Epic Level Artistry: Adrian Ricker

Here we are in the month of May, kicking off Epic Level Artistry again! This month we have two great artists who both happen to reside in the city I hold dear to my heart and now live in: Portland, OR. I ran into Adrian (and next week’s artist, Michelle) at Stumptown Comic Fest and fell in love with his illustration of Daenerys Stormborn with her three dragons. Also, strange story: both Adrian and Michelle recognized us, though mostly my spouse, I assume: we used to manage apartments back in the day and they were some of our tenants. After some ‘HOLY CRAP, WE KNOW EACH OTHER, WHAT IS UP?’ we got to hear a bit of their adventures in art school. We exchanged info and later Adrian agreed to participate in Epic Level Artistry. Let’s see what Adrian had to say about art, games and a very intriguing cactus man.

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Portown by Adrian Ricker
Portown by Adrian Ricker

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

I’ll start by saying my interest in tabletop RPGs was something that came to me later in life. My earlier years were dominated by just a simple interest in Sci-fi and Fantasy. The Lord of the Rings novels were read to me by my father as bedtime stories before I could even read. I was already drawing at the time. My elementary school friends and I would spend our free time in the library drawing silly monsters and cartoons.

It was around this time that I also found videogames. Games like Final Fantasy 4, Chrono Trigger, and Earthbound showed me a whole new world of artwork and storytelling. This time, however, I could participate. It was exciting have my own agency over exploring dungeons, fighting monsters, and saving the world.

I really started taking my artwork more seriously in high school, and I ultimately ended up in college going for a fine arts degree in painting. Now, you would think that with my interest in storytelling, fantasy, sci-fi, and video games would naturally lead me to RPGs, right? Actually, it wasn’t until I was several years into finishing my degree that my friend invited me to play D&D with him.

It was through playing games like this throughout the rest of my art education that helped me focus my work into what it is now. Games that force you to use your imagination to create whole worlds, characters, and monsters helped me overcome the dreaded “fear of the blank canvas”. Ultimately, my influence from games and comics helped me understand how I wanted to use my art: as a tool to tell stories and communicate with people.

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 hope I don’t disappoint because I’ve only ever played D&D 3.5, with the exception of one long campaign I played in the Iron Kingdom setting. So I only really have experience with d20 systems.

Mech Pilot by Adrian Ricker
Mech Pilot by Adrian Ricker

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

As of now, I have only ever played. The game masters I’ve played under really understood the importance of being a good storyteller, and knowing how to make the world both exciting and engaging for the players. This helps spark my imagination, and makes me want to detail out everything about my character. Of course, this includes lots of drawings.

If I ever run a game I can easily see myself going a little overboard with detailing out maps and concept art for all of the locations and landscapes.

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?

You know, I spent the longest time being very intimidated by working on locations, landscapes, cityscapes, etc. I’ll still choose to draw a person over a cityscape most of the time. That said, I quickly learned even the most interesting character is boring without an interesting setting to place them in.

I’ll always have a general idea of what I want before I start to draw, but I found that “thinking with your pencil” is really the best way to make sure your art is communicating clearly. At least for me, drawing takes some serious trial and error to look the way I want.

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

I work purely digitally the majority of the time. It allows me to streamline each step of the process and quickly get images from concept to completed works. I’ll still draw with pencil on paper from time to time when sketching things out, but I’ll always bring it into photoshop at some point.

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 man, it depends on the week. On an average week I probably only spend 3-5 hours on games, and at least 15-20 hours on drawing. That said, if a new game comes out it definitely cuts into my work time more than I would like to admit. I can definitely jump right into marathon mode and play games for 30+ hours a week. Conversely, when deadlines are around the corner I am very capable of delaying any gaming until the deadline has passed. It works well as a reward to motivate myself.

Lava Monster by Adrian Ricker
Lava Monster by Adrian Ricker

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?

Honestly, as much as I like fantasy novels and D&D, the Tolkien-like fantasy setting is oh-so-quickly being run into the ground. Thankfully, I’m seeing more and more fantasy settings branching off into their own sub-genres that have exciting twists to keep it interesting. Steampunk is the most popular example of this that I can think of, but I’m excited to see what people will imagine in the near future.

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

Goodness. This is a doozy of a question. It’s really hard to pin down my influence to a few people, but for the sake of brevity I’ll omit all of my mentors and teachers I’ve had throughout the years and only mention those that everyone can access.

In regards to well rendered concept art of characters and environments, it’s hard for me not to mention Matt Kohr. He runs the website ctrlpaint.com which provides not just amazing art tutorials for rendering, but tools and exercises to help you keep motivated and inspired.
Additionally, pretty much everyone on CGhub provides amazing inspiration as well.

As far as comics go, there are plenty of artist that I think do an amazing job telling a visual story. Some currently working comic artists that I think do amazing work are Brandon Graham, James Stokoe, Becky Cloonan, Taiyo Matsumoto, and Takehiko Inoue. Just to name a few.

Scorcerer by Adrian Ricker
Scorcerer by Adrian Ricker

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

For me, art making requires a comfy seat, some coffee or tea, and some time to spend with my tablet in photoshop. I’ll pop some music or a podcast on and get crackin’.

As far as gaming goes, my GM always kept the game loose. He would always just sit us down together and start telling his story. He would provide maps when necessary, or draw up a visual for certain things, but for the most part he wanted us to be engaged with our minds. So I suppose all I really need for a good session to game is a group of friends.

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 done a few short comic projects, the longest of which is called Gwen and the Green Thief. Please keep an eye on my website and tumblr for the next few months. I’ll be dumping concept art and character designs for my next comic project very soon!

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 going to have to say my short comic Gwen and the Green Thief. It’s hard because it’s been almost 2 years now since I drew it, so it’s easy to look back and criticize the imperfections. Beyond that, though, It was the first thing I made for myself after I graduated. Working on it helped me through the uncertainty of post-grad life. It helped me solidify in my mind what I wanted to do with my art. The comic itself it pretty silly, but It holds sentimental value to me.

Cactus Concept by Adrian Ricker
Cactus Concept by Adrian Ricker

Okay, there are two images that I have to ask about. Cactus Man. What is the story behind him? And the Sailor Senshi with guns. This is awesome and I want to know why it exists.

Haha, I wish I had an interesting story behind him. The Cactus character was going to be a protagonist for a short comic that ended up being scrapped. In short, it was about a man who fused his DNA with a cactus in order to survive in the desert. I fiddled with it for a while, but the story never really got its legs. I ended up really liking the design, though.

The Sailor Senshi image just started as an idea that I was doodling as a warm up drawing one day. I’ve had a strange relationship with that show. When that show was airing I remember trying to be a tough guy around my friends. You know, saying dumb little boy stuff like,”That show is for little girls” or the ever-so-critical “It sucks!”. Whenever I went home, though, I would pretty much watch it religiously. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I really ended up remembering that whole little experience. In a weird way, I guess it sort of symbolizes how even though it was a pretty girly and feminine show, I thought it was pretty bad-ass.

What would be a dream job/commission?

This might be the hardest question for me, so I’ll keep it simple.

I feel like that’s a bit naive saying this, but I would be happy to get to the point that I’m making as much money doing artwork as I am at my day job. Being able to truly focus on my artwork is the only thing I can say for certain about what I want.

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

I spend a rather unfortunate amount of time at a day job. But hey, the money lets me do my art and game!
Other than that, I try to read. I think understanding how to use language to tell a story is just as important as telling one visually. It’s definitely a skill I need to work on.

Outfit Design by Adrian Ricker
Outfit Design by Adrian Ricker

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

The most important thing for both parties is to be clear with your goals, and clear with your communication. If you are hiring someone, you should know beforehand what you are looking for and seek artists to fit that need. Nobody wants the wrong person for a job, and nobody wants to be the wrong person for a job. From an artist’s perspective, the most refreshing clients are ones that will tell you exactly what they want and keep open lines of communication throughout the process. I am happy to make changes and work with a client. I’m less thrilled when clients email me the day of a deadline with changes, after I hadn’t heard from them for a week.

As for artists:
Always be creating. Every piece you make should be one of your best. Even when practicing, try out new techniques, emulate artist you like, see what you can adapt to your own work. It’s through this constant trial and error we find our abilities that will set us apart, and make our work attractive to prospective employers.

You must also be someone people want to work with. The artistic community is just that, a community. If you are friendly, polite, and make yourself open to meeting new people and having new experiences, then people will be more inclined to hire you. Don’t expect your art to sell itself. While it does happen, more often than not you are selling it yourself.

In short: As the amazing artist Chris Oatley says, “Do great work, and be great to work with”.

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So there you have it! I was really excited to have Adrian agree to show off his art and answer questions. If you’re interested in seeing more of his work you can check out his tumblr or his website which features that much coveted Dany picture. Also, wouldn’t that cactus man make a cool NPC? Or a druid? Hmmm…well, till next time, hope you enjoyed Adrian’s art and happy gaming!

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