Saturday, 14 July 2018

Inspiring art #10 - 'Mos Eisley cantina standoff' by Ralph McQuarrie

To me, Ralph McQuarrie will always be the artist of Star Wars. His unique style and the amazing atmosphere he manages to invoke in his paintings captured the world of Star Wars before Star Wars was even released. In fact, much of his concept art is being used in Star Wars today.

This particular piece is a concept of the cantina in Episode IV: A New Hope. Luke apparently goes for his pistol as an armed figure looms from the shadows. C-3PO and R2-D2 stand in the corner while a stormtrooper, who honestly doesn't seem to give a hoot about what the locals get up to, stands and watches. Aliens of varying types with varying levels of interest sit around, probably used to this kind of thing, and a seeker hovers overhead.

Luke stands in the light while the alien stands in the shadow - whether done on purpose or not it's great symbolism - and two worlds are reflected in the painting. When we were running Star Wars RPG games in the 1980s and 90s we predominantly played in the underworld of the galaxy and I always used this painting as a jumping-off point to get me in the mood. I based more than one adventure off of the image.

I find it a wonderful, evocative image that really captures what I loved about running RPGs in one of my favourite settings.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Inspiring art #9 - 'Game of Thrones Map' by Francesca Baerald

Francesca Baerald has done some amazing work for some big publishers but it's her maps that really caught my attention, specifically her 'Game of Thrones' map.

Game of Thrones Map

I love old maps and the design and layout of this one really struck a chord with me. I've only ever read the first three books, up until the Red Wedding, and I'd recently watched the TV show as well as read the Guardians of Order RPG, so I was pretty high on all things Westeros. As I was trying to visualise the whole world, this map appeared.

I find this the most amazing map of one of my favourite settings ever; the detail of not only the landmasses but also the surroundings give it such depth and atmosphere I feel like taking a boat and a compass and sailing to the Seven Kingdoms right now. This is exactly the sort of illustration that not only honours the source material but also has my creative synapses firing off all at the same time.

I interviewed Francesca back in November of last year.

Friday, 6 July 2018

Inspiring art #8 - '2001: A Space Odyssey' Album Cover by Robert McCall

I do like the movie - I'm not in love with it but it is an incredibly visually stimulating movie - and the soundtrack is excellent. However, one of the reasons I got hold of the album was the cover art by Robert McCall.

McCall is an amazing artist that has done work for all kinds of things. His NASA work is amazing and he also worked on images for another favourite sci-fi film of mine, 'The Black Hole'.

I love this work because there's a lot of energy in it, with the shuttle blasting from the space station, and the station itself seems under construction with plenty of work that needs to be done. What do they still have to finish? What machines do they use in it's construction? I used to ask myself all kinds of questions like these whilst staring at this image. And in the background is the movie's next destination, the moon.

It's a great painting and it's the perfect cover for the album.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Inspiring art #7 - 'Castle on a Rock' by Karl Friedrich Lessing

When I was running lots of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay games in the 1990s I needed visuals beyond what the books were giving me. As good as the game's illustrations were, I wanted to give a new visual style to the game, and I found that in the work of Karl Friedrich Lessing.

Lessing did a lot of landscapes but my favourites were the ones in which he included castles and other buildings, and his 'Castle on a Rock' is excellent. His lighting and overall mood is somewhat mystical and the landscape is wonderful. This whole place tells a story; I interpreted it for a game where the PCs had to reach the castle via boat (as in the picture) and the castle was abandoned and had been built to keep incredibly dangerous people imprisoned.

If you put Karl Friedrich Lessing into Google Images you'll get lots of amazing pictures. There are some really inspirational paintings that will get your imagination going and you'll be able to give each location a story you can use in your game.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Inspiring art #6 - 'Middle-earth Roleplaying' by Angus McBride

One of my favourite historical illustrators is Angus McBride, and his work spanning all areas and eras of history and the realms of fantasy dominated my shelves. When MERP hit stores I was still trying to get a visual cue and it was McBride's work that really gave the realms of Middle-earth life for me.

Image result for angus mcbride

His painting for the cover of Middle-earth Roleplaying was a feast for the eyes and really encapsulated the story of The Lord of the Rings for me. I think my favourite part of the piece is the look on Sam's face; while everyone else is looking to the journey, Legolas and Gimli look back at something that may be a threat; after all, Gimli has his axe at the ready. Sam's face is concerned and bewildered, which is fitting.

The feel of the painting, with it's epic overtones coupled with a sense of reality (Aragorn there on the right is ready for travel instead of just standing proud with little to show for his ranger ways), is excellent and managed to get my imagination burning. It will always be one of my favourite Middle-earth illustrations, even though the rest of his Tolkien-inspired work was stunning.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Inspiring art #5 - 'Dragon Issue #126 Cover' by Daniel Horne

I hadn't bought Dragon magazine for a long time as I was reading a lot of White Dwarf magazine before it became focused on Games Workshop games, but issue 126 in late 1987, with Daniel Horne's amazing cover, quite literally leaped from the shelf and landed in my lap.

I love it because there's a story in there; there's so many ways you can interpret this image as a huge skeleton warrior looms over a lone warrior. Now, it appears that she's had a right old fight with this thing. There are arrows stuck in the creature already and there's a sword jammed into it's armour - I'm assuming she's the cause of all of that - and she has an empty quiver with a single arrow on her bow. I'm hoping it's a powerful arrow as the cock of the creature's hand tells me he's about to deliver the killing blow and she's been through a lot already, what with her torn leggings and empty quiver. It's quite an encounter, but who will be the ultimate victor?

I've loved this image since I first saw it. I originally thought the creature was bursting from the snow in ambush but the closer I looked the more I saw. This is the climax of a long battle; she's got some hits in, even one through the head, but the damn thing just won't go down. I could feel the cold coming off the image, and the detail is excellent. Also, it was one of the first images in my hobby where I saw a lady in action instead of an unrealistically dressed woman in form-fitting armour standing like she's posing for a photograph (or whatever appealed to young men at the time).

It's a fantastic image and I based an encounter on it, in a D&D game set in Icewind Dale. As soon as the encounter was over one of my players said, 'Why am I thinking about Dragon magazine now?'

I parted with my entire Dragon magazine collection years ago. This is the only issue I kept.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Inspiring art #4 - 'Looking Down Yosemite Valley' by Albert Bierstadt

I adore Albert Bierstadt's work. Out of all of them I find his 1865 painting 'Looking Down Yosemite Valley' to be the most inspirational as it's just gorgeous and could easily be used as an otherworldly location.

It's the lighting that does it for me; even though that's the sun creating the light it can easily be interpreted as something greater, as if adventures abound where the imagery ends. Bierstadt's landscapes are gorgeous and he captures lighting wonderfully, so the paintings feel both real and mystical at the same time. Looking at the painting I can imagine all kinds of things in addition to the scene that's been depicted; a small town, maybe, situated around the river or a castle on the high rocks to the left.

I have a great love of landscapes, especially mountains and forests with no human or artificial presence, and Bierstadt really does it for me. I can take any one of his paintings and add a fantastical slant to it, but that's usually after I'm done drinking in how gorgeous his work is.

Monday, 25 June 2018

Inspiring art #3 - 'Dragon Warriors' by Jon Hodgson

I allowed Dragon Warriors to pass me by in the 1980s because I was involved with Fighting Fantasy and other games. However, I saw the Magnum Opus book and immediately fell in love, and why? Because the Jon Hodgson cover was crying out 'Jonathan! This is your game!'

Dragon Warriors by JonHodgson

The reason why I find this image inspiring is because it represents everything I love about fantasy tabletop roleplaying games and the kind of adventures I like to run. There's a nicely mixed party of warriors and magic users, and they're descending into a dark ancient ruin ready for action.

I love the mood the image creates; there's tension and darkness but the characters are tooled up for adventure. There's a nice nod to the original Dragon Warriors cover image with the skull in the winged helmet in the bottom right - the unfortunate soul - and there's a large clash of cultures; robed sorcerers, an armoured European knight, a powerful Nordic warrior, all descending into what seems to be a tomb built by indigenous South Americans. It's excellent and really helps spark the imagination.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Inspiring art #2 - Chris Achilleos' 'Blood Royale'

There's so much going on in this image it gave me adventure ideas for a long time. I never played the boardgame but I do remember seeing the image in Games Workshop's 'White Dwarf' magazine and being bowled over by the painting.

artsytoad:  “ Chris Achilleos, Blood Royale  www.artsytoad.tumblr.com  ” 

Chris Achilleos has always been a favourite of mine and has produced some of the best covers of some of my favourite games and books. This one in particular came along at a good time for me; I was between campaigns and could not think of a new adventure, but after seeing this image I ended up running a long War of the Roses-type game.

The main foreground image of the two warriors, especially the big dude with the sword, is tremendous. Even with all the pageantry and heraldry on the clothes and armour - this grandiose statement of apparent nobility - the act of bloodshed and the lack of mercy is still a brutal and nasty job. There is no compassion in this knight as he prepares to plunge his sword into an unarmed foe. The lady looking on with part shock and part anticipation is very telling and the only person who seems even slightly horrified is the jester, the one person in the room whose opinion everyone no doubt disregards. The act also appears to be the start of something bigger, what with the warriors in the background preparing for action.

This is a fantastic image and I found it inspiring for all kinds of reasons, especially the gaming angle of warring nobility and the duty of warriors.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Inspiring art #1 - Michael Whelan's 'Elric'

I'd like start a short series detailing the artwork that has inspired me and/or really triggered my imagination over my years of gaming. I'm not sure how long this will go on for, to be honest, but I've been going through my books recently and some images have really jumped out at me so I thought I'd share.

I thought I'd start with an amazing painting, 'Elric and the Sinking City' by Michael Whelan.

I first came across Elric when his stories were reprinted by Grafton in 1989 and I bought the entire run. This was my favourite of the Whelan covers because it captured both Elric and his world for me; he's muscular but not overbearingly so, and he has obviously has a deep connection to the sword Stormbringer as he cradles it, with a flat, expressionless face that speaks volumes about his torment. As well as that, the surroundings are obviously ancient but also bleak, disturbing and in a state of decline, just like him and his people.

It's a fantastic image and is one that I find not only inspiring but also incredibly evocative of Elric and his saga.