The Australian independent (‘Indie’) game development scene has seen some explosive growth over the last 12-24 months. Thankfully, ATGN has been in a position to cover a lot of the action as I firmly believe that these days are the humble beginnings of an industry that is going to evolve and grow in size over the coming years. I have no doubt that in years to come people will look back at these days as when it all started and those in the scene today as pioneers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not so ignorant as to assume that there was nothing before, that’s absolutely not true, there have been plenty of game developers in our fair nation for many years now, some of them meeting with great success. I refer more to the volume of games being produced, the sharing of information between developers, the forming of semi-official indie game development groups, Kickstarter Australia and just a general supernova of creativity the likes of which has not been seen before.
We’ve covered a number of these games and their developers right here on ATGN, including a particularly lengthy chat with Allen Chang and Jason Kotzur-Yang, creators of Rise to Power and Hedron respectively. There are, however, a number of people involved in bringing a game to life and I wanted to spend some time speaking with and recognizing the other individuals involved. One the the most important roles is that of the artist. So many of the indie games I have looked at feature some stunning artwork and while I try to stick to the adage “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover”, having amazing artwork certainly makes the entire game aesthetically pleasing and can often grab my initial attention.
For this reason I reached out to a number of Australian artists who have worked in the indie game scene in the hopes of having a bit of a chat. Thankfully Jarrod Owen, Nick Smith, Marigold Bartlett and Rose ‘Rocky’ Hammer were happy to take time out of their busy schedule to answer some of my questions and hopefully give us further insight into Australian indie game development.
Artwork by Jarrod Owen
ATGN – Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to have a chat with us! Before we get into the meat of this, favourite tabletop game? Favourite artist? Tough questions to start with, I know.
JARROD – Very tough! I’m thinking through my favourites and I can’t help coming back to Magic the Gathering for my number one.
Back when I was just starting out as an illustrator, there was almost nothing more exciting and inspiring than seeing the new card artworks released for Magic. So many of my favourite artists have done work for it at some point in their careers and it’s been a constant source of motivation for me since I first started freelancing. It’s fair to say that if it wasn’t for Magic, I most likely would not be involved in tabletop gaming today, as an artist or player.
I’m going to have choose two favourite artists because I’m a rebel and I don’t play by the rules: Jason Chan and Brad Rigney. Both have done work for Magic and are very well known and respected in the digital art community. Check out their work, they’re amazing!
NICK – Thank you for the invitation to appear in this article. As a teenager, I spent a lot of my time and money on tabletop wargames such as Warhammer, but as far as board games go, I’ll always have a place in my heart for the game Hero Quest that Games Workshop published with Milton Bradley Games about 25 years ago. This had a great balance of accessibility and complexity, with each of the four playable characters unique enough for you to seriously consider your choice. I favoured the elf, who I thought to be the most versatile. All the quests were varied and interesting, as were the expansions they released. Another GW game I loved was The Fury of Dracula. More recently, I’ve enjoyed Boss Monster. Art-wise, the illustrations for The Agents by Danny Morison leap out at me. Wonderful characters and style.
ROCKY – My favourites are Avalon and its cousin Coup, although I reckon their art could be improved! My favourite game artists are Shigenori Soejima (Persona Series) and Yoji Shinkawa (Metal Gear Solid series) for their innovative designs.
MARIGOLD – Ok. Let’s see. My favourite tabletop game is probably Masquerade when played with a solid table of keen players. For a slightly different pace of game I really enjoy Quantum’s Alien Frontiers, and from another angle again, Dixit and For Sale. Oh and Ticket to Ride, of course. So much evil fun. Artists I like is too hard to answer without taking the risk of waking up at midnight next week thinking of someone I forgot, so I’ll leave it bla- Ah stuff it: Daniel Clowes. Adrian Tomine. Guy Shields. (Ed – Waiting for inevitable follow up email with string of names.)
Artwork by Marigold Bartlett
ATGN – And let’s do a bit of a plug and support the scene. What are some of the independent games you have worked on?
JARROD – I’m honestly still fairly new to working on independent games. I’ve worked on several over the last couple of years, not all successful and many that are still works in progress, as is the nature of independent development.
One of the most recent which I can talk about is Monstrous, a game being developed by fellow Aussie Kim Brebach of Secret Base Games. It’s a card game where you and up to four other players (or more if you want to work in teams) take on the role of Ancient Greek Gods. The aim of the game is to punish puny mortals by unleashing the monsters from your hand upon the various locations on the table. Whichever player causes the most chaos and therefore scores the most points, wins.
I’ve been lucky enough to work on this game along with several very talented artists; creating the card artworks, each depicting one of of the iconic monsters of Greek mythology. The game itself seems like it would be a lot of fun to play, rewarding both careful strategy and real life dexterity, and I’m proud of the high standard we’ve been able to achieve with the artworks. I believe the Kickstarter will be happening early next year. Kim has been a pleasure to work for and is definitely willing to put in the work to make his game a reality, so I’d encourage readers to check it out.
NICK – I am something of a newcomer to the the scene, having only worked on Rule & Make’s Rise to Power. I had the pleasure of bringing Allen Chang and Alistair Kearney’s game to life in the card art. They ran a great Kickstarter campaign, and the whole thing has been a rewarding experience.
ROCKY – I’ve only been taking serious client work for about a year. Right now I’m doing work for Dragon Racer (Thylacine Games) and Spirit Island (Greater Than Games).
MARIGOLD – Nothing you can purchase yet! Although one of the games I have worked on is currently exhibiting with the Experimenta: Recharge media arts exhibition, which you can (and should) go and see. It’s on at RMIT gallery in Melbourne until February 15, and will travel around the country throughout 2015-16.
A great table top game I had the pleasure of working on with Christy Dena is called DIY Spy Academy. It’s still being tweaked but it’s a very large scale party game, and it was my first experience working on a tabletop game. You can see more about that project at http://www.universecreation101.com/diy-spy-school/
Artwork by Nick Smith
ATGN – How did you find yourself in the independent gaming industry? Was it something you actively pursued or was it more something that simply fell into your lap?
JARROD – As a freelancer I always have to think about what my next commission will be, so I’m constantly looking for opportunities to expand into industries which need the kind of artworks I do in the genres that I love.
I think I first realized that tabletop gaming was something I could get into, both from a professional and non-professional standpoint, when a friend invited me to a board game night a few years ago. Up until that point I’m embarrassed to say my experience of tabletop games was limited to things like Scrabble and Snakes and Ladders, so to feast my eyes on Arkham Horror and A Game of Thrones: The Board Game was certainly enlightening. I remember looking at Michael Komarck’s renditions of the Game of Thrones characters and thinking ‘Could I do this kind of work? I want to do this.’
Through a bit of research I discovered that with the emergence of crowd-funding websites like Kickstarter, many individuals were looking to develop and self-publish their own games. I posted some of my work to one particular forum and as a result have had the opportunity to work on several great games.
NICK – For me, it was pure chance. I’d been freelancing for a couple of years when Allen approached me in March to work on Rise to Power. He wanted the project to be a purely local enterprise and came across my blog via a web search.
ROCKY – Mostly the latter. I’m still a student, and contract work turned out to be great therapy for the monotony of university.
MARIGOLD – I think the choice felt pretty natural, looking back. I certainly didn’t realise what I was getting into when I applied to university in 2011. I had been a cartoonist for most of my life and games felt like an interesting place to take myself as far as challenges go. As far as getting ‘into’ the ‘industry’, well I don’t think that’s something I’ve really focused on- rather I tend to focus on projects which sound interesting, and on people who have ideas. Hard work and good manners help.
Artwork by Rose Hammer
ATGN – How much freedom do you typically have on an independent game project? Do most designers have very specific and rigid ideas or is the ‘creative leash’ a fairly long one?
JARROD – I think it can vary from project to project and often depends what stage the project is at when I am brought on board; whether it’s just a twinkle in the developer’s eyes or at a late stage in the development.
Sometimes my clients have a clear idea story- or mechanics-wise, but only a vague notion of how their game should look. Many will provide examples of the kind of style they are after, but also want something unique for their game. I’ve found that overall, when working with independent developers, I’m more trusted to try something completely new. As a result I’ve been able to work in a wide range of styles, which has been really enjoyable.
Sometimes the client does have something very specific in mind for the artworks, which is not a bad thing at all. Yes, it means that I have less creative freedom, but it’s also usually a good sign that the client has a strong vision of what the finished game will be and how to get it there. The process is a bit smoother with clear direction from the client, whereas if I’m given free reign, it’s like being dropped into an ocean of possible ideas and it takes some time to grab onto one. A bit of experimentation is usually required to decide on an appropriate visual style for the game.
I guess sometimes I’m required to be the art director, other times just an illustrator. They’re both roles I enjoy and I appreciate the change of pace.
NICK – Their aim at Rule & Make is for each game to have its own strong identity through the art. As such, I was given free reign to follow my own artistic sensibilities by the guys, which as an artist, is a dream that you’re always hoping for with every project.
ROCKY – It’s subjective. I don’t think I’ve worked on enough projects to answer fairly, but usually I’m given a moderate amount of freedom. I should mention that rigidity isn’t always bad, though – the clearer the designers’ plan, the less time and effort is sunk into unused art.
MARIGOLD – In my experience it’s been a really nice long leash, however part of being a young artist is, I think, learning how to use the leash to your own advantage; how to wriggle more creative freedom out of a situation by suggesting ideas. I very rarely encroach on a designer’s mechanical choices: that’s not my job or expertise. However, if I’m making the art for something and I suddenly realize that such and such might work better if X, or so and so doesn’t really speak to me, etc. then I usually just relay those ideas to the designer as a little ‘heads up’ and changes get made appropriately. But usually I have a fairly long leash as far as visual aesthetics go, and I try to reapproach restrictions to create better options.
ATGN – Have there been times when the game has changed because of the artwork? For example a name, story or even a mechanic? Or your artwork has led to the creation of entirely new content within a game?
JARROD – Yes, it’s not unusual, particularly if the game is not far along in development. I’m quite happy to be a sounding board for the client’s ideas and my own input is often welcomed, even in non-artwork related areas. Sometimes the designer and I will develop a vision for how the game should look that we absolutely love, but which would require minor alterations to a particular mechanic, or even inspire a change to the game’s name.
I’ve worked on a racing game where the shape of the board was altered to allow a change in how the racetrack and surrounding terrain were depicted. Also a card game where the maximum number of cards in each player’s hand was increased so to better convey a particular mechanic visually.
Changes to the story are common too. For example, perhaps while developing a look for a character I might come up with an idea which may inspire the developer to alter the character’s role in the story. I’ve had instances where the gender of the character has been changed and where they’ve gone from being relatively insignificant to one of the primary characters.
Artwork by Jarrod Owen
ROCKY – It’s funny. Dragon Racer didn’t always have dragons in it. Its first version, called Adaptation, had players build a creature by collecting wings, horns, bionic eyes and the like. The designers took my artistic strengths into account when developing both themes – they know I have a soft spot for robots and dangerous animals, so these things are abundant in both iterations of the game.
MARIGOLD – I can’t recall specific examples because it’s usually so incredibly minor. I think most of those big changes tend to be born from play testing (and sometimes I am the play tester!).
ATGN – How does working for an independent game developer differ from working for a large, established company such as Wizards of the Coast or Alderac Entertainment Group? Pressure? Demand? Timetable? Creative license?
JARROD – For me the most noticeable difference is that the working relationship is often more laid back and friendly than when working with an art director of a large company. When it’s just you and one or maybe a few others collaborating on a project as opposed to being just one of hundreds of artists, you notice the difference in terms of what is expected of you. With independent developers I’ve definitely been able to form a closer working relationship. I feel more comfortable about putting forward my own ideas and since I’m playing a larger role with more creative freedom, I ultimately become more invested in the project.
With a large company, usually you know exactly what you have to do and how much time you have to do it in. The brief is clearly written out for you and you must be able to deliver by the due date or they probably won’t work with you again. Large companies are less likely to commission an artist if their portfolio does not show precisely the kind of style and genre that they are after.
I’ve worked for independent developers where my role in the process has been much like working for a larger company, but also those where there has been more creative freedom and no specified deadline.
I think the difference seems to be that some independent developers are truly focused on creating a product which they can sell and others are simply doing it as a hobby. The latter may have some desire to share their game with the world at some point, but they might have a full time job and kids and so may not be in any hurry. As the artist it is apparent how determined the developer is to creating a product which will be commercially successful, often the working relationship will closer resemble that of working with an art director of a large company.
NICK – Since this is my first project, I can’t talk on that. However, my background in the video games industry, and the art skills I learnt there, has allowed me to approach the table top scene in fresh and interesting ways. Being new to the tabletop industry meant I didn’t have a preconceived notion of what are the expected design tropes to fall into, and hopefully this has come through in the illustrations.
Artwork by Marigold Bartlett
MARIGOLD – Speculatively, I imagine it’s a little more relaxed. Freelancing gives me the option to take on several completely different projects at once. Some of them last two weeks, others last twelve weeks. I’m allowed to have Skype calls at 11pm. I’m allowed to work on the cute cartoony art if I’m having a nice day, and the serious brooding, technical art when I’m feeling grumpy. I –imagine- that having a full time role within a company would be a bit stricter. That’s not entirely bad, of course.
ATGN – So take us through the process of creating a piece of art for a independent project. From conception to completion.
JARROD – Usually I’ll start with a bit of research, do a Google image search for references and just generally get a good idea of what I’m trying to achieve with the piece.
The next step is to start sketching. Often I’ll do more than one composition or variation to explore ideas and then send them to the client. We’ll talk about what we like or don’t like and choose a composition or variation to be developed further. I’ll go back to the sketch and start to refine; first making sure that things like anatomy and perspective are reading correctly, then going in to add more detail. At this stage I want to get it to a point where I don’t have to do too much guesswork when colouring, now is the time for figuring out any character’s expression, outfit etc.
Next, I’ll show the client the refined sketch and if approved, I’ll go ahead and start colouring. First, I focus on values, trying to get a sense of the lighting and how it affects the mood of the piece. Next I’ll start rendering the forms, starting with the big shapes first and slowly refining things. I’ll almost always focus on the the most important areas first and build the image around those.
My usual style tends towards realism since I love rendering fine details; the frayed edges of a warrior’s tunic, the spittle flying from a bellowing giant’s mouth, or the scratches on a worn piece of armour. They come last of all. There’s not much I find more satisfying when working on a piece than adding that final highlight in a character’s eyes.
Throughout the process, I’ll show the client how the image is progressing multiple times so to make sure I’m on the right track, taking on board their suggestions and making any requested changes as I go.
This is necessary to avoid having to make any significant alterations towards the end of the process, which can be a major pain if it means redoing carefully rendered work.
Once I feel the piece is finished, I’ll get one last round of feedback from the client and make any final additions before delivering the high resolution file.
Artwork by Nick Smith
NICK – Firstly, I would get a brief as to what is required on the card art. In Rise to Power it was always some city district, so I’d ask if the guys had any pre-conceptions, as well as any reference that would be helpful. From there I’d do a quick sketch and run it by them to make sure I was going down the right path. Then it was a matter of slowly building up the scene in Photoshop, making good use of the polygonal lasso tool and masks. Some people find it difficult to believe that I didn’t use 3D programs in the creation of the art, but in truth I used it only once for the Biosphere piece. One thing I tried to do was to keep the compositions varied and distinct from each other, be it by use of perspective, or colour.
ROCKY – For illustrations, the developer briefs me, then I draw concept sketches in Photoshop. Once they’re happy with one, it’s coloured, toned and polished with supervision via email. It’s a bit like going on a long road trip where the developer is the navigator and I’m the driver.
MARIGOLD – Ok, so, first of all I have a long, maybe two hour meeting with the designer/s, either on skype or in person. I take a notepad and pen and we work out every last bit of detail concerning the art. Usually we start broadly with things like theme or place-in-time, or I ask them to come to the meeting armed with some examples of visual styles they like. So we go through all of that, and then we make a list and check it twice. I ask a bunch of questions about things I’m not sure about, then we check the list again and off I go. Usually at this point I don’t even fully know the rules of the game.
Back at the studio I brew a pot of tea and start doing some reference and research. I save images and hunt through books taking photos and getting ideas over 3-4 days. I sketch and start playing with colour palettes (a lot of the time my mind will have been doing a LOT of it’s own concept work during the first meeting). I put together a lot of work very quickly and send it through to the designers to get the go-ahead. Then it’s game on. Cue Photoshop sketching and painting montage which can last weeks. During the work, especially when I get to a new thing such as font choices, or border designs, or card backs etc. I will check in with the designers just to make sure it’s still meeting their goals.
I usually try to have all of the content done a week before any deadlines because there’s always more to do- things which have been left off the list or added during development etc., but keeping up with the team is a great way to eliminate that.
Then it’s making absolutely sure it’s all ready for the printers, and suddenly I can pay rent!
ATGN – So let’s assume for a moment that I’m an aspiring independent game developer. I need artwork for my game. Obviously the dollar value attached to this project for artwork is going to vary depending on the amount of work done, but let’s use something like Monopoly as a reference point. Without going into specific dollar values, am I going to need to save up thousands and thousands of my own dollars to pay for the work to be done prior to Kickstarter, or is the industry norm these days more along the lines of ‘Paid when Kickstarter is successful’? Or typically will a developer pay for some artwork up front, use that to display the game and then take the funding from Kickstarter (if successful) to pay for the rest of the artwork to be completed?
JARROD – Having a finished product to display on Kickstarter is probably ideal, but certainly not necessary and as you mentioned can cost thousands of dollars. In my experience, most designers choose the latter option and pay for just a selection of the overall required artworks – enough to give potential backers a good idea of how the final product will look. I think it’s the way to go, as it allows them to gauge how popular their game might be, without devoting all of the time, money and effort towards producing a finished and polished product.
I’d be pretty unhappy if the industry norm was to pay the artist ‘when the Kickstarter is successful’. Really, no developer can make that guarantee no matter how confident they may be. It might be ok if you are looking to hire a hobbyist artist, who has a day job and is only doing it purely for their enjoyment, or partnered with an artist who is also developing the project. Aside from that, any serious artist looking to make a living from their work would be unwise to take up such an offer. The problem is, so many young artists are trying to break into the industry right now and many are willing to do just that.
Having great art will go a long way towards having a product which is successfully backed on Kickstarter and honestly, any developer would be hard pressed to get that from an artist who is willing to work for peanuts.
NICK – Having not done a full board game, only card art, it would be hard for me to say, but there’s a good chance it will cost you over a thousand dollars prior to Kickstarter. Especially if you want card art as well as the board. With Rise to Power, about half of the art was made before the Kickstarter campaign started. This allowed Rule & Make to use the art in the campaign, in the hopes that it would inspire people to back it and fund the creation of more art.
Artwork by Rose Hammer
ROCKY – In my limited experience, most freelancers are hired and paid before the game hits the shelves.
MARIGOLD – It really varies, and I think that that has to do with the age of my experience as an artist doing this sort of thing. Usually, I agree on a price for the work in total. I do the work as well as I can, then get paid that amount. A couple of times I’ve done a bit more work than I’ve been paid for, so I’m still learning. And to be totally honest I really do get a kick out of being creative with my time so I’m not too stressed about it. There have also been times where I have been collaborating with designers as young as me, so I’m definitely more willing to work at a really generous rate, become involved with the project using my mind and excitement, then stick around to enjoy the post-production environments, whether that involves cash or not. I’m not sure if my way is the norm.
ATGN – Assuming again that I’m making Monopoly, and understanding that different artists produce work at different speeds, what would you consider to be the average turn-around time on my project?
MARIGOLD – Monopoly. Hmm. I think that given you have all of the elements ready, on a list, and ready to hand to me, it’s not –too- long. For a game like Monopoly and depending on my schedule (which is definitely more free now that I’m not a full time student), I would propose 6-8 weeks. If I was working on it without any other projects happening, I could probably do it in 3-4. Although, it’s always nice to have plenty of room at either end of the project- the first part for really clear and concise research and concept runs, and the end week for small iterations or minor tweaks and polish. Call it 6-8 weeks. Monopoly, although quite simple-looking, is really wonderfully designed. It’s iconic for a reason. Also those metal Monopoly pieces are damn nice.
Artwork by Jarrod Owen
ATGN – What are some of the common mistakes or misconceptions (if any) that you see independent game developers make and what advice would you like to share with them to perhaps avoid them?
JARROD – I get quite a few people contacting me who may have a great idea for a game, but who definitely underestimate the amount of time, money and effort it will require to make it a reality. Some come to me with a list of required artworks and a budget to cover less than half. Not only can I not afford to work for such a low price, but I feel that developers are really hindering their ability to create a successful game by skimping on the artworks. Of course most individuals who contact me are super passionate about gaming and it’s definitely understandable that they are excited to dive head-first into the world of game development. I’d encourage them to hold onto their ideas, do a lot of research into what’s required to create a game, make a plan and take some time to save up some more cash if necessary. Having said all this, I’ve worked with some individuals who are quite comfortable about spreading their game’s development over a long period of time. I have clients who will come to me every few months or so to request a couple more art pieces for their game when they can afford to do so, this works out just fine.
One other problem that I’ve noticed is developers rushing to put their game up for funding on Kickstarter too early in the development stage. I’ve seen some really promising games fail to be backed because the developer relied on just a few pieces of art to advertise to potential backers. Everyone knows the saying ‘never judge a book by it’s cover’, but people absolutely do judge things on first impressions. Having quality art will not only grab people’s attention, but show that you are serious about creating a high quality product. With so many developers looking to have their games backed, having a great idea in writing isn’t enough.
ROCKY – A classic pitfall for crowd-funded developers is making big promises to backers, and breaking them come delivery time. Being realistic seems unexciting until the real world knocks on your door and asks if your game will actually be finished next month. The other big “mistake” that gets on my nerves is the squandered potential of great creators who don’t act. There are hundreds of amazing games we’ll never play because the only designers capable of conceiving them spend all day working in an office and all night lurking on reddit.
MARIGOLD – I always get a bit nervous when I see young game designers putting all of their creative eggs in one basket. Not just one particular project, but one particular style of game, or one particular art style. Explore the hell out of your range before you figure out what you’re either A. Good at, or B. Passionate about. Just spread out a bit. Read more; know your history and respect it when you’re contributing to the pool of games content out there.
Artwork by Marigold Bartlett
ATGN – Are there any inherent problems currently in the independent gaming industry that need attention or is everything blue skies and smooth sailing as we head towards the horizon of awesome?
NICK – With the advent of crowd funding, things can only get better for independent gaming. It allows for so many more unique games to see the light of day, because they have a platform in which there’s a market that is actively looking for something that inspires them to pledge. With social media, a game that a player might be interested in has more chance of being brought to their attention. It’s a great time, not just for independent gaming, but for creative mediums as a whole.
Being involved in a successful Kickstarter campaign can help bring you to the attention of a lot of people that you wouldn’t ordinarily come in contact with. On top of that, everyone wants things that look good, and projects that are visually appealing stand a higher chance of being successful, therefore creatives and artists can only benefit from this new phenomenon, be they illustrators, graphic designers or video directors.
ATGN – The independent game scene has enjoyed some explosive growth over the last few years with the invention of Kickstarter and similar websites. From an artist’s perspective how has this changed the industry and, going forward, how do you expect the industry to change in the next five to ten years?
JARROD – As an artist who loves working on games, it’s fantastic. I’m not restricted to working on the already well known games produced by the large companies and as someone who appreciates being able to work on something new, exciting and original, having the opportunity to work on so many such projects is really great.
The fact that there is suddenly a lot more competition in the market means that the large developers who have become a bit stagnant in their ways, are forced to change and innovate. In particular I’ve noticed that after years of having set rates for artworks which haven’t changed for years, some large developers are finally upping their pay to artists in a bid to secure better quality art for their products. Now they need to stand out not only from other established games, but also upcoming games being funded through Kickstarter.
ROCKY – Tabletop games are created faster as the businesses that support them become more sophisticated, and as the resultant communication between developers, manufacturers, artists and consumers becomes more fluent. Technology tends to be the biggest factor in the development of any field, so games of all kinds will evolve as it does. The biggest leap in the next decade will probably be the onset of virtual reality, or something close to it. While these changes will create completely new opportunities for artists, I believe there will always be a market for tabletop games. There’s just no substitute for holding a hand of cards and trash talking at your opponent’s face.
MARIGOLD – Kickstarter is awesome. It doesn’t eliminate any discoverability issues which are fairly rampant in the indie games sphere, but it’s a safe and pretty fun way of gauging how your work is looking to others. And gee, so many great, great games have come out of it! It can really make the community feel happier and more involved. Also on a personal note, I get asked to do a lot of ‘art pack’ illustrations for reward tiers on all kinds of projects, so that’s a nice and healthy source of income and inspiration.
Artwork by Nick Smith
ATGN – So let’s pretend I’m an aspiring artist who wants to break into the independent gaming scene. What advice would you offer me?
JARROD – If you’re young and have all the time in the world, start now! If you’ve already got grey hairs and have trouble remembering what day of the week it is, don’t worry, it’s not too late! The key is practice, practice, practice. I’ve seen teenagers who have worked their asses off to be able to make a successful living from their work straight out of school. I also know of a number of people in their 30’s and older, who have worked hard on their art, while also holding down a full time job, to the point of being able to quit their desk-jobs for the glamorous life of a freelancer!
It can take years to get to a stage where your work is of a professional standard, but it’s very possible as long as you are determined enough to put in the time required. There are a number of good resources and art forums on the net which are super valuable for artists looking to improve. Putting your work up online for critique and watching tutorials by artists you admire is definitely recommended.
Working on independent game projects is a great place to start. Put together a portfolio of 10-12 of your best pieces, it will help a lot if you tailor it to appeal to the games industry, particularly the kind of projects you wish to work on. Love the fantasy genre? Make a portfolio of fantasy pieces, but remember, you want to show off your imagination as well as your ability to draw and paint, so don’t fill it entirely with artworks of wizards with pointy hats and elf rangers. Try to put your own interesting spin on things.
Once you have a good portfolio, simply search for tabletop game related forums and post your work there. If your work is any good, people will contact you, if not, nothing to do but to keep practicing and keep updating your portfolio with your latest and greatest pieces.
When choosing which job offers to accept, pick those where you will be adequately paid for your contribution. In my experience, a client who is willing to pay a fair price will be much more enjoyable to work with than one who is not. If they are offering the equivalent of less than minimum wage, don’t even think about it. If this means turning down every offer you get in the beginning, that’s ok, you probably have more to gain by working on your own personal pieces.
NICK – First of all, a strong portfolio is the most important thing. If you’re confident in your work, it makes the rest of it a lot less daunting. Secondly, make sure you have an online presence of some sort, be it a blog or facebook page, where people can find you and that you can put on your business cards or at the bottom of emails. Thirdly, get involved in the community. If gaming is already a passion of yours, then you’ll probably be on top of this one already. Finally, even in the modern virtual world, there is no substitute for personal interaction. I was recently at PAX Aus in Melbourne and there was a lot of game creators down there. It can’t hurt to go round, have a look for any games that catch your interest and strike up a conversation with the creators. Ironically, now I come to write this, there are a few steps I need to tighten up on.
ROCKY – The biggest priority is your skill as an artist, and the quality of your work should reflect this. If your art isn’t of a high enough standard, it won’t matter how many classes you’ve topped or with whose shoulders you’ve rubbed. Having a diverse skill set will also carry you a long way, since independent developers are rarely interested in contracting a large team of artists for a project. If they can turn to you for a logo, ten illustrations and some colour scheme advice, they won’t need to hire anyone else.
MARIGOLD – Work your little butt off. Practice with consideration- by that I mean, practice specifically: recognize it as skill honing. Also, make sure you play some games with friends, or visit your local table top store! It’s fun and relaxing, and the more games you can play, especially indie games, the more art you can see and the clearer your own work will become.
Artwork by Rose Hammer
ATGN – Thank you again for taking the time to speak with ATGN. Very much appreciated. Any closing comments you’d like to share with our readers?
JARROD – Nope, I think I’ve covered the most important things. Thanks for the opportunity, I hope what I’ve written will be interesting and/or helpful for some people.
NICK – Before I got involved with Rise to Power, Independent Gaming art wasn’t something that I’d considered as a medium I’d like to work in. But, through my interactions with Allen and the team, I’ve learnt that it’s a vibrant community full of passionate people who are keen to embrace new ideas and personal creative visions. I hope to be part of it for a long time to come.
ROCKY – Thank you also, both for the interview and the awesome work you’re doing for Australian tabletop gaming.
MARIGOLD – Have a good time all the time.
You can see more artwork for each of the artist in this article using the links below.
Jarrod Owen – Website | Deviantart
Nick Smith – Blog | Comic Book
Rose ‘Rocky’ Hammer – Website
Marigold Bartlett – Folio