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Games Publisher Seeks Artists Where They Play

Rich Thomas, White Wolf's vice president for production. (All photos by Jean Marie Ward)

Everybody says you really know how to render and paint. They should -- that last sketch of Sauron Boss you posted in the restroom nearly gave your boss a heart attack. And you got an idea for a portrait of her as a vampire where, instead of blood, little tracks of acid trail down the sides of her mouth, smoking her skin just so.

But how does a guy or gal like you get a break? You like science fiction and fantasy art, and you'd really like to work on the role playing games you play, but the art schools in your area frown on all that stuff. And art agents are about as approachable as God.

You might try bringing your portfolio to Dragoncon in Atlanta over Labor Day weekend. Every year, Georgia-based White Wolf Publishing, creators of Vampire, the Masquerade, Hunter and many other top-selling games, conducts portfolio reviews at their Dragoncon exhibit booth -- and at exhibit booths at other major science fiction, fantasy and games conventions too.

"We've been doing it for years, because we're always looking for talent. It's a good way to get to people who are interested in genre-style illustration," Rich Thomas, White Wolf's vice president of production, said. "We're right there on the spot. The artists can get feedback, and hopefully, we can find new artists."

Pauline Benney, a White Wolf art director and graphic artist, added, "It's also a good way to help out people who need direction and help them build a better portfolio. A couple of years later they may come back to us with something that we really want to buy."

Pauline Benney (center), an art director with White Wolf Publishing, discusses a portfolio with an aspiring artist at Dragoncon 2001.

It does happen. It did for Tony DiTerlizzi, who got his break in the gaming industry now writes and illustrates top flight children's books. "Tony came to us at GenCon with his hand-drawn portfolio on handmade paper bound up in silk ropes and just blew us away," Thomas said. "We started using him immediately, and within a year he was doing Magic, the Gathering and working for Dungeons & Dragons."

Unlike many publishers, White Wolf offers several ways for writers and artists to connect directly with editors, art directors and other staff through their Frequently Asked Questions. However, email submissions must follow the posted guidelines. At cons, the staff will assess everything from drawings on lined paper to elaborate portfolios like DiTerlizzi's.

Thomas noted, "It's an open call. We just sit here and people come up. A lot of times they won't even be aware that we're doing the review until they see us doing it. Then they'll run up to their rooms, grab whatever they've got and bring it down."

During a typical day of portfolio review, White Wolf's on-site staff will evaluate between 12 and 20 portfolios. They look at everything from pencils to oils, ink on paper to digital art.

According to Thomas, the ideal would be to find a new artist whose work, regardless of medium, perfectly matches one of the game lines currently being built. That artist could jump right in. But White Wolf is looking for other qualities too -- especially that elusive quality that Art Director Becky Jollensten calls "the spark."

"I'm doing Dark Ages," Jollensten said, "and it's very hard to find people who are doing medieval but not dragons; and horror but not overt punk. I'm trying to find something in-between. Stylized is good. Straight up beautiful is good. I'm trying to find people with potential or who have something they don't even know they have."

Becky Jollensten, the White Wolf art director for Dark Ages, looks for a "spark" in the art she reviews.

"Richard," Benney added, "really likes claws."

But even with claws, some pieces of art don't make the grade. Benney cites bad anatomy as the most common problem for fledgling artists. "We'll see drawings with really long arms, really short legs, figures and necks out of proportion."

"Another problem from our point of view is that we'll get people who will just draw a character," Thomas said. "We need to see a character in a world. We need to see them in a setting. We need to see them interacting in their environment. That's part of the storytelling that's so important to our games."

Thomas recommends that artists aspiring to work for White Wolf look at the White Wolf products currently on the shelves. "Look at the artists we're using right now. But then, don't go to the company and say, 'My stuff is ten times better than that.' That's really not a positive way to introduce yourself."

Click here to learn more about White Wolf Publishing.

Jean Marie Ward