Two Generals Battle Report

<Spoilers Ahead>

I did not win.

<End spoilers.>

From left to right: My indomitable opponent Chris Kluwe, moi holding a ‘Fire of Menoth’ cupcake, and the event mastermind, John DeShazer. (Photo stolen from Mercenary Market’s FB page.)

I didn’t think there was chance in hell that I would, there was never really a question about that. My hope was that I could get through the game without thoroughly embarrassing myself, and I think I managed to do that. In fact, I think I made Mr. Kluwe work for it…or at least he pretended to. Either way, let the record show that I did not go down without a fight. Neigh. I brought the fight to him!

Here’s how it went down…

If you’ve been following this blog or my recent tweets/facebookings, you might know that this past Sunday I participated in a great WARMACHINE/HORDES event at Mercenary Market in Coasta Mesa, hosted by the stores owner’s, John DeShazer and my magnanimous opponent for the day, Chris Kluwe. What made this even so fantastic was the unique format, something that I expect will very shortly become a mainstay of WARMACHINE and HORDES events around the world. Twenty eight players showed up and were randomly divided into two teams, each team to be lead by a General — the Generals being Chris and myself. Through four escalating rounds, the teams faced off and during each round, Chris and I were given a limited number of advantages that we could dynamically bestow upon one of our players (whom I will refer to henceforward as ‘champions’), once per player, per round. The advantages could take the form of:

• A boosted die roll
• A re-roll of any die roll
• An automatically successful morale check

As the battles raged across the tables, our champions would call out at pivotal points in the battle to request our support. Several times, the advantage turned an otherwise negative situation into a positive, and more than a few times I witnessed it as the winning die roll in the game. Since each champion only had access to one advantage per game, the effect was not staggering or unbalancing, but the turned-hand of fate was felt throughout the day, to be sure.

Each round, the winning side gained an advantage for their respective General. I’ll try to remember what they were:

• Round 1 — 2″ of additional deployment
• Round 2 — Bonus to the initiative turn order roll
• Round 3 — Player gets to place a wall on the battlefield before deployment
• Round 4 — Player gets one instance of a bonus, as described above.

I gained all four.

My champions were amazing. Or maybe I was just an astounding General! Every player on both sides gave it their all and rallied behind their General yesterday, but round after round, my champions managed to bring home the victory and deliver the advantage to me. The rounds were close and competition was fierce, to be sure, but fortune graced me with the winning army that day, and as a whole, they accomplished a flawless victory (which I squandered with my own incompetence, but we’ll get to that part of the story soon enough).

Chris definitely had the height and reach advantage on me…

An entertaining side note to this is that the organizers of the event surprised Chris and I with a challenge for the Generals following the completion of each of the first three rounds. This added a bit of interaction and I think, comedy, to the day’s events. The General challenges went like this:

Round 1 — Chris and I were tasked before the round started with learning the names of each of our champions before the end of the hour. This was a great challenge because it thrust us onto the battlefield with our champions and required us to engage with them. Immediately, both of us began taking notes, working hard to associate the names with the faces. Impressively, when the moment of truth came, we both scored a perfect 100, memorizing each of our champion’s names. The success awarded us each an additional bonus advantage to hand out in subsequent rounds, but the playing field was still level. I’ll add though, that the greatest advantage was knowing the names of my champions after that, and this served me well.

Round 2 — For the second challenge, an army was selected at random from one of our respective champions. Chris and I were tasked with reciting the name of each model or unit in the army. You might think this is a slam dunk for the creator of the game, but after 15+ books worth of models, even I get stymied on a name once in a while, especially in the heat of competition. Amazingly, Chris and I went toe to toe again, but we both got hung up on one character solo: Sylys Wyshnalyrr. Incredibly, neither of us could dredge the name of this misbegotten elf from our subconscious, and the challenge again ended in a draw with each of us gaining the additional bonus advantage. I’m not sure what this says about ol’ Sylys, but even after multiple ‘sudden death’ rounds, he was the only one that we both failed to name. (Does anyone even know how to pronounce his name? Good grief!)

Round 3 — The humiliation round! The challenge was to lead our champions in a song or chant about, I think, our faction or our army or something. Interpretation of the challenge seemed to vary. Chris and his champions, to his credit, chanted something charitable about Privateer Press and their appreciation, and for that, I must thank him. But this was a juried challenge and I knew I’d have to dig a little deeper to pull this victory out, so as the round played out, I scribbled notes on a 3 x 5 card and subsequently lead my graciously cooperative team in the following chant (keep in mind that I knew I’d be fielding Cygnar today, but my players were made up of a random assortment of factions from both WARMACHINE and HORDES):

Cygnar, Cygnar, you’re our team today,
We might not like you but that’s okay,
You’ll kick Kluwe’s butt if you hope and pray,
Then you can pack up and go away.

My gambit payed off and self-deprecating humor won the day…or rather, the challenge. There was still much left to play out this day…

Instead of winning an advantage for the third General challenge, the losing team was forced to don the pink Privateer bandanas for the final round.

After seven hours of our champions waging bloody war, Chris and I finally got down to our death match. As I said above, I had all the advantages that my champions had won throughout the day. The table was set, and the scenario was revealed, but I won’t even worry about describing the scenario because I don’t think either Chris or I ever had an inclination to try and win by the scenario conditions. It was something about zones and objectives and contesting something or other, but you already know how this is going to go: Caster Kill.

My army. Cavalry painted by Bob Ladd as a commission a few years back. Everything else painted by me. Only Stryker, the Journeyman and the Cyclone existed before last week. I was doing some serious speed painting!

After a week of frantic painting and army building, here’s what I brought to the field with my 50pt force:

Commander Coleman Stryker
Stormwall
Cyclone
Journeyman Warcaster
Stormlancers (5)
The Black 13th
Stormsmiths (3)
Harlan Versh, Illuminated One
Eiryss, Mage Hunter of iOS
Gunmage Captain Adept

Here’s what Chris brought:

Goreshade the Cursed
Kraken
A shit-ton of banes

Okay, he had some other stuff, too. UAs for the banes, the Combine, Tartarus…what’s it matter. I couldn’t target any of them anyway!

In a final advantage granted to the Generals, the champion from each team with the day’s best strength of schedule became the Lieutenant advisor to the General. I’m going to say right up front here, and I’ll say it again, this saved my bacon. My Lieutenant, Alex, who kicked a ridiculous amount of ass throughout the day, was pretty much the only reason I didn’t look like a complete idiot. Though I studied and crammed for this event for a week leading up to it, 90% of what I had loaded into my grey matter went right out the window as soon as I stepped up to the table. I leaned heavily on Alex’s expertise, and to my great fortune, he had played a very similar Cygnar foce that day and was expertly familiar with everything I was fielding. His counsel made the difference between me looking like a chump and actually making a decent show of it, and for that, I thank him from the bottom of my heart.

My stalwart Lieutenant, Alex and me with my eyes close (ugh). Had Alex been in command of my army, things might have actually turned out a little different for Cygnar…

 

Now, I’m resurrecting this from memory without any notes and I apologize in advance for any inaccuracies. Anyone reading this who might have witnessed the event should feel free to correct me on anything I have mistakenly reported, but to the best of my recollection, the battle unfolded like this:

Though we tied with the initiative roll, my advantage gave me the choice to go first, so I took it. After we deployed, I used Stryker to snipe the Stormwall and the Journeyman to Arcane Shield the Lancers, then pushed everyone forward, spreading out across the board to meet his advancing horde of banes.

Chris countered with a tactical advance that used the fewest number of banes possible to thwart any subsequent charge on my part, while pushing his ferocious Kraken straight toward the center of my army. A well placed shot from the Kraken surgically removed Lynch from the Black 13th, diminishing their potential by a solid third, but my force was otherwise unmolested as the Kraken was the sole ranged attack he possessed. Now what followed almost seemed like a gift from heaven. No, it was a gift from heaven, but one that would soon be mocked by less benevolent forces. For some reason, Chris, despite the counsel of his Lieutenant, left Goreshade exposed without the advantage of his Occulation spell, well within striking distance of my sniped Stormwall’s Big Guns. I was practically salivating. For a moment, I thought it was a ruse. Could he actually make such a huge mistake so early in the game or was he baiting me into some diabolical trap?

Turns out, it was a complete underestimation of my position, and the game almost ended there. I loaded the Stormwall with focus and then, biding my time, set up the rest of my force. I walked my lancers into the front ranks of his banes. Meanwhile, I sent Eiryss up the left side of the field, only to come up a quarter inch short on Goreshade — almost plugged him with a disruptor then and there. Needless to say, she was bane-chow on his next turn, but it was worth the risk to try and get that shot off on him. Finally, it came down to the Stormwall. Honestly, I thought I had it in the bag. I had a perfect shot with both guns, well within the Stormwall’s sniped 18″ range. Goreshade had one focus point on him, but it seemed to matter little at that point. The whole round, my marbled green Lock & Load dice had been rolling nothing but 5′s and 6′s, so frequently I was beginning to get a little self conscious about them. A couple of average rolls from these Big Guns and I was going to pack up and head to Disneyland.

Two Generals facing off across the battlefield. You can see by the gesture Chris’s lieutenant is making that this is where I just flubbed my damage roll!

Now, I don’t remember what the rolls were, exactly, but needless to say, I used my focus to boost the hit and damage on the first roll, then to hit on the second. I hit both times. But for the damage, I rolled crap. The second gun rolled nothing but 1′s and 2′s, and when my Lieutenant Alex saved me with a reroll, I rolled the same thing again. I did a total of eight points of damage on Goreshade, and that was the last I ever saw of him because for the rest of the game, he had Occulation up and there was no getting near him.

I think a lot of people were holding their breath during that series of rolls. It looked by all counts like the battle was going to be over before it really started, but that wasn’t what the fates were looking for that day. To be honest, I’m kind of glad it didn’t work out that way because I wouldn’t have been able to claim a victory from my own good playing. I’m not above exploiting a mistake from my opponent, but I think the whole thing might have felt a little anti-climactic, and we would have missed out on a great amount of bloodshed to come.

In Chris’s next round, he deftly maneuvered around the covering fire I was laying down from the Stormwall and Cyclone. Eiryss evaporated in a fine red mist, but otherwise things didn’t look too bad. I had forced him into a conservative advance, or so I thought. In reality, in true Nightmare Legion form, Chris maneuvered cooly and comfortably in the knowledge that time and the numbers were on his side. And then came the Kraken.

This one turned out to be a bit of a twist. For a moment, it looked like the Kraken was going to invalidate the existence of the Stormwall with a weapon lock. But thanks to some rules referencing on the part of John, we found out that the imminent Kraken threat wasn’t quite in range. I was going to get another chance.

As I went into my third turn, I faced down the Kraken and a wall of banes as wide as the battlefield. Goreshade, though, was safely concealed behind his stealth-providing spell. At this point, the Kraken became enemy number one. I lead with the Stormwall, battering it with a pair of massive, Voltaic fists (zapping a necrotech in the process), then followed with a lancer assault, connecting with four of the armored cavalry while the fifth member split to take a target of opportunity on a nearby bane. I also knew it was now or never and I popped Stryker’s Invincibility feat, enveloping nearly my entire army with his +5 ARM bonus. By the end of my turn, the Kraken was a smoking heap and thanks to Versh and some Stormsmith triangulation on the Stormwall’s lighting pod, a good chunk of banes had left the table. But not for long.

At this point, though, a serious problem reared its head: being terribly rusty at my game, I was moving horribly slow. Even with the counsel provided by Alex, I was moving through my turns at a snail’s pace, and we were on the clock. The Death Clock. We’d started the game with 50 minutes each, and by the end of my third turn, I had just over 7 minutes left on the clock. If I recall correctly, Chris had over 40.

The Kraken was a smoking wreck, but I was no closer to victory…

Chris’s third turn, despite him taking his time, is a bit of a blur to me. Banes started coming back. Lancers were dying. The Combine stripped my protective spells away. And a host of undead began carving up my beloved Stormwall, despite his Invincibility bonus. It was ugly. By the end of the round, I was surrounded on all sides by a sea of violet-clad banes and the left half of the Stormwall as well as its entire superstructure had been rendered scrap. And there I was with 7 minutes on the clock.

I think at this point, the clock was simply highlighting a foregone conclusion. Goreshade was safely walled behind an impenetrable curtain of undead unless I got very lucky, so that’s what I tried for. With a power-attack sweep, I took out several banes surrounding the Stormwall, but it wasn’t enough to clear the charge lanes for the lancers. Even if it had, the rough terrain created by the Kraken’s wreck kept Goreshade safely out of range. As my minutes and seconds slipped away, so did my hope. There was nothing I could do and the game was about to be decided by time.

Screw that.

With one second left, I slapped that Death Clock and initiated Chris’s turn. I wasn’t going down because of a clock. I might not have another turn coming, but if I was going down, I was going to go down in the proverbial blaze of glory. Chris would get his victory that day, but he’d have to earn it, and I know that’s how he’d prefer it anyway.

Chris had burned a good chunk of time on his last turn, but I think we was still sitting around twenty minutes or so; plenty of time to formulate a good killing strategy on Stryker, and that’s exactly what he did. The crushing force of his bane army obliterated the Stormwall and coiled around Stryker. In the end, Stryker fell to their shadowy axe blades while I watched helplessly from the sidelines.

The day was done. Chris Kluwe and his Cryxian army had cut a bloody swath through the land, striking deep and painfully into the heart of Cygnar, robbing the kingdom of their most cherished protector. Cue the violins. It was all over but the crying.

Being competitive by nature, I do love to win. But more than winning, I love a good competition. I know I wasn’t even close to the toughest opponent that Chris has faced, but I’m happy to say I didn’t hand him his victory on a platter. As I mentioned above, I have my Lieutenant Alex to thank for that because I would have been making mistakes out of the gate if I didn’t have him watching over my shoulder. I also have an entire team of champions to thank for earning me the advantages I had from the beginning of the game. But what I came away from all of this with was a renewed desire to play this damn game. It’s been too long for me and I’ve missed it. I missed painting these models and I’ve missed the challenge of playing the game itself. It’s time to get back in the saddle and I’m looking forward to it!

Thanks again to Chris for the great game and competition throughout the day, and thanks Alex for being my wingman through that battle. And last, thanks to John, Nicole and Greg for organizing and hosting the event and to all the champions who came out and gave it their all, whether you were on Chris’s team or my own. The best part about this game has always been its community, and I’m thrilled to have had a chance to spend a day as part of it.

Until next year, Chris Kluwe, until next year…

 

There’s a storm coming…

As promised, I’m posting a few shots of my completed Stormwall colossal. What this post will mainly do is serve as proof that just because you own a hobby game company, it doesn’t mean you’re great at the hobby! Even though I have little time these days to paint and model, I still love doing it. More importantly, I can’t stand playing with an army that isn’t painted, even if it’s painted poorly! And with my upcoming game against Chris Kluwe at Mercenary Market this Sunday, I’m not about to go out there with unpainted models. If I’m going to get my butt kicked publicly, I’m at least going to do it with my own, fully painted army, which of course MUST include my very own Stormwall.

I haven’t ever written a hobby article and this doesn’t pretend to be one. But I will share with you my own technique for getting models ‘table ready’ in a short period of time. Mind you, this isn’t going to get any awards, and it might even raise a snicker or two, but what might be impressive is that the whole thing took just under six and half hours to complete, from unboxing to basing.

Essentially, my recipe is to liberally prime the entire model black and then dry brush the hell out of it with Privateer’s Formula P3 paints, naturally. I started with the metallic bits, then the white, then then the blue. The white and blue each have a darker base coat and a lighter top coat. (Morrow White over Menoth White Highlight for the white, Cygnar Blue over Cygnar Blue Base for the blue, of course).

I dry brush fast and loose, with full intention of destroying the poor brushes I’m working with. The goal is to mottle the color a little, giving it a worn and beaten texture. When it’s done, I do a little cleanup and hit some small details like eyes and bolts with a fine brush, then finish it all with some ink washes. The ink washes really bring it all together. First, they knock back the vividness of the whites and other colors, and they dirty it all up. But the best part is that the wash sort of blends the dry brush mottling together, smoothing it all out, and then of course it gets into all those littles cracks and crevices and pulls out the detail of the model. What you end up with, hopefully, is not something that looks like a pile of slop, but rather, something that looks like it’s been in the field for a while and needs good wash.

Disclaimer: this is not a studio approved technique and if anyone from Privateer is reading this, they’re probably falling out of their chairs laughing, or groaning and trying to figure out how to keep this from becoming a PR scandal! But painted is painted, my friends, and that’s a hell of a lot better than unpainted!

But it’s not finished yet — a model needs to be based. I’ve never been an elaborate baser, but these colossals have so much surface under them, they’re screaming to have some beautiful diorama constructed at their feet. Time is of the essence right now, though, and I needed to get this done fast. I also discovered that my basing materials didn’t make the move to California last year, so I had to improvise. In a pinch, I raided my son’s sandbox (Does that make me a bad daddy?) and then scavenged some interesting crumbled gravel from the backyard that was broken up in a consistently angular fashion. The idea was to try and construct something that resembled a low, rock wall that the Stormwall might have just absent-mindedly walked through. Again, it’s not beautiful, but it fills up a little of the space on this massive 120mm base. The rest I covered with sand, then I hit the whole thing with a mottled brown, yellow, green and black wash of the P3 inks to keep it from looking like he was just taking a stroll on the beach.

For someone who used to spend several days painted a single, man-sized figure, pulling this off in 6.5 hours was a minor feat. Actually, a major one. The big trick is to stop worrying about the nit-picky details and just to get it done. Unless you’re winning the Grand Master painting competition, no one is comparing your stuff to anything except unpainted pewter and plastic. This isn’t pretty, and there are a few embarrassing mold lines that I didn’t catch before the paint was on there, but if you are in a crunch for time and don’t think you can get this stuff done, believe me when I say you can. A couple hours a day for a few days and you can have a beast like this table ready.

All that said, I think there’s another one of these in my future. These colossals are, in my humble opinion, are the best models Privateer Press has ever created. The detail and craftsmanship of the sculpts is amazing, and I’m almost sorry to have insulted such a beautiful piece with such a sloppy paint job. It’s been so long since I designed the Stormwall that I’ve completely disassociated any ownership of the design from the final sculpt and I’m enjoying the piece as a true fan. Someday when I’m not feeling the time crunch, I’ll take another stab at the Stormwall and try to do it justice.

 

 

Eiryss 3: Work Complete

Still reeling from Comic Con 2012, I’m a little late getting this post up. But after some pointed discussion on the practicality of the new pistol-crossbow/gunblade (Awe! See what I did there?) and a little dialog on how to handle the two different hood and head options, I’m happy to present the final concept for the third incarnation of the Iron Kingdoms’ most beloved, feared and hated mage-hunter, Eiryss.

In the interest of time, I’ll go against my nature and let the drawings speak for themselves. This has been a fantastic experiment and there were more than a few ideas that found their way from the online discussions to the final concept. Naturally, it’s impossible to accommodate the first choice of every single person and some of the choices here will be polarizing, to say the least. But that’s how you know it’s a delicacy and not a cheeseburger, if you follow what I mean.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to comment and offer suggestions. This one is done (as in, I’m not touching it again, so don’t even think about it!), but I’ve got another concept coming up that I’m really looking forward to, a new Cryxian warcaster (of sorts), and I’ll give you this one hint: HE is HUMAN.

Stop speculating and look at the pretty pictures. Hope you like it!

(As always, please feel free to post a link, but do not re-post the images, puh-lease! Thanks!)

Working Illustrator Pro Tip #1: Know Your Enemy

Okay, technically your employer or client shouldn’t be considered an enemy, but if you’ve ever been an illustrator combing San Diego Comic Con or Gen Con for freelance work, it can feel a little like going to battle. You spend months, even years training, honing your skills. You build up an arsenal of imagery designed to render your targeted art director speechless with shock and awe. Then you wade into the fray, adrenaline pumping, determined to beat out all comers for those few choice art contracts out there. And competition is fierce!

As someone who has worked on both sides of the trench, as both a freelance illustrator and the art director that hires them, I have a perspective shared by only the few other fellow illustrators who have also been in the position to give someone their first break or ensure that someone could pay their rent next week. I’ve lugged my portfolio around conventions, stood in line to meet art directors, sent off samples to publishers, and have scrapped for work in places no one would even look to find illustration work, much less want to. But I’ve also spent almost 18 years as the audience of those portfolios. I’ve worked with literally hundreds of artists, the best in the biz. And I’ve rejected more submissions for work than I’ve hired. The simple truth is that there are exponentially more artists looking for work than there are jobs to feed them and thanks to the internet and the incredible digital tools available to illustrators these days, marketplace globalization has increased competition to an all time high. You’re not just competing with the other hopefuls lugging their portfolios around the convention anymore, you’re up against everyone on the planet with a broadband connection and a copy of Photoshop. So you’re going to need every weapon in the armory if you’re going to come out on top of the heap — and I’m not just writing the longest introduction to a blog ever here, I’m going to give you a weapon born of almost two decades of successful professional combat. Eventually…

Your portfolio IS your weapon!*
*Took this photo 5 minutes before posting the blog, so don’t mess with me if you don’t want to lose a limb.

Different illustrators break into the fantasy/sci-fi art industry (including book covers and packaging, concept art, interior art, card art, etc.) in different ways. The internet has removed the necessity to physically get in front of an art director (when I say things like that, does it make me sound old?), but there’s still a great deal of value to meeting face to face. First, your sparkling personality can go a long way to making sure you’re remembered and you might even convince an AD to give you shot at something that your work alone would’t have. Relationship building, which is much easier to accomplish in person, is a key component to establishing repeat clients and consistent work. As well, you might receive a helpful critique in person  (if you keep your mind open to it) so even if you don’t land a gig this time around, you’ll have a place to begin the conversation the next time you see the art director, and eventually it may lead to paying work. But the most important reason to meet an art director in person is that you will be one-hundred-percent sure that the AD actually saw and looked at your portfolio, which mail-ins or links to your DeviantArt gallery are never going to confirm. While this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re any closer to getting paid work, I have found in my own experience that it preserves some sanity. If you’re anything like me, indefinite waits and not knowing whether or not someone has even taken the time to check out your work is far worse than a door being slammed in your face. But this isn’t the tip, it’s just a benefit of going out and pressing the flesh. The tip is  about how to make the most of it.

I’ve seen as many different kinds of portfolios as I have met artists. No two are the same. Some are printed as leave-behinds, others are neatly ordered. I’ve seen handmade, cut paper pop-up books, and I’ve see portfolios that looked like someone dropped the Sunday Times (Newspaper reference— that definitely makes me look old!) in a puddle before they scooped it up and handed it to me. I’ve seen portfolios with three pieces in them and portfolios with three hundred. But more than anything, more often than not, I’ve seen the wrong portfolio. Wrong as in, the portfolio contained work that had no relevance to the type of work that I, as an art director representing a specific company and its product line, am hiring for.

Freelance artists, especially those starting out, often take a very desperate, shotgun approach to finding work. Armed with their portfolio, they get it in front of every art director they can whether they have any interest or knowledge of what that AD’s company produces or not. They’re just looking for a break and a paycheck. I’ve had illustrators walk up to me at conventions, artwork under their arm, and ask, “What do you guys do here?” It doesn’t matter what I tell them. The next question is always, “Wanna look at my portfolio?” Diplomacy always wins out, but I assure you that at this point, my inner voice is screaming the same thing that every other AD who’s ever been in that position is thinking: No fucking way.

So here’s the big tip, fellow mercenaries — pay attention because it’s a two parter:

KNOW WHO YOU ARE SUBMITTING YOUR WORK TO

and

TAILOR YOUR PORTFOLIO TO THE CLIENT

You get one chance to make a first impression. It’s true, just like you’ve heard all your life. So make sure you apply this to the ONE opportunity you will have to meet an art director for the FIRST time, and make the best goddamn impression you can.

Not everyone out there will agree with me, but my advice is, don’t hunt randomly. Pick your targets, research them, and then take very precise, calculated shots. Find out the name of the Art Director before you go meet him or her — it’s not hard to crack open a book or look online for the Art Director’s credit and trust me, this little tidbit will jump you to the front of the line when it comes to making a good first impression.

Then, look for companies that publish work like you want to do, and more importantly, that you are suited to do. I love comic books, but when I was art directing Magic: the Gathering, we weren’t looking for sequential artists. Still, I can’t tell you the number of portfolios that I looked at from artists who were exclusively comic book ‘pencilers’. Look, if you can’t tell a sequential story, you’re not going be drawing comics for Marvel, and if you can’t paint an entire picture ready for publication, you’re not going to be doing card art for Wizards of the Coast. If you want to paint book covers, you need to have book covers in your portfolio. If you want to do concept illustration, make sure you have a great selection of concept work. If you want to do comics — look, you get the idea. Above all, make sure the AD you’re submitting to is looking for the kind of work that you’re applying to do! It’s basic arithmetic but for some reason they don’t seem to be teaching this in schools.

But it doesn’t stop there. If you don’t show a creative aptitude for fantasy work, you’re also not going to be doing any work for Magic. It’s not just the style or mode of work that is important, the subject matter is equally relevant. If someone shows me a bunch of gothic romance cover paintings of vampires in lingerie making out on castle balconies, it doesn’t matter how beautifully rendered they are, I don’t necessarily know if they’re going to be able to pull off an image set in the gritty, combat-heavy setting of WARMACHINE. You don’t have to show samples of the potential client’s actual intellectual property, but the closer you can get to the genre(s) the client represents, the quicker you’re going to convince the AD to give you work. Art Directors are famously busy, living and dying each day by the deadline. The downside of meeting them in person at a convention like San Diego Comic Con or Gen Con is that it’s hard to get and keep their attention; the environment is loud, lit too brightly or not well enough, they’re hung over and exhausted from the night before and they’re tired of looking at shitty portfolios. So you’ve got to be on point, man! Show them what they want to see, which means showing them something as close to what they put in their products as you possibly can muster. You want to work for a fantasy RPG company? Show them fantasy work. You want to do science-fiction book covers? Show them science-fiction! Can you show them other stuff, sure (I’ll retract this in a moment) but make sure you show them a decent cross section of relevant materials —3-5 pieces in a related genre should cover it.

In my book, ‘versatility’ is not a good thing. I like to see a portfolio that represents the artist’s specific voice and style because I want to know exactly what I’m hiring in an artist. If an illustrator’s work is all over the place with loose watercolors, tight pencils, thick oil paintings and photo-realistic digital work, I don’t know what I’m going to get if I hire this guy. The biggest hurdle you have to overcome is the AD’s inherent skepticism that you will actually be able to deliver what they want in the timeframe they need it. So if you are a master of different styles, organize your work by type, style and medium and make sure you show, again, a substantial quantity of each so the AD who is hiring for a futuristic space combat game knows that the one super-slick vehicular design you did isn’t just a fluke. But for my money, I say streamline as much as possible. Only show the art director work that is relevant to the work you are applying to do. Nothing else is going to matter.

Also, be economical! If you’re lucky, you’re going to have 5-10 minutes to talk with an art director, but keep in mind the environment/busy/hangover/tired-of-crap thing. Those portfolios with 300 pieces in them? Yeah, they’re not as uncommon as you might think. A generous AD will look through every page, but many don’t have that kind of time. You don’t want them to get tired of looking through your work and never make it to the good stuff. My recipe for a good portfolio is 10-12 pieces. I don’t care if you’ve got a hundred masterpieces under your arm, I don’t want to look at an art book, I just want to be convinced you can do the job I need done so I can get back to my Gatorade because what I’m really thinking about right now is replenishing all of my lost electrolytes before the show is over so I can get through another night of after-hours convention socializing. Are you getting the picture? Be a tactical nuke. Get in, blow them away, and vanish as fast as possible. Don’t go too light — six pieces minimum. But twelve pieces, max. Make the hard decision to show only your best work. The AD won’t know what he or she is missing.

“But I’m going to be at Comic Con for four days!” you say. “I need to hit as many art directors up as possible!” you lament. “How can one portfolio do everything I want it to?” That’s the thing. It can’t. If you’re heading out for a marathon work-hunt, be prepared to either customize your portfolio between meetings, or carry multiple books as needed. Either way, take the right load out for each mission. Don’t be lazy about this and it will pay off.

And leave the naked boobies at home.

Again, there are those who won’t agree with me, but unless you’re meeting with an art director for HEAVY METAL or a company that produces content of an adult nature, then you don’t know what might or might not offend an art director. If I only had a dollar for every time I opened up a portfolio to the first page, only to see some naked barbarian chick posing over her fresh kill! While I’m a huge fan of masters like Frazetta and Bisley, YOU are not Frazetta or Bisley, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation. So I don’t care if your buck-naked bareback dragon-rider has won the gold award in Spectrum (which it hasn’t, because it’s a buck naked bareback dragon-rider), leave it out of your portfolio. Again, the art director isn’t going to miss it but it might color his or her opinion of you in a negative fashion right from the start. Self censor so they don’t have to. Maybe the art director for a children’s book company has a collection of wind-blown, short-skirted anime schoolgirl comics, but that’s not what that AD is going to be hiring for. Stay on target and remove anything from your portfolio that might turn off this stranger you’re trying to impress.

My other pet peeve? School work. It’s easy to spot and it makes you look inexperienced. An art director with a limited budget and tight deadlines doesn’t want to take a flyer on a kid fresh out of school, so don’t set yourself up to look like one. Get rid of the life drawing charcoals, the old-master oil painting reproductions, and anything that looks like a Coca Cola advertising illustration. These scream ‘newbie’, which even if you are, you don’t want to let on. Art Directors want to hire illustrators with field experience. They want people who are used to working on a deadline without an instructor helping them along the way. The discipline to be a reliable freelance artist is so hard to come by that you don’t want to give the AD any sense that you might not possess every ounce of it necessary to deliver on time. You don’t have to possess a portfolio full of paid work, but you need a portfolio that looks like it’s full of work you got paid for. Even ‘fan work’ (eg. your painting of Batman that you obviously did for fun) is going to resonate better than something that looks like it was produced as an assignment in a classroom. Give the AD the confidence he or she needs that you don’t need to be coached every step of the way, and leave your school work at home.

Summary: Know who you’re submitting to and customize an economical portfolio with work relevant to the client’s needs. Less is more.

And knowing is half the battle! We’ve all heard Duke say it a thousand times. But the other half of the battle in getting hired for an illustration job is employing the right weapon for the fight, effectively. So put down the shotgun and pick up your sniper rifle. From here on out, it’s nothing but head shots.

 

Eiryss 3 — Work in Progress

With the deadline for the concept of the new incarnation of Eiryss rapidly approaching, I’ve been trying to carve out the time to make some decent progress. San Diego Comic Con is looming right in the middle of this timeline for me as well, which means that I’ll lose most of next week to work on it. What this really means is that my delivery date has moved up from July 16th to next Wednesday, or I’m going to be late! Time to get cracking.

The image below shows my progress so far on coming up with a new look for Eiryss’ trappings. This is drawn entirely in pixels on a Wacom Cintiq tablet in Photoshop, which gives me a lot of flexibility to work back and forth in layers as I refine the drawing and the rendering at the same time. I end up wandering a bit during the process, but I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to explore the concept in a more time-economical way than generating multiple drawings. It’s easy to get caught up in the anatomy and pose and lose focus on what’s really important here, which is what the character is wearing. In retrospect, though, I chose a poor angle on the figure because I was trying to be a little too dramatic with the drawing. The low camera perspective prevents a good square look at her chest (no snickering, please), which means I’ll need to do a second front detail shot to make sure the sculptor and artist have all the information they need to interpret the design accurately.

Being her third costume design I wanted to present some sort of evolution from her previous looks, but as this is also the first time she won’t be operating as a solo, I wanted to make sure that some of that evolution was drastic and really sets her apart from the first two solo versions.

At this point, I’m sticking with a very similar silhouette, as the fashionistas would describe it. We’ve got the familiar cloak, the armored boots, sleeves and corset over a fine set of light-weight but protective mail coverings that more or less mimic the shape and rhythm of her previous designs. The big change here is the styling of her armor. Early on, Eiryss established a particular beat in Iosan armor design that included flexible segmented rings and panels of leather armor held in place by button-like fasteners. This design beat shows up on her two previous incarnations as well as many of the Retribution of Scyrah model designs that would come years after her first appearance. You can see this beat on Adeptis Rahn under his heavy armored plates, or in various places on the battle mages, mage hunters or storm fall archers. But, new Eiryss isn’t a standard trooper. I’ve always seen her as a bit of a trend setter, and while she’s very much part of the Retribution army now, I want to keep a sense of her individual identity. Where I’ve ended up is a much more organic approach to that segmented armor, treating it now like larger panels that have been created by many pieces joined together as opposed to overlapping. The button-like fasteners still hold everything closed, but I think there’s something much more fluid and beautiful and the lines of the armor. It’s almost got a touch of the art nouveau.

The original Eiryss is fairly utilitarian in her look. With the Angel of Retribution incarnation, she gained a little more style with the decorative wing/feather motif on her cloak. In this new version, I want to push that styling toward a more embellished and personalized look. Though there is much to decide and do with the concept design, things are starting to settle in place.

A lot to get done in a short period of time, so I’m getting back to work on this right away! More to come soon…

(Please feel free to share the link, but please don’t repost the image. Thanks!)

 

Eye of the Tiger time!

Last week, I had the opportunity to help plan what I think is going to be the WARMACHINE event of the summer and if you happen to live anywhere in Southern California, you’re not going to want to miss it. The deets:

July 22, 2012 , 10 am PST
TWO GENERALS
Chris Kluwe vs. Matt Wilson
In the tabletop throw down of the year!

Presented by
MERCENARY MARKET
2263 Fairview Rd. Ste P
Coasta Mesa, CA
(949) 722-8342

So this is how it’s going to go down: players signing up for the event at Mercenary Market will choose (or be assigned) a team — mine or Chris Kluwe’s. The two teams will face off through four rounds of WARMACHINE bouts, each round escalating in point value. As the generals, Chris and I will be able to dynamically allocate benefits during the games. The winner of each game will earn a benefit for his or her general, which Chris and I will be able to use during our own final, winner-takes-all match.

Sounds simple enough, right? Should be a walk in the park for the guy who originally designed WARMACHINE. Hell, I might field an army at random just to keep things interesting, or maybe an army of all Trencher Chain Guns — how about that? I mean, who even has a chance against ME? I AM WARMACHINE! Err…it’s not so simple…

For those of you who don’t know who Chris Kluwe is, he’s one of the most successful punters in the NFL and plays for the Minnesota Vikings. He’s also famous for being an avid gamer. As a gamer, one of his pastimes is miniatures games and by all accounts, his WARMACHINE flavor of choice is Cryx. Okay, neat, but what’s the problem with all this? Hang on, there’s more…

According to Wikipedia, Chris is 6’4″ and 215 lbs. Now, that officially makes him the most physically imposing opponent I’ve ever played against (Sorry, DevilSquid!) but that’s not what has me shaking in my boots. No, in my enthusiasm for this exciting event, I forgot something.

(Drum roll for the dirty-secret confession…)

I don’t know how to play.

(record screech)

Whoa, whoa, whoa, you say! You’re the original designer of the game! How do you not know how to play? Let me qualify that: I don’t know how to play ‘well’. Designing games and playing games are two totally different animals. If I can be so gauche as to use a tangentially relevant sports metaphor, the Coach with his years of experience and study might know exactly how to beat the other team, but he’s not going to go out on the field and throw the winning pass. I know, it’s barely the same thing, but you get the idea. Just because I can design games, and just because I conceived of this thing ten years ago, doesn’t mean I’m any good at it.

I don’t know what Mr. Kluwe’s win-loss record looks like, but I don’t even have one. Well, that’s not entirely true — I have played one recreational game with the MkII rules of WARMACHINE against the game’s current designer and mastermind, Jason Soles. Now, unlike me, Jason possesses incredible courage and never hesitates to wade onto the battlefield to slug it out with anyone who comes at him. And he’s good. Damned good. Jason is a ruthless, cold-blooded killer with laser-like focus who takes sadistic enjoyment not just in winning, but in making you watch while he feasts on your insides. I’m pretty sure Jason was the kid who pulled the wings off of flies just because he could, but somehow that kid grew up into a strategic and tactical genius and one hell of a game designer. If you’ve had the pleasure (or have endured the opportunity) to play against Jason, then you know how tough he can be. At conventions, I like to stop in and see what Jason’s score is, and while he wins the vast majority of his games, I’m always surprised to find out that there are some that he loses. And if Jason can be beat, I have no chance.

In the past two years I became a father, moved states, and finished two short films — oh, and I did a few things for Privateer as well. It hasn’t left a lot of time for playing games, even my own. That one recreational game I got in against Jason two years ago was a blast, but it obviously didn’t go well for me. I  ran a Tier 4 Siege list — The Big Guns — that was more an exercise in how much artillery I could get on the table than anything else. And yes, I maxed out my FA of Trencher Chain Guns. But every figure on that table was painted, I’ll have you know! Even so, each one died a valiant death to Jason’s assaulting Cryxian horde.

I’m having flashbacks to the massacre that was that game. Cygnar vs. Cryx. It’s always been a tough one for me. I love a standup fight, armor against amor. Taking apart Juggernauts and Destroyers at range with a battery of Defenders has always been my strong suite. But tricky armies, and armies with hordes of infantry — those I have a harder time against, even if I did help come up with the rules for those things. I don’t have much intel about what Chris will be fielding or how he plays, but he said he’s bringing Cryx and he mentioned his ‘Banes’. That’s not a lot to go on.

But I’m not giving up! Oh no, it’s Rocky Balboa time! (Cue Eye of the Tiger, please) I’m having my army shipped down from Seattle right now and I’m going to spend the next four weeks tuning it up and training. I need to get some games in, shake the rust off, get my mojo back. I’m going to run up and down some stairs, tattoo ‘Page 5′ on my forehead and get my head back in this game, from a player’s perspective, not a designer’s. I’m not going down without a fight. Who knows, I might have a great team and maybe I’ll get some lucky dice rolls!

Wait a second…Rocky lost, didn’t he.

Shit.