I’m still here!

Posted: August 20, 2010 in Uncategorized

This week I was in the midst of moving my equipment up to our publishers office (SandStorm) and haven’t been able to keep up with the blog this week. Something I’m starting on the blog is weekly artist interviews and showcasing their art. The first artist you’ll see is Anna Christenson! I was fortunate enough to meet Anna in person at Gen Con this year. We had exchanged a couple of messages over Twitter before that point however, in my ignorance I had no idea how awesome Anna’s work was. I try to check out portfolio links for folks that follow my twitter account or that drop me a message but for some reason I had never checked out Anna’s. The work she did for L5R is gorgeous! That said, look forward to a more in depth post on Monday covering her work.


Mentorship and Studios

Posted: August 13, 2010 in Uncategorized

Wow, 2 posts in 1 week, that must mean I get to take several months off now?;) I’m actually scheduling time to work on the blog regularly (3 days a week). Regardless, before I head out again for another weekend adventure I wanted to touch on a couple of subjects. One I find dear to my heart, another I’m in a tumultuous relationship with.


Artists, Art Directors, Writers, Editors, Electricians, EVERYONE should have a mentor. Mentors are people that can offer you sage like advice with work related issues and sometimes with personal issues.  I have been a mentor both during my time on active duty and to some artists I’ve worked with. It is a truly rewarding experience. For all you artists out there, having a mentor will help you navigate the muddy waters of freelance and take your skills to the next level. Does anyone out there know of sites that hook up folks with mentors? Does Art Order have anything like that or does anyone know if that might be an option coming down the pipe?

So that said, I started this blog by request with the idea that I have something to contribute to the professional and amateur artists out there that want to work in games. If no one asks questions, I’m just going to run my mouth and that’s not necessarily a good thing! So if you have questions, I may not always have the answer but I sure as heck know people that will have it. 🙂


I have worked with several studios and have had both good and bad experiences.  I absolutely love the idea of studio’s as a whole but there are some things that are sticking points to me being willing to give a studio a shot. A few AD’s I’ve talked to from different companies have told me that they refuse to work with studio’s because of bad experiences. So Studio guys/gals, I’m going to shed some light on what would make you more approachable and leave clients more satisfied.

  • “I’m a dude disguised as a dude playing another dude”. I’m an Art Director trying to art direct an Art Director… anyone else see a problem with this picture? Put me in direct contact with your artist, allow me to approve the artist you’ve set to work on the art I’m contracting your studio for.
  • Don’t give me your 3rd stringer whose work didn’t make the studio portfolio.  Furthermore, if the artists can’t do work that’s a part of the studio portfolio, why is he/she a part of your studio to begin with?  I want to credit your artist individually for their work. I started something with our core book that most companies don’t by putting the artists name and the page number of the work in the credits.  So if you turn in great work, all the people out there will know your name!:)  On the flip side, if you turn in bad work they’ll know your name for not so good reasons. 😦  The idea I want to get across here is that if I get to work with your artist directly, have a great experience, credit them for their work and put your studio name in there it becomes a win win.
  • Show me you care about who works on my property. I’ve heard from studio insiders that that my assignments are being thrown around on an internal forum so any freelancer you have can take the job. If I wanted to do that I’d go to conceptart.org once a month in advance and put up a recruiting post and roll the dice.
  • Please read the briefs in their entirety and ask questions for clarification. I think this speaks for itself. If you’re unclear about something, ask. I like to give artists some freedom in thumbnail to have fun with composition and not have to focus on details until later stages. I am considering changing this policy. The biggie is that if you don’t use the reference/inspiration folders I send you and the final piece doesn’t look like it belongs in the setting, we will have a major problem.

PARTING WORDS: (I feel like Springer)

It’s not the AD’s or other artists you should really be concerned about, it’s the fans. Those are the people you need to impress. You were once a fan too, otherwise you wouldn’t be in this industry. My parents always told me, “Do what you love. As long as you’re happy doing what you’re doing that’s half of life.” Money isn’t everything, it helps, but it’s knowing that the work I produce reaches thousands of people (sometimes tens of thousands) and they like what I’m doing, that’s what makes a difference to me. If you’re only in it for the money, it’s going to show in your work. If I get to choose between an artist who’s fired up to do the work and a studio that’s only in it for the money… I’m going to choose the individual artist every time so, “Don’t be that guy”.  HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND EVERYONE!

Next Post: Mistakes I’ve made as an AD and Artists work that’s on my mind right now! YAY EYE CANDY!!!!

It could also mean that I’ve been swamped the last few months and have finally crawled out.

I just got back from Gen Con on Monday. At the con we announced the CthulhuTech: Shadow Wars miniatures game slated for release next year and we were running demo’s of CthulhuTech, Poo, and our new Traveller supplement Chthonian Stars. We also had a promo mini with us of the crusader power armor from the CthulhuTech core book and brand new print copies of the Core Book, Vade Mecum, and *drumroll* Ancient Enemies! All books have improved paper stock and even have bound in cloth bookmarks! The SandStorm guys have really been knocking it out of the park. If you’re looking for a publisher, I highly recommend approaching them before you go to anyone else! On the miniatures front, I’ll post photos once we have a few painted up.

The worst part about the con was that I got the crud from some plague bearer that was wandering the hall on Thursday sneezing and coughing without covering his mouth/nose. In turn I’m sure I got other people sick. I did my best to regularly wash my hands, cover my mouth when I coughed but alas, I know my room mates got it from me. I soldiered on during the days running on tylenol cold and dayquill and ran back to the room after dinner to take nyquill and go to bed.

I was fortunate to meet allot of great people, sign quite a few books and do allot of sketches. I learned what I’m capable of doing in 5 minutes with a sharpie so that was actually a fun exercise in quick sketching that I had never done, especially with a regular tip sharpie. In my next post I will actually post some links to a few of the artists I met and whose work I thought stood out the most.

This leads me to a quick comment on portfolio’s. I saw everything from metal cases with mounted prints on board to binders and even take home booklets. The one portfolio technique that I had seen people do but never had one presented to me until this con, was using an iPhone to show your work. IMHO this is one of the worst ways you can show your work *unless you’re trying to get a job doing art for iPhone applications*

1. In this instance, if you’re attempting to get a job doing illustration intended to be printed the iPhone is a bad idea. Digital format is ok for sending links to an AD via e-mail but if you’re doing a review in person, print it at the size it was meant to be viewed in.

2. If you’re attending a convention and you intend to show your portfolio, or even anticipate that you might want to show your portfolio you should put some effort into design, layout, and presentation. Showing that you care about your work and getting the job enough that you pay careful attention to presentation goes a long way, even if your style doesn’t match the subject matter you’re trying to get work in. I’d be happy to introduce you to other AD’s that might better fit the work you’re presenting.

The bottom line here is, If you haven’t put any thought or effort into presenting your portfolio how do you think that reflects on your work? If you aren’t putting any effort into presentation, what do you think I’d be expecting if I gave you work?

Next Post: Studios and Mentorship.  To be posted, *dun dun dun* FRIDAY THE 13th!!!!

Posted: May 13, 2010 in Uncategorized

So one of the things that I’ve heard from quite a few artists I either know or have worked with is, “Where do you get your reference?”. The short answer is that I’m a grand master of google image searches. That is, in an essence, a lie. What I am good at is getting distracted and going on what I call “Google image scavenger hunts.”

I have amassed a fairly sizable library of images over the years ranging from 50’s Sci-Fi to WWII. I’d be more than happy to share some of those folders in a link if I knew how to. So what I will do is share a small sampling of some of the stuff I have in a sub section reference folder for armor labelled medieval.

There are 156 images in this sub category. I’m posting 7. If you notice, there is a theme here. The reasons I’m posting in this particular theme and using just helmets is that I think it’s important for people to pick out shapes for a particular object and some of the variations and how they could translate to other era’s of design.

This era of design focussed on rather ornate and stylized looks to their gear for psychological purposes. There were some benefits to helmets being designed a particular way during these eras however, todays helmets are much more practical. I plan on tackling modern helmets tomorrow, and in greater detail.  One of the main things I’ll be discussing is how the various era’s have similar themes to shape and how technology has impacted modern combat helmet design.

Any feedback? Comments? Questions? Requests for me to tackle any subject in particular? Please don’t hesitate to send them my way!

I’m notoriously bad for keeping up with things like Daily Sketchbooks, Blogs, etc. Seeing as there are a couple of people that are following, I feel a little bit of pressure to make it worth your time. So that said, I’m going to share a few cool links today that deal with graphic design. As I said in yesterdays post, graphic design is incredibly important to portfolio presentation and website design. At least IMHO.

So kicking it off is something I saw on ffffound! by Mario de Toledo-Sayer. It’s from pitch boards for the Audi A-1 in 2009. I think the UI and the way they set up the layered interface is cool. It would be confusing in real life to look at but in a sci-fi environment there are some cool shapes and some well chosen fonts that round it out.

Mario de Toledo-Sader Audi Pitch Image

Next up is Kerry Roper. I love the use of distressed imagery that almost gives it a stencil art feel. I found him by fluke doing a search for the generic term “Graphic Design” and this image is what caught my eye.

Kerry Roper Snowboard Design

Kerry Roper Snowboard Design

Aren’t these some sweet snowboard deck designs? Regardless, just some cool graphic design stuff to throw out there. Typography and composition are key elements to successful graphic design and art. I think that as an illustrator you can learn allot from graphic designers in both regards. A good example is when designing man made vehicles/machinery, specifically military hardware. Vehicles manufactured on larger scales that have high maintenance requirements are absolutely covered in typography. Allot of it you wouldn’t notice from a distance.

Understanding what standard markings are on specific types of aircraft can lead to a much more believable design for things like mecha, space ships, tanks, etc. Shapes/silhouette are important aspects of design, but if you’re designing purely around shape and don’t incorporate some functionality you tend to lose believability.  What I’m getting at is that understanding why the details are there on objects in real life helps lend believability to fantasy/sci-fi design.  You can have the coolest shapes in the world but it’s how you pay attention to the little details that counts.


Be afraid, be very afraid. This will be my random thoughts about working inside the game industry as an art director, concept artist, illustrator, and graphic designer. That said, I’d like to cover something I’m kind of a stickler about and that’s portfolio presentation by way of graphic design.

Every artist needs a portfolio to get work. Every artist has artwork to put into their portfolio, so what should you put in your portfolio, and how should it be presented?

First things first, your portfolio should have only your strongest work. Now what does that mean? If I were to describe it best it would be the pieces that appeal the most to art directors. Why do I say this? Ultimately we’re all striving towards landing that dream gig. You can say, “Mike, I don’t care about landing my dream gig, I just want to create!”. Unfortunately that attitude presents a couple of challenges that you are probably not already thrilled with. The first is that you have a part time or full time job working somewhere you’re probably not excited about going into everyday. All the while you struggle to “Break In” as a full fledged professional and curse said day job. Hell, I’m currently working at Best Buy part time to provide extra income while I work towards seeing my work provide me a full time income.

Digressing, we should all be our own worst critics as artists however, the pieces we decide to include in a portfolio may not be our strongest. This could be for any number of reasons. The primary reason is that we have some attachment to it that mainly exists via the meaning we’ve given to it. It could be something as simple as, “This is the first piece I did for game company x and I’m really proud of it!”. The second you get attached to any illustration you’ve done, you’re committing what I would consider one of the cardinal sins of illustration. This also ties into the kind of work you do that you get defensive about, whether you realize it or not. We can feign being receptive to feedback talking to a particular group of people (art directors, fellow artists we admire, etc.) but the whole time we’re cringing while they tear a piece apart that we have fallen in love with. I’ve been guilty of this in the past however, that exists in the past. The past for me is about 2 years ago when I realized that my work is always going to be hit or miss on some level and that if I take anything personally it’s going to hurt me more than help me. Ultimately, I just love hearing other artists takes on the work I’m doing and figuring out how I can incorporate their experience in my own work.

On the flip side, if we hold ourselves to a standard that makes it difficult to continually produce work then we’re not going to inspire ourselves or ultimately the viewer whose acceptance we continually crave. Let’s face it, we’re all artists because we have visions that inspire us and ultimately it’s something we need to get out of our system and the side benefit is that it tends to inspire others. It’s a great feeling when someone says, “I really love this piece, it made me think of x and here’s what I see.” Living a life that inspires others is not a bad way to live. The fact that you’ve chosen a career that focusses on that is insanely inspiring unto itself. 🙂

So how do you find out what pieces art directors like? YOU CONTACT THEM! I know, it seems like I’m stating the obvious but you’d be surprised how many people invest an insane amount of time into putting together an online portfolio and website and forgo getting any feedback. The easiest (not necessarily financially) way to get that feedback is by taking your portfolio to a convention and weeding out the weakest links.

There is one thing I strongly caution against and that’s getting feedback from friends and family that aren’t artists. They tend to be the most supportive however, they may not necessarily know what works and doesn’t work. If all my drawings of crabs and sea life stuff as a kid that was adored by relatives was the advice I listened to there’d be no way I’d be doing what I do now, nor would I be as thrilled being Wyland pt. deux.

So, now you have all that sweet work picked out and you’re ready to build a portfolio, what should and shouldn’t you do building a site? Don’t throw together a site overnight for a specific job and job title and leave that online. You may ask, “Mike, didn’t you do that?” Yes, yes I did. I still get people looking at my art direction portfolio saying that they love my work when my actual art only comprises 20% of my portfolio since my online portfolio is specifically geared towards art directing RPG’s. There are a ton of skilled professionals that I’ve worked with whose work is in my art direction portfolio. This is something I will be fixing over the next several months.

What else should you not do? Don’t over complicate the layout. Clearly define the different areas of work that you specialize in. i.e. Art Direction (Work I’ve Art Directed by other artists), Concept Art (Characters, Creatures, Mecha), Illustration (characters, creatures, mecha all in scenes together), Graphic Design (Logos, page layout, print advertisement, etc.). That would be how I create the main headers. If I wanted to, I could break each section into various elements i.e. Concepts (Creatures, Characters, Weapons, Vehicles, Environments, etc.) Ultimately I wouldn’t put a section for anything I’m not passionate about. So I’d probably focus mainly on tech and creatures because I have the most fun doing those when it comes to concepts. There’s nothing worse than getting approached to do work that doesn’t thrill you. Likewise for graphic design I’d focus on logos, page layout, t-shirt and other promotional design work. Illustration would be sci-fi since it’s a genre I am passionate about. I do like fantasy, I just found my career leaning towards sci-fi. I’m also a bit of a tech junkie so it works out well.

So you’ve figured out your pieces, how you’re organizing them, and have your url purchased. Now what? Now you dive into adobe illustrator and photoshop and design a solid looking site and create a cohesive presentation for your portfolio. I essentially knocked off design influences in my portfolio from Ashley Wood and Metal Heart. It was quick and dirty and an overnight job but it created a cohesive look that makes it presentable and not just a bunch of random pieces of art of varying dimensions. If I were to redesign it, which I plan to, it would be allot different. I’d put some serious time and effort into branding all my skills and not focussing on one particular skill set. Granted, there’s a little of everything in there, the one lesson I’ve learned is that my art direction portfolio has confused some people as to what is my artwork and what isn’t. The portfolio was primarily designed for print purposes and as leave behinds. It costs $10 for a spiral bound copy of my portfolio with a frosted front and back cover doing a 30 minute print job at kinkos. That’s the portfolio that generated interest for me to do illustration on the collectors edition of Halo Reach and led to my art test which ultimately landed me the job via unanimous decision.

So all that said, the last things you should have with your portfolio is a business card or leave behind if you do get the interview or you happen to run into someone that can help you get a job. This is where having some experience and putting some time and effort into graphic design comes in handy. It’s not hard to find inspiration for business cards either. There’s a series of books called “Best of Business Card Design” by rockport press that will provide you plenty of inspiration. Go into your large chain book retailer store and you’ll find those books in the graphic design section. Grab the most up to date copy, I promise it’ll help.

In closing, your portfolio should be something you put some serious time and effort into if you want to brand yourself effectively. A poorly put together portfolio with amazing art is weaker than a well put together portfolio with solid art. If you show an art director that you put some thought and effort into how you present yourself it will go a long way.