and still create a 2-4 player game. Working on sharpening my skills as a designer, part of that is learning to cut away the neato stuff if it impedes a game.  What better way to force that on myself than limiting the range of cards and components I could use.

Continue reading »

About Ben

I'm a geek. A nerd, a dweeb, whatever. Yes I owned garb, yes I still own medieval weaponry. And yeah, I could kick your butt in Mechwarrior the CCG. I love video games, role playing games, tactical board games and all forms of speculative fiction. I will never berate someone for wanting to be a Jedi and take everything Gary Gygax ever wrote as gospel. Well, all of this but that last bit.

Welcome to Game School – Grab your dice and cards because we’re now in session

 Board and Card Games, Game School, Role Playing Games  Comments Off on Welcome to Game School – Grab your dice and cards because we’re now in session
Sep 242013
 

school zone

I’ve realized something today, as my kids are waking up and heading for school and the college students, staff and faculty that surround me get ready for their day. I’ve just enrolled myself in a school of sorts as well.

I’ve always been a tinkerer of games, mostly RPGs in the past. I’ve enjoyed deconstructing and then reconstructing game ideas, and going off into wild tangents with magic items and strange characters. Over the past few years I’ve also found myself falling deeper under the spell of board and card games. So I’m going to lump all of this into one massive category, called Table Top Games, focus more on board and card games and with that, let’s swing open the doors of Game School and find out what we’re in for.

Game School

school1

I’m not proposing to teach you how to build a game, or the best methods for finding illustrators. I’m certainly not a professor in Ludology. Like most of you, I’m a student as well. I have put together a few board and card games, some of which I’m quite proud of and many of which we shall never speak of again. Really though I’m just scratching the surface of what there is to know about table top games – their history, construction, evolution and the underlying concepts that keep them balanced and appealing. That’s why I’m officially opening this game school and inviting all of you along for the ride.

This is where I’ll be talking about what I’ve learned – anything from math and statistics that underly the games we play, through finding artist, publishers and the old do-it-yourself Print on Demand route. My goal through all of this is to increase my understanding of table top games and how they really work, from the crunchy bits underneath to the human psychology that drives us to play them and enjoy the experience.  I won’t attain that goal, at least not unless I live through a technological singularity and buy myself a lot more time.

What I do hope to realistically achieve though is a dialectic with you all. On this blog, I’ll be the conversation leader, dropping ideas, mechanics and related topics into your laps with the hope of fostering some great conversations and learning a lot. That doesn’t mean that you can’t carry on the conversation in other social media or your own space. I’ll happily follow along just about anywhere you want to lead in this! To that end, this will by my portal into Game School. I’ll set up a group over on Google Plus and I heartily invite you to use that as your portal to post your own ideas, discoveries, thoughts and opinions. If you have your own sites, blogs and forum posts, please feel free to link to them through this group. Linking is encouraged!

Now go join the group! 

Rational

Primary: Information should be free, and you should be able to find it! There are a few blogs that I follow where designers and hopeful designers post great stuff. I’m always discovering more! My biggest problem though is finding new resources and then keeping track of them. I’m hoping that the Game School group will be a jumping off point where others can discover great online resources and discuss their findings. For those using Game School as their online resource, I hope to foster meaningful conversations, usable criticisms and a safe, fun and interesting environment in which to learn and expand the skills of game creation.

Secondary: To get me off my duff and into learning and creating mode. By starting off this community, and creating a category specifically for it on my own blog, I’m forcing myself to be active and write about this. It’s a way to kick myself into gear and keep me there. I plan on using this, and using all of you to keep my ideas flowing and new stuff coming into my head as ideas and coming out as partially or fully formed games. I hope you do the exact same thing. If I come up with something you like, use it!

Tertiary: I’m taking a page from two presences in the game design and publishing world that I really admire, Daniel Solis and Fred Hicks. They’re both very open about the business of gaming, whether it’s design and mechanics or fulfillment and shipping. Our world of table top games can use more people like this and I hope to foster just that spirit through Game School. Like them, I plan on posting as much as time and circumstances will permit me about my own ideas, thoughts and the progression of the games I’m designing.

I also honestly believe that ideas are cheap and easy to come by, while good games are not. Games are what happens to ideas when someone or a group of people have invested a lot of time and effort into an idea. With that in mind, I’ll be sharing as many of my ideas as I can. They may or may not work for me. Perhaps they’ll inspire you!

Subjects

Here’s a few topics I plan on talking about, with a few talking points built in. Really anything that has to do with the art, business or science side of game development, up to and including my own and other’s ideas will be posted here.

  • Art – where to find it, how to commission it, free art.
  • Layout & Design – what makes a good component or card? Iconography and symbology, rules and readability.
  • Mechanics & Design – The stuff that makes the games work, rules, statistics, the evolution of game mechanics and more.
  • Revisions – When and why throwing stuff out is good, trying to spot that ‘new thing’ by how others react to ideas, and spotting when a game is ‘finished enough’.
  • Play Testing – Solitaire play, testing through spreadsheets, finding blind test groups, print and play as a means of testing.
  • Publishing – To self-publish or not to self-publish, who’s taking submissions? How to prepare your game to be seen by others, conventions and the elevator pitch.
  • Online Resources – From font files and public domain art to great people to follow online.
  • Psychology – why people play the games they play, what keeps them coming back, and pushing the right buttons for an enjoyable experience.
  • Business – Don’t lose your shirt, basic business strategies for table top games, publishing 101.

That is enough to get me started. I hope it’ll jump start some ideas and energy from all of you as well!

About Ben

I'm a geek. A nerd, a dweeb, whatever. Yes I owned garb, yes I still own medieval weaponry. And yeah, I could kick your butt in Mechwarrior the CCG. I love video games, role playing games, tactical board games and all forms of speculative fiction. I will never berate someone for wanting to be a Jedi and take everything Gary Gygax ever wrote as gospel. Well, all of this but that last bit.

Here Comes Cubist! A New Kickstarter from Alf Seegert and Steve Poelzing

 Board and Card Games  Comments Off on Here Comes Cubist! A New Kickstarter from Alf Seegert and Steve Poelzing
Sep 062013
 

FRED Rect - Cubist

Alf Seegert and Steve Poelzing are challenging you to create Cubist works of art using dice!

Who are these fellows, and why should you check out their Kickstarter ?

Alf Seegert is no stranger to the loyal readers of Troll in the Corner.  He is the designer of four prior games, the most recent of which is Fantastiqa.  (You can read more about Fantastiqa by checking out our review, our “Losing at Board Games” column, or the Fantastiqa homepage. )

Steve Poelzing is a lifelong gamer and is a founding member of the Utah Board Game Designers Guild.

They have partnered together to develop Cubist.

Intrigued?  Check out the promo video. This is one Kickstarter you’ll want to keep your eye on.

About Jon Beall

I am obsessed with all things related to board games. I suggests playing board games every day, even when my only audience is my three meeple-loving cats. I am married to the Political Mastermind, a gamer who beats me at least 70% of the time. This has led to the creation of "Losing at Board Games", a column which I write bi-weekly on Mondays.

Epic Level Artistry: James Stowe

 Epic Level Artistry, Role Playing Games  Comments Off on Epic Level Artistry: James Stowe
Feb 152013
 

Another middle of the month, another Epic Level Artistry! This month we are super lucky to have the amazing James Stowe. When James mentioned wanting to be interviewed for ELA, I will admit, I was floored. I was familiar with his work, Sidekick Quests, and being a gamer parent myself loved the aesthetic he brought, bringing in parent and kid alike while staying true to all the tropes and fun that is a part of rolling dice and kicking butts (or having your butt kicked…it depends on the game). He was awesome enough to make himself even more busy and answered some questions for us! Check it out!

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Sidekick Quests Mystery of the Moonstone by James Stowe

Sidekick Quests Mystery of the Moonstone by James Stowe

So, tell us a little bit about yourself and your history with art in games and RPGs.

My name is James Stowe. In the past I’ve been a professional fantasy illustrator with over 100 book credits for companies such as White Wolf Publishing, Fantasy Flight, WEG, Wizards of the Coast and Holistic Designs. Currently I am working on a webcomic called Sidekick Quests which is my attempt to merge my love of cartooning, gaming and playing with my kids.

What’s your favourite system to play? Is there a setting/system you love making art for in particular? What is it about this world/system that inspires you?
Right now I am playtesting the Sidekick Quests Roleplaying Game so I’m going to go the self-marketer route and say  that is my favorite system to play right now. I also still play DND 4e pretty regularly and still enjoy it.

The bulk of my professional fantasy work was years ago when White Wolf’s World of Darkness was an active thing. I loved making artwork for those games. I was a regular artist on Changeling and would drop anything to work on those books again. I love the childlike wonder mixed with horror that Changeling presented.

Do you prefer to GM or play as a PC? Do you find this affects your art?
I am a Gamemaster. I love nothing more than running game, writing house rules and developing hundreds of years of history for game settings. A long running joke in one of my troops is that I once wrote an entire page of backstory for a bridge that the PCs crossed over in about 5 minutes of actual play time.

Being a GM definitely influences my work. Sidekick Quests is a comic about a troop of young adventurers in training being led by a narrative like GM. I am such a Gamemaster I’ve even inserted myself into my art.

Sidekick Quests Map by James Stowe

Sidekick Quests Map by James Stowe

Do you find yourself more drawn to drawing locations or people? Do you have them fleshed out before you bring pencil to paper (to use an old idiom) or do the ideas and the image kind of grow side by side?
I love drawing people and monsters and things. If I had a choice I would just draw pin ups and character commissions all day. While drawing setting has never been something that comes naturally to me I do love drawing maps. I can loose myself for hours and hours in a overtly detailed map drawing.

I tend to be fairly spontaneous when I draw and I do so almost exclusively on a computer. I am a vector artist. I’d say 95% of my work is vector illustration made in Adobe Illustrator. I don’t sketch or make thumbnails generally. Most of that I do in my head. I just make a finished illustration and when I’m done I’m done.

What’s your preferred medium to work with? Do you work digitally, on paper or some mix?
I should have read ahead. As I said I am primarily a vector artist. Most of my work is done in Adobe Illustrator. The entire Sidekick Quests comic is draw completely in Illustrator. When I am not working digitally in vector I like to work with watercolor or sharpie marker. In the good old days of professional fantasy illustrating I worked in acrylic or gouache (before the days of digital painting) or with Photoshop from photo reference.

How much time would you say you spend in a week making art? How much time in a week would you say you spend gaming?
My day job I manage an art department and act as lead concept illustrator as the Creative Development Manager at the Lucks Company. After 8 to 10 hours doing that each day I probably put in another 2 or 3 hours each night drawing for Sidekick Quests, freelance work, commissions or personal projects. All total I probably draw 40 to 70 hours a week.

I am currently in two gaming troops. One that meets once a week on Sunday night and one that just finished meeting every other Thursday. I am also working on finishing up work on the Sidekick Quests Roleplaying Game and playtesting that as often as I can.

Sidekick Quests! A page out of the comic by James Stowe

Sidekick Quests! A page out of the comic by James Stowe

Are there any trends, either genre-wise or technique-wise that you’re seeing in RPG/game art that you’re enjoying now? Is there anything you want to see more of or things you don’t like?
I love modern digital painting. When I look at some of the artwork that is being made now for the top tier companies I am astounded. When I first started out in the industry back in 1994 nothing like that was being made on a computer. Seeing how far digital art has come in just 20 years blows my mind. That being said I personally am really drawn to cartoony style work. I’ll pick up any game that features the artwork of John Kovalic. He is a real inspiration to me. There are a ton of other cartoonists out there who’s work I absolutely love too. Probably too many to reference here. I’d be here all night.

Whose art do you like the most? Whose art would you say has influenced you or do you try to emulate?
Again, I really need to read ahead on these questions. Okay. I guess if there is going to be a whole question devoted to whose art do I like I might as well make a list. I am a founding member of the Cartoonists League of Absurd Washingtonians (or CLAW). The befezzed cartoonists that make up our ranks are a regular source of inspiration to me. There is Brian Patterson of D20Monkey. With out him I would never have started Sidekick Quests. When I was thinking about making a webcomic he was gracious enough to answer a lot of questions I had starting out. His comic and gaming art is fantastic too. Some other cartoonists/illustrators I admire are Lar Desouza, Dave Willis, Mark Stokes, Nathan Bulmer, Jeph Jacques, Mike Karhulik, Gary Cohn, Mark Monlux, Doug Tennapel, Tarol Hunt, Mark Brill, Kyle Ferrin, Mike Mitchell, Mary Cagel and Erica Moen. There are a lot more I could and should list and properly link to… but there are more questions to answer.

I’d like to think I am beyond emulating anyone at this point. I draw how I draw. I may take little techniques from other artists now and then but for the most part I am comfortable with my own ability and style.

Sidekick Quests Players Handbook by James Stowe. Seriously, how hilarious is that?

Sidekick Quests Players Handbook by James Stowe. Seriously, how hilarious is that?

What tools do you use to make art? What tools/items do you need to game?
My primary tool is a Wacom tablet. I would likely be completely lost without one. I carry a Wacom stylus with me most places I go.

I am a lot more easy going with gaming paraphernalia. I don’t have lucky dice or anything like that. If anything I keep a sketch pad with me while I game. Usually by the end of a session there are tons of sketches in there.

What projects have you worked on in the past? Can you tell us what you’re currently working on or have in the queue?
My current project is Sidekick Quests. You can follow it in webcomic form at sidekickquests.com. It updates every Monday with blog posts throughout the week and a brand new fan influenced monster every Friday. Along with that I am actively developing the Sidekick Quests RPG. It is in beta testing right now and should be available for sale in PDF form this summer. I am also working with Daniel Solis  and Lyndsay Peters on ‘Sidekick Quests the Card Game’ which is currently in closed beta testing. 2013 should be a huge year for Sidekick Quests and I am looking forward to spreading the word about it as much as I can.

Sidekick Quests Scout Character Sheet by James Stowe

Sidekick Quests Scout Character Sheet by James Stowe

Are there any pieces you’re particularly proud of? A favourite character you managed to pin down or something really funny/touching/dramatic you captured?
About a year and a half ago I created some custom DND character sheets for my son’s birthday party and then shared them on the internet. The reaction they got and the support I have felt since then has been really amazing. I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing today if it weren’t for those sheets. It is a project I still take great pride in. It has helped me meet great people, revitalized my love of cartooning and reintroduced me to the gaming community.

What would be a dream job/commission?
I know I am beginning to sound like a one trick pony but if I could work on the Sidekick Quests comic and RPG for the rest of my life as my career I’d be the happiest guy on Earth. That is my focus right now.

Do you have any plans to put the Sidekick Quests comic itself into a printed book?
My current plans for Sidekick Quests involve the release of the RPG. Initially it will be released as a series of PDFs. Eventually I hope to publish the comic as a collection after another storyline or two.

When you’re not making art or gaming, what are you doing?
You mean there is something other than making art and gaming? I guess I try to play with my kids as much as I can while they are both still at an age where they think that is the coolest thing to do. On the rarest of occasions I go out with my loving and patient wife.

Ciber-Cow from Fiendish Fanmade Fridays on Sidekick Quest! by James Stowe!

Ciber-Cow from Fiendish Fanmade Fridays on Sidekick Quest! by James Stowe!

Sidekick Quests is awesome because it bridges that age gap, ushering kids into RPGs while obviously appealing to adult gamers who are in on the jokes. How have your kids inspired you in gaming and in drawing?

You know both of my kids are a huge inspiration. Sidekick Quests wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for my son’s early interest Dungeons and Dragons. One of the ongoing elements of Sidekick Quests is a feature I run once a week called Fiendish Fan-Made Fridays where I invite kids to create their own monsters to help populate the Sidekick Quests’ setting. My my son and daughter have made several. I could run the feature for weeks just on their submissions alone.

Do your kids draw?
My daughter is quite an artist. She loves drawing, coloring and crafts. She is currently teaching herself sewing. Neither my wife or I sew… she wants to do it and is motivated to teach herself. She has always been that way. My son is more of a writer than an artist. He can’t wait until he is a regular Dungeon Master.

Another page out of Sidekick Quests by James Stowe

Another page out of Sidekick Quests by James Stowe

Do you have any advice for people who are trying to find artists to hire? To artists trying to get their work out there?
For people trying to hire artists look for someone that is responsive, clear in their communication and open to direction and feedback. As an art director and creative manager that is what I hope for in freelance artists.

To freelancers I say always keep at it. I had to show an art director at White Wolf a new portfolio piece once a day for two weeks before he finally gave me an assignment just so I’d quit sending him artwork. And work at it. You really need to love what you do. Fantasy illustration is not an career path that will make you rich… but the people and experiences you forge along the way and the games you get to be a part of will be more than worth it.

 

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Be sure to check out Sidekick Quests every Monday; in addition you can also ‘like’ SkQ on Facebook. If you like James’ art you can check out his art blog or his Facebook. He posted some really neat Valentine’s Day cards there, so be sure to like it for updates!  In addition James is on Twitter where he talk about RPGs and art. I want to take the time to thank James for participating in ELA! Hope you all enjoyed this installment; happy gaming!

About Tristan J Tarwater

Tristan is the author of 'The Valley of Ten Crescents' series and someone who is obsessed with elves. She once gave her 3.5 elf druid 'Skill: Basketweaving' just so she could take the spell, 'Beget Bogun.' Check out more of her work at backthatelfup.com

Epic Level Artistry: Kirsten Brown

 Epic Level Artistry  Comments Off on Epic Level Artistry: Kirsten Brown
Jan 312013
 

Do you have dark dreams you wish you could bring to paper? Prefer RPGs where players aren’t so much fighting to save the world so much as maintain their sanity? Does the idea of sharp teeth, tentacles and realities far stranger and less merciful than our own make you want to pick up your dice? If so, check out Kirsten Brown, our latest artist on Epic Level Artistry.

I met Kirsten originally online through some friends and have been a fan of her art work for a long while. Dark imagery, symbols and magic are a common theme in her art. Kirsten illustrated an installment of Reality Makes the Best Fantasy last year and in addition to illustrating she also creates wands and does other crafts. Let’s see what Kirsten had to say about making art and playing RPGs.

***Note: Some of the art in this installment of ELA is NSFW (contains nudity and blood/gore). You have been warned.*** 

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Maw by Kirsten Brown

Maw by Kirsten Brown

So, tell us a little bit about yourself and your history with art in games and RPGs.

Hm. It’s kind of haphazard. I played a lot of videogames as a kid, renting from the little rental store with discrimination. I’d try anything that looked cool. I remember running into the first Final Fantasy that made it to the states, and the first time I rented it (there would be repeats), it still had the poster with all the monster designs on it, and that was almost as fascinating as the game itself.

If we’re talking non-Nintendo-based gaming, I had a lot of tabletop and ccg things before I knew what they were for, most of them for the art. I was eleven or twelve, head-over-ass obsessed with dragons, and my best friend had given me a Dragonlance novel for my birthday. I had no idea it was based on a lets-pretend game with dice and some rules, or I’d have hunted down someone to play with as if I were an entire pack of dogs after bacon. Instead, I picked up issues of Dragon Magazine when I could, for the posters. I acquired a massive stack of M:TG cards, especially for someone who never played once. I collected most of the Changeling: The Dreaming corebooks when I was in high school, pretty much for the express purpose of wallowing in the artwork and worldbuilding in them.

When I went to college for illustration (98-02, to thoroughly date myself) gaming art seemed to be regarded by my instructors as a kind of baffling bastard sibling to book-cover art, something akin to comics, and thus a less than a worthwhile goal for an art career. They wouldn’t touch trying to point me towards any of the things I would have cheerfully given my left arm to do for the rest of my life, which is funny, because that’s also around when I found my first gaming group. Which kind of leads to the next question, so I’ll stop this particular yammering here?

High Priest by Kirsten Brown

High Priest by Kirsten Brown

What’s your favourite system to play? Is there a setting/system you love making art for in particular? What is it about this world/system that inspires you?

Shadowrun, for both. Other than one really ill-fated attempt at joining a Vampire LARP when I was a bitty high-school goth, wherein my character was hung for actually possessing a sense of humour, it was my first. I started on 3rd edition, back in college. That group fell apart for various personal reasons before I could get too into it, but it was appealing because it fit the mythology of my life, then. I’d started hanging out with a bunch of hackers, and had also fallen face-first into cyberpunk as a genre. William Gibson was a visionary, Ghost in the Shell, a revelation. There was an aesthetic to all of it that drew me, all this arcane technology, but unpolished and approachable and darkly funny like most sci-fi I could think of patently was not.

It was years until the a housemate situation I lived in presented me with an opportunity to try it out again, and I found out 4th edition is even more fun! The world as a whole is appealing because of the juxtapositions it has going for it, and how cleverly they’re applied. There’s gravity in its portrayal of poverty and corporate rule, the magical and environmental ruin of their version of Earth, but it’s still got room for some hilariously gonzo things to happen because these people you’re playing aren’t some kind of epic, mythic hero. They’re everyday assholes with talents who, for whatever reason, decide to apply them differently than others to the problem of dealing with life in a really weird place. It’s amazing how many terrible, hilarious situations a group can get into with that very basic trope and your GM at the wheel.

I’ve played and liked the worlds for Legend of Five Rings and Eclipse Phase, too. The rest of my group weren’t so fond of them, so neither lasted long, which is too bad. The Void mage I put together for the former was a lot of fun, though I think we play way too fast and loose for that world. As for the latter, I have no idea why anyone wouldn’t want to play as an uplifted squid on a space colony.

Bottom Lake by Kirsten Brown

Bottom Lake by Kirsten Brown

Do you prefer to GM or play as a PC? Do you find this affects your art?

I’ve never GMed, and actually don’t think I’d be very good at it. I write, sometimes, and plotting for that has taught me two very important things about myself; I am a) a poor planner, editing and messing with things in very disparate parts of the story as I go, and b) a massive detail and control freak. Players messing with where I think they should be heading would drive me completely insane.

Do you find yourself more drawn to drawing locations or people? Do you have them fleshed out before you bring pencil to paper (to use an old idiom) or do the ideas and the image kind of grow side by side?

People and creatures. I’ll start with a concept, see if I can ping a personality for them (and even critters have a demeanor), then build details around that. Settings make me shamefully lazy, and that’s a bad habit I’ve been trying to bribe, work or otherwise flog out of myself for a long time.

What’s your preferred medium to work with? Do you work digitally, on paper or some mix?

Mostly digital these days. Sometimes I’ll trace my own scanned drawings on paper as a base for a finish. Ballpoint sketching is a longtime love, and doing that sort of translation is a big help in improving my digital sketching. I do occasionally try to convince myself I can paint, like Old Masters’ type painting. I have a small set of oils around for that particular brand of self-hatred. Everyone else seems to like the results, but I usually end up just wanting to set the canvases on fire or getting really impatient.

Bright Water by Kirsten Brown

Bright Water by Kirsten Brown

How much time would you say you spend in a week making art? How much time in a week would you say you spend gaming?

Shadowrun is on Sundays, usually for about five hours. There’s a lot of general hanging out and BS-ing to it, as none of us have the greatest attention spans, and we’re all friends first, some of whom don’t see each other often outside of this.

God, art? I don’t even know. GIMP stays open when I boot my computer in the morning, thanks to hibernation mode, and I’ve always got something open. I have been trying to make this my living for years, to varying levels of success and with the help of a very patient partner who keeps me from ending up a vagrant living out of a shopping cart and drawing on walls with cat feces. I’m almost always doing something.

Are there any trends, either genre-wise or technique-wise that you’re seeing in RPG/game art that you’re enjoying now? Is there anything you want to see more of or things you don’t like?

I’m really happy that so many people are chasing some really appalling tropes in regards to the portrayal of women in gaming and comic art into the light of day, all the little things that, were I a slightly different and less contrary person, would have read loudly as ‘THIS IS NOT FOR YOU’.

Whose art do you like the most? Whose art would you say has influenced you or do you try to emulate?

To a point, liking and influences are inseparable. If something really grabs my face, I’m instantly trying to find the largest, highest-res version of it that I can find so I can break down brushstrokes, tablet strokes, textures and layering to see how it was made. But! I’ll at least stick to people whose work I’ve learned from or who I think have actually helped inform my style instead of being relegated to the ‘Hey, that’s neat!’ pile. I’m fond of detail, clarity, a sense of movement, clever use of negative space, and symbolic elements.

In no particular order; HR Giger. Salvador Dali. Boris Vallejo. James Jean. Botticelli. Waterhouse. Alphonse Mucha. Sam Kieth. Jhonen Vasquez. Yoshitaka Amano. The manga team CLAMP. Jenna Chew. Tim Bradstreet. Chynna Clugston-Major. Android Jones. Dave McKean.

Gate and Key by Kirsten Brown

Gate and Key by Kirsten Brown

What tools do you use to make art? What tools/items do you need to game?

For the digital end of things, I use GIMP 2.8.0 under Linux, and a poor, battered little Wacom Graphire I picked up used five or six years ago, the thing is apparently built like a tank. For sketching, I like plain ballpoint pens and printer paper or Moleskine sketchbooks.
As for gaming, dice are obvious. I also need the books for whatever we’re doing at hand because I’m crap at remembering the rules and any numbers not on my character sheet. I also need something to do when it’s not my turn, because combat takes forever, or if it’s a particularly not-my-character-heavy session. Lately, that’s consisted of bringing my netbook along and screwing around with network tools like wireshark until I understand what they do, because I’m an autodidactic masochist. And coffee or tea, I consume both in probably alarming amounts.

What projects have you worked on in the past? Can you tell us what you’re currently working on or have in the queue?

The biggest gaming-related project I’ve done was Shadowrift. A friend of mine owns the studio behind it, and it was an educational, if harrowing, experience. Halfway through, I was offered twice the workload I’d initially been offered. Of course I took it, so I found myself with two dozen pieces due in two months. At some point I started calling it the Art Deathmarch.

Frost Mage by Kirsten Brown

Frost Mage by Kirsten Brown

There was talk of an expansion for Shadowrift, but only talk thus far. I’m also working on a comic for a friend’s script, planning out some nasty-fun retelling of faery tales and myths with someone else. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about the really fun possibility, yet.

Are there any pieces you’re particularly proud of? A favourite character you managed to pin down or something really funny/touching/dramatic you captured?

A lot of my favourite stuff recently has been fanart. Some would say sadly, but for a while for me it was this big taboo thing. Art school taught me not to draw characters I don’t own. Thing is, it’s nowhere near the big deal it’s made out to be, and it’s a good way to introduce people to you and your work. I’ve been having a lot of fun drawing stuff from a webcomic, Homestuck; it’s got very loose designs for a huge number of distinct characters, and a completely batshit sense of humour. I plugged some of the characters into a take on Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, between some paying jobs that were nowhere near as silly. Also, Rubyquest; it’s this cutely-crudely drawn and thoroughly creepy little comic that unfolded through question and answer sessions on 4chan, of all places. I doodled all the characters to break in a new Moleskine, and ended up dropping that in GIMP because I wanted to colour it.

There’s also a thing I did of a sort of mermaid, playing with bioluminescence, that I’m really fond of. There might be a story in it, I’m not sure, I just have a lot of fun playing with light and dark and glowing things.

Fish Bitch 2 by Kirsten Brown

Fish Bitch 2 by Kirsten Brown

What would be a dream job/commission?

Free rein over all the art in a Technomancer’s guide, or a Shadowrun tarot, maybe. Designing monsters for something like Deadspace. Illustrating the next Caitlin R. Kiernan short fiction collection or book cover. Being asked to contribute to an Invisibles artbook. Mercreature smut.

When you’re not making art or gaming, what are you doing?

Cramming Linux into my face. Pulling apart dead laptops and learning my way around. Reading. Writing. Watching cartoons. Gardening. Working out. Cooking. Chasing my cat around the apartment. Screwing around on the internet.

Do you have any advice for people who are trying to find artists to hire? To artists trying to get their work out there?

To those hiring? In this kind of job climate, and with the kind of value people seem to ascribe to art these days? Thanks are due.

Rubyquest by Kirsten Brown

Rubyquest by Kirsten Brown

And to those looking for work, especially the ones who want to do this full time, get very, very good at managing your own time. Being your own boss sounds really great until you turn around, find yourself three projects deep and with no idea where you left off of any of them because you decided to put things off for a bit and reread Drowtales instead (a thing that has happened to me, it was not pretty). And cutting corners is never a good idea.

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If you like Kirsten’s art, you can find more of it on her portfolio (some images NSFW) and in her Etsy shop; I want to thank Kirsten for taking the time to share with us! I hope you enjoyed this installment of Epic Level Artistry. Keep on gaming and drawing!

About Tristan J Tarwater

Tristan is the author of 'The Valley of Ten Crescents' series and someone who is obsessed with elves. She once gave her 3.5 elf druid 'Skill: Basketweaving' just so she could take the spell, 'Beget Bogun.' Check out more of her work at backthatelfup.com

Dec 152012
 

Another Epic Level Artistry here at Troll in the Corner! This month we have only one artist, but what an artist! Jeremy Kostiew is an an artist and graphic designer whose work you might be familiar with if you listen to any of our podcasts such as IndieTalks or Geek Explicitly. He was awesome enough to answer some questions, talk a bit about about the importance of logos and why as an artist you should have a cat. Let’s read what he had to say!

Portrait of the Artist as a...I have no idea. by Jeremy Kostiew

Portrait of the Artist as a…I have no idea. by Jeremy Kostiew

You do a lot of logos. What do you think a logo should do and what questions do you ask yourself before you dive in and design them?
First and foremost, a logo should make the client happy. It doesn’t matter what I think is a good design goal if the person I’m designing for doesn’t like it. I like to see the client’s logo- and art-related history before I start. What did they have done for their last logo? Do they favor a color or depth of saturation? Is there a style of font they tend to use? Are there other common elements?

Then I start thinking about the medium. Clean lines and vectors? That’ll put me knee-deep in Illustrator and Flash. Details and textures? Photoshop! Something 3D? SketchUp!

And then I have to consider the time I’ve got to complete it. A day? A week? Nebulous? Without a proper deadline I drag my feet like an extra in Dawn of the Dead.

Do you think logos have a place in-game? We all know branding is important in real life but how can people use logos to enhance their settings and adventures?
I certainly do!

White Wolf has always punctuated the insular nature of its character-types with symbols: Clan, tribe, Tradition, Sept — they’re all represented by some pretty fantastic logos. There isn’t a Vampire: the Masquerade player alive who couldn’t pull the Toreador rose from out of the infinite depth of rose clipart you get with Google Image Search.

Then you have Dungeons & Dragons, which has remarkable depictions of its gods’ iconography. How many Forgotten Realms paladins have had the upraised hand of Torm on a holy symbol around their neck? How many thieves have kissed the coin of Tymora before a risky task?
And Shadowrun! How many riggers have stared longingly at a personal assault drone branded with the Ares Macrotechnology logo?

Be it a secret society, a heroic team of superfriends, or an evil megacorp I think solid, evocative heraldry is one of the better ways to flavor a group without direct interaction. It can be a calling card, a warning, a mark of ownership. And having something actually marked with an in-game sigil can turn a simple, printed letter into the highlight of a session.

So, tell us a little bit about yourself and your history with art in games and RPGs.
I got started doing actual game art when I bothered Machine Age Production‘s David Hill on Twitter. He posted a logo for his reincarnation-and-romance adventure game Amaranthine, and I had some critiques. Eventually, I bothered him so much that he just sent me the files, and I made my corrections. And I’ve never stopped bugging him! Eventually, he and his partner Filamena Young began pointing me out to their friends, and I became confident enough in my developing style to bother everyone else in the world.

Farewell to Fear Intro Image by Jeremy Kostiew

Farewell to Fear Intro Image by Jeremy Kostiew

What’s your favourite system to play? Is there a setting/system you love making art for in particular? What is it about this world/system that inspires you?
My favorite system, right now, is FATE. The Dresden Files RPG in specific. I love making cheesy book covers for the “novels” of my Dresden games. All two of them.

Recently, I’ve done some fanart for White Wolf’s Exalted that’s far outside my usual artistic comfort zone. The art in those books is what makes me want to be a roleplaying game artist. UDON, Kiyo, Spencer, Melissa Uran – they’re favorites of mine, and why I strive to improve. It’s my long-term goal to have art in an Exalted book.

Do you prefer to GM or play as a PC? Do you find this affects your art?
Defintiely play. I like GMing now and again, particularly if I’m introducing someone to a game I love, but being a player is where my heart is. Being a player lets me doodle at the table, so it directly affects my art!

Do you find yourself more drawn to drawing locations or people? Do you have them fleshed out before you bring pencil to paper (to use an old idiom) or do the ideas and the image kind of grow side by side?
Actually, I tend to draw objects more than anything else! And I generally have a vague idea before I put anything down, but it almost never ends up as I first imagined it. I do really like drawing locations (mostly in 3D), but my people are almost never satisfactory. I’m working on that any chance I get.

Werewolf by Jeremy Kostiew

Werewolf by Jeremy Kostiew

What’s your preferred medium to work with? Do you work digitally, on paper or some mix?
Digital. Ctrl+Z is the only reason my blood pressure isn’t through the roof. I’m pretty well versed in a large suite of digital stuff, though. Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, SketchUp, Corel Painter, AutoCAD. I’ll use a more traditional medium every now and again, but I hate eraser lines!

How much time would you say you spend in a week making art? How much time in a week would you say you spend gaming?
Art is pretty much a part time job’s worth of hours in my week, with occasional overtime. Gaming is another part time job! Between my day job, art and gaming, I probably don’t sleep as much as I should. When the weather’s cool, I try to make up for that lack of naptime by curling up in the backseat of my car during my lunch hour.

Are there any trends, either genre-wise or technique-wise that you’re seeing in RPG/game art that you’re enjoying now? Is there anything you want to see more of or things you don’t like?
In the past few years I’ve seen a number of artists from online communities like DeviantArt make it big, and that’s amazing. Seeing an artist I dig go from a few dozen views a month to featured in an UDON tribute? That’s the best, most-exciting thing in the world.
There’s also been a push for more appropriate cheesecake in RPG art. Whether that’s gender/skintone/bodytype equitable cheesecake, or forgoing ‘sexy badass’ when ‘badass’ alone makes more sense, I’m happy to see the hobby taking steps to expand its artistic horizons. While I adore beautifully drawn cheesecake, there’s already a lot of it out there for me. It’s pretty amazing to see genre art realize this, and work toward making games even more inclusive.

STAF by Jeremy Kostiew

STAF by Jeremy Kostiew

Whose art do you like the most? Whose art would you say has influenced you or do you try to emulate?
Oh, jeez. Where to start? There are the titans of traditional genre art, RK Post, BROM, Boris Vallejo, Julia Bell, etc etc etc… My comic art talent-crushes: Mike Mignola, Long Vo, Jim Zub, and Alex Ross. There are my personal RPG-art heroes: Melissa Uran, Ron Spencer, Steve Prescott, Kiyo, DiTerlizzi. Then there are the little guys who SHOULD be big: Jenna Fowler, Susan Knowles, Amy Clare Learmonth, Jared von Hindman, Timm Henson. I’m probably missing a dozen more names! There are too many people that inspire me to do art.

What tools do you use to make art? What tools/items do you need to game?
For art? MSPaint, Flash, Illustrator, Photoshop, SketchUp. Sometimes a Wacom. Not frequently. And a small mouse for my HUGE HANDS. For gaming? FUDGE dice. A good, small mouse. Lots of D10s and the occasional D20. Oh! And a nice, warm coat for winter LARPing.

What projects have you worked on in the past? Can you tell us what you’re currently working on or have in the queue?
I’ve got a huge number of Machine Age Productions’ logos, some interior art and the cover to their recently released Farewell to Fear. It’s tremendous fun to work with as passionate about gaming as David and Filamena, and I leap at the chance every time they need something drawn. I did the company logo for ENnie Award-winning RPG design badasses VSCA Publishing, and that was sort of a dream. I love their Hollowpoint. Left of the Moon Games, Magpie Games, Play Attention Games. A kindly handful of indie RPG developers have been kind enough to feature my work on their products/brands. I’ve also had the pleasure of doing a number of logos for the Troll in the Corner Podcast network!

Right now I’m working on stuff for Play Attention Games and TrolliTC’s own Wargaming Recon!

Wardogs of Atlantis by Jeremy Kostiew

Wardogs of Atlantis by Jeremy Kostiew

Are there any pieces you’re particularly proud of? A favourite character you managed to pin down or something really funny/touching/dramatic you captured?
I have a character I’ve been doodling since high school. It’s my version of the Mothman urban legend, set in a fictional Hong Kong, with more than a few nods to John Woo movies. But my favorite current piece are either the cover for Nathanael Cole’s Motobushido, or the Indie Talks logo. I love that microphone!

What would be a dream job/commission?
Anything for White Wolf! They’ve fostered the largest number of games I’ve been a part of, including LARPs and tabletop, and almost every contemporary artist I love has done work for them in some manner. Exalted is the title I’d specifically love to work on.

When you’re not making art or gaming, what are you doing?
I’m generally doing design work for the solar industry, or cruising Google+ like an internet shark. I also have a fondness for wine that I’m trying to cultivate – and being so close to the Napa Valley it isn’t terribly hard!

Do you have any advice for people who are trying to find artists to hire? To artists trying to get their work out there?
Bug David Hill and Filamena Young until they question the worth of your friendship! But seriously, never stop asking for work. And have a portfolio that isn’t hosted DeviantArt. If you DO require DA to be your sole place of artistic hosting CHECK YOUR MESSAGES EVERYDAY. And do art a lot. And have a cat to pet furiously when you’re turned down. Feline fur absorbs rejection-tears with amazing efficiency.

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I have a cat for the exact same reason.

I want to thank Jeremy and all the other amazing artists that helped kick of Epic Level Artistry this year! I hope you all enjoyed seeing their art and reading their answers and advice and maybe got inspired to draw a bit yourself. Thank you all for reading and hope to being you even more great fantasy, sci fi and RPG art in 2013. Cheers!

About Tristan J Tarwater

Tristan is the author of 'The Valley of Ten Crescents' series and someone who is obsessed with elves. She once gave her 3.5 elf druid 'Skill: Basketweaving' just so she could take the spell, 'Beget Bogun.' Check out more of her work at backthatelfup.com

Epic Level Artistry: Ryan Rhodes

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Oct 152012
 

It’s the middle of the month and time for another installment of Epic Level Artistry! This time we are stoked to have Ryan Rhodes, illustrator, graphic artist and RPG player. From science fiction, fantasy, western and/or steampunk, Ryan is able to lend his style to many different genres and infuses life and humor in many of his images.  Check it out!

Merman by Ryan Rhodes

So, tell us a little bit about yourself and your history with art in games and RPGs.
I joined the Star Wars Artists’ Guild in 2002, shortly after it got its first official site. I was a community member, then, not an artist. I think I was only 15. I was drawing, but I was pretty shit at it. I wanted more than anything to be a guild member and draw people’s characters, but my application was denied twice. I had some personal correspondence with Daniel Falconer (who did concept art for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films), and he gave me a lot of advice. I tried emulating what I saw him and some other artists like Khairul Hisham doing at the time, started experimenting with ink, and built a really novice portfolio. That was enough to get me in the guild. Since then, I’ve done a ton of Star Wars RPG art. I’ve done a lot for free, through the site, and a fair share of private commissions. At some point I branched from Star Wars and started playing other games like D&D, and I started doing art for those games, too. About two years ago I started getting regular paid work for small-time RPG content publishers.

What’s your favourite system to play? Is there a setting/system you love making art for in particular? What is it about this world/system that inspires you?
My favorite system is actually Marvel’s diceless RPG system. I’m not sure how many people play that or even remember it, but I thought it was brilliant. I really liked the Cortex system for Serenity RPG, and Decipher’s LOTR. But of course I play a lot of Star Wars. And recently, a lot of Pathfinder. That’s my favorite at the moment.

Do you prefer to GM or play as a PC? Do you find this affects your art?
I’ve spent a lot more time GMing than playing. I didn’t necessarily choose to, but it’s worked out that way. And once people decide you’re good at something, you’re generally stuck with it. I love GMing, but I love having a break once in a while to play, too. I think when I’m playing (rather than GMing) I do a lot more art for my home game. I think being a player frees me up to be creative in other areas. Being a GM can be pretty taxing.

Do you find yourself more drawn to drawing locations or people? Do you have them fleshed out before you bring pencil to paper (to use an old idiom) or do the ideas and the image kind of grow side by side?
I almost exclusively draw characters. I’ve been playing around with more scenes and landscapes lately, integrating these things together. But characters are definitely my milieu. For me, the concept and the image definitely grow together on the paper. It’s very rare that I get a really clear mental image of what I’m going to draw before I draw it, and it’s usually wrong.

What’s your preferred medium to work with? Do you work digitally, on paper or some mix?
I’ve been doing digital illustration for several years now, which is the avenue I went down trying to find perfect ink lines. The computer gives me a level of control I really like. I can be a real perfectionist with my lines if I want. But I still love sketching on paper from time to time, mostly to unwind. Sometimes I really like that the real ink lines on paper are kind of messy and noisy and misbehave.

How much time would you say you spend in a week making art? How much time in a week would you say you spend gaming?
I think I spend at least six hours a week drawing. I tend to sit down and draw for about 2 to 4 hours at a time, and I almost always do a piece from start to finish in one sitting. I haven’t gamed much in the last few years. My friends and I have slowly been moving away for school and work, and it’s been hard to find time to get together. I gamed almost nonstop over the summer while my little brothers were staying at my house. All they wanted to do was play Pathfinder every day.

Cosmic Frog Jam by Ryan Rhodes

Are there any trends, either genre-wise or technique-wise that you’re seeing in RPG/game art that you’re enjoying now? Is there anything you want to see more of or things you don’t like?
One thing I notice about character art, especially in Pathfinder, is that the characters are totally laden with gear, which I find aesthetically shitty, and totally hilarious and appropriate from a gaming perspective. I still like the sketchy character portraits from D&D 3.5, and I think the character art from Decipher’s LOTR really hit on that style. I think it really works for fantasy, which is funny because I’ve been doing a lot of fantasy art lately, and my style is like the antithesis of that! I remember noticing some art in a style more or less similar to mine in some of the later Star Wars Saga Edition books. I think it really works for sci-fi.

Whose art do you like the most? Whose art would you say has influenced you or do you try to emulate?
My first love was for R.K. Post, and I still really like his stuff. I think a major influence was Daniel Falconer, more than any other. I had been trying to emulate his pen and marker style for years. Grant Gould is also a major influence; I love his brush pen lines and digital colors. But I think I was also influenced by traditional artists like Mucha, Toulouse-Lautrec, Privat Livemont, and others.

What tools do you use to make art? What tools/items do you need to game?
I draw with an Intuos tablet and Photoshop CS4. I also draw on paper at times with pigma microns and brush pen. I have a nice sepia set I really love.

What projects have you worked on in the past? Can you tell us what you’re currently working on or have in the queue?
I did some work for a steampunk space western RPG called Westward, published by Wicked North, and contributed to a couple resources by VonSchlick including a superhero and a horror gallery. Lately I’ve been working for Purple Duck Games, doing fantasy art for various projects. Lots and lots of character and monster art. I’ve really been enjoying the work with Mark Gedak, at Purple Duck. I feel like he has a good handle on my abilities and gives me stuff I really enjoy.

Self Portrait by Ryan Rhodes

Are there any pieces you’re particularly proud of? A favourite character you managed to pin down or something really funny/touching/dramatic you captured?
I’m pretty proud of a character portrait I did for myself, of a character I played in a Pathfinder game two years ago. He was sort of my take on Merman, from Masters of the Universe. I have a few Star Wars pieces that I think are pretty killer, and a couple fantasy pieces that turned out way better than I anticipated.

What would be a dream job/commission?
A dream job for me would be to collaborate with someone really motivated and knowledgeable on a big project, like creating our own sci-fi RPG. I’d also love to work on a big illustration project, maybe like a storybook or something. That would be challenging, but worthwhile.

When you’re not making art or gaming, what are you doing?
I’m working on my MA in linguistics right now, so I do a lot of research and conduct experiments occasionally. I do a lot of reading, and I play a lot of board games with my girlfriend. She’s not into d20, so we’ve been trying to find a game system she and I can both enjoy.

Do you have any advice for people who are trying to find artists to hire? To artists trying to get their work out there?
For people looking to hire artists, I think I’d say don’t over-specify your wants. You never know when an artist might surprise you with something you didn’t even realize you wanted. Sometimes it’s nice to have someone else’s input on your vision. To artists, I would say try to be outgoing. This is my biggest hurdle. I’ve been lucky that other artists have opened up to me, because I don’t really put myself out there enough. I owe a lot to the artists that do!

Your ‘Context Free Comics’ are really funny. Are those posted anywhere or do you just do them as the mood strikes you?
I post them here: http://contextfreecomics.blogspot.com/. But I should warn you, I haven’t updated in 7 months. Maybe if my other work slows down, I’ll get back to the comics. I know my girlfriend has plenty of ideas!

Regarding your graphic design pieces, when you’re designing for an organization or an event, what do you take into consideration first? How do you decide on fonts/images? What comes first when you’re composing the design? How is it different from illustration?
All the graphic design work I’ve done has been pro bono, either for an organization I belong to, or as a favor for friends and family. Sometimes they have very specific wants, which can make the job a lot easier. Otherwise, I try to find the core message and use that to guide the aesthetic. Like everything else I do, this is a monkey-throwing-darts kind of process, where I try lots and lots of different angles until I find something that resonates. I never studied this stuff in school, so it’s a very intuitive process.

The first thing is always the imagery. I find the image I want to convey, and I fit everything else into that, hopefully in a way that flows well. In illustration, I have to think about how to highlight a character within the parameters of the medium, so I have to decide what they’re wearing, what they’re holding, how they’re poised, in a way that reveals something about them. In graphic design, there are similar principles, but applied to the arrangement of image and information.

Your bio says you’re a linguist. What languages do you speak/have you studied? Do you ever incorporate this into gaming?
Well, I’m not a polyglot, but I think every linguist knows something about a huge number of languages, even if we don’t speak them. Right now I’m working on a local language called Chukchansi (a Yokuts language of Central California). Their tribe recently donated a lot of money to our linguistics department for a language revitalization project.

As far as incorporating this into gaming, I think it has definitely aided our ability to make up alien languages on the spot. My friends and I have fun ad-libbing alien dialogue during our Star Wars games, and I think having studied so many languages, and having a general linguistic curiosity plays into that. I actually spent hours in front of the TV with a notepad during middle school trying to decipher the alien languages of Star Wars. I found out later that there’s nothing to decipher, and they’re all nonsense. I should have invested my time in Klingon…

Please drop a fresh beat for us.

Fresh Beet by Ryan Rhodes. HA!

 

So there you have it! If you dig what you see here you can find Ryan’s portfolio or check out his dA. Thanks to Ryan for taking the time out for answering our questions; happy gaming!

About Tristan J Tarwater

Tristan is the author of 'The Valley of Ten Crescents' series and someone who is obsessed with elves. She once gave her 3.5 elf druid 'Skill: Basketweaving' just so she could take the spell, 'Beget Bogun.' Check out more of her work at backthatelfup.com

Sep 302012
 

Welcome back to Epic Level Artistry, where we get to hear from the artists that illustrate the RPGs we know and love. For our second installment we have Devin Night, a designer, illustrator, teacher and family man out of the Midwest. In addition to designing crafts and weapons for your characters to drive and wield, he also creates overhead tokens, a really awesome tool GMs can bring to the gaming table or gaming screen. Devin was awesome enough to take the time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his art and gaming career. Check it out!

Displacer Beast by Devin Night

How did you get into making overhead tokens? I learned about their existence through the Tabletop Forge Kickstarter and honestly, they’re very cool.

Thanks. I started making tokens shortly into using Fantasy Grounds. It came with a base set of letter tokens for marking character position on a map. Once I realized they were .png files I made some really simple orc tokens. They were crude but as I kept working on the tokens over the years the style has matured and the tokens look better.

Between producing such great work at a high volume and having a family, how do you manage to keep from going insane?
It would be hard to prove that I’m not. Creating is what keeps me sane, I love making stuff, any kind of stuff, from the tokens, to illustrations, game pieces and also shelves. There just isn’t enough shelving designed to hold board games, or art supplies or miniatures. Custom shelving is what I do whenever I need to make something with power tools. But the bottom line is that creating things keeps me feeling good about myself. Also I’d like to mention that my wife is very supportive and my girls are totally awesome.

Do you have time to illustrate your own characters for campaigns you’re in?
I will sometimes sketch things from my games, but I haven’t really had time to do that for the past couple years. I’ve been working on so many projects over the course of the past couple years that when I have downtime I think about doing more… but I usually just end up relaxing instead. Being creative all the time can be very draining. I used to illustrate everyone’s characters. Now I make tokens to represent them in game.

What’s your favorite Classico pasta sauce? (you don’t have to actually answer this one, I just saw the images in your portfolio and thought I’d ask)
I did a bunch of work for Classico right out of college making mock-up boards for a lot of their products and possible product ideas. It paid well and was a great experience, sadly I have ever only had one flavor, which I can’t remember.

What’s your favourite system to play? Is there a setting/system you love making art for in particular? What is it about this world/system that inspires you?
I have been playing DnD for 30 years. I have dabbled in other systems and own a ton of boardgames. Just recently I decided I needed a break from DnD and I have a really yearning for some sic-fi. So once I get the current batch of tokens done I plan on making a set of tokens that are space/sci-fi in nature. Throw in some robots and aliens and I may have a whole new line of tokens.

Old Temple by Devin Night

Do you prefer to GM or play as a PC? Do you find this affects your art?
I actually prefer to DM. I love the story telling aspect and I think I love getting the players to work with me to advance the story. When I GM I’m ore likely to make the maps, handouts and tokens needed to make the game feel more cohesive.

Do you find yourself more drawn to drawing locations or people? Do you have them fleshed out before you bring pencil to paper (to use an old idiom) or do the ideas and the image kind of grow side by side?
I love locations, I could have easily been an architect if my math skills weren’t so horrible. Even though I do a lot of character drawings I feel like I need to improve a lot in that area. I don’t draw as many places as I would like to either. I think it’s just a matter of not having the time to get to all the things I want to do. I like places with history where the people changed the place and where the place changed the people. When I make maps I try think about how a natural environment becomes the home of a group of people, and then how that group of people would change the place to suit their needs.

What’s your preferred medium to work with? Do you work digitally, on paper or some mix?
I work almost entirely digitally now. I used to hand draw everything then color it digitally. Now I do all my rough sketching on paper… I think it’s still the best way to conceptualize. However once I have a rough sketch I go right to re-drawing and coloring on the computer.

How much time would you say you spend in a week making art? How much time in a week would you say you spend gaming?
I spend about 4-6 hours a day making art. I would spend about 10-12 if I didn’t have other things that I needed to do. Like eating, moving around, and taking care of the girls. Now that the girls are in school I’m getting more time to focus on work but I would still love to add about three more hours to the day. I just recently broke up with my gaming group, well more like took a break. We have played regularly every Tuesday night for over five years. It’s fun but right now my heart is just into creating art, and the 3-4 hours we were playing just seemed to keep me away from doing it. I still like to fit in a couple hours or an evening when I can to play board games with friends or family.

Aether Pistols by Devin NightAre there any trends, either genre-wise or technique-wise that you’re seeing in RPG/game art that you’re enjoying now? Is there anything you want to see more of or things you don’t like?
I’ve always been a closet Anime lover. I like very stylized and clean art. But there is just amazing art everywhere you look and on any given day I’ll see something that just makes me want to try and push my own work that much further. There isn’t much I don’t like except maybe bad art :) that includes some of my own past work.

Whose art do you like the most? Whose art would you say has influenced you or do you try to emulate?
The list of great artists worth trying to emulate would be a long one. It would also change depending on what project I wanted to work on. I really like Wayne Reynolds and Steve Prescott as far as illustrators go. Full disclosure, Steve and I are pretty good friends who graduated from CCAD together with several other talented people. It was freshman year that I decided to go into design as a direct result of seeing how good Steve was. I figured if I couldn’t compete with him and some of the other guys I would get more computer classes in. Back then Computer classes were reserved for Design majors and getting to use them was easier in the Design track. I have several pieces of Steve’s art hanging up around me and it keeps me pushing to get better at what I do. Fortunately I found a niche making overhead token art that not too many people seem interested in doing.

 What tools do you use to make art? What tools/items do you need to game?
Mechanical pencil and paper to get started. Then a 27 inch iMac and Wacom Tablet running Photoshop and Illustrator to make the digital art. Sometimes I will open up Carrara to do quick 3d models of the things I need to draw, or given the time use 3d modeling to complete an illustration. Virtual gaming has really changed the way I play games, though I still buy tons of board games and recently invested a small amount into making my own dungeons using Hirst Arts Castle molds. Making three-dimensional representations of dungeons to play games on just seems so cool. Also the girls will really like it when it’s done.

Skeleton Mage by Devin NightWhat projects have you worked on in the past? Can you tell us what you’re currently working on or have in the queue?
I don’t know for sure when this will be posted, but I’ll guess that my Kickstarter has finished and I’m making 200+ tokens of monsters. I’m also making 30 custom character tokens for the Tabletop Forge Kickstarter. I help Rite Publishing with their monthly ezine Pathways doing the layout for the covers. I’m working on maps for the En Publishing Zeitgist campaign and did 12 ship maps for the Naval Warfare Kickstarter. I work a lot with small publishers and indie game developers as well. I just got asked to help with a very cool project, but it’s in the early stages and I can’t talk about it yet.

Are there any pieces you’re particularly proud of? A favourite character you managed to pin down or something really funny/touching/dramatic you captured?
Usually the last piece of work I managed to finish. Like most artists I’m pretty critical of my own work so I’m never really satisfied with things when I look back on them. Most of the work that gets posted to my blog makes me happy at the time I put it up there.

What would be a dream job/commission?
I’ve always wanted to run a hobby shop, one with really big tables for open play and lots of sunlight. I’d also really enjoy working for most major board game companies like Fantasy Flight, my job description would have to include walking around and dipping my fingers into every game and every aspect of those games. From rules, to art, layout, game design and mini visualization. I wouldn’t be happy with just dealing with one tiny aspect of any part.

When you’re not making art or gaming, what are you doing?
If I’m not making art or gaming I’m thinking about it. Sometimes when i have no choice about working I will visualize myself working through a project and make a step by step outline of how to approach a project. When I do get back into the chair the majority of the work is done, I just then need to perform the action of doing it. This summer I spent a lot of time running around with the girls, swimming, biking, and a little camping.

Dragonkin Weapons by Devin NightDo you have any advice for people who are trying to find artists to hire? To artists trying to get their work out there?
Look around, there are a ton of great artists, and they are easier than ever to track down and work with. I have worked with more people that I have never met than people who I have ever spent time with. Hang out forums where they post their work. You can get a good picture of an artist by their posted work and how they handle themselves publicly. If you are an artist trying to get exposure.. do your work, do a lot of it, share it with others. Don’t expect to make a ton of money early on, but don’t give it away either. Art is job and even if it is fun, it’s still work. Once you get a job do your best to fulfill the needs of the client in a timely manner and keep communications open.

 

If you’re interested in seeing more of Devin’s tokens and art you can check out Devinnight’s Token Blog and his portfolio at Immortal Nights. With so many great projects he’s working on, I’m so glad he took the time out to talk to us; hope you enjoyed reading about his experiences and seeing the great art he’s bringing to the RPG world!

 

Are you an artist interested in being interviewed for Epic Level Artistry? Send an email to trisj at backthatelfup dot com with a bit about yourself and a link to your portfolio. We’ve got a few slots left for this year and will be starting up again in 2013. Happy drawing!

About Tristan J Tarwater

Tristan is the author of 'The Valley of Ten Crescents' series and someone who is obsessed with elves. She once gave her 3.5 elf druid 'Skill: Basketweaving' just so she could take the spell, 'Beget Bogun.' Check out more of her work at backthatelfup.com