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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Postmortem - Veranthea Codex or On Being a Newbie Freelancer - Part 1

Hey everyone, I'm trying something slightly different in 2015. Whereas I used to look at work I'd done and see nothing but where improvements could have been made (I still do, that's a hard habit to break), I've decided to balance that urge with the opposite. I'm going to look at my work for the Veranthea Codex over the last several months and pick out the bits I'm most proud of in each piece.

I was approached by the inimitable Mike Myler in mid-2014 to be the lead artist for an entire continent - called Grethadnis - for an extensive Pathfinder campaign setting book called the Veranthea Codex. I leapt at the chance - I'd done some Pathfinder-supplement work previously for Rogue Genius Games, but this was a significantly larger project and I had some reservations about my ability to a. meet all the art briefs, and b. finish a LOT of paintings within deadlines. Still, I was on top of the world and thought I could manage the work. I'm happy to say I did, and I learned a lot of lessons that I think will be valuable to me going forward, so I'm writing this in case it might be valuable (or at least interesting) to someone else as well.

First, the non-art lessons I learned:

  • Freelancing is a tough business, and You're probably not charging enough
Total opposites, right? No. I guess maybe there's some artists out there that severely overcharge for their work, but I doubt there's many. The standard public may not fully understand how much time goes into each piece - but your art director or project coordinator probably DOES. If you're lucky, you'll have someone on the team who might gently inform you that your rates are really, really too low. If so, that'll be a great day. I mean, who wouldn't want to hear that? 

I think it's also important for the artist to be honest with themselves as to how much time goes into each piece. If I know that three complex scene paintings are going to take me 25+ hours to complete, I need to consider that vs. simple character pieces with no or limited background. I consider myself super lucky that the VC crew were as open as they were with answering questions and offering feedback.

  • Appreciate the art of an art brief. 
Art briefs are written descriptions of what needs to be in a particular piece. I had to learn what constituted a good art brief, and they were mostly very good, extensive and detailed, and gave me a lot to work with. They included example pictures if it was a monster or race that I might not be familiar with or if there was a specific feel to the painting that they were going for and descriptions of the background area, the characters, and the action separately. I also had to learn that sometimes not EVERYTHING can be fit in, so verify with the writer which portions of the art brief are vital and which bits you can reimagine if a composition is being stubborn. If something in the brief is confusing, ask questions, or submit a sketch or two so they can see what page you're on and you can start closing in on the right composition together.
  • Ask questions and ask for feedback. Send more WIPs than you think you need. 
Okay, so I might have gone a little overboard on WIPs, sending at least one each day I was actively working on a painting. BUT those WIPs let the approvers/writers catch a lot of things early that would have taken me more time to change after the painting was finished.  Also, since these projects are usually made up of many, many moving parts at the same time, the writer was often able to add little details into his description that reflected what I had painted. It was a positive collaboration, and it fueled me through the project. 
  • Plan your time accordingly and You can't burn out.
There were a lot more paintings than I had initially prepared myself for, and they took a lot more time than I had anticipated. A lot of other projects got pushed to the backburner for considerably longer than I'd imagined. This was mostly because I was originally afraid to look like a freelance newb and didn't ask the questions that would have clarified a lot of the documents. This is something I will know for next time - do not be shy about asking questions. Be Socrates. Ask everything. Just don't ask everything to EVERYONE - use whatever contact is most appropriate and send them a list of questions that they can answer when they have time. There are no stupid questions as a freelancer. Ask them. 

Okay! On to the art! Now, VC is hopefully going to print in March, and I'll have a lot more freedom to show the full pieces then - in the meantime, there's a preview of unreleased VC art in our patron-only stream at www.patreon.com/tortoiseharecreations - go check it out! For the purposes of this post, though, I'm only going to share tiny bits to point out things I learned or things I liked. 

Beztekorps halfling
The first few pieces I did for VC were the Beztekorps, and Braxthar Grimdrahk, both pieces that were released during the VC Kickstarter. I was generally happy with both of these, and it definitely buoyed my confidence going into the rest of the project.

This flying halfling is pretty small in the overall piece, but it marks the first time that I fearlessly carved light and shadow with color directly, jettisoning the middle greyscale steps that I normally do. I did this for almost ALL of the VC art, simply because of time constraints. It is faster to work directly in color. I still don't know which I prefer, but it definitely lets me be a little looser, something I certainly need to improve. I successfully backlit the halfling with color highlights, and I was very excited about this.

Braxthar's Detectorium.

Braxthar Grimdrahk - face/goggles
Braxthar Grimdrahk may still be my favorite piece I did during VC. I did do some of his in greyscale, but all of the accessories and items were done directly in color, and I love the color story on this piece. This introduced a lot of fun collaboration with Brian, Grethadnis' main writer, as he was able to take the light source I'd created and turned it into a brand new item. It was cool being able to influence the game by painting something that inspired the writer. Definitely one of the highs.

I'm going to skip ahead to the scenes for a moment and touch on the gods in Part 2.

Gunslinger in the Forever Dark -
enlarged to show holster and
cyber hand
Brazier from Polydracte piece
(Right - Gunslinger) I shared a work in progress of this section of this piece early on, but I am so stupidly proud of the cyber bits to this gunslinger. Also, I made sure to include the carved gun holster I painted, because it's really too small a detail to see in print, I fear - the scene is pretty large.

I'm also really happy with the glowing blood on the aberration that he just killed, and the transparency of his holographic double, but I can't share the entire image, so you'll have to wait on those. :)

Also, I'm pretty happy with my progress on the "embers" front, as shown in the gunslinger's cigar as well as the brazier from the Polydracte/Iniplixetz scene (think giant d20 worshipped by jungle dwarves and an artifact that is currently turning a man into a donkey and you have the general gist), above left.

Magickaar - I got to paint a mecha!
 For this piece, I got to paint a mecha. That was awesome, and I'm very proud of how the metal pieces and the glowing runes, the enchanted arrows and the cracks in the glass all played in the final piece. I liked this one a lot, and it was one of the pieces that bolstered my confidence that I would be able to finish on time, since it was also a resemblance request. This piece just flew by for some reason, taking a lot less time than I had anticipated.
Spires of Srendthav - the coral crown of King Wearantir

Compositionally, a lot of the art briefs were tough for me. We got there eventually, but it took a lot of feedback and patience while I kept getting close, but not quite what they were looking for. I grew in patience a lot over this project, and was able to distance myself from the feedback much better than I would have a few years ago. Even when I initially missed the mark, the whole thing was so informative and positive.

Some of my paintings were fully painted, and some were more of a lineart shading. This later piece required a crown made of coral - I played with the concept for quite some time in sketches before I considered that it would be easier with coral AND other things from the sea. Luckily, they loved the idea and we moved forward!

I really liked the spires too, but you will just have to wait to see the whole piece. :)

Madbear's possibly imaginary Owlbear mount
The Theatre of Blood scene was probably the hardest one for me, for some reason. I just could NOT get my head around this piece, so it was a struggle to choose something positive. I look at the piece and I just see frustration. Still, I did really like the owlbear, so here is a small portion of him. He took me a great deal of time, but I think he turned out pretty great. I am also a lot more comfortable doing blood, ooze, and other viscous fluids now than I was before this project!

To Be Continued in Part 2!
Update: Click HERE to read Part 2.

(Thank you for reading! I know this was long! - Indi)

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