Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Interview - Mike Tenebrae, freelance illustrator

Please welcome to Farsight Blogger Mike Tenebrae, a freelance illustrator working out of his studio in Cape Town, South Africa. He's done work for such firms as Fantasy Flight Games, Pinnacle Entertainment and Modiphius amongst many others.

His unique style covers all kinds of things but the fantasy and horror genres stand out the most. You can view his work at Tenebrae Studios.

Hello Mike! Welcome to Farsight Blogger. Can you introduce yourself, and tell us something of your history with gaming?

Hello and thank you for this opportunity! I have always had a fascination with roleplaying games. Growing up in South Africa in the 80s, the only D&D related product we seemed to get here was the moral panic. Otherwise I used to just pore over the adverts in my DC and Marvel comics. I guess I cut my teeth in roleplaying with Fighting Fantasy books and later the early Ultima games and Adventuresoft's 'Elvira' horror RPG titles, all of which had a huge influence on me.

What was it that got you into illustration?

I always loved drawing. I come from a family of artists as my aunt and uncle are/were both gallery artists who specialise in realism (my uncle used to paint for the natural history museum) so on my mother's side there was always an encouragement of the artistic pursuits. Both my parents loved books and I was fortunate to always be surrounded by them. I just wanted to so badly create my own worlds and monsters like the ones I grew up reading about.

Who’s work inspires you the most?

Wow, what  loaded question! I am influenced by so many great artists. I think the big 3 that got me into wondering about art as a career would be Denis Loubet, Iain McCaig and Malcolm Barter. Thanks to the internet I am able to call Malcolm a close friend, something I am thankful for everyday. His ink work, specifically in 'Forest of Doom', left a lasting impression on me. Denis' work for Origin, specifically the Ultima manuals fascinated me and Iain McCaig's illustrations drew me into 'The City of Thieves' completely in that I felt I actually lived in the city itself.

The old concept art site, before it died, was a life changing place. Thanks to Facebook I am still able to glean knowledge from industry legends such as Tristan Elwell, Armand Cabrera and Jeff "Wild Bill" Fennel. Those guys are amazing resources, although they will never admit it.

Your RPG work includes art for the big names in the gaming industry. How do you approach projects for such huge publishers? How do you plan your projects?

It's never easy and a continual learning process. I worked with some amazing art directors during some very difficult and transitionary stages of my life. Being a jobber I would go through periods where I would be chasing down one gig after the other, working multiple jobs at once and pulling all nighters. You submit the work, hope for the best and get critiqued. You then chip away and refine it and do your best to bring their vision to life. It's not always easy or an easy thing to hear, but it's part of the industry.

I wish I could go back and redo a lot of my earlier work...while working you are also always studying and trying new things to hone your craft and sometimes you learn so many things so fast through studies and returning to the basics that your old work becomes difficult to look at. I hope any of my past employers who may happen to read this will know how much I learnt from working with them and how much I appreciated the breaks they gave me in this demanding industry.

Do you have a genre that inspires you? What do you like illustrating the most?

I will always love horror, cyberpunk and fantasy and especially combining those in some way. Eerie fantasy like the kind of images found in 'Tasks of Tantalon' and 'Faeries' really sucks me in. I don't like too much exposition at times. I don't need to know why a bunch of dwarves would be running a pub in the depths of a dungeon, the fact that it's there and in the next room is a vampire lends the setting a surreal dream-like quality which is my favorite kind of fantasy setting. Things don't need to make sense or be logical all the time and I love throwing things like that into my pictures.

What was the longest, most intricate project you’ve ever worked on?

One I am still working on... or two rather. I am working on a core rulebook and bestiary for Greywood and am doing all the interior illustrations in traditional ink. Literally hundreds of different monsters. A dream project, but can be daunting at times. Sometimes having an open slate can be very intimidating. I am also doing several long term personal projects, such as bestiaries of different categories (forests, dungeons, graveyards etc) as well as my own pixel art driven ideas... which I still don't know exactly what I'm going to do with.

What’s your favourite piece of personal work?

Artwise? Nothing really! It's all so fleeting but whenever a client tells me how happy they are, it moves me deeply. The best thing I ever made is definitely my daughter. Though to be fair, that was a collaboration piece.

If you could sit down and illustrate something of your choosing right now, what would it be and why?

A room by room haunted house those Star Wars cut aways, but more close up and with more detail. With lots of hidden monsters and weird things all over the place for the viewer to find.
Why? I guess because I'm always in the mood for a monster...there's just not enough hours in the day... sigh.

What can we expect to see from you in the future?

Much more traditional work. While the PC is fantastic for speed and ease of use, especially in publishing. Nothing can beat the feel and experience of traditional work for me, I'm always trying to do more traditional work and hope one day to be doing that all the time... but having said that. I'm becoming terrible addicted to pixel art and working purely in pixels. Making sprites and isometric scenes is something I cannot get enough of now that I've taken the plunge.  I love making pixel cheeses and rolls and red apples... mugs of beer and jars of honey. If only I could eat them.

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