In today’s interview, we speak with artist Wayne Reynolds! Not only has Wayne created the recent Dungeon Magazine cover image (“Winter of the Witch”) but has been responsible for innumerable fantasy pieces throughout the game’s magazines and sourcebooks. We also talk with Dungeon staff to find out more on how an art piece is created, starting from order, to sketch, to finished illustration.
Wizards of the Coast: First of all, we wanted to congratulate you on your work for Dungeons & Dragons: from creatures as large as Tiamat to as small as the pseudodragon, and of course the gorgeous covers to the 4th Edition core rulebooks!
This month, another of your creations graces the cover of Dungeon Magazine 162: "Winter of the Witch". For this piece in particular, can you discuss a little of the direction you were given for it? In general, do you prefer working from a more explicit art order, something looser in which to explore as you will, or a hybrid of both -- or does every art order still contain within it room to explore?
Wayne Reynolds: Thanks for the compliments. I sincerely appreciate it. I’m happy working from both detailed and loose art orders. Each image is different and sometimes an illustration will dictate that a more in depth description is required in order to depict a specific subject or scene. The benefit of a detailed art order is to immediately focus the mind on what needs illustrating. Even a comprehensive art order will still give room to explore different variations, compositions and scenes. Looser descriptions can also be great because it gives more opportunity to invent and create. In these cases there is a danger I get carried away and often create more than one idea then find that I cannot decide which works best. In this case I leave the decision to the art director.
Wizards: When the order for "Winter of the Witch" came in, was it sufficient for you to start creating, or do you first research any visuals, references, or other inspirations (and if so, what inspirations might there have been for this particular piece)? Do you keep a library of such references or inspirational works on hand? What’s in your work area at the moment?
Wayne: After reading the art description for "Winter of the Witch", a rough mental image of what the illustration might look like was already forming in my head. I particularly enjoy painting snow scenes so I was relishing the opportunity to work on this one. A number of reference images were provided along with the art description including maps of the ice fortress the surrounding area. Fortunately, I was already familiar with depicting the Eladrin race.
I often work with reference material and have a huge reference library consisting of books and scrapbooks filled with images cut from magazines. I find that it’s useful to base things on a reference image, even if the reference image doesn’t look exactly like what I’ll finally depict but it does give a good guideline so that I can accurately illustrate the subject matter. There are some things that I’m so used to drawing that I find I rarely need reference for, such as figures. Although on occasion I might need to research how things look in a certain pose just to fill the gaps in my memory. My reference library mostly consists of books on animals, historical armour and weapons. I prefer photographic reference books. If I’m working on a historical image then I use a lot more reference material because it’s important to accurately depict a documented historical subject matter.
In my work area at the moment; I have a small bookshelf directly next to my work area consisting of the books I refer to the most, including lots of D&D rule books. I’m currently penciling a companion piece to The Winter of the Witch. This one seems to be mostly coming out of my head so I only have one or two nominal reference pieces perched on my drawing board.
Wizards: Let’s take a look at the actual art order that went to Wayne, as well as chatting with the folks directly involved with Dragon Magazine art process:
Illo 001: Dungeon #162 Cover – Winter of the Witch
Specifications: Full-page Color. Description: This cover illo depicts a winter scene, specifically a single creature standing on an icy outcropping. The “creature” is an evil archfey called the WINTER WITCH (see below). She is the central villain in this epic-level adventure, and so she should look extremely cool and dangerous. Around her, space permitting, we might see a few TERRIFIED HUMAN PEASANTS wearing winter clothing, but they’ve been FLASH-FROZEN IN ICE, as though frozen by a spell. The composition will determine how many, if any, of these peasants will be shown. The WINTER WITCH is a slender female ARCHFEY resembling an eladrin, but one that’s been thoroughly corrupted by the forces of nature. She has ALABASTER SKIN, BLUE-BLACK HAIR that whips around her wildly, and a windblown GOWN OF ELECTRIC BLUE decorated with a complicated pattern that looks like cracked ice on the shattered surface of a frozen pond. Atop her HEAD is a JAGGED TIARA MADE OF PURE WHITE ICE. She wields a LONG SWORD MADE OF BLACK ICE. She is at once horrible and coldly beautiful. Her EYES ARE PUPILLESS, just orbs of GLOWING FROSTY ICE BLUE. Behind the witch is blowing snow. Within the blowing snow, we see vignettes depicting other key themes, monsters, or elements in the adventure. Some ideas include the following (the artist is free to pick and choose):
- The witch’s ice fortress (see the adventure’s map references to gauge the size and scope of the structure).
- A gargantuan white dragon (or some part of it, like maybe its head).
- A glabrezu demon (or its evil visage).
- Blowing snow taking on vaguely menacing features, such as snowy jaws.
- Small spindly fey creatures made of living ice.
- Twisted, evil-looking evergreen trees.
These elements are meant to be evocative without drawing attention away from the witch herself.
References: Eladrin (see MM page 103), Adventure maps of the Winter Witch’s fortress, Glabrezu (see MM page 53)
Wizards: What is the process for an art order? Once an art order comes in, and a contract is made, what are the next steps?
Chris Youngs (Editor-in-Chief): From my end, I generate an art order, then hand it to the Creative Director (Chris Perkins). Then he goes through the art order, makes changes, and passes it to Jon Schindehette (Art Director). Then Jon finds an artist and creates a contract and establishes a timeline based on the issue number I provided.
The cap phrases are the most important things the artist needs to pay attention to. Chris P. can talk more about this, since he’s the one who introduced that particular innovation.
Favorite pieces of Wayne’s? The cover of Dungeon #156 (Sinruth from the first Scales of War adventure) is a favorite from recent memory. This month’s Dragon cover is also bitchin’ (Dragon #371).
Chris Perkins (Creative Director): When the art order comes from Chris Youngs (with input from the writer/designer, presumably), I then revise the art order, as needed, to make it “friendly” for the illustrator. I accomplish this by drawing attention to the important details, while also giving the illustrator room to exercise creativity, both in terms of the overall composition as well as the finer details. I also make sure that no important details are left out; for example, in the “Winter of the Witch” cover illustration, I specifically mention that eladrin don’t have pupils -- an important detail that the illustrator might not know or remember.
We want the illustrator to be excited and inspired by the challenge, not feel like he or she is just painting by numbers. Consequently, I tend to remove elements from the art order that make the illustrator feel that he or she has no input into the composition.
Jon Schindehette (Art Director): Once I get an art order, I look at the content of the art order and identify the various elements that we need illustrated (creatures, characters, environments, etc.), and start a long list of artists that would be a good fit. From that point, I look at backstory, visual concepts, flavor text, etc. to try and define a look and feel that would be nice to create visually, and then I pare down my list to a couple of ideal artists. Once the illustration process starts, we typically do:
- Rough sketches for pose and composition
- Tight sketches for details
- Final color
Wayne: The process can vary depending upon the illustration required. Sometimes I’ll submit concept sketches especially if I can’t decide between different compositions. Sometimes I skip the concept sketch stage completely if a particularly strong composition presents itself and go straight to a finished sketch. Revisions to a sketch can vary also. Sometimes I don’t have to make any revisions and sometimes I’ll have to make minor adjustments to a number of elements. Thankfully, it’s not often I have to make major changes to a sketch. (Though sometimes I have been known to completely re-draw a sketch even after it’s been approved because I’ve thought of a better composition!)
I was required to make some minor adjustments to the "Witch of the Winter" sketch; changing the design of the ice tiara, showing more of her right arm and making her hands less claw like (I’d given her really long fingernails) In addition, I removed her cloak when I came to paint the image. It looked fine at sketch stage but didn’t really work when I came to put on colour.
Wizards: How long did it take you to complete "Winter of the Witch"? Is this a typical timeframe for you?
Wayne: It took me about two and a half days to pencil the image and about three days to paint it. This is a typical timeframe. Though on this occasion the penciling took a while longer than usual because I couldn’t decide what pose worked the best and I’d rough-sketched a vast number of alternatives until I was finally happy.
Wizards: While most players will only get to experience "Winter of the Witch" online, how large is the actual piece? According to your website, you work exclusively with acrylic paints and canvas, as opposed to digital. Are there certain advantages that acrylics offer, or is it simply a matter of using your preferred medium?
Wayne: The original artwork measures “17 x “17. I prefer to use acrylic paints because they dry faster than oils and create much brighter colours than achieved with watercolours. I prefer to work on artboard rather than canvas because artboard has a much smoother surface. Working in traditional methods suit me better than creating a digital image. There are techniques that I’ve gotten into the habit of using that I just can’t duplicate electronically.
Wizards: Any pieces, particularly for D&D, that you’ve been especially pleased with the final results? Any that have been especially challenging to complete?
Wayne: As with most artists, I’m my own worst critic. Even though every illustration I work on is done to the best of my abilities, I find that after a few weeks of finishing a picture I will begin to notice ways of improving the image that had not occurred to me while painting it or spot a mistake that I’d not noticed before. Consequently I’m never really happy or pleased with the work I produce because I always feel that I can do better. It’s usually the case that I’m more content with recent images because I’ve not had enough time to find fault with them in my head. There’s a new illustration of Orcus that I don’t hate too much at the moment.
The images that I found especially challenging were the letterbox format images for 3rd Edition Eberron. They were large format illustrations with a lot of figures and action taking place in them. Creating the compositions was particularly tough because of the number of elements that needed to be factored in. A compositional rough-sketch might take three days before I was satisfied and able to move onto a finished sketch.
Wizards: If we could ask about your art studies leading up to your professional career; according to your site, while you attended art college you did not study painting then but later largely self-taught. That said, how did your concentration on fantasy and historical art develop? Was this an area you’ve long held a passion for that you focused on during art college, or did it develop along with your art techniques in later years?
Wayne: My style and concentration on fantasy and historical artwork is something that has slowly developed since leaving college. The style I work in is a result of many contributing factors.
I was actively discouraged at my first art college from creating any fantasy art. Consequently the work I produced at art college has very little in common with the work I produce now. I specialized more in black and white artwork, cartoons, 3D work and animation. Even though I didn’t learn as many painting techniques at college I did learn essential observational and drawing skills that have proved invaluable throughout my career. However, I still retained an interest in fantasy art and games and gradually began to resume painting fantasy art on leaving college.
Around this time I joined a historical re-enactment society concerned with Dark Age history. Through the re-enactment society I learned in detail about the use and construction of clothing, armour and weapons of the time period and this inspired me to continue my research into other historical periods. Seeing how things looked and worked in real life was extremely useful and this knowledge was transferred to my artwork. Many of the costumes and weapons I design have some basis in reality and in my head, I know exactly how they work and fit together in a practical way… even if they don’t look practical.
Most of my early commercial work was in black and white because this was the area that I specialized in at college. I initially tried to find work in comics and games because these were areas that I was familiar with. Though as opportunities to create colour artwork increased I found that I could practice and develop my colour painting style. This was a very long process and it’s still a process that’s still ongoing as I’m constantly discovering new aspects of painting. I still think I’ve got a lot left to learn yet.