Another Epic Level Artistry, another amazing artist! This installment brings Jaydot Sloane, an illustrator, creator of the webcomics Vanity Games and Apocalypse Girls and gamer. Jaydot is another person telling stories at the game table and on the page, an enthusiastic participant in both kinds of storytelling. One time she had me take pics of myself making crazy faces for her comic. How awesome is that? Bringing humor to the internet and the gaming world, let’s see what she had to say about making characters that roll dice and kick ass in comics!
So, tell us a little bit about yourself and your history with art in games and RPGs.
In regards to both gaming and art I am largely self-taught (which often shows, but hey I do this because I like learning new things so I’m ok with that, too). In regards to the cross-over of the two, well that’s rather inevitable. I’d be hard-pressed to name an artist who
doesn’t draw what she loves, and I’m certainly no exception. While I doubt I’ll ever be doing art for any major company, I’ve found I really enjoy helping out with indy publications. I have a dayjob so I don’t have as much time to commit to that as I’d like, but every time I’m able to work with some small publication I admit it makes me giddy.
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?
To play? Erm, to be honest, I don’t really play all that often. I suppose at the moment my darling is Marvel RPG, but I’ve drawn very
little by way of art for that (most tights n flights comic art is wholly not my style). Most of the time I find myself drawing people’s D&D characters as commissions, a fact I absolutely love because, strangely, I totally want to hear all about your character.
That said, I can honestly say that my soon-to-be-wrapped webcomic was largely inspired by Apocalypse World in terms of setting. At the time that I started the project I had a love and interest in post-apocalyptic settings, I’d run quite a bit of Apocalypse World,
and in general found that the game spoke to me in a way that helped me finally grasp what it means to be a GM. If you don’t mind a lot of swearing, it’s an absolutely fantastic GMs guide that could just as easily be applied to writing stories of any kind. Frankly, I didn’t apply it enough to my comic, which may be another part of the reason I’m finishing that project to start a new one.
Do you prefer to GM or play as a PC? Do you find this affects your art?
Usually GM. And yeah it affects my art; most of the time a person draws their own character, and that’s it. As a GM I find I draw everything – every character, every setting, every NPC. My GM book is often filled with sketches that tell me far more about what I want to say about a person / place / thing rather than the actual notes I put down. No surprise there; humans are very visual creatures, and I always found the visual notes to be far more compelling.
It also affects the way I read RPG books. Apocalypse World has, really, very little art in it. Almost none, which, perversely, inspired me more than those books that are laden with gorgeous art. Don’t mistake me, I absolutely love the art in RPG books, but it
always guides my imagination to where the author / artist wants it to go. It’s almost restricting. An RPG book with almost no art in it is an RPG book that’s inviting me to use the full extent of my imagination.
But I know I’m not likely to be the rule in that regard, and I love working on art for RPG books, so it’s safe to say there is some conflict of interest there, as well.
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?
No matter how hard you try, the stuff that’s in your head will almost never resemble what ends up on paper. Sometimes you get really
close, but memory and imagination are fickle things and at some point it becomes more important to pretend that what’s on the paper was what you always wanted anyway and whatever was in your head wasn’t half as good as what you got. Or to throw the whole thing away and stomp around and pout until you’re willing to try again.
With that in mind, there’s sort of an evolution for getting the ideas down on paper. Loose doodles, sketches, and several “drafts” usually go into making something worth shoving into a book and showing other people. Almost nothing comes out perfect after the first go at it, so
generally what happens is I draw something (working largely with a mechanical pencil and a scrap paper), hate it, draw it again, hate it
but maybe less, draw it again, and so forth until I come up with something I don’t entirely hate. Which sounds tantamount to saying that I basically practice art voodoo, but honestly it just comes down to how anything good is produced; practice and repitition.
As for where the ideas come from — I’m both a thief and a dreamer. It’s often something I saw somewhere combined with some random strange dream I had or some story I made up in my head that guides what I’m attempting to put down on paper. And that can be anything, locations, people, objects, ideas, deities, or kitty cats.
What’s your preferred medium to work with? Do you work digitally, on paper or some mix?
I do most of my sketches at work in a notebook, and when I get home I scan them and do ink and colors digitally. Someday I’d love to learn
to work entirely away from the computer, but I haven’t brought myself to invest both in the materials I’d need and the patience I’d need because, really, everyone sucks when they first start doing something new.
Boy that’s like asking me when life begins. Does rambling about ideas on twitter count? Does dreaming count? Does seeing new ideas for both games and art in every inch of the universe count? To be honest, the sit-down-and-work portion comes and goes because, you know, life happens and I handle it best when i can be flexible. But if everything else that gets me to that points counts, then I’d say I never stop gaming / making art.
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 been keeping a pretty close eye on the Prismatic Art project. To put it bluntly, I’m kind of tired of seeing white people everywhere
I look, and I’m inordinately appreciative when an RPG takes the time to include a diverse array of body types / abilities. Sure, there’s
some socio-political motivation there, but largely I get bored looking at the same people over and over again. It soundslike hyperbole, but seriously all these pretty white people are starting to look alike to me and be wholly interchangeable.
Whose art do you like the most? Whose art would you say has influenced you or do you try to emulate?
Boy. That’s a tough one. I can be broad and say really anything that’s well-executed and has balanced composition and no particularly
messed up anatomy I tend to like. I’m generally not terribly picky. That said, most of my art heroes are comic artists; while I love the
paintings of Wayne England and the like, I’m more interested in sequential art, art that draws you along and draws you into a story. In that vein I tend to swoon over the art of folks like Skottie Young. And that’s yet still different from the artists I try to emulate, because I much prefer the simpler but dynamic style of people like Danielle Corsetto for my own comics.
If I had my choice of where I’d “end up” (or more accurately, in the direction I’d like to head), I’d say both Ramon Perez and Tyson Hesse are artists whose style I would love to be compared to someday (I’m far from it now, but their techniques are the ones I’d most like to study).
Art’s easy. Pencils and paper at a minimum. Scanner and computer and a tablet currently. Someday I may invest in a large cintiq, but since this is not my dayjob I’m not quite prepared to drop that much cash on what varies between paid work and largely a hobby for me.
Gaming is easy too. I’m a total digital gamer, even with the tabletop stuff. I get my friends together, and then I have everything I need on a laptop. I have the internet for google image searches, I keep copies of my books on there, I use google docs and spreadsheets and all that other stuff to organize information. I built my own GM screen out of whiteboard so I could write reminders to my players on the outside of it, and then turned the rest of the whiteboard into one-inch squares so I could have versatile monster tokens. I’m all about the efficiency when it comes to the rules, and then I’m all about letting the players tell me the story when it comes to roleplay.
What projects have you worked on in the past? Can you tell us what you’re currently working on or have in the queue?
Pretty much anything I could get my grubby little hands in. There are dry spells, to be sure, but so long as I’m talking to people about
games and gaming there always seems to be someone who could use a little bit of art done. While the website was active I was the resident artist for This Is My Game, and I loved it. I’ve done some work for flatpack adventures and some other small press publications; currently I’m drawing D&D art for a D&D podcast / website, and that’s a lot of fun for me. I work for less than I probably should, but part of that is because I know indy publications aren’t rolling in dough, and the other part of it is that I love to do it. I’d do it for free–and sometimes have (although I refuse to work under deadlines if I’m doing free work. You want to hand me a deadline, there better be some incentive to go with it, ya know?)
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 love all my babies! Sometimes it’s just something cheesy I doodled at a boring meeting, and sometimes there are things I worked on for ages. Early on in learning to draw I did a piece called “Cthulhu in Love” that to this day I still adore. Normally when I draw something, I go back to look at it later and there are a lot of things I wish were different about it. That’s what happens when you’re constantly learning / evolving your art. But that particular piece…well I won’t lie, there are things I’d like to touch up, but on the whole I’m still really pleased with it.
What would be a dream job/commission?
There are all sorts of things I’d like to do! Really, I love making stuff the most, and the best commissions are always the ones where the person asking for it is thrilled with what they got.
I mean, let’s be honest, my dream job is the one that lets me play video games and eat chips and ice cream all day, but sadly I doubt I’ll ever be offered that job. Instead I get the job where I get to take other people’s ideas and give them shape and color, and that’s genuinely almost as good.
And, quite frankly, this is already my dream job, because either I am helping other people, or I’m working on my own projects, and that’s largely all I want out of life.
When you’re not making art or gaming, what are you doing?
There’s more to life than this? Oh! Right! Sometimes I make time to hang out with my friends. Oh and play games so I guess that doesn’t count. Yikes! …sometimes I watch TV? But I get picky about that, too, so that doesn’t happen too often either. Plus I get restless when I’m not gaming / making stuff, so that really does comprise the largest portion of my time.
(I guess I do spend 40 hours a week at a desk job, but given that my desk is covered in doodles and gaming stuff, I’m not sure that counts
Do you have any advice for people who are trying to find artists to hire? To artists trying to get their work out there?
Your best bet is to ask around. Most of the work I get comes from referrals–and trust me, a friend will tell you when an artist is a crappy person to work with. And for artists, it’s the same but in reverse. Be an awesome person to work with, and always be available to work. There’s some hustle involved in there too–be active socially, be interactive in the arenas you’d like to draw art for, and have a lot of patience because the dry spells, they do happen.
You recently decided to shift gears and end your current webcomic to start brand new. What drove that decision? Also, have you ever been in/running a campaign and wished you could do the same thing?
I tried the webcomic for a year, which is usually a good marker for whether a webcomic will succeed or fail. I learned a lot in that year, but ultimately decided the comic wasn’t going where I wanted it to go. Which is fine! It was my first comics project, and having done a year of it is an enormous accomplishment. Ultimately, though, I disliked being beholden to deadlines, especially ones that were arbitrarily self-imposed. I found myself rushing my work to get it up in time, and I ended up deciding I would much rather be able to present a complete work rather than an on-time one.
Telling a story is a lot of work, and when you’re updating 2-3 times a week sometimes the story can go really slowly. I’d get frustrated and
want to skip to the next bit, because sometimes telling a days worth of events takes two months at that pace. Yet I didn’t want to just give up, but neither did I want to stop updating regularly. So I hit upon this idea, that I would tell my stories at the pace I want to tell them, but still have a little doodle webcomic just so I’m drawing/ writing every day. I’m hoping this gives me the best of both worlds, both the active audience engagement that comes with having a frequently updated body of work, as well as the time and space to tell really good stories on my own terms.
Games, however, are different. Those aren’t my work alone; there are five other people at the table participating, and those…well, those spiral out of control all the time, but that’s part of what makes it great. It’s this big messy chaotic pile of details and is completely different from telling a story, because all sorts of random nonsense happens at the table _and that’s OK_. The reason I’m there and my friends are there are to hang out and roleplay, we’re not trying to lovingly craft some epic tale of heroism and adventure. Sometimes that happens anyway, but I assure you it’s largely incidental. We want to play our characters, and we want to play in a new world, and we get all of that out of tabletop games. I wouldn’t exchange that for anything.
If you enjoyed Jaydot’s art and answers, feel free to follow her on Twitter at @VanityGames or on Tumblr. Jaydot is also a contributor to This Is My Game and RPG Musings, where you can read more of her insight on tabletop games.
We’ve got one more installment of Epic Level Artistry this year and plenty of slots open for next year! If you’re interested in being interviewed for ELA drop me an email at trisj at backthatelfup dot com. Cheers!