August 24, 2016 by Travis Anderson
I hate realistic and generic fantasy art.
Okay, hate is a strong word. How about we go with…immeasurably dislike? Yeah, disliking it to a degree that cannot be measured definitely fits.
Look, I’m not saying that realistic art for fantasy games, both tabletop and video, can’t be gorgeous or well-done. In fact, a lot of it is. I don’t look at Dark Souls or Skyrim or certain Dungeons & Dragons artists thinking, “Man, this art style sucks. Boohoo.” You’d be insane not to look at the Dark Souls franchise and see that immense amount of detail and artistry went into that. Could I even call it generic? Perhaps not that particular setting, but we’ve all seen games that might have elves, dwarves, and orcs while not offering any new flavours to entice your pallet.
The word fantasy immediately fills a person’s head with imaginative ideas and fun weirdness. It’s about visualizing the impossible or improbable. But while many worlds in video games, tabletop games, and other media might hit that mark by throwing fictional races and monsters at you, shouldn’t there be more to visual world building than a slightly altered ogre or a different skin-toned goblin? When I think fantasy I want something that grabs me with color and style, something that uses art to create all types of things I couldn’t have imagined unless I saw that exact picture. There are so many artists out there who have amazing, unique voices. Why do we keep seeing medieval humans fighting green orcs alongside pale, haughty elves, and beer guzzling dwarves? I mean, sure, I’m a fan of the classics, but come on.
This all really stood out to me months ago when I started commissioning artists for a game I’m working on. What struck me was how difficult it was to find suitable references for the stuff I wanted, and how often I’d see the same type of artwork pop-up on Google images. Granted, the internet is a massive space so there’s too much to ever check out on my own, but we keep seeing this same style of generic fantasy on book covers and in the pages of roleplaying games that it boggles my mind. Is it that hard for companies to find kick-ass artists? For goodness sake, just go to Artstation and hire these people already!
Of course I know that we see similar stuff for a multitude of reasons, the biggest being that it sells. I can’t make every publisher out there hire the artists I love. What I can do, however, is shout them out right here.
First up, we have Wayne Reynolds. Okay, this guy might not need praise from anybody since his art is everywhere in the tabletop world, but I’m still going to give him one. I have loved his art from the first moment I saw it in my third edition Dungeons & Dragons books. He gets shit for his anatomy all the time and the spherical breasts on some of his ladies is odd, I will admit. However, no matter the amount of amazing art I see in my roleplaying game books, he will always be my favourite.
Next we have Toby Allen. Truth be told, Toby is one of the artists that has worked with me on the game I’m making. All I can say is that his art is amazing. It’s whimsical, fun, and engaging. His colours are perfect and every one of his characters is full of personality. His art is fairy tale meets fantasy and it is stupendous.
I love sketches and sketchy-style art. Meet Will Kirkby, a man after my own concept art-loving heart. I can’t even remember how I found him, most likely on twitter, and I have been admiring his stuff ever since. It’s so damn detailed and that’s before his colours! A sketch is always transformedonce the inks and colours come out, but I honestly think Will’s stuff is on a whole other level. I will be reaching out to him in the future for my game, I promise you that. (Shh, don’t tell him.)
Denae’s work is pure, fantastical beauty. It’s as though she herself is an elf and just draws from memories of her home in the fae world. The most intriguing aspect of her work is how it messes with your typical idea of elves and sylvan creatures. A lot of her pieces have a familiar feel while looking a little alien. She should be illustrating so many fantasy novel covers, guys.
Here we have another man I reached out to for my game, the first in fact. Carlos Ruiz is the world’s biggest Warcraft/Blizzard fan I have ever met and it’s clearly evident in his own work. He wears his inspiration on his sleeve which is what drew me to him in the first place. I’m a big Blizzard fanboy myself, but the fact that he could marry their game aesthetics with his own voice made we want his work in my project all the more.
Honestly, I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. Fantasy should be just that: fantastic. I want personality, I want fun, I want lightness with my darkness, I want true imagination. These artists and so many others have it in spades. Why not deal them out on to the table more often?