Making the Game part 6 – Hiring artists

Previous entry: Part 5

Welcome back to my blog series Making the Game, in which I talk about the process of creating my card and dice game, Chaos & Alchemy. In the earlier entries in this series I’ve discussed the inception of my game idea, my first outside playtests and the development of the game’s theme, the point where I decided to actually produce the game, the process of working with my awesome graphic designer, and legal stuff including the formation of an LLC to publish my game.

Once I had decided that I was actually going to produce my game, I started moving on a lot of projects at once. I’ve written about some already (legal stuff, graphic design) and will write about more in the future (playtesting, production details). Today I’m focusing on artists.

Sadly, I have poor skills of an artist. And since stick figures weren’t going to cut it for Chaos & Alchemy, I knew I would have to hire some artists to illustrate my cards. There’s a delicate dance here, though; I wanted art that would look good, but I couldn’t afford to pay tons of money for it.

Also, I don’t know any illustrators. This could be a problem.

I started by putting out a call online for suggestions of artists on Twitter. My network isn’t all that big, but a response from Michael Olsen led me to one artist: Beth Sobel. You can judge this for yourself over at my Art Gallery page, but I think Beth’s art is really outstanding and a great fit for Chaos & Alchemy. She was one of the last artists I contracted with, and she asked if she could sign up for all 10 of the remaining illustrations I needed at the time. Thank you, Beth!

Adjacent Laboratory by Beth Sobel

I next thought about places where I might find artists online, and I came up with the folks from the Prismatic Art Collection, which I had recently backed on Kickstarter. I think the project is a great idea, and I know that part of the whole point is to get exposure for these artists so that they could get more paid work. Since I was offering to pay, this seemed like a good place to find artists.

I started by pinging Tracy Hurley just to make sure I didn’t need to go through her or Prismatic Art before contacting the artists (nope, I could go straight to them), and then I started emailing artists. I looked through the stuff they had submitted to Prismatic Art so far as well as stuff on their web sites (for those artists who had web sites) and picked a few people to email.

Saboteur by Andres Canals

Some of them got back to me quickly, but were unfortunately too expensive for me to work with. Some never replied. One replied over a month later, by which point I had already contracted out all of the art. But one, Andres Canals, did get back to me promptly and was willing to do black-and-white illustrations for a price I could afford (which turned out great).

Going through this process with the Prismatic Art folks helped me crystallize my plan. I would hire a bunch of different artists for low-cost black-and-white illustrations for the cards themselves. I would also hire one artist to create a single full-color illustration that I could use on the cover of my game. Each time I contacted an artist from here on out, I would ask for two quotes: One for black and white card art and one for a full-color cover illustration.

Volatile Solvent by LochaBWS

I found one artist in-person in Colorado at the friendly local game store. She goes by LochaBWS professionally, and she spends a fair amount of time in the store with a sign on a table offering to draw character portraits for RPGs for $10 apiece. I noticed her there in my first week of creating Chaos & Alchemy, and I approached her after I was done running D&D Encounters a week later. She would indeed be interested in doing sketches for my cards, so I had her flip through the cards and pick out a few that she had ideas for. I hired her to illustrate four of them, with more to come if she did a good job and was interested in more work. She delivered her work on time, and ended up illustrating a total of 13 cards.

One artist came to me directly via D&D. I have been running a Friday night online D&D game for a couple of years, and when development work on Chaos & Alchemy took off in earnest I had to step away from running the game. During the last session that I ran, I was talking about Chaos & Alchemy, and a few people in my game mentioned that they might be interested in doing some illustration work for it. One of these, Lana Gjovig, latched on to the physical objects in the game that needed illustrations and offered to take those. She also recruited J.J. Mason to illustrate another card. Networking!

Fun side note: Lana uses an alias for our online games; putting together a contract for her illustration work was the first time I heard her real name.

Replacement Codex by Lana Gjovig

Royal Inspector by J.J. Mason

Another artist came via networking in a different way. LochaBWS (the artist from the local game store) had gone to Denver Comic Con in June and brought back a business card from an artist who worked fast and who she thought might be a good fit for Chaos & Alchemy. I contracted that artist, and she was far, far too expensive for me, but she in turn put me in touch with another artist, J. Embleton, who was interested in the work I was offering at the price I had in mind. J is primarily a comic-book artist, and you can see that in the work she’s done for Chaos & Alchemy, but I think we came up with a style that fits the game nicely. J also signed up to do the sole full-color card illustration in the game, which will appear on my GenCon promo card (to be revealed later).

Call for Knowledge by J. Embleton

Each artist had to sign a contract (put together with the help of my lawyer, Rob Bodine) that specifies:

  • Our respective names and addresses
  • The work they’ll do
  • The dates they’ll do the work by (including proofs if applicable)
  • The fee I’ll pay them for the work
  • The fact that they’re assigning my company the copyright in their art once I pay them for it
  • The fact that they’re an independent contractor rather than an employee

I used the same contract with all of my artists (except the very earliest art, which came before my lawyer had drawn this contract up), which worked out nicely.

With all of the individual card illustrations contracted (43 unique cards, plus the one promo card), that left only the cover illustration. This one would be more expensive, I knew, but I was willing to splurge a little bit to make the game look good on a shelf (and to have some awesome art to use in marketing on a web site or a vinyl banner, for instance). I had asked a few folks involved with Prismatic Art Collection about cover illustrations, but it didn’t seem like that was going to be the way to go.

I next turned to deviantART, a web site where all kinds of artists can display their work. I searched for “alchemy” and other similar terms and started putting together a batch of favorites.

My absolute favorite piece among those that were already created was “The Alchemist” by Jena DellaGrottaglia.

The Alchemist by Jena DellaGrottaglia

I could see this piece being used as-is as the cover art for Chaos & Alchemy, so I reached out to Jena to talk about buying or licensing the rights to the art for my game. Unfortunately, Jena was busy with other things at the time and couldn’t get back to me until I had already passed the point where I had contracted with another artist. Also, apparently Jena is much more established in the art world than I realized (doing book covers and such) and her rates were too expensive for someone like me. But she’s a heck of an artist, you have to admit!

With Jena not able to get back to me in time, I turned to another artist I found via deviantART, Chris Rallis. He had created this piece for a video game called Spellchemy:

The Alchemist by Chris Rallis – For Spellchemy by Mind Juice Media

I thought that Chris’s style would fit very nicely in Chaos & Alchemy, so I inquired about fees and timing for creating something similar for my game box. Chris was very professional and said that he would be able to create artwork in a little over a week’s time (full color and all), but his rate was on the high end of what I could pay.

I talked with another artist about creating something similar, and while the other artist’s rate was lower than Chris’s, I definitely liked Chris’s style the best. So, I bit the bullet and paid for some awesome artwork:

Chaos & Alchemy cover art by Chris Rallis – Logo by Bree Heiss

Seeing the results, I have zero regrets! Chris did an amazing job.

And with that, the art for Chaos & Alchemy is complete! You can see all of the card illustrations over on the Art Gallery, and you can see an illustration from each artist in its final form within the card frames on the Sample Cards page. I hope you like them – I sure do!

-Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

P.S. Pre-orders are still open for another day or two for Chaos & Alchemy at 10% off the regular price plus free shipping.

7 thoughts on “Making the Game part 6 – Hiring artists

    • The high end of the black and white illustrations was $25. The color art was in the hundreds. I don’t want to be too specific, since artists should be free to charge whatever they can get! But my artists were fantastic about working with me, understanding my limited budget. Some of them, awesome as they are, have even turned into pre-order customers for the game!

      -Michael the OnlineDM

  1. Nice read, and I’m glad that my recommendation for Beth worked out for you! I absolutely LOVE the cover art on the game box by the way. You definitely made the right choice there. So how is your game available, and have you actually found a way to get it into game shops yet?

    • Mike – Yes, the reference to Beth was great; thank you again!

      The game is currently available in pre-order on my web site for 10% off the regular $25 price plus free shipping (it will be going up to regular price in a couple of days).

      I won’t be able to get it into game shops until I do a big print run, which will lower my per-unit cost to the point that I’ll be able to sell it to retail. I plan to talk to some distributors and bigger game publishers at GenCon, so we’ll see how it goes!

      -Michael the OnlineDM

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