Ben Thompson


This Time…It's Personal

New Year's day has come and gone and we find ourselves days away from closing out the first month in 2013. I like many others made the obligatory New Years resolutions, pondering ways to make life better for myself and those around me. While the ever popular “healthier eating habits” do in fact feature in this list, there is one in particular that takes the top spot and will likely require more effort than should be necessary to maintain over the next twelve (eleven) months.

Make the time for more personal work, and whenever possible make sure that work is of a traditional media.”

It is no secret that Game Development takes a lot of hard work and more than its fair share of time out of ones schedule. During my time on staff at my last three companies, the time available to me to take on freelance illustration work was scarce and what little there was dwindled to nothing when deadlines struck. Weekends tend to bear the brunt of the blow and as a result the time one has to enjoy a book, a hobby or family time is all but nonexistent.

Now let’s be clear. I am absolutely humbled by and thankful for my ability to work for such a prominent company, and there is no question that the average days work is both creative and exciting. None of the above is in any way intended as a spoiled child’s lament, but rather as a recognition of a basic fact: Creativity needs multiple outlets if it has any hope of maintaining for the entirety of one’s lifetime.

In recent years my own freelance work has largely been in support of products peripheral to Blizzard Entertainment and World of Warcraft specifically. Initially this took the form of TCG (Trading Card Game) card images, but has since grown to include the set logos for the last 8 sets, and more recently collaborations with Blizzard Marketing on the patch logos for World of Warcraft itself. All of these are welcome additions to the freelance schedule as I genuinely enjoy scratching the graphic design itch whenever possible, and the challenges they pose are unique and quite another thing from those found in the traditional illustration world. They are however inexorably linked to a world that I already spend countless hours in, and as such can hardly be seen as a break from the “norm”.

This is where the personal work comes in.

Elric_Drawing     WWI_Doughboy

The power of personal work is found in its complete separation from your day to day work be it the subject matter, the media, scale or even the lack of a committee by which artistic decisions are judged. It is, however, these very differences that make such an undertaking so daunting. We depend on our style guides. We become accustomed to our tools. We grow used to our environment and the influence it has on our creative decisions.

2013 finds me intent on making the most of the relative freedom afforded me by the stability of a staff position, and beginning to seek out opportunities to exercise some creative muscles otherwise left to atrophy. I was initially tempted to put together a list of criteria for such work to follow, but quickly realized that this is exactly the sort of thing that is likely to throttle any chance at creativity right from the beginning. The resulting parameter is simple and singular:

Any piece that is undertaken as a personal work cannot be tied to the day job.

Yes, ultimately I would like to tackle all of those historical/military pieces I have such high hopes for, and do so on a grand scale with oil paints and a wild abandon. Now however, it is important just to do something. Anything. Get the idea down. Don’t over think it. Enjoy the process of creating an image for its own sake as its soul creator, without a thought to how it will be printed, or where the text will go in relation to the composition.

I look forward to sharing the results of this resolution with you and am excited by what seem now like the endless opportunities it opens up. For starters the above two images may actually see completion this year rather than languishing away in their preliminary state...

Now to go celebrate with some hard earned English Toffee! Wait…no...

header image: N.C. Wyeth

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