Monday, September 3, 2012

Fantasy Illustration: The State of the Industry in Brief

So the ineffable Theodric has requested I write a blog entry on the subject of the current state of fantasy art. As someone who occasionally thinks of himself as a fantasy artist, it seems I'm obliged to answer the call. In brief, we seem to have entered an interesting time in the world of fantasy illustration.

With the ever-rising popularity of role-playing games such as Pathfinder and D&D 4.0, the demand for fantasy illustrators has reached new highs. In addition, the influx of new material from major publishers has also caused a surge in the popularity of products produced by smaller, third-party companies. As a result, the market is becoming flooded with new artwork on a daily basis.

This, as I've come to find, is a double-edged sword. The glut of phenomenal artwork has driven a small number of talented illustrators to the forefront, with a much larger number pushed to the sidelines, or, more commonly, forced by the nature of the market to imitate the artistic styling of more popular artists. Illustrators like Wayne Reynolds, Tyler Walpole, and Todd Lockwood have definitively set the standard for others to follow, with somewhat mixed results. The competition for top jobs has led smaller-name illustrators to abandon their own artistic directions to follow in the footsteps of the industry trend-setters.

 One other side effect of this is that art directors, in many cases, will not give art orders to illustrators that they feel do not "fit" with their particular "style," meaning that artists who fit with more comic book-esque styles (such as Steve Ellis and Peter Bergting) or less realistic work (such as Jeff Laubenstein, and Kev Crossley) are not hired as frequently as those who imitate the big names.

Still, the market is still massive, and up-and-coming illustrators have more of a chance than ever to break into the industry through third-party publishers like Fantasy Flight Games and Headless Hydra Games. If you want to keep an eye on the next big thing, here are some links to the portfolios of a few up-and-coming illustrators in the field:

Noah Bradley
Mike Burns
J.S. Choi 
Hugo Solis
J. Edwin Stevens

- Dave Mallon, freelance illustrator and writer


  1. Thanks for the art suggestions, Dave! I'll be checking these out.

  2. Well, Reynolds has set a wrong standard IMHO (being the fantasy counterpart of Rob Liefeld). ;)