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!

************************************************************************

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.

 

*********************************************************************

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: Caytlin Vilbrandt

 Comics, Epic Level Artistry, Interview, Role Playing Games  Comments Off on Epic Level Artistry: Caytlin Vilbrandt
Nov 152012
 

Caytlin Vilbrandt

If you’re like me, you not only like to play RPGs but you also love to read webcomics. What if you could combine the two? What if two gamers decided to make a comic? What would it look like? Walking on Broken Glass is one such comic, written by Samantha J.  Mathis and illustrated by Caytlin Vilbrandt, both of them long time gamers and creators of fantastic content. Today at Epic Level Artistry we are lucky to pose questions to Caytlin Vilbrandt. Not only does Caytlin bring Nick and Kennedy, two epically bad ass characters, to life on paper and on the web, she also does graphic design, attends conventions, and is really fun to share a booth with! Let’s see what this wonderful woman of gaming has to say about illustration, RPGs, and…ponies?

How long did it take the ideas from WoBG to go from being a game to a webcomic? What was the transition like?
Well, we played it as a game for two years or so, before we petered off. Round about that time, a former student of my Dad’s who works in the comics industry contacted my Dad and told him he’d like to help me get a foot in the door. So I went to Phoenix Comicon to meet him and start figuring out how to work in comics.

The big tip at all the panels was that you really have to have something to show — some actual comic. And so I poked Sam and said, HEY, WE SHOULD DO A COMIC. And the very next line was both of us saying, We should do a Nick and Kennedy comic! And so we did.

I think the funniest thing about it is that when we were starting out our planning, we kept looking at it as an RPG instead of as a story. We were bent on making consistent rules and making sure everything was balanced from a weird gameplay perspective. It took some time before we weened ourselves off that and started looking at it as a story and not as a tabletop game.

An excerpt from WoBG

You actually wear quite a few hats as far as making art goes. Is it safe to say that you prefer working on WoBG the most?
Oh heck yeah. WoBG is our baby. Drawing Nick and Kennedy is what pulled me out of a four or five year dry spell, creativity-wise. I hardly drew for years. So they have a pretty special place in my heart. Not to mention, I like working for myself (ourselves?) and I am absolutely bent on making this my job and my profession. So I treat it like one and give it top priority.

Frustrated GM

So, tell us a little bit about yourself and your history with art in games and RPGs.
So, somewhat belatedly, hi! I’ve done a little bit of work in the RPG industry. When I was in high school, I was briefly on board to do inking work for an RPG called Dark Shard, which unfortunately was dropped by the publisher before it could be completed. More recently, I illustrated the My Little Pony: Roleplaying is Magic RPG. I’ve played RPGs of various stripes since I was youngish, and I’ve always been drawn to the art side of it.

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?
Probably Pathfinder, at the moment, though the Deadlands system is freakin’ awesome. I’d love to do some art for WoD though, sometime. Because, y’know. Werewolves.

Do you prefer to GM or play as a PC? Do you find this affects your art?
I way prefer to be the GM. As a PC, I can never think up things to do, and I wind up just sort of being quiet in the corner. But as the GM, I’m really good at thinking on my feet and making sure everyone has fun. I’m not sure it necessarily affects my art, though.

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?
Generally people: I’m very people-oriented. But of late, I’ve gotten really interested in locations and environments, and how they reflect people. It’s just fun.

On the downside, I’m terrible at fleshing things out before it’s time to get to them in the comic, so I tend to make things up as I go along. So, for example, you’d see the Living Quarters, and it’d have what I’d need for that scene. The next time the LQ comes up, I have to figure out how to integrate that into a larger environment. “Gee, Caytlin, you didn’t put in ANY place for the other bedrooms. Where are they? Oh, there’s this one corner I haven’t drawn yet! THERE’S A HALLWAY THERE.”

That’s a terrible way to do things.

Excerpt from WoBG with note from illustrator

What’s your preferred medium to work with? Do you work digitally, on paper or some mix?
I prefer to do sketches on paper. Even with a cintiq, there’s just something about paper and pencil that gets ideas out better. But from there, I transfer things into the computer to complete it digitally.

Specifically, my process is that I do all my thumbnails on some templates I printed on regular ol’ office paper. After that, I redraw it on 11×17 comic boards, and scan it in in halves. I use Photoshop to lay down the panel borders, and then I transfer it to Paint Tool SAI to do the coloring stuff. I’ve started putting my environments into Google Sketchup and taking screenshots to trace and alter, to help speed things up. And also to force me to think about my environments a little harder before jumping in with both feet.

When it’s time to put the words down, I do that all in Illustrator, then send it off to Sam to upload!

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?
Oh gosh. Eight to ten hours a day, six days a week, usually. So between 48 and 60 hours. I usually keep working while I’m gaming as well. And speaking of, I probably do about eight to ten hours of that a week, too, between the two gaming groups I’m in. One of them is straight Pathfinder, and the other one rotates week to week between Pathfinder, nWoD Changeling, oWoD Vampire: Dark Ages, and free play.

Whose art do you like the most? Whose art would you say has influenced you or do you try to emulate?
I love pretty much any art, to be honest. RPG-wise, I think Pathfinder’s art has most captured my interest. Most of my influences, however, are more internet related than not. I find over the years, I’ve been most influenced by Niki Foley, Faith Erin Hicks, Yuko Ota, Vera Brosgol, Jisuk Cho, D. Helmer, Danielle Corsetto, Glen Keane, and countless others.

What tools do you use to make art? What tools/items do you need to game?
Pencils (mechanical, usually), erasers, paper, a scanner, and a cintiq (though that’s a recent addition). I tend to be very tool-oriented, especially in gaming! We have notecards to keep track of initiative and effects; we have minis … in fact, we just ordered the big Reaper Miniatures pack from their Kickstarter; we have a battle map and pens, and little counters for enemies. Tons of dice, of course! And other things, but those are our essentials.

What projects have you worked on in the past? Can you tell us what you’re currently working on or have in the queue?
As always, I’m working on Walking on Broken Glass. But as I said, I did the Season 2 edition of MLP:RiM. I’ll be doing the 3rd Season, too, so if you happen to like ponies, keep an eye out!

Nick and Kennedy

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?
Probably most recently, I’m pretty proud of the last panel of the last page of Issue 5. Kissing is hard to draw, and that particular panel went through at least five different versions before hitting on that.

As for a favorite character? Probably my Pathfinder bard, Emir. He’s a fancy nobleman’s son who decided to go “be with the common people” and go ADVENTURING!!! So he’s very delicate, calls everyone ‘darling,’ has an insatiable desire to keep adventuring despite all the terrible things that have happened to his person (like poop. Lots of poop.), and is just generally incredibly ebullient. He’s always a blast to play.

What would be a dream job/commission?
To be able to work on WoBG and get paid enough to actual make at least a meager living off of it. And then get paid enough to hire someone *else* to work on the website and the advertising. And maybe order fulfillment. Ugh.

Other than that, someday I’m going to be a storyboard artist. Don’t know when or for whom, but damn it. It’s going to happen.

When you’re not making art or gaming, what are you doing?
…There’s something else to do in life?

Smooth Operator

Do you have any advice for people who are trying to find artists to hire? To artists trying to get their work out there?
Looking for an artist for hire? Have money to offer. But really, the best route for you is to actually make friends with some artists. You’re going to get a lot more interest and cooperation from a friend than some poor schmuck you cold-call because you like their stuff.

But still pay them. Doing work for friends and family for free is terribly uninspiring.

There’s a fabulous post about exactly this on Faith Erin Hicks’s tumblr. Go see!

************************

I would like to thank Caytlin for taking the time to answer our questions! If you like Caytlin’s work you can check out more at Grey Ink Studios. Walking on Broken Glass updates every Sunday and Thursday and if you need a bit extra, they have a Tumblr where they answer questions from fans (warning you in advance for spoilers; however, there is a lot of fun of stuff in there, so definitely check it out). If you liked Caytlin’s answers, you can read more about her adventures in gaming, going to Cons, and illustrating on Twitter. Happy gaming, drawing and reading!

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

Jan 242011
 

[tags]flumph,orc,monk,webcomics,dungeons and dragons[/tags]

About Buddy Mcgehee

Buddy is a geek extraordinaire and is into comic books, video games and role playing games. Look him up on Google+, or add him to your PS3 and Xbox 360 friend lists for some video gaming fun; gamertag on both is "Nightchilde."

Webcomic: D&D Classed Monsters Part Two

 Dungeons & Dragons, Troll in the Corner  Comments Off on Webcomic: D&D Classed Monsters Part Two
Jan 172011
 

[tags]webcomics,D&D,owlbear,ninja,art[/tags]

About Buddy Mcgehee

Buddy is a geek extraordinaire and is into comic books, video games and role playing games. Look him up on Google+, or add him to your PS3 and Xbox 360 friend lists for some video gaming fun; gamertag on both is "Nightchilde."

Jan 102011
 

[tags]art,D&D,webcomics,duckbunny[/tags]

About Buddy Mcgehee

Buddy is a geek extraordinaire and is into comic books, video games and role playing games. Look him up on Google+, or add him to your PS3 and Xbox 360 friend lists for some video gaming fun; gamertag on both is "Nightchilde."

Oct 192010
 

Our friend Olan, author of the Loaded Dice rpg webcomic over at Red Dragon Inn is looking for some help.  Unfortunately, due to busy schedules his artist Lyra needs to drop the comic and that leaves him desperately searching for someone new to take over.

This could be a great opportunity for an artist to jump into the RPG comic crowd and it comes with a nice following (myself included) right off the bat.  If you’re interested, click HERE to read what Olan is looking for and how you can get involved.  Even if you don’t, it’s just on hiatus while they get themselves together, so take a little bit of time to read through the older content and get acquainted with some great gamer humor.

Loaded Dice Logo

[tags]Comics, webcomics, artists, rpg, gaming [/tags]

About Nick Nundahl

I'm a wild haired demi-viking living on the East Coast United States. I've run games in countless systems and tanked more game nights than I've ever run successfully, but hopefully I learned a lot in the process and I'd like to pass that on. Follow me on Twitter.