I have wanted to talk about a topic for some time here on the blog. I am sure it has happened to many working artists, but it doesn't make it any easier. This particular event took place in the middle of 2009 and includes work I did in 2008. Even though it happened over a decade ago, it is still a little sensitive to talk about, and I find it an important teachable moment. Today, I will be talking about what happens when your art is not used on a project and is replaced by another artist's work. To start things off, here is a selection of work that I have done for Dungeons & Dragons over the past eleven years.
I have been working in the tabletop gaming industry since 2005. You may have discovered my work in the various Star Wars projects I have worked on or through my Magic the Gathering cards. Those projects aside, you likely found my work in the many Dungeon & Dragons book, magazines, miniature games, and concept work that I produced. I have worked more on D&D than any other license in my career. I first began designing D&D miniatures in 2006, and that led to armor concepts, magazine illustrations, and eventually book interiors and concept pushes. I am really proud of my work on D&D, but it was not always a guarantee that I would be working on their projects or that I would even be working in gaming. Here is another selection of my favorite type of D&D work, isolated monster design and illustration.
In late 2008 there was a big shake-up at Wizards of the Coast, and many of the art directors that I had been working with left WotC, and ADs that I had never worked with, or even knew of, were filling the vacancies. The new art directors introduced themselves to the current stable of artists. I reached out and introduced myself as well and that I was eager to work with them on anything to do with the recently launched 4th Edition of D&D. Up until that time, I had only been doing miniature and concept design, save for one magazine illustration, and I was hoping that I could work on some book or even a Monster Manual. It so happened that they were gearing up on the Monster Manual 2, and I was included in the project. I was over the moon. I was finally working on THE project that got me excited about D&D and one of my many early monster inspirations. The Monster Manual was the beginning and end for me as far as gaming publications go, and it was finally becoming a reality. Here are the four illustrations that I had in the 4th Edition Monster Manual 2.
I will be frank, these aren't great. I see many issues with them, but they were the best I could do in 2008. This is why I started with other examples of my work to better show my artistic journey. But for all the flaws, I got paid, the work got printed, and one of my dreams was fulfilled. But that is by far not the whole story, and this dream assignment becoming a reality also almost ended my career in gaming. While there were four pieces printed, I actually made SIX paintings for this book. Not only did two of my pieces not get used in the book, but they were redone by other artists, and my two pieces have since been erased from the D&D archives. While I will never know what exactly happened with the two unused pieces, I have been able to piece together some information over the years. Here is the first of the two missing pieces, the Yochlol.
As it should be evident to everyone, I did not give up, and I am still a working artist in the tabletop gaming industry. It took everything I had to pull myself through the coming days, weeks, and months after learning that my work was replaced. My confidence was destroyed, and I second-guessed myself on every project that I took on. I had to do a lot of soul searching, and I had to work with a lot of small companies as I worked things out. 2009 was the 'year I go serious' and, as I have mentioned here plenty of times, was the year that saved my career. In some ways, if I had not fallen as far and as hard as I did with the Monster Manual 2, I may not be where I am today. It took so many hours of hard work of making art and thinking and processing to get out of the funk I was in.
It would not be until mid-2010 until I received another D&D assignment. At that time, I was still rattled and nervous about working on a Dungeons & Dragons project again. I was also excited but terrified. I overthought the project too much, and it didn't go well. To be honest, I should have passed on the job since it focused on humans and not monsters. That is another lesson I learned that day. Finally, in 2011 I was in a good place with my work and with myself, and I began taking on many D&D projects, and I never looked back. It was easily two years before I could really work confidently again. I put the two missing paintings out of my head and I moved on.
It has been nearly a decade since I have looked at them, and to my eyes now, I am surprised how not horrible they are. Mind you, I see many issues and errors in them, and they are far from where they needed to be. The nice thing is that I now know what I need to do to rework them to make them much better. I know how to do better work and now understand what it takes to be better. Much of this comes from making mistakes. These are two mistakes. But I can do better now.
Over the years, I did try to find out what happened. I wanted to learn just how badly I messed up and what that meant for my career moving forward. When I approached the art director about these pieces several years later, she had no memory of them or any issues. At the time, I assumed she was being nice and didn't want to talk about it. Others at WotC that I spoke to had about the same to say. When I recently got permission to share these two unused pieces I had a nice chat about the industry's complexities with my current art director. She said there are many reasons why work does not get used or why things may get replaced. One reason is that a project changes scoop or direction, and work is no longer needed or something different is now required. The main reason for unused art, however, is that there is a quality or content issue. The artist doesn't hit the mark, or the piece ends up not being what is required. This is sometimes the artist's fault and sometimes is the production's responsibility. These changes also can come late in the creation of a project, and an art director may not know about them or have no idea why they are happening. In the end, it is often a mystery. While that gives some closure to all of this, there will never be a solid answer. Because they have been erased from the archives, I assume it was a quality issue, but I knew that from the beginning, and looking at them now confirms that. My takeaway is that I messed up, it was not permanent, and it required me to be better if I wanted to do this work again. We all have to work very hard to improve and be a better artist, and it sometimes hurts and can be a crushing experience. Have faith and never stop pushing forward.
As an added bonus I wanted to include the drawings that I produced for these two pieces. I still like the drawing more than the paintings, but as always, I love to draw more than I like to paint. These are currently still not available for sale, maybe one day.
That's all for another exciting Monday on the blog. See you back here on Wednesday! Until then...