Epic Level Artistry: Michelle Nguyen

Here we are at the end of May with another installment of Epic Level Artistry! This time we have another Portland local, Michelle Nguyen! Again, with the hilarious stories of how Portland is a Big Small Town. My Spouse and I were hanging at the Stumptown Comic Festival when lo and behold, we ran into Michelle, who was sharing a booth with another ELA artist. Back in days of yore, we were property managers and they were among our residents. After an exchange of business cards and tumblr sites, I asked Michelle if she would be down with being interviewed for ELA, especially after I found out she likes Gloom (one of my favourite card games); much to my delight, she agreed to be interviewed. Let’s see what Michelle had to say about art, old school consoles and RPGs!

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And For All It's Worth by Michelle Nguyen
And For All It’s Worth by Michelle Nguyen

So, tell us a little bit about yourself and your history with art in games and RPGs.
Well, I’ve been drawing since I could remember, and as a kid the majority of my art was focused around what I really loved: video games, cartoons, and comics. Having four older brothers, I was being constantly bombarded with new genres in all sorts of games and comics, and that really helped shape my artistic style. They were very supportive in taking me to comic shops, video game competitions, and conventions. Honestly, without my family’s support, I would never have pursued art like I did. RPGs came into my interest more recently, so I am still learning.

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 am a sucker for old systems, especially systems by Sega. I am definitely a three-button heathen. Nostalgia runs strong for me, so I am more inclined to blow the dust off of my Saturn and play something I know well. Anything in the realm of Fantasy of Sci-Fi has always been my jam. I especially enjoy worlds that may seem normal on the surface, but has something fantastic and whimsical deeper within!

Do you prefer to GM or play as a PC? Do you find this affects your art?
Like I said, I’ve only begun to dabble in RPGs, but I definitely gravitate towards being a PC. I love seeing what worlds a GM can cook up, and being part of that. My art is a melting pot of all my loves and interests, and I feel playing a PC allows me to find more interests.

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?
People and more organic things are definitely more in my comfort zone. Locations have always been a challenge for me. This is something I am working on currently. Sketching is something I am constantly doing, and I am definitely a planner. Going with the flow on a piece of work and just randomly adding to it makes me nervous. So many things could go wrong.

Centaur bu Michelle Nguyen
Centaur bu Michelle Nguyen

What’s your preferred medium to work with? Do you work digitally, on paper or some mix?
I have definitely been working more digitally over the last few years, but recently have rediscovered my love for graphite. Spending intimate time with pencil and paper is just so comforting to me, and I find myself getting lost in art for hours on end this way. I have found that starting traditionally with graphite then adding to the piece in Photoshop is definitely becoming my favorite method!

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 jeez, this really varies. I wish I could say I work a lot more on artwork than I do. Right before a big event, like Stumptown, I will literally hunker down and spend 8-10 hours a day on art for days on end. But then I get super burnt-out and uninspired, and take a break.

The same can be said for games — I am the type of person that needs to finish a game to its fullest extent, and get everything there is to get. I have burnt myself out on so many series that way, and it’s really too bad. My intense love for a game can literally ruin it for me in the long run.

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 am getting real damn tired of vampires and zombies. The amazing amount of output in these genres were great at first, and zombies are definitely still one of my favorite horror and sci-fi based entities. However, they have both been so glamorized and overdone recently that I can’t help but roll my eyes when I see anything vampire or zombie. I’m hoping the trends will move on to something else soon, and leave them be.

Honestly, I love post-apocalyptic stories like The Road and The Windup Girl and would love to see more comics and RPGs based on those worlds. But, just, maybe not too much more. I could see that getting ruined as well.

Legend of Zelda by Michelle Nguyen
Legend of Zelda by Michelle Nguyen

Whose art do you like the most? Whose art would you say has influenced you or do you try to emulate?
This is a difficult thing to answer, as I feel like I am moved in so many ways by so many people. I went to school for fine arts and painting, and so have many traditional painters that influenced my work, like Gustav Klimt, Alphonse Mucha, and Lucian Freud. Contemporary artists that drive me are James Jean, Audrey Kawasaki, Josh Keyes, Nimit Malavia, and Lois Van Barle. Comic artists that inspire me are Jen Wang, Der-Shing Helmer, Mike Holmes, Shaun Tan, Craig Thompson, and Yuko Ota.

I find that I constantly surround myself with these peoples’ pieces and am constantly being shaped by them. It’s almost like thanking everyone who has ever touched your life!

What tools do you use to make art? What tools/items do you need to game?
I find that I am very picky about the types of sketchbooks and pencils I use. Definitely cannot work without a soft cover Moleskine, Sumo mechanical pencil, or my favorite Faber Castell pencils. Otherwise, just good old Photoshop and my (very) old Wacom tablet, and I am set.

Gaming, as it is a very serious activity for me, requires every single ounce of my attention. I don’t require anything special.

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 have yet to work on any big project (yet!), but I have been working on a longer, one-shot comic I wrote a few years ago and will hopefully release sometime soon. Other than that, I have completed a few short comics and quite a few stand-alone single pieces. Bartkira was a great project that I worked on for five pages, and am so glad I could partake in that. Recently, I started working with a writer to illustrate his space opera graphic novel. More details soon, I promise!

Mononoke by Michelle Nguyen
Mononoke by Michelle Nguyen

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 am really proud of my recent graphite pieces. Before working on them, I had forgotten how much control I had over graphite and how awesome it felt to sit and work on. My mind would get so focused and in a sense thrilled to be working.

What would be a dream job/commission?
My dream job would to be a freelancer that got to work on awesome comic pages and stories, and maybe some concept or background art for video games. Being tied to a team like Laika has been a major driving factor for me recently! Working with Laika would be my end-all, be-all.

When you’re not making art or gaming, what are you doing?
I read quite a bit, explore the depths of the internet, and enjoy sewing as well, but honestly my day-job keeps me away from home the most. That job allows me to pay my bills and enjoy my hobbies, so I can’t complain much. I just cannot wait until I have a job where I can use my artistic abilities more often.

Standby by Michelle Nguyen
Standby by Michelle Nguyen

Do you have any advice for people who are trying to find artists to hire? To artists trying to get their work out there?
Please, just find an artist that fits your project well. There is nothing more difficult and honestly degrading than getting excited about a job only to find out they don’t want you to complete a project in your artistic style, but to emulate someone else. Literally, one of the most difficult experiences of my artistic career. Find someone that is hard working, and will produce work to your standards. It will make everyone happy in the long run!

As for artists, you have to put yourself out there. Create work that you want to create! If you want to create comics, then start drawing comics. No one is going to hire you if you say you want to do comics, but only have a portfolio filled with paintings of flowers. Do the work for the job that you want, and work hard. Never give up! You can do it!

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If you dig Michelle’s art you can check out more on her website or her tumblr.

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!

Epic Level Artistry: Khairul Hisham

Another end of the month, another Epic Level Artistry! Today’s installment is Epic indeed, as the talented and hilarious Khairul Hisham was willing to sit down and answer questions about his love for RPGs, Star Wars and admit he is maybe a little fixated on capybaras. Let’s see what he has to say and check out some of his work!

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Barebones RPG Adventure cover cover by Khairul Hisham
Barebones RPG Adventure cover cover by Khairul Hisham

So, tell us a little bit about yourself and your history with art in games and RPGs.
Hi, it’s great to be here. Thanks for having this interview with me. I’ve always been a sci-fi and fantasy geek for as long I can remember. First things first: I grew up in a small town in Malaysia in the 70s and 80s where for some arcane reason there is a large fanbase of genre media. Ever since I saw it during its release at my town, I’ve been a huge fan of Star Wars. Not just the movies as stories, but as a universe. I read the comics so I could experience more of this fantastic universe. Suddenly, here was this game from West End Games that allowed you to simulate adventures in that universe. I picked it up as a teen. I ran games for a lot of my friends. I drew their characters and situations. Lo and behold I’m still doing that 25 years later, and I’m enjoying it. There was a long time in the early to mid-aughties where I rarely gamed, but since I’ve discovered the awesome bunch of people that makes up the Gamer of Kuala Lumpur (GOKL), I’ve played Eclipse Phase, Doctor Who AITAS, Warhammer FRP, Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents and recently I GMed the Star Wars Edge of the Empire Beginner Game. I’ve also GMed Call of Cthulhu, Azamar RPG and BareBones Fantasy for my 10 year old son. Not as varied as many veteran players, I know, but I takes what I gets.

Vader's Ideas y Khairul Hisham
Vader’s Ideas y Khairul Hisham

What’s your favourite system to play?
My favourite system is my first system, which is West End Games’ D6 system (now known as Open D6) because of the Star Wars RPG. Very adaptable. Very fast and cinematic. There should be more companies out there taking advantage of using the system which has been released into the wild using Open Gaming License.

Is there a setting/system you love making art for in particular?
Any system or setting can inspire me to make art for them. For example I played Doctor Who once, but it inspired me to create this penny dreadful cover for the adventure I was in.

Torchwood Penny Dreadful cover! By Khairul Hisham
Torchwood Penny Dreadful cover! By Khairul Hisham

Do you prefer to GM or play as a PC?
There is no preference. I was almost always the GM when I was younger, but now I’ve met the fine folks of GOKL I’m finally enjoying playing as PCs. But the aspects of either appeal to me.

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?
Thanks to a lot of practice, I’ve done a lot of characters, but I also do a lot of creatures, gear, vehicles, robots as well as scenes. Sometimes I plan it out. Sometimes it just comes to life on paper – or screen – naturally without a lot of thought. More so of the latter when there’s capybara blood mixed with kumquat juice.

Revenant by Khairul Hisham. Done for Wicked North Games
Revenant by Khairul Hisham. Done for Wicked North Games

What’s your preferred medium to work with? Do you work digitally, on paper or some mix?
I work with pencils, brushed inks, watercolours as well as digital work, and some mix.

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?
One thing I like about anything about anything in the world can be distilled by one word: diversity. There is room for any type or medium of artwork to be used in gaming, or any sort of dead tree or web publication. You want to use crayons? Go right ahead. You want to use 3D art? Sure. I understand no single medium or style is for everyone, but no one has the right to stop you from working with it. Having said that, I draw the line at using capybara blood mixed with kumquat juice as an art medium.

Void Vultures by Khairul Hisham
Void Vultures by Khairul Hisham

Whose art do you like the most? Whose art would you say has influenced you or do you try to emulate?
One of my favourite RPG artist and influenced me the most is Mike Vilardi who freelanced for West End Games back in the day. Also, I’ve been reading and trying to emulate art in comics ever since I could read, although I suspect it was long before then. I drew using the styles of comic artists in the 70s. Later I would learn that they were people like Joe Kubert, John Buscema, Jack Kirby, Carmine Infantino, Gene Colan, Ernie Chan and the likes.

Mecha RPG: Battle Zone by Khairul Hisham
Mecha RPG: Battle Zone by Khairul Hisham

Did you attend art school? Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
I did not got a an art school. I did however go to a school that taught me to repair flying machines. But my heart wasn’t into it, so I left that industry and moved to Kuala Lumpur. I found myself alone and surrounded by strangers who I thought were my friends. I found myself further and further from-

Now you’re just quoting Bob Seger
Yes- I- what? Whoo, man… that capybara blood and kumquat juice is a doozy.

How did you get started making art for RPGs?
Because I was a huge Star Wars RPG fan, I thought I’d make a website that offers free SWRPG player character artwork to other websites. I helped Gary Astleford with artwork for his D6 website and we kept in touch over the years. When he started writing games professionally he recommended me to do some interior art for Future Player’s Companion, a d20 Future supplement for The Game Mechanics. As an aside, because of my work to provide free SWRPG art, I was invited to form the Star Wars Artists’ Guild in 2002.

What projects have you worked on in the past? Can you tell us what you’re currently working on or have in the queue?
Since then, I’ve done artwork for companies like Super Genius Games, Wicked North Games, DWD Studios, Kallisti Press, Postmortem Studios, Heroic Journey Publications and also a number of Troll in the Corner products. Currently, I’m working on a number of projects including Brent Newhall’s Monsters of the Shattered World podcast, DWD Studios’ BareBones Covert Ops and Wicked North Games’ Westward.

When you’re not making art or gaming, what are you doing?
Hunting capybaras behind supermarket.

Pono Waniri, Morseerian Soldier by Khairul Hisham
Pono Waniri, Morseerian Soldier by Khairul Hisham

So, Star Wars- ?
WOOOO! STAR WARS!

What would be your dream job?
I would sell someone’s kid – not mine nor yours – for an art assignment for Fantasy Flight‘s Edge of the Empire . However, looking at the art they churn out, I think I have a long way to go before I can make their cut. My stuff looks horrible when compared to their artists.

Anyway, moving on to our last question, do you have any advice for artists trying to get their work out there?
Be communicative. Be pleasant. Always answer your emails, unless you’ve been mauled by capybaras and dying of blood loss in the bush somewhere. It happens. Being a gamer is being a part of a small but awesome community. If you can draw, show it around. Set up an online gallery. You’ll bound to get a query or two from publishers. Or at least a crate of kumquats. Or something.

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Well hello, that was awesome. If you liked what you read and wanted to check out more of Khairul’s artwork, you can check out his gallery. I look forward to seeing his work in many RPG books this year! Thanks for checking in and happy gaming!

Epic Level Artistry: James Stowe

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!

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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.

 

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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!

Epic Level Artistry: Kirsten Brown

Do you have dark dreams you wish you could bring to paper? Prefer RPGs where players aren’t so much fighting to save the world so much as maintain their sanity? Does the idea of sharp teeth, tentacles and realities far stranger and less merciful than our own make you want to pick up your dice? If so, check out Kirsten Brown, our latest artist on Epic Level Artistry.

I met Kirsten originally online through some friends and have been a fan of her art work for a long while. Dark imagery, symbols and magic are a common theme in her art. Kirsten illustrated an installment of Reality Makes the Best Fantasy last year and in addition to illustrating she also creates wands and does other crafts. Let’s see what Kirsten had to say about making art and playing RPGs.

***Note: Some of the art in this installment of ELA is NSFW (contains nudity and blood/gore). You have been warned.*** 

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Maw by Kirsten Brown
Maw by Kirsten Brown

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

Hm. It’s kind of haphazard. I played a lot of videogames as a kid, renting from the little rental store with discrimination. I’d try anything that looked cool. I remember running into the first Final Fantasy that made it to the states, and the first time I rented it (there would be repeats), it still had the poster with all the monster designs on it, and that was almost as fascinating as the game itself.

If we’re talking non-Nintendo-based gaming, I had a lot of tabletop and ccg things before I knew what they were for, most of them for the art. I was eleven or twelve, head-over-ass obsessed with dragons, and my best friend had given me a Dragonlance novel for my birthday. I had no idea it was based on a lets-pretend game with dice and some rules, or I’d have hunted down someone to play with as if I were an entire pack of dogs after bacon. Instead, I picked up issues of Dragon Magazine when I could, for the posters. I acquired a massive stack of M:TG cards, especially for someone who never played once. I collected most of the Changeling: The Dreaming corebooks when I was in high school, pretty much for the express purpose of wallowing in the artwork and worldbuilding in them.

When I went to college for illustration (98-02, to thoroughly date myself) gaming art seemed to be regarded by my instructors as a kind of baffling bastard sibling to book-cover art, something akin to comics, and thus a less than a worthwhile goal for an art career. They wouldn’t touch trying to point me towards any of the things I would have cheerfully given my left arm to do for the rest of my life, which is funny, because that’s also around when I found my first gaming group. Which kind of leads to the next question, so I’ll stop this particular yammering here?

High Priest by Kirsten Brown
High Priest by Kirsten Brown

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?

Shadowrun, for both. Other than one really ill-fated attempt at joining a Vampire LARP when I was a bitty high-school goth, wherein my character was hung for actually possessing a sense of humour, it was my first. I started on 3rd edition, back in college. That group fell apart for various personal reasons before I could get too into it, but it was appealing because it fit the mythology of my life, then. I’d started hanging out with a bunch of hackers, and had also fallen face-first into cyberpunk as a genre. William Gibson was a visionary, Ghost in the Shell, a revelation. There was an aesthetic to all of it that drew me, all this arcane technology, but unpolished and approachable and darkly funny like most sci-fi I could think of patently was not.

It was years until the a housemate situation I lived in presented me with an opportunity to try it out again, and I found out 4th edition is even more fun! The world as a whole is appealing because of the juxtapositions it has going for it, and how cleverly they’re applied. There’s gravity in its portrayal of poverty and corporate rule, the magical and environmental ruin of their version of Earth, but it’s still got room for some hilariously gonzo things to happen because these people you’re playing aren’t some kind of epic, mythic hero. They’re everyday assholes with talents who, for whatever reason, decide to apply them differently than others to the problem of dealing with life in a really weird place. It’s amazing how many terrible, hilarious situations a group can get into with that very basic trope and your GM at the wheel.

I’ve played and liked the worlds for Legend of Five Rings and Eclipse Phase, too. The rest of my group weren’t so fond of them, so neither lasted long, which is too bad. The Void mage I put together for the former was a lot of fun, though I think we play way too fast and loose for that world. As for the latter, I have no idea why anyone wouldn’t want to play as an uplifted squid on a space colony.

Bottom Lake by Kirsten Brown
Bottom Lake by Kirsten Brown

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

I’ve never GMed, and actually don’t think I’d be very good at it. I write, sometimes, and plotting for that has taught me two very important things about myself; I am a) a poor planner, editing and messing with things in very disparate parts of the story as I go, and b) a massive detail and control freak. Players messing with where I think they should be heading would drive me completely insane.

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?

People and creatures. I’ll start with a concept, see if I can ping a personality for them (and even critters have a demeanor), then build details around that. Settings make me shamefully lazy, and that’s a bad habit I’ve been trying to bribe, work or otherwise flog out of myself for a long time.

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

Mostly digital these days. Sometimes I’ll trace my own scanned drawings on paper as a base for a finish. Ballpoint sketching is a longtime love, and doing that sort of translation is a big help in improving my digital sketching. I do occasionally try to convince myself I can paint, like Old Masters’ type painting. I have a small set of oils around for that particular brand of self-hatred. Everyone else seems to like the results, but I usually end up just wanting to set the canvases on fire or getting really impatient.

Bright Water by Kirsten Brown
Bright Water by Kirsten Brown

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?

Shadowrun is on Sundays, usually for about five hours. There’s a lot of general hanging out and BS-ing to it, as none of us have the greatest attention spans, and we’re all friends first, some of whom don’t see each other often outside of this.

God, art? I don’t even know. GIMP stays open when I boot my computer in the morning, thanks to hibernation mode, and I’ve always got something open. I have been trying to make this my living for years, to varying levels of success and with the help of a very patient partner who keeps me from ending up a vagrant living out of a shopping cart and drawing on walls with cat feces. I’m almost always doing something.

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’m really happy that so many people are chasing some really appalling tropes in regards to the portrayal of women in gaming and comic art into the light of day, all the little things that, were I a slightly different and less contrary person, would have read loudly as ‘THIS IS NOT FOR YOU’.

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

To a point, liking and influences are inseparable. If something really grabs my face, I’m instantly trying to find the largest, highest-res version of it that I can find so I can break down brushstrokes, tablet strokes, textures and layering to see how it was made. But! I’ll at least stick to people whose work I’ve learned from or who I think have actually helped inform my style instead of being relegated to the ‘Hey, that’s neat!’ pile. I’m fond of detail, clarity, a sense of movement, clever use of negative space, and symbolic elements.

In no particular order; HR Giger. Salvador Dali. Boris Vallejo. James Jean. Botticelli. Waterhouse. Alphonse Mucha. Sam Kieth. Jhonen Vasquez. Yoshitaka Amano. The manga team CLAMP. Jenna Chew. Tim Bradstreet. Chynna Clugston-Major. Android Jones. Dave McKean.

Gate and Key by Kirsten Brown
Gate and Key by Kirsten Brown

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

For the digital end of things, I use GIMP 2.8.0 under Linux, and a poor, battered little Wacom Graphire I picked up used five or six years ago, the thing is apparently built like a tank. For sketching, I like plain ballpoint pens and printer paper or Moleskine sketchbooks.
As for gaming, dice are obvious. I also need the books for whatever we’re doing at hand because I’m crap at remembering the rules and any numbers not on my character sheet. I also need something to do when it’s not my turn, because combat takes forever, or if it’s a particularly not-my-character-heavy session. Lately, that’s consisted of bringing my netbook along and screwing around with network tools like wireshark until I understand what they do, because I’m an autodidactic masochist. And coffee or tea, I consume both in probably alarming amounts.

What projects have you worked on in the past? Can you tell us what you’re currently working on or have in the queue?

The biggest gaming-related project I’ve done was Shadowrift. A friend of mine owns the studio behind it, and it was an educational, if harrowing, experience. Halfway through, I was offered twice the workload I’d initially been offered. Of course I took it, so I found myself with two dozen pieces due in two months. At some point I started calling it the Art Deathmarch.

Frost Mage by Kirsten Brown
Frost Mage by Kirsten Brown

There was talk of an expansion for Shadowrift, but only talk thus far. I’m also working on a comic for a friend’s script, planning out some nasty-fun retelling of faery tales and myths with someone else. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about the really fun possibility, 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?

A lot of my favourite stuff recently has been fanart. Some would say sadly, but for a while for me it was this big taboo thing. Art school taught me not to draw characters I don’t own. Thing is, it’s nowhere near the big deal it’s made out to be, and it’s a good way to introduce people to you and your work. I’ve been having a lot of fun drawing stuff from a webcomic, Homestuck; it’s got very loose designs for a huge number of distinct characters, and a completely batshit sense of humour. I plugged some of the characters into a take on Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, between some paying jobs that were nowhere near as silly. Also, Rubyquest; it’s this cutely-crudely drawn and thoroughly creepy little comic that unfolded through question and answer sessions on 4chan, of all places. I doodled all the characters to break in a new Moleskine, and ended up dropping that in GIMP because I wanted to colour it.

There’s also a thing I did of a sort of mermaid, playing with bioluminescence, that I’m really fond of. There might be a story in it, I’m not sure, I just have a lot of fun playing with light and dark and glowing things.

Fish Bitch 2 by Kirsten Brown
Fish Bitch 2 by Kirsten Brown

What would be a dream job/commission?

Free rein over all the art in a Technomancer’s guide, or a Shadowrun tarot, maybe. Designing monsters for something like Deadspace. Illustrating the next Caitlin R. Kiernan short fiction collection or book cover. Being asked to contribute to an Invisibles artbook. Mercreature smut.

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

Cramming Linux into my face. Pulling apart dead laptops and learning my way around. Reading. Writing. Watching cartoons. Gardening. Working out. Cooking. Chasing my cat around the apartment. Screwing around on the internet.

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

To those hiring? In this kind of job climate, and with the kind of value people seem to ascribe to art these days? Thanks are due.

Rubyquest by Kirsten Brown
Rubyquest by Kirsten Brown

And to those looking for work, especially the ones who want to do this full time, get very, very good at managing your own time. Being your own boss sounds really great until you turn around, find yourself three projects deep and with no idea where you left off of any of them because you decided to put things off for a bit and reread Drowtales instead (a thing that has happened to me, it was not pretty). And cutting corners is never a good idea.

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If you like Kirsten’s art, you can find more of it on her portfolio (some images NSFW) and in her Etsy shop; I want to thank Kirsten for taking the time to share with us! I hope you enjoyed this installment of Epic Level Artistry. Keep on gaming and drawing!

Epic Level Artistry: James ‘Jimbob’ Cavoretto

Everyone has Firsts. First Day at School. First Kiss. First Boyfriend. First Broken Bone. First Night Alone In Your Apartment, Wondering How You’ll Be Murdered. Etc. Well, today we have the first installment of Epic Level Artistry of 2013 with one of my very best Firsts: First DM. I met Jim Cavoretto when I was living in Portland, OR, through a mutual friend who wanted to get a game together. I had never played D&D before because Reasons, and was a little nervous to not only have a few new people in our apartment but to also be playing D&D for the first time.

Like most of my worries, they were for naught. As transplants from the East Coast living in PDX and geeks, we all hit it off and James Cavoretto ran us through that very first session in Dora, where the Wizard Tower exploded and we had to sort things out quickly as the village fell into village-scaled chaos. I will admit, that first game got me hooked and the inch thick layer of icing on the goblin-slaying cake were the illustrations Jim provided for the campaign. The NPCs came to life not only in the game but on paper. We gamed together until we moved, Jim sometimes playing, sometimes DMing and it was always awesome to see his characters show up on the back of his character sheet. A fan of fantasy, horror, and sci-fi, his enjoyment comes through in his art and his execution is never flat. I am REALLY stoked to have Jim as the first artist of 2013 and can’t wait for all of us to get together and roll dice again. Let’s see what he had to say!

Deep Sea Vents by James Cavoretto
Deep Sea Vents by James Cavoretto

So, tell us a little bit about yourself and your history with art in games and RPGs.
I’m a graduate of PNCA in Portland, with a bachelors in Illustration. I have been drawing nerd stuff, monsters and superheroes and the like, about as long as I can remember. As far as that goes, I blame my older cousins primarily; I do think I was always drawn to the genre since I grew up on Star Wars, Transformers, TMNT… but I remember (this was the mid-eighties maybe) going to the cousins’ house and finding the little pewter and lead miniatures from D&D my uncle had left around. They had a copy of Dark Tower and those old AD&D monster cards. Also, they listened to a lot of hair metal which seems to have stuck around in some form. I also got my introduction to comic books in the form of X Men (Inferno era) and the second Wolverine series. In middle school my buddy Jake who I used to skateboard with (this was when my joints still functioned) gave me a beaten up copy of the binder-compatible Basic D&D rules and Keep on the Borderlands, and it was all downhill from there! Later I was really taken with Diterlizzi’s Planescape work and eventually was really drawn to the Vampire 2nd Edition and Wraith books.

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?
My favorite systems for gaming are World of Darkness, Feng Shui, and the old West End Star Wars. All pretty much because they are wonderful, simple systems which make for really organic characters. I love when the system doesn’t interfere in the least with the storytelling. I also like D&D 3.5 and have liked the Patfinder I’ve seen. Fading Suns is also great but needs a minor tweak or two to work properly. I love Planescape in particular for art because you can do pretty much anything in the setting, and the multiverse just lends itself really well to the more bizarre and stylized ideas an artist might have. It’s a great blend of adventure, humor, sci-fi/fantasy… I always think of it as what would happen if Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton and Hensonfilm had some sort of crazy collaboration.

Mad Science Laboratory Composite by James Cavoretto
Mad Science Laboratory Composite by James Cavoretto

Do you prefer to GM or play as a PC? Do you find this affects your art?
I love both playing and running games equally. It really depends on the game master I guess. My goal in gaming is always to make sure everyone works to create the most interesting, fun story they can in tandem and I am always thrilled to be in a good group on either side of the equation. I don’t know how much this affects my art, I tend to draw things either way whenever I can.

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 have always had a stronger ability to draw people and creatures than I have environments, buildings and technology. I’m generally fine at those things too but not with the same skill. I just love narrative and I am always more drawn to the characters. When I draw from whatever crazy story is in my head, or create a character or setting, it can go in either direction; usually I start with a vague idea of the personality of the drawing and there’s a sort of back and forth of information between the concept or written/statistical piece and the drawing itself. I don’t consider an RPG character complete until I do some decent drawings of them. My character sheets tend to be a big, wonderful mess of drawings and notes.

What’s your preferred medium to work with? Do you work digitally, on paper or some mix?
I work with pencils first and take that, depending on the project, into inks or gouache when working traditionally, or into Photoshop with other projects. The undeniable fact is that traditional materials often take a lot more time to work with than digital color for example. Let me say also though that there’s no substitute for the real thing. I used to be a pretty diehard traditionalist but I have since come to appreciate the speed and ease that digital color can bring to the process. Also, going back and forth can work really well when you know what you’re doing. I see writing in a similar way although for me it can be more distinct. As an illustrator, I learned primarily to make work to accompany concepts and written narrative. But working in reverse can be valuable, as can making art based on your own written work.

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 less time lately making art and gaming than I’d like to, but then I just finished my degree. I’m slowly emerging from nerd hibernation. Ideally I would say I spend fifteen or twenty hours a week making art and/or gaming. For me, there’s a great benefit to gaming in that it fills my art brain with more creative ideas. Conceptual and narrative work are really what make me excited and having my crazy, brilliant friends helping to feed my headmeats is amazingly helpful.

Showdown at the Gate by James Cavoretto
Showdown at the Gate by James Cavoretto

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 appreciate the sort of classical approach to art that a lot of the really gifted fantasy and sci-fi artists are taking, including when applied to digital work. It’s very much the case that to be successful in any illustration genre right now, you need to at least have some digital expertise. I am starting to feel okay with this. I do get bummed that the old handmade techniques seem less prevalent. But you have to acknowledge that with a traditional painting, you either get it right or do it again from the beginning, whereas with a digital work you can tweak it almost endlessly, or do multiple versions much more easily. Pretty attractive from an art director standpoint, or when you get a request for changes as an artist. I am not personally a fan of the creep of anime and WoW style characters in fantasy art; I appreciate their value, I can enjoy both, but I don’t enjoy them aesthetically in the same way I do other styles. I like cuteness, but not cutesy I guess. Girl wearing animal hat is adorable. Pretend girl wearing animal hat kawaii style makes me faintly ill.

Whose art do you like the most? Whose art would you say has influenced you or do you try to emulate?
I am a big fan of Tony Diterlizzi, I love his early work but he has done really fantastic things as his work has matured. I love some of the old comic book artists (Marc Silvestri, John Buscema, Alan Davis). I am impressed with a fair bit of the art in the first 3.5 Monster manual, but I also love the old first ed guys even when they are sort of terrible. I like Rebecca Guay a lot. Virginie Ropars is a fantastic sculptor and draftsperson. David Mack is pretty amazing. As far as traditional art goes I dig Rockwell and a lot of his contemporaries … Glenn BarrJenny Saville is brilliant.

What tools do you use to make art? What tools/items do you need to game?
All I really need to do either is pencil or pen and paper, eraser too I guess. My favorite medium to work with is gouache, which can be used kind of like either watercolor or acrylic. I love scratching away with ink and a crow quill pen or just brush and ink. Lately I push myself to use more Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. When I work with those programs I work on a Macbook Pro with a Wacom Intuos 4 tablet. I am also really excited about sculpture, clay and plasticine mostly.

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 work in the gaming field has come from a wonderful little indie company called Ye Olde Gaming Companye, who a friend hooked me up with. I did something like ten ink pieces for the main Wayfarers rulebook and a full-page illustration in the deluxe edition, as well as a cover and interior art for two of their other books, all in an old-school D&D style. They were a real pleasure to work with. Now that school is out I plan on making a board game out of the characters in my thesis work (sort of a mythic story about American legendry based on Gilded Age New England), and I want to finally finish all the illustrations for a kids’ book I wrote a couple years back, possibly to publish independently. I also want to to do a lot of intense figure painting in the nearish future.

Zombie Bride by James Cavoretto
Zombie Bride by James Cavoretto

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?
My best painting (my favorite anyway) is probably Zombie Bride, which was done when a classmate wandered into class dressed exactly like that. It was not Halloween. As far as nerdy art goes, my thesis work turned out pretty nicely I think. Honestly a lot of my best stuff is sketchbook work. I need to go back and turn a lot of it into finished pieces. Oh, I do enjoy the Zombies and Cookies piece (base on those Gilded Age characters). I like the blend of humor and horror a lot. Maybe some time I’ll turn out a Rockwellian Lovecraft illustration. That would be nice.

What would be a dream job/commission?
My dream job would be to draw weird stuff and monsters all day for decent pay while hanging out with fun creative types. I would like to do more RPG and gaming stuff. Oooh, a Planescape reboot. I’d like to work for Paizo, or Hensonfilm, or Weta, or Guillermo Del Toro… I dunno. Pay me to draw monsters, I’m happy.

When you’re not making art or gaming, what are you doing?
I listen to a lot of music, I work a crappy but lucrative day job… I hang out with my family and pester my cats. I have been watching Farscape again with my lady and just started watching the entirety of 30 Rock. I have been reading a lot, which is nice when you can do it for yourself. I kind of miss writing research papers, should I seek help?

Zombies and Cookies by James Cavoretto
Zombies and Cookies by James Cavoretto

Do you have any advice for people who are trying to find artists to hire? To artists trying to get their work out there?
Some things about artmaking, for artist and employer: One, good art takes time, talent, and in many cases a lot of ideation and research (read: hours of work). As an artist, you need to make a case for what you’re worth and as an employer, you get what you pay for. And no, promotion is not a form of payment, although trade and swag can be. I have seen so many people wanting a ten page comic drawn for 100 bucks, or a portrait that will take fifteen hours to paint for fifty. Pick up the Graphic Artists Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines, anyone thinking about hiring or working. As an artist, do your best to maintain deadlines, communicate any problems, and work out exactly what is entailed in the work before you start. Make a simple contract if you can.

Make connections! It’s super important, and having a friendly relationship with creative people can also mean getting both parties’ work out there and looking awesome. You can pick up tips and tricks that you would never consider from all kinds of people. Be prepared and able to take honest criticism on a piece, and humble when you need to fix things. Look at art blogs, do lots of research. Who does what you want to do better than you? Do they have a web presence? Speaking of, make a blog and a portfolio online. Make them look clean and professional. Link to everything, publish to FriendFace, be visible but not annoying.

If you’re trying to get into school, have a killer sketchbook. Have two. Go do a bunch of figure drawing so you are pretty good at it well before you go to school. Keep a scrapbook and experiment with materials. Show how you work through a piece (also good for your blog). All this can get you free money for school, it saved me literally tens of thousands of dollars, no joke. Tell your teachers exactly what you want and need, fight for it if necessary, and they will usually try and work with you. Get your general education credits (Math, Science, English, etc.) somewhere cheap that transfers to your art school, it’ll save you a lot of money. You should love making work but it should also be really challenging. Finally, if any of this helps anyone buy me a coffee!


I will totally get a cup of coffee for Jim, and maybe pick up a game of Gloom? If you like his work you can check out more of it on his portfolio or blog. I’m so glad he’s done with school, just in time for us to move back and roll up some characters. Looking forward to seeing more of his work at the gaming table and in the gaming world at large!

Epic Level Artistry: Jeremy Kostiew

Another Epic Level Artistry here at Troll in the Corner! This month we have only one artist, but what an artist! Jeremy Kostiew is an an artist and graphic designer whose work you might be familiar with if you listen to any of our podcasts such as IndieTalks or Geek Explicitly. He was awesome enough to answer some questions, talk a bit about about the importance of logos and why as an artist you should have a cat. Let’s read what he had to say!

Portrait of the Artist as a...I have no idea. by Jeremy Kostiew
Portrait of the Artist as a…I have no idea. by Jeremy Kostiew

You do a lot of logos. What do you think a logo should do and what questions do you ask yourself before you dive in and design them?
First and foremost, a logo should make the client happy. It doesn’t matter what I think is a good design goal if the person I’m designing for doesn’t like it. I like to see the client’s logo- and art-related history before I start. What did they have done for their last logo? Do they favor a color or depth of saturation? Is there a style of font they tend to use? Are there other common elements?

Then I start thinking about the medium. Clean lines and vectors? That’ll put me knee-deep in Illustrator and Flash. Details and textures? Photoshop! Something 3D? SketchUp!

And then I have to consider the time I’ve got to complete it. A day? A week? Nebulous? Without a proper deadline I drag my feet like an extra in Dawn of the Dead.

Do you think logos have a place in-game? We all know branding is important in real life but how can people use logos to enhance their settings and adventures?
I certainly do!

White Wolf has always punctuated the insular nature of its character-types with symbols: Clan, tribe, Tradition, Sept — they’re all represented by some pretty fantastic logos. There isn’t a Vampire: the Masquerade player alive who couldn’t pull the Toreador rose from out of the infinite depth of rose clipart you get with Google Image Search.

Then you have Dungeons & Dragons, which has remarkable depictions of its gods’ iconography. How many Forgotten Realms paladins have had the upraised hand of Torm on a holy symbol around their neck? How many thieves have kissed the coin of Tymora before a risky task?
And Shadowrun! How many riggers have stared longingly at a personal assault drone branded with the Ares Macrotechnology logo?

Be it a secret society, a heroic team of superfriends, or an evil megacorp I think solid, evocative heraldry is one of the better ways to flavor a group without direct interaction. It can be a calling card, a warning, a mark of ownership. And having something actually marked with an in-game sigil can turn a simple, printed letter into the highlight of a session.

So, tell us a little bit about yourself and your history with art in games and RPGs.
I got started doing actual game art when I bothered Machine Age Production‘s David Hill on Twitter. He posted a logo for his reincarnation-and-romance adventure game Amaranthine, and I had some critiques. Eventually, I bothered him so much that he just sent me the files, and I made my corrections. And I’ve never stopped bugging him! Eventually, he and his partner Filamena Young began pointing me out to their friends, and I became confident enough in my developing style to bother everyone else in the world.

Farewell to Fear Intro Image by Jeremy Kostiew
Farewell to Fear Intro Image by Jeremy Kostiew

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?
My favorite system, right now, is FATE. The Dresden Files RPG in specific. I love making cheesy book covers for the “novels” of my Dresden games. All two of them.

Recently, I’ve done some fanart for White Wolf’s Exalted that’s far outside my usual artistic comfort zone. The art in those books is what makes me want to be a roleplaying game artist. UDON, Kiyo, Spencer, Melissa Uran – they’re favorites of mine, and why I strive to improve. It’s my long-term goal to have art in an Exalted book.

Do you prefer to GM or play as a PC? Do you find this affects your art?
Defintiely play. I like GMing now and again, particularly if I’m introducing someone to a game I love, but being a player is where my heart is. Being a player lets me doodle at the table, so it directly affects my art!

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?
Actually, I tend to draw objects more than anything else! And I generally have a vague idea before I put anything down, but it almost never ends up as I first imagined it. I do really like drawing locations (mostly in 3D), but my people are almost never satisfactory. I’m working on that any chance I get.

Werewolf by Jeremy Kostiew
Werewolf by Jeremy Kostiew

What’s your preferred medium to work with? Do you work digitally, on paper or some mix?
Digital. Ctrl+Z is the only reason my blood pressure isn’t through the roof. I’m pretty well versed in a large suite of digital stuff, though. Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, SketchUp, Corel Painter, AutoCAD. I’ll use a more traditional medium every now and again, but I hate eraser lines!

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?
Art is pretty much a part time job’s worth of hours in my week, with occasional overtime. Gaming is another part time job! Between my day job, art and gaming, I probably don’t sleep as much as I should. When the weather’s cool, I try to make up for that lack of naptime by curling up in the backseat of my car during my lunch hour.

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?
In the past few years I’ve seen a number of artists from online communities like DeviantArt make it big, and that’s amazing. Seeing an artist I dig go from a few dozen views a month to featured in an UDON tribute? That’s the best, most-exciting thing in the world.
There’s also been a push for more appropriate cheesecake in RPG art. Whether that’s gender/skintone/bodytype equitable cheesecake, or forgoing ‘sexy badass’ when ‘badass’ alone makes more sense, I’m happy to see the hobby taking steps to expand its artistic horizons. While I adore beautifully drawn cheesecake, there’s already a lot of it out there for me. It’s pretty amazing to see genre art realize this, and work toward making games even more inclusive.

STAF by Jeremy Kostiew
STAF by Jeremy Kostiew

Whose art do you like the most? Whose art would you say has influenced you or do you try to emulate?
Oh, jeez. Where to start? There are the titans of traditional genre art, RK Post, BROM, Boris Vallejo, Julia Bell, etc etc etc… My comic art talent-crushes: Mike Mignola, Long Vo, Jim Zub, and Alex Ross. There are my personal RPG-art heroes: Melissa Uran, Ron Spencer, Steve Prescott, Kiyo, DiTerlizzi. Then there are the little guys who SHOULD be big: Jenna Fowler, Susan Knowles, Amy Clare Learmonth, Jared von Hindman, Timm Henson. I’m probably missing a dozen more names! There are too many people that inspire me to do art.

What tools do you use to make art? What tools/items do you need to game?
For art? MSPaint, Flash, Illustrator, Photoshop, SketchUp. Sometimes a Wacom. Not frequently. And a small mouse for my HUGE HANDS. For gaming? FUDGE dice. A good, small mouse. Lots of D10s and the occasional D20. Oh! And a nice, warm coat for winter LARPing.

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 got a huge number of Machine Age Productions’ logos, some interior art and the cover to their recently released Farewell to Fear. It’s tremendous fun to work with as passionate about gaming as David and Filamena, and I leap at the chance every time they need something drawn. I did the company logo for ENnie Award-winning RPG design badasses VSCA Publishing, and that was sort of a dream. I love their Hollowpoint. Left of the Moon Games, Magpie Games, Play Attention Games. A kindly handful of indie RPG developers have been kind enough to feature my work on their products/brands. I’ve also had the pleasure of doing a number of logos for the Troll in the Corner Podcast network!

Right now I’m working on stuff for Play Attention Games and TrolliTC’s own Wargaming Recon!

Wardogs of Atlantis by Jeremy Kostiew
Wardogs of Atlantis by Jeremy Kostiew

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 have a character I’ve been doodling since high school. It’s my version of the Mothman urban legend, set in a fictional Hong Kong, with more than a few nods to John Woo movies. But my favorite current piece are either the cover for Nathanael Cole’s Motobushido, or the Indie Talks logo. I love that microphone!

What would be a dream job/commission?
Anything for White Wolf! They’ve fostered the largest number of games I’ve been a part of, including LARPs and tabletop, and almost every contemporary artist I love has done work for them in some manner. Exalted is the title I’d specifically love to work on.

When you’re not making art or gaming, what are you doing?
I’m generally doing design work for the solar industry, or cruising Google+ like an internet shark. I also have a fondness for wine that I’m trying to cultivate – and being so close to the Napa Valley it isn’t terribly hard!

Do you have any advice for people who are trying to find artists to hire? To artists trying to get their work out there?
Bug David Hill and Filamena Young until they question the worth of your friendship! But seriously, never stop asking for work. And have a portfolio that isn’t hosted DeviantArt. If you DO require DA to be your sole place of artistic hosting CHECK YOUR MESSAGES EVERYDAY. And do art a lot. And have a cat to pet furiously when you’re turned down. Feline fur absorbs rejection-tears with amazing efficiency.

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I have a cat for the exact same reason.

I want to thank Jeremy and all the other amazing artists that helped kick of Epic Level Artistry this year! I hope you all enjoyed seeing their art and reading their answers and advice and maybe got inspired to draw a bit yourself. Thank you all for reading and hope to being you even more great fantasy, sci fi and RPG art in 2013. Cheers!

Epic Level Artistry: Jaydot Sloane

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!

Abby and the Aboleth

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.

Astronomer

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.

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?

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).

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

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.

Gravedigger

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
either).

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.

Mai Tai

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.

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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!

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!

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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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