Epic Level Artistry: Caytlin Vilbrandt

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!

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