Sunday, November 13, 2011

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today

This month is the twentieth anniversary of receiving my very first commission. I never could have imagined that I would have the opportunity to do this work for twenty years! Its a bitter sweet reflective moment and thought I would share my memories.

In the Summer of 1991 I was studying illustration at Parsons School of Design. Although I was a Fine Arts Painting major at Alfred University my parents insisted that I should have a more practical back-up plan, and it was commercial arts or teaching. My instructor at the time suggested that I try pen and ink, since my sketchbook was filled with unfinished drawings. On his demand I rendered the image above (Battle Cleric, 1991), and promptly put away my pen and inks.

Two month later once back at University I was 
encouraged by my gaming friends that I should send off my portfolio. In an attempt to get it out of the way, and get back to my "real work" I sent off color copies and my one B&W to three publishers. TSR, White Wolf, and Isaac Azimov's. Peggy Cooper at TSR sent me a very encouraging form letter, I am still waiting for a reply from Azimov's, and I received this letter from Josh Timbrook and Ken Cliffe at White Wolf. Yes, I am so old that correspondences (and sketches) between artist and AD were sent via mail!

Within a week I called the White Wolf offices from my dorm hall phone (Yes, No Cell Phones! No Email.) I talked with them and they hoped I was available to produce 27 pen and ink illustrations for a new project "Ars Magica 3rd Edition". I agreed, assuring them that I was on the job, and that it was no problem. I was terrified!

My memories of the job are still very vivid in my mind. I remember my first thought was that I had been hired, and I had only done one pen and ink in my entire life! I didn't really know how to work in pen and ink. I went to the library and pulled out every pen and ink and woodblock artist I could find (again, no internet, just the old card catalog system!) I found Albrecht Durer, Howard Pyle, and several Golden Age Illustrators in the children's section of the local public library. These I made copies of and wallpapered my studio. If I had to render grass I found a Pyle's Robin Hood illustration with grass and copied the technique. If I had to paint wood, I looked to Durer to see how he did it. In this way I managed to scratch out 27 illustrations.

That was probably the biggest learning curve on a project that I've ever experienced. I learned more about the publishing industry, composition, design, drawing and illustration in two months than I could have learned in ten years of school. I remember that the most exciting part was that I was going to be published. In a hundred years, after I was dead, this artwork would still exist somewhere on a bookshelf.

I think what is most interesting is how different the market is today. The business of fantasy art is unrecognizable from two decades ago. There were no websites or art blogs. There definitely weren't any art challenges or portfolio reviews. There was no Comic Con and no Spectrum. This was before Magic The Gathering, Harry Potter, World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings. Before the term "Concept Art" was in reference to anything other than performance installations. Before Fantasy became an international multi-billion dollar business. It was a very small industry with very few people in it. Everyone knew everyone else. You sent them your work, and if they like you they hired you. No recommendations, no workshops, no followers or page views. No symposiums or master classes. No style guides, no R&D, no creative directors or crowd sourcing. Twenty years ago was just an artist and the art director on the phone making stuff they liked. The X Generation produced some stellar artists. Among my fellow classmates of '92 include Donato Giancola, Irene Gallo, Tony Diterlizzi, and Rebecca Guay. I'm very interested to see what the next twenty years will bring!

Enjoy this very limited gallery of a few pieces that I did for that project, twenty years ago.



Ars Magica and Artwork ©Atlas Games


  1. Fantastic post, and many congratulations! I'm a few years from my own 20th anniversary ('14), but close enough that this all seems familiar, in terms of the state of the industry pre-interwebz. It's no small feat surviving this long. Well done!

  2. Yes, congratulations! It is amazing how much everything has changed in twenty years; so much, so fast. It is interesting to see your early work; very cool.

  3. If someone had told me 20 yrs ago that I'd be painting with a wand on an etch-a-sketch, while transporting my images in pixels all over the world, I would have thought them insane. 20 years from today should be pretty amazing!

  4. Having GM'd Ars Magica way back then I still find it amazing how you captured the atmoshphere of Ars Mythic Europe back then. Your illo's were huge inspiration to me and whole our troupe. Been your fan ever since. This post was a blast of nostalgia.

  5. Hello William. Your ink illustrations for the third edition Ars Magica for me were the most beautiful illustrations of all time. Thanks to your pictures I am passionate to Ars Magica to date, and it's been over 20 years! Your illustrations were able to capture the special flavor of Europe legendary, and have inspired me. The amazing thing of your illustrations is the kinematic force that they express, thanks to prospects difficult and suggestive. From those pictures I've been a huge fan of your for over 20 years. I'm sorry that you did not realize today more ink illustrations like these, because they were really nice. I am very sorry that the Atlas Games no longer has commissioned you to the realization of the illustrations for Ars Magica (I also sent them an email about it). Of course I was impressed to know that these drawings were your first illustrations in ink. Your talent is amazing! Claudio - Italy

  6. The artwork you did for Lion of the North (Scotland supplement to Ars Magica) is still my favourite and IMO most evocative material in the Ars Magica line so far. The giant and the diverse scenes are just plain awesome.

  7. So you're WOC, the illustrator for Ars Magica 3rd Ed! I don't play pen-and-paper games at all; I bought that massive book purely for your art.
    Wow, another mystery artist from my childhood, randomly uncovered! The other solved mystery is Katsuya Terada. He illustrated Legend of Zelda, some Dragonquest, etc. Went by the pen name of TERRA.
    You unknown young artists starting out with your obscure pen names! Caused me so much suffering!