A guy with a sword – What you are missing

A guy with a sword
So there’s a guy with a sword….

It’s one of the most common character types to have in an RPG image, adventure or illustration next to a wizard. Just a guy with a sword isn’t just a guy with a sword.

As artists when we get requests for a quick “guy with a sword” there are about to be a number of things that come into play. Most are design choices.

This topic recently came up on our next module “Brindle guard – Sentry Eternal” (working title). Here are the things an artist starts asking themselves when “A guy with a sword” is needed for an illustration.

  • Is he armored?
  • Muscled or lean?
  • What period / type of armor?
  • What is the design / feel of the world, and how much armor do I need to design for this?
  • Composition – (Many questions)
  • A dynamic action pose or a contemplative still pose?
  • Is it hot or cold where he is?
  • Has he been in many fights or fresh on the journey?
  • What kind of sword?
  • Is there a shield?

Ok, the list can get long. An artist immersed in the game world being illustrated can often answer many of these things without hesitation, but frequently we get a brief paragraph and have to bounce some discussion back and forth. Or we get a full text of the entire project that would take a few days to absorb. I am sorry to say writers, we usually don’t read through the entire product before we illustrate…. not on an indie budget anyway.

Writers and publishers can get a little irked that we haven’t absorbed every last detail of their 300 page book on the world of BrthhFav’rrnaught and the knights of Cr’rventliment. You can also get some short tempers if you ask the same questions too many times. So this needed to be addressed with a couple of clients recently, and I thought I would share my solution.

On my main working computer in my client folder, there are names of each of my clients. In those I make folders for each of their projects. At the top of the client folder, I pop a quick document with some key questions and answers to keep a feel for all the worlds and to review before I go ask more questions.

It’s a medieval world yes, but that ranges from 500AD to 1500AD, and there were plenty of places on the planet other than England during those times. We need to usually design armor, weapon styles and many other details on the fly to get an illustration out the door. Notes with key questions can keep you on track. Some larger, more established producers may have guidelines already in place, but Indie Publishers often just sort of “wing it” and sometimes are grateful for ANY art they can afford.

In the files I have a brief with the following:

  • Environment notes – cold north? tropical south?
  • Similar time period / place on earth in regards to human technology and flavor.
  • In a few words, what is this “Guy with a Sword”‘s society like?
  • Photo references – A folder of its’ own. This includes images the client has sent, then images I have collected from the internet in relation to their world. This way I instantly get a “Feel” for what they are working on without reviewing MORE text.

In this I will cut and paste the names given to me by the producer, and save the email with the questions answered (incase of misspelling). Fantasy names are terrible. Preparing a few basic questions ahead of time can help push the design of arms, armor, barding, hats and clothes WAY down the road and save you many revisions. It’s not always something illustrators breaking into the field think to ask before the pencil hits the board.

Indie Publishers:

Consider putting brief notes together for your freelance artists on these topics without being restricting. This can be more difficult than you think. You hire an artist for their style and approach, you don’t want to dictate image content. When requesting “A guy with a sword” or any other image consider providing the following:

  • What the general action is on the page of the illustration (Party is slogging through marshes at this part)
  • Time period and general setting environment – if the artist hasn’t thought to ask already
  • Adventure mood – Horror, drama, action, comedy….

Just those three little bits can get you a lot closer to your vision without restricting the artists hand. Try not to be upset that the freelancer hasn’t absorbed your product cover-to-cover. Even if we love the project and the genre, there simply isn’t time to do that for all commissions AND pay all our bills on time.

I hope this helps, I am still organizing my client files in this manner today and moving forward.

Art Tribe