Nicholas Cloister is an artist based in Sweden. As a gamer he’s played the likes of MERP, Dungeons and Dragons, Warhammer FRP, Skyrealms of Jorune as well as Swedish RPGs. Cloister has drawn for Paizo and Fantasy Flight Games with his Monsters by Email, which launched on March 1st, he is drawing art for you and your game too.
In this interview, liberally sprinkled with monsters, Nicholas kindly walks us through how all this came about and how you might be able to use monsters in your email yourself. Let’s find out why you’d want monsters in your email.
You’ve already drawn monsters for games publishers. Can you pick a few of your favourite projects and tell us about them?
One of my favorite projects was for an Australian company developing an edutainment browser game made to increase the grammar skills of Australian teens. The reason I liked it a lot was the diversity of the tasks, and the instructions were very open. I got to design characters, creatures, weapons, shields, armor, backgrounds, logos, items, and symbols. They had never made a game before, and so it was all very adventurous. Of course it helped a lot that they were very friendly, and trusted my experience with these things.
Another project I really enjoyed was making new interpretations/improvements of creatures to the New Horizon RPG. Again, they proved easy to work with, and paid decently, which makes you feel your work is being appreciated.
Where did the idea to do monsters by email come from?
I’m not sure exactly, but I believe I was considering ways of making a living from what I enjoy the most, which is creating and illustrating my own creature concepts. Though I have experience with all kinds of illustration work, creature design is still number one on my list. The idea came to mind, and I decided to see where it would lead me.
Which is your favourite monster to date?
It is very hard to to pick one, but there are certainly some more dear to me than others. Here is one I made in April 2011, and which still enjoy a lot – The Jhorlar.
I feel like this is a creature expressing the deep forest mysteries, which I’m very attracted by. It is sort of relaxed and mundane where it stands, yet incorporates the foreign and magical.
You let subscribers publish 50% of the monsters they get; every second one. What sort of uses for these monsters do you encourage?
I encourage all uses imaginable. Everything from RPG products, to games, films, printed articles, clothes, etc. All but free, easily accessible, online use is encouraged.
Since there are several publishers subscribing, online publishing could cause over-exposure. Keep the creatures away from the covers, and I’m happy to see them come to use.
What’s the value of the other 50% of the monsters for your subscribers?
All creatures come with system free stats, and a thorough rpg-adapted description, which will make them valuable for the game table. Secondly the subscription includes a commented step-by-step “Making of” PDF, which will be of great value to those who are interested in illustrating creatures for themselves, or learn more about art and images in general.
Many artists, as well as gamers, and publishers, are subscribing to Monsters By Email. Some people put great value in the artwork itself, which will not be found in my free to browse portfolios, except for some marketing pieces.
Which has been the most fierce creature you’ve drawn to date?
It depends on what you mean by fierce. (A woman may look fiercer than a killer whale in certain situations) The most evil and powerful creature I have drawn with the intention of RPG use, is probably the Rhonx Aibia ice demon. This fierce creature is visually more interesting however, and also originates in the Abyss – The Darratha.
I like the originality of the form, surface, and colors. A variation of needles/spikes are used throughout the concept, in nice combinations. To me it has a genuinely sinister look, which was intended.
How does Monsters by Email work for digital publishers like bloggers, forum based RPGs or play-by-email? Can they use your monsters too?
In some cases, where only a few creatures are involved, or when access is restricted, or paid for, I will support online use, but as a general rule, online publishing is not included in the rights attained by the Monsters By Email subscription.
Though I wish it could be otherwise, free exposure online will decrease customer interest. For a massive company this may cause little trouble, but Monsters By Email has just started. I will post a creature now and then to spread the word about Monsters By Email, and those bloggers are free to use, since they are already on the web.
There are plenty of information on publishing and a FAQ page dealing with questions like these at monstersbyemail.com.
Indie publishers Geek Native speaks to sometimes suggest the cost of art is too high. Do you agree?
High or low is relative to ones resources, I suppose. I would say way too low, from my perspective, and my experience of the American RPG industry.
If you think of paying less for art than you do for any other craft (masonry, electricity, carpentry) etc, you don’t give proper value to the art and the artist. The specific skills required to create professional art takes years to develop, and as we all know, image is power. I notice how quickly artists build up a new audience on Facebook (for example) compared to authors. It is because they have art to post, which will capture your attention in the news-feed.
The RPG industry really needs to shape up in this area, in my humble opinion. Where I live we have something called minimum wages. Being low on resources is not a valid argument when hiring a salesclerk for your new shop. If business is bad, you don’t ask your employees to accept a third of the minimum wages. It would be outrageous. If you can’t pay them you close the store and save up until you can start again. It all has to do with respect for the fellow man. Order one illustration if you can’t afford ten. Optionally invite the artist to partnership, and let them share the risks and gains with you, but looking around until you can find an artist starving or someone so keen on exposure they’re ready to forsake their financial value, just isn’t right in my book.
Things become very strange when someone argues 70 dollars for an RPG cover in one email, and you are offered $350 per card illustration in the next one. The last one is the decent offer, in case anyone had them confused. (It might be good money in Thailand, but no more than decent where I live.)
Okay, if I still have any publishers subscribing to Monsters By Email after this, they can all relax. The idea of this project is that subscribers pay me collectively to produce a steady flow of new and good looking creatures for them. If my hours aren’t covered, no creatures can be summoned. With some luck this will mean low price art for indie publisher and decent income for the artist, which means all parties are happy.
You know some people visit monstersbyemail.com and actually believe they can order custom art from me at the same prices as the subscription offers! What can you do? (Did I say that through Monsters By Email you receive the rights to professional creature art for ridiculously low prices? It’s really killer combination.)
Which other game (online or off) artists do you recommend? Who do you draw inspiration from?
I was initially inspired by artists like Keith Parkinson, Elmore, and the other D&D, and AD&D artists. I also remember loving the Illustrations of Skyrealms of Jorune (Now that’s a well illustrated rpg!), but I can’t remember the artist’s name.
An artist who I first discovered through Warhammer Roleplaying Game supplements long ago, and still enjoy to this day is Adrian Smith. He’s really something!
There is also a guy named Fenghua Zhong, who really impresses and inspires me… but I’m not sure he has done any game work.
I’m inspired by a lot of artists, and all good art, or aspects and details thereof. Hell, I’m inspired by bad art too, because it makes you realize you’re getting better. Then of course, the Symbolists, and Medieval to early Renaissance painting. Such treasures!
What’s the most scary horror you’ve ever released via monsters by email?
It’s probably the Logo creature – my sweet Cron’Lychma baby. An aquatic demon is coming up in the next Monsters By Email creature set, but I’m saving that one for the subscribers.
I like the posture, and the originality of the head color and pattern. I enjoy the mixture of an insect-like body and an alien swift perception and intelligence.
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