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.
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’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.
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 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.
Do 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!
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