The BEAMBLOG

Monday, July 23, 2018

Tom Rhodes: An Inside into the Artist's World


Beamdog Artist Tom Rhodes explains how his sketchpad reflects the seasons.
In 2016 we tried an experiment to bring the magic we saw in our community to a broader audience called the Familiar, a digital publication with industry interviews, fiction, contests, and Beamdog exclusives.


It’s a pity to let those articles vanish to time, so we’ve decided to share the materials from the Familiar on the Beamblog so more people can discover them. Today we publish an interview with Tom Rhodes.

This article was originally published in Issue 2 of the Familiar.

Tom Rhodes has developed an interesting new form of calendar. He loves to draw whenever he can and tends to switch between his two favorite subjects: fantasy and science fiction. The diary element comes into play by how he breaks those up.



“Usually in the winter I’ll be really into fantasy, and then in the summer I’ll get into sci-fi. So I can always tell what season it was when I look at my sketch books by what I was drawing—whether it was orcs or aliens,” he tells The Familiar.


That love of fantasy has always been a big part of his life—and his work—since he first read The Hobbit as a child. That led to an obsession with The Lord of the Rings artwork created by John Howe and Alan Lee, as he pored over their book cover and calendars.



“I would walk a few kilometers to the book store where they were selling the 1998/1999 Tolkien calendar, look at the pictures on the back, and then walk home,” he reminisces. “D&D is cool too, but I didn’t play it until I was in high school. It was Tolkien and those two artists that always kept me around fantasy, along with movies and videogames.”


Before moving to Beamdog, Rhodes worked as a concept artist at BioWare and taught illustration at the Edmonton Digital Arts College (EDAC).



Was the cover commissioned specially for this issue or is it already part of Siege of Dragonspear?


It was something I was working on in-house at Beamdog. It was a larger project overall and we thought it’d be perfect for the cover of The Familiar.


Are the two battling figures specific characters from Siege of Dragonspear?


They’re not any particular individuals but they are representatives of the factions from within the game. The guy with the boar spear is one of the crusaders and the guy with the two blades is a member of the Flaming Fists. They may not be named characters but the Flaming Fist character is based on the actual in-game sprite. I reverse engineered it from the tiny little guy, based on his armor.


What's your working process like?


I work digitally. Sometimes I sketch on paper first and then scan it, but this work was all digital. It always starts with a written description of what’s needed and any other aspects, like bits of lore or technical requirements like dimensions or color scheme. I then create thumbnail sketches to try and find out what the posing and composition is going to be like. From there I start putting in the color.



How long did the completed work take?


This image took about four days. Usually by the end of the first day you get a really solid idea of what it’s going to be like. On the second day it looks finished, but the rest of the time is spent making sure that it’s polished. The last 20% takes 80% of the time. Most of that time is spent on the rendering and making sure things are presentable. It’s taking the time to put extra careful brush strokes to make sure that surfaces aren’t too messy and that they also look like the material they’re supposed to be.


Is digital your favorite format or would you like to have the time to paint?


It’s a toss up between digital art and a ballpoint pen and a sketchpad. I recently got back into doing acrylic painting at home but I haven’t had too much time to work on that in the last few months. It’s relaxing, though.


Has digital been the norm since you started your career?


I had my first job in about 2005. But I started to get into digital art around 1997/1998. I was still quite young but I feel like a lot of things people think of as concept art, things like ArtStation and DeviantArt, I grew up alongside those. When I first started off, most concept art was still done with marker and paint, at least the stuff I was looking at.



What did you teach at EDAC?


I was teaching illustration and digital illustration and sequential art—so comics, graphic novels, Photoshop, painting. I was running students through the fundamentals of art as best as I could. Things like anatomy, perspective, composition, color theory—all the good stuff.


Based on the art we’ve seen online you love to draw. Is it something you do as an everyday thing even outside of work?


I like to draw on the bus, I like to draw on my lunchbreak. Even sometimes when I’m at Beamdog I’ll be working on a piece but then I’ll just have to draw something for myself. Just take a quick minute and doodle. It’s something I’ve always done. I guess it’s a good psychological break. Some people will go have a coffee, I’ll open up a new document and draw an orc head or something.


You helped create the comic Deep Soul. How did that differ to your work on video games?


That was with a writer named A.J. Lieberman, who works out of New York. He’s worked for DC and a bunch of comic companies on quite a few graphic novels over the years. One of his books, Term Life, is coming out as a movie this year. He was really good to work with, although that project took a year. I’ve not done a graphic novel before and that project made me think I might not do one again. [Laughs] But I’m working on another on the side here and there. It’s a fairy tale I’m writing and illustrating, which tries to figure out what would happen if a robot crash landed in a fairy tale kingdom.


You also run a weekly lottery on your Twitter feed to draw people’s D&D characters. How did that come about?


That’s actually really good fun. It came out of nowhere and gives me something to do, so now I have a hobby and I don’t just sit there reading Reddit all night. It’s also helping me get better and to build a portfolio—not that I need it, but it is nice to have a body of work. People also get to know me and my name gets out there a little bit. But my favorite part is giving people free art and I’m always pleased by how excited they get.

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