Joseph Erwin – Freelance Dungeon Master

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Using Art to Inspire

I’ve got thousands at this point; artwork running the genre gambit from High Fantasy all the way to Hard Sci-Fi, and back again, hitting all the spaces in between. I organize and cultivate them by genre and subject.

And I use them to inspire my games.

Usually, I’ll just pick a genre generally matching the setting of my story, and I’ll just scroll. Like my RPG collection, I only collect art which is in some way unique, even if it is something small like color choice or line work.

Then I ask questions about the art, elaborate on hints in the piece about potential ideas, and let my mind wander.

Examples are best, as always.

Fantasy Realism art is most of what I collect, as it assists in the process of presenting an unreal thing as more convincing.

I love the use of highlighting on the fur in this piece, as well as the use of two white dots for eyes, looking like more intense stars from the background. I would probably use this to inspire a distinct “moment” in a horror game, and I would use the art to give me details to mention which highlight the horror.

But not all is realistic! Occasionally I collect interesting character pieces, like these adorable lizard-folk here.

It’s not the most complex piece, nor the most inspiring, but this one has subtle touches to enhance the image; such as how one is holding a dagger in his tail, the cute perturbed expressions, or the grasshopper motif between them (one on the battle harness, one on the ground).

It’s no secret: I think warrior women are awesome. There are many depictions of female warriors (not all of them very good), but this one is well-done.

The armor, though ornate, is still fairly realistic in its design, with the exception of the codpiece (probably for style reasons, as most codpiece just look comical). The fact that the art is in pencil, with red edge-lighting, also lends the dynamic pose some additional vibrance.

This piece is great inspiration for an NPC, and the style is more exciting than just a flatly-lit character study.

I also make use of sci-fi and abstract art. Abstract tends to show up more in sci-fi for some reason, possibly due to the tendency for sci-fi to be philosophical about its speculation.

This piece inspires me to create an NPC as well, perhaps some sort of powerful and long-lived transhumanist, like the characters in House of Suns (Alastair Reynolds). The stained-glass and creeping roots around her head imply a host of connections and influence, while the vulnerable comatose body speaks of the weak and fragile flesh she has managed to transcend.

Speaking of Sci-Fi, here is a habitat of some sort! Where is it? Is it inside a massive light-hugger ship, or inside a ring-station? Perhaps it is deep in the earth.

The way the buildings rise up along the sides and eventually turn into the wall-mounted rooms implies there is more beneath the surface as well. This could almost be part of a Warhammer 40k Hive World, or a crowded starship. It is also strangely devoid of activity… perhaps another hint as to what this art could inspire.

Exaggerated features (similar to those used in generic fantasy art of recent times), can be inspiring too, when used properly. The use of light and shadow, brought across through varying stroke density, creates the feel of an old woodcut.

NPC material, probably. However, some character concepts have been inspired by things like this too. He has to have a suitably arcane-sounding name, like Marrazzmus or Trephogon.

And pulp art! It’s best to cultivate a collection of fun works from all genres and styles. Though masculine-centric adventure stories have gone out of style (or become laughable at best), a good action scene is still fun.

I love the action poses, the alien (great to see an actual different scale to the humans), and the contrast of light and color: the hall beyond filled with light and allies, the room in the foreground dimly lit and filled with unseen enemies out of frame, which allows our mind to dwell on what foes await the subjects of piece. Could they be alien bugs? A species of reptile pirates? Or are the subjects themselves actually mutineers or villains, springing onto the bridge in a surprise coup?

I have a ton of art like this, so I think I will do another post discussing (or ranting about) my criteria for what artwork I like to keep for inspiration. I’m very visually-minded, so I take a lot of inspiration from good art.

Published by Joe Erwin

I am an independent creator and GM with a deep love of storytelling and adventure! I desire most to share these things with others, and I hope to do that through my work and my writing.

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