Art of the Genre

Two weeks ago I was fortunate enough to lay hands on a copy of Paizo’s tribute to one of my good friends in the compilation book Visions of WAR: The Art of Wayne Reynolds.

Now this art book means something special to me for a couple of reasons, the first of which is that Wayne and I discussed doing his art book together before Paizo came in and offered [which I was thrilled about] and the second is that a piece I commissioned from Wayne for my Art Evolution Project made it into the book.

As I opened this impressive tome [256 pages in harcover] I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and just HOW MUCH Wayne has done for the genre of RPGs over the past fifteen years.  It is truly an incredible book, and something that anyone and everyone who has enjoyed RPG since the year 2000 should own. 

Why?  Because sadly Wayne might be the last of a dying breed, a traditional artist who helps define RPGs with a style that unifies gamers and fosters a sense of nostalgia for our lives like only Larry Elmore or Jeff Easley have ever truly accomplished before him.

There can be no doubt that for the first decade of the new millennia, Wayne Reynolds reigns supreme as the gold standard of RPG art. No artist has created more than Reynolds in that tenure, and his art has become so powerful that to put him on a cover instantly sells product.

His inclusion into Wizards of the Coast’s new 3rd Edition D&D, first through supplements and then headlining the Eberron campaign setting, helped define what the company was looking for as it entered the next phase of its growth.  Once entrenched as ‘the man’, he helped cover and inspire D&D 4E while also launching Paizo’s Pathfinder at the same time. 

In his art, Wayne creates conflict, but most importantly he envisions a tabletop truism in role-playing scenes splashed across a page. He is a dungeon-delving master and his characters are so much more the rich and tactile for it.

When you look at his work, especially what he considers his ‘iconic characters’, you see pen and paper RPG sheets reflected back. One key component to fantasy and science fiction art is a love of the genre, but that doesn’t always translate to a love of participation in the act of role-playing. This, at its very core, sets some artists apart from the pack, and in Reynolds’ case, it defines him in the eyes of his fans. Reynolds is a gamer himself, and this helps to create the golden touch found in the concepts of his art.

For all his magnificent dragons, towering giants, muscle-veined orcs, and remote landscapes, Reynolds’ trademarks are his characters. He sets the bar higher than anyone before, and each time you look at his creations, your eyes start counting the quarrels in the quiver, the daggers tucked in sheaths, the potions dangling from chains, and the heavy weapons bound to backs and cradled in strong hands.

It’s as though Reynolds, with full knowledge of the game, has taken a character sheet and transferred it to canvas. His acrylics sing, and each stroke tells a tale of dungeon delves and experience points won. All players know how silly their characters must look with all the items they’ve collected on countless campaigns, yet we keep adding stuff to those sheets. In his way Reynolds pays us all homage with his skill to somehow make it all work.

This is his draw, and although his talent far exceeds that of his characters, he still propels his art forward with them. This is the crowning achievement of the genre and in my opinion a kind of last stand against the miasma of digital art that slithers in to take hold of a once imaginative consciousness and send all gamers into a toper of same old same old company line safety. Art is a creation for the players, not the company or the art directors, and Reynolds embodies that practice.

Reynolds, for all his mastery to the subject, has captured the very essence of what role-playing art should be, the reflection of the players themselves. His connection creates a mirror, and he helps us remember all the things that inspired the industry in the first place.

Written by Scott Taylor — September 03, 2013

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