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Nerdarchy > Creator Spotlight  > Freelance Fantasy Art and the RPG Hobby

Freelance Fantasy Art and the RPG Hobby

One of the best sources of inspiration for creating content as a Game Master I’ve found is art. Doesn’t matter what the subject matter is – fantasy, science fiction, or otherwise. Looking at a beautiful piece of art and really studying it to extract as much information as possible is a huge part of my own creative process as a GM, and I know this is true for many others. I can spend hours on end perusing the old art sourcebooks for AD&D, looking at the same paintings I’ve seen dozens of times. And inevitably I’ll find a detail I hadn’t noticed before or find something new that speaks to the story that the painting tells.

Evocative art can help players and Game Masters experience greater immersion for an RPG campaign. [Art by Olie Boldador]

Shaping fantasy through RPG art

Slithice the Naga Siren, from DOTA. [Art by Olie Boldador]

That being said, however, I don’t have much of a talent for creating art myself, aside from music. I’ve dabbled in various media over the years, but never really took to it, never developed the skills necessary to produce visual art.

But I do think, even as an untrained observer, that art plays in integral role for a tabletop RPG. Not only can it be used to aid the players by providing a visual cue for a landscape they’re traversing or a foe they’re encountering, but it also shapes the way we imagine.

Let’s do a quick thought experiment. Picture a dragon. Or an archmage. Or a faster-than-light ship. Chances are the image you’ve conjured in your head is some amalgamation of imagery you’ve seen depicted in visual artwork, be it cinema, drawings, paintings, etc. Visual representations of things that have surfaced from the depths of our imaginations wrap back around and inform the way we approach the task of imagining other things.

It’s almost like imagination calisthenics when we look at and appreciate a piece of art. We’re training our brains to see the image, then interpret it, then store it away so that it can be referenced later. And whether we’re artistically inclined or not, everyone has an imagination, which comes to the forefront when we sit down to play tabletop RPGs. Which is why I believe it’s important to exercise and expand our experiences with visual art, especially if it relates to the hobbies we love.

I interviewed Olie Boldador, a freelance fantasy artist, to get his perspective on some of these questions. He’s a fantastic artist and a piece of his was recently used in an article on this website! [NERDITOR’S NOTE: When I contacted Olie to ask permission to include his artwork, he took the time to touch it up first and send us a new and improved version just to use here on our site!]

What sources of inspiration do you look to when you’re creating art? Any specific artists, i.e. those who worked on older artwork for D&D in its fledgling stages?

“I am heavily inspired by games. Be it tabletop, board games, card games, video games. D&D was not the game that inspired me however. It was Magic: The Gathering. I always engrossed myself with the lore of each card. Eventually I learned of D&D, and that’s inspired me as well.”

What’s the appeal of fantasy artwork for you? What draws you to that genre and the particular media you use to express your creativity?

“It’s the stories that I love about fantasy work. The worldbuilding of each MTG expansion always get me giddy with excitement. I mainly use digital but I do pencil and ballpoint pen from time to time.”

When you’re running games at home, as an artist in addition to being a DM, do you use visual aids to help you set scenes or give players a look at what they’re up against? If so, what do you feel are the benefits of using visual aids in a tabletop RPG?

“Definitely! Especially for key NPCs for my games. As the creator of the artworks, I get to exercise my creativity and inspiration. And as the DM they are great for selling the world that the players interact with, making each NPC, locations and artifacts feel real.”

What’s your process like when creating new pieces? Do you start with a concept in your head and develop it or do you just start creating and see where it takes you?

“A little bit of both, Mostly on personal work I just start with a blank canvas and see where it takes me. But when there is a particular location or NPC that I want to explore further, I create conceptual pieces first.”

How can people get in touch with you to ask about commissions and where can people find you to see more of your excellent work?

“You can contact me via email (rboldador@gmail.com) or on any of my social media pages. Facebook and Twitter are probably my main social media that I upload daily including news of new projects and livestreams. But I always consider my professional portfolio to be my ArtStation page.”

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Austin Rodgers

Graduate student in pure math by day, avid tabletop gamer by night. Austin is a lifelong gamer who enjoys writing fantasy and science fiction, and musing about all things tabletop roleplaying, from classic hidden gems to modern powerhouses like 5e D&D.

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