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TTRPG illustration artist guideline, blog 1.

Article / 12 November 2020

Here’s a little guideline of things you need to know if you’d like to work in the TTRPG illustration scene. Explaining what it is, as well as the standard rate range for such illustration work.

Many of you may know TTRPG companies and their projects such as:

Wizards of the Coast:     (Dungeons & Dragons, Magic the Gathering.)
Paizo:                                (Pathfinder)
CD Project Red:               (Gwent)
Aplibot:                             (Legend of the Cryptids)
Fantasy flight games:     (Talisman, Keyforge, Legend of the five rings, and various famous IP’s which they turned into games such as: A Game of Thrones, Star wars, Lord of the Rings.) (*FFG's rates are not included in the equation below, as they pay significantly different, than the industry standard.)
And various, Indy or slightly less famous companies. Like the rapidly growing company I work for as Principal Art Director:
Ghostfire Gaming:           (Grim Hollow) (Stibbles Codex of Companions) (The Seekers Guide to Twister Taverns)

The standard industry rates in TTRPG:

Those companies named above work in role playing products and card games. The two products are often paid very differently!
Whereas card games illustrations payments range between:  300-1000 usd (with the exceptional 1500 for really special cards.)
RPG book illustrations are priced in a different categories, most commonly:

  1. Character/creature/spot illustration without backdrop: 100-300 usd.

  2. Props/items: 50-150 usd.

  3. Quarter-page/Half-page illustrations: 200-650 usd.

  4. Full page heroic illustrations:  500-1000 usd.

  5. Book cover art:  500-3000usd 

  6. Dm/gm screen art: 500-2000usd

  7. World/location Maps: 50-500usd.

The majority of the companies working in the TTRPG industry work with fixed prices, they don’t look at your hourly rate or day rate. They don’t change it whether an artwork has 1 or 3 or 5 characters doing a thing.

Some trivia:

TTRPG= Tabletop Role playing game. A game often coming in the form of a book, or multiple books. There’s also side products. Here’s a list:

  1. Campaign guide. A book explaining the game, mostly aimed for the game master/dungeon master, who dictates the story of the game and fulfils the role of NPC’s, villains and monsters. They are the director/storyteller of the game.

  2. Players guide. These books are aimed to help the players make their character backgrounds, and statistics as well as getting to know the world they’re going to play in and it’s game rules.

  3. Monster manual. These books are filled with various monsters and villains you can encounter during your gameplay. They come with their own statistics and game mechanics. 

  4. Random fantasy titled TTRPG book: These are often books showcasing new adventures and realms and everything that comes with it.  They’re an addition next to the other books. 

  5. Roleplaying Game Dice! A set of dice the player and game master need to play the game. Not just your regular 6 sided dice (D6), but there’s also: D100, D20, D10, D12, D8 and D3!

  6. Dice box and or dicetray. A box in which you can safekeep your dice, sometimes, just like a dicetray it will have a velvet layer in which you can roll the dice without any discomfortable sound. 

  7. DM-screen. (Dungeon/Game Master screen,) This is a screen that the DM/GM puts in front of them, to make sure you cannot see their dice and notes. On the inside of the screen, only visible to them, there’s a list of statistics that help them with the game. On the outside, there’s a panoramic illustration for the player’s viewing pleasure. (since these artworks are rather large, you often get paid between 600-2000 usd to paint them)

  8. Ability and spell cards. These are little cards, mostly used by players to keep track of the abilities and spells their character can use. Sometimes these cards have an illustration on the back, but most times it’s nothing more than a symbol and decoration.

  9. Monster cards. For either players or DM/GM’s, a card with on one side a visual representation of a monster or villain, and on the other side their statistics. 

  10. Miniatures/figurines. Little statues to represent the players, the monsters, villains and NPC’s. Some TTRPG players like playing the game with having these figurines on a board. Given them a visual representation of their location and battle tactics.

  11. A game board. A board depicting a scene or dungeons viewed from the top down. It’s made out of hexagon or square tiles. Sometimes you can dress them up real fancy with cardboard/molded or 3d printed elements such as decor, walls, doors etc.

  12. Game play maps. These can be world maps, all the way to interior maps of buildings. These illustrations get paid between 50-500 usd.

NPC= Non playable character.

Applying your artwork to a TTRPG company:

Prepare your portfolio by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. Do I know the product well enough? 

  2. Does my portfolio show work that already looks like it belongs in/with their product?

  3. Does the quality of my work match their overall quality (compare it not with their worst, but with their best.)

Sending in your work. 

Most TTRPG companies have a dedicated email address to which to send your application. They come with their own instructions, often asking for small jpegs of 3-5 samples of your work. Other companies prefer you send a url to your portfolio page. This doesn't need to be your own website, your Artstation profile works well enough. (social media profiles are a bit unprofessional to send, but if your art is extraordinary, something like that wont kill the deal.)

You’ve sent in your application, now what?

You wait. Sometimes it can take weeks before hearing anything back, most of the time you don’t hear anything at all. This isn’t because art directors are rude, this is because they’re incredibly busy and don’t have time to reply to hundreds of applications they get every week. Sometimes, you’re simply unlucky that whilst your work is good and fitting enough, they’re not looking for more artists at the time being. Sometimes, your work is not good enough and you won't find out through them. This is why it’s important to always keep learning, growing, improving and asking your peers for feedback if you simply cannot see your own flaws anymore.
I’d say it’s pretty fair to send in an updated portfolio every 4 months (given you have new and improved work to show by that time).

Standing out from the crowd of applicants! 

Now this is a key to success, let me tell you! Quality, style and having the right artworks are great BUT, if you’d like to end on top you gotta make sure that:

  • You show scenery, architecture. Your illustrations show a complete eye for attention for both the characters, their action and the location in which this takes place. Portfolio’s with just characters, or just natural landscapes, simply get drowned out by the numbers.

  • Don’t be a one-trick-pony.

  • Be consistent in your style and quality. Being able to work in various styles is amazing, but make sure you show multiple illustrations in the same style-set to prove your control over it. 

  • Sketches! Show your sketches, alongside the finished artworks. Art directors love to see what they can expect from you. Unclear sketches are a nightmare to give feedback upon. 

When you do art for a TTRPG company:

  • Your assignments will come with a number and title: 0047864_Goblin, for example. IT is key that you save your illustration files with these names, adding: sketch, or final at the end. Sometimes there’s iterations and you files might end up like: 0047864_Goblin_final-v2
    If you don’t keep to this naming convention, you’ll create an administrative mess for your art director. They may often request a re-submission of the work with the proper naming.
    They use this naming convention to keep track on what is what. With a game that might have 600 goblins… making sure they get a number is a must.

  • You’ll be working with deadlines. The artbrief you get provided will tell you the sketch deadline and final deadline. A smart illustrator, works ahead and sends their work in early. Don’t wait till the actual deadline day, if you don’t need to. Deadlines are often: 2-3 weeks to deliver the sketches, and another 2-3 weeks to send in the finals. Having your total workaround be between 4-6 weeks. It’s up to you to communicate how much work you can take on in this ‘artwave’.
    If you can’t make the deadline, communicate this with your art director as soon as possible.

  • Submitting sketches and finals. Adhere to the sizes requested in the artbriefs. Oftentimes, you can send sketches in a smaller size, as long as the final is the correct size (or a bit bigger, but with the same aspect ratio.)
    With some companies you simply email these jpegs or PNG’s straight to the art director. Other companies require you to log in to a software or website, and upload the work straight into their database. 

  • Invoicing! Make sure you have your payment details, full name and address on your invoice, as well as the company name, project and office address. Name the assignments and their pricing, in rows, with at the bottom the total sum. Sometimes, your assignments are tracked with another number (so not just the number attached to your individual illustrations), make sure this number is in the file name of the invoice, as well as mentioned on the invoice itself. 

I hope this was helpful!! I wish you good luck and lots of energy to accomplish your goals!

The civilised guidelines on giving out and receiving feedback.

Article / 28 March 2019

As part of the artist community, this is a topic that I’ve stumbled upon many times. Dealing with criticism is something everyone seems to have a different outlook on. 

Some people argue: ‘Everyone can give me feedback at any time, I learn from this!’
Others argue: ‘I’d like to only get feedback when I ask people.’

Sometimes, this second one is perceived as, fragile, weak, arrogant, or stubborn, while truly it may not be the case at all. There are many good reasons why someone does not want to hear tips, tricks, ways to improve or suggested edits, by anyone at any given time.

So why do some artists not want your feedback?

  • Potential clients may see the critiques and assume the artist is not that good.

  • If the art is commercial work, it may already have been printed, published, used etc. This way the artist has no means to correct it. 

  • Sometimes, someone’s idea of wrong is another person’s idea of right. 

  • You can’t tell how much of a time restrain the artist has had to be able to make their best work.

  • The more the artist is known, the more people tent to give them their two cents. Often times all those critiques and suggestions are even opposing of one another. 

  • Most of all, a lot of people who openly critique other artists work, are at their current knowledge peek and think they know stuff and only later realise that they don’t. Accept that you don't know everything, and that you're not inclined to feed people your 'knowledge'. 

  • It’s obnoxious and impolite. Would you randomly critique a strangers choice of clothing? No, right? 

So, how do people improve if they don’t have people openly criticise their work? 

  • Studying. Not everyone needs to hold another's hand in order to learn new things. Analysing and putting all the fundamentals to practise, does a lot of good.

  • Art-directors and clients often fulfil this role, who are you to take their place if the art wasn’t made for you?  

  • Some people have their own circle of people to who'm they can  rely on their eyes and expertise with confidence. 

So let’s say someone has posted a piece of art and you see something you’d do differently. Check the following:

When someone DOES ask for your feedback. Be smart, be nice.

The whole stereotype on the idea that being nice is sugarcoating something, or the mentality of: 'Just fucking wreck my shit!' does not make you a badass. Being polite and helpful will get you a long way and hey, may even gain you a new friend!

So here’s some tips.

  • Wording. Starting off with: ‘I would personally-’, ‘Have you considered-’, makes whatever follows a lot politer. 

  • Explaining. If something is wrong in your eyes, explain them why.

  • Suggesting. After explaining why something seems wrong to you, suggest something to fix it, but do so knowing you’re not talking to a toddler. 

There is a flipside to this coin as well. Let’s say you’re someone who’ve just gotten feedback.

If you didn’t ask for it, you can either ignore them, remove the comment, or politely explain why you explicitly did not want feedback. Or (my favourite) simply comment with ‘No’ or a fitting meme. (I love memes…). There will always be people who think to help you (and often mean well) but there’s also people who spend their days sending out feedback, rather then working on their own improvements.
Now let’s say you actually ASKED for feedback! If you did so publicly and everyone and their mother has given you their deal, it’s up to you to decide which ones to live up to and which ones not to. But if you’ve personally asked a friend or someone whom you consider your artistic superior, do your best to understand the given feedback, be thankful and try and apply it the best you can. Even if you may not agree at first! I’ve asked them… so.. You must’ve wanted to improve and deemed them capable of helping you with it.
There is nothing wrong with asking for feedback or needing help, but someone is never obligated to help you, ever. It does not make them an ass if they don’t. 

This about covers it for me. Feel free to add your ideas on this topic in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

Suzanne Helmigh


What to do with your insecurities as an artist.

Article / 03 December 2018

Openly showing our insecurities seems to be trending and it’s good that more and more people are sharing their struggles! I won’t be lying when I tell you I get people approach me nearly every day, expressing their insecurity in their work and seemingly unreachable goals for their career. They’ll ask me to look at their work and I’ll help them lift their spirit. I tell them that we all started somewhere and all we can do is work hard and see ourselves grow over time and that their work has potential.  

Yet the more I do this, the more I realise that simply having someone’s spirit lifted doesn’t help them, it’s not the answer, it’s merely a band-aid to the real problem. 

Let me start off by saying that artistic insecurity comes at all levels, from beginners, to people in the middle of their careers, to seasoned artists. The only difference that may be seen in the latter, is how we deal with it. Artists with more experience under their belt have seen more years of making mistakes, experiencing growth and failure. People that have fiercely stuck to their artistic career for some years have only done so by not ever giving up, even if their work failed at times.

So how will you deal with your insecurities, now?! How will you get the courage to post your work online, or apply for that job you wanted? Well, I realised some time ago that the moment you start understanding your insecurities is the start of beating them. I’ve put it down in steps.

  1. You are insecure for a reason. I know this is an unpopular statement, but it’s usually true. We are insecure because we know that what we do, can be done better. Even if we gave it our all, it can still be done better.

  2. Are you doing the best you can? Think about it. Have you spent enough time doing research, making sketches and planning things out?  If you’ve done so, you have probably done your best. Sometimes we tend to cheat our brains into thinking we’ve done our best because of different motives:  the need to wanna post it, the need to stop working on a piece and start on something else. Don’t let that influence you.
    When you do commercial art, you work with deadlines. So you can only uphold your job if you have a clear understanding of planning and delivering quality. 

  3. Fix the problem. Now, instead of lingering in the thought of how we’re not good enough. Find out exactly what you’re not good at and make an effort to improve just that. This all goes in steps too, you cannot be a noob at painting hands and then a master on day 3. Accept that to become as good as you want, you’ll need to learn and work for it. Accept that this doesn't happen in a short time, so give it all the (healthy) amount of time you can give it. 

  4.  Share your journey. Now this is optional. But for me, it has always helped to post my work online and share in what I’ve learned. Talk with some other artists on how to improve and help each other do so by talking about it.   

After these steps you’ve successfully entered the cycle of: Accepting what's wrong, finding the cause and improve those flaws. You can now tell your own insecurities that they have a place and that it’s being worked on. Don’t let them freeze your productivity. 

Have a look at this artwork I’ve done for my illustrated novel: Caldyra.

It’s a project I’ve been working on for years, this means that over time I got better at my job, so often times old illustrations needed to be revamped and in some cases even completely redone. 

What’s important to me is that the illustration tells the story it’s meant to and is of an average quality compared to the rest of the work in my book. I have accepted there will be a difference throughout the pages, but I’ve set rules on exactly how much it may differ. 

So even with this newest step, it can be better: It can be more realistic in terms of materials, lighting, and proportions. But I accepted that it’s just within the borders of quality to match the rest of the work and it still tells the situation as I want it to. 

These steps over the years were needed to reach the final result in 2019:

Now have a look at these ones. I’m very happy with these. But in time I will also outgrow this and feel the need to improve them. But, they are the direct result of my insecurities being taken care off, tackling the exact topics that made me feel inadequate. That why I often pick strange and hard topics, just so I can learn to design and paint them. 

So close those social media tabs in your browser and work on your weak points!!