“I spent a lot of time in worlds that never were”

Fan­tasy and comics artist Wayne Reynolds

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My job was to make signs for pubs, in­clud­ing the boards that hang out­side them

Some­where in Eng­land there is – or at least used to be – a pub sign fea­tur­ing a Dalek hid­den in an Ed­war­dian mar­ket­place, and an­other with a Vic­to­rian farmer wear­ing a dig­i­tal watch. Now mostly lost to the rav­ages of time, they’re an amus­ing ex­am­ple of what hap­pens when the en­ergy from a pas­sion­ate talent gets frus­trated by a mun­dane job.

Said signs were the work of Wayne Reynolds, these days a suc­cess­ful fan­tasy artist with clients such as Wiz­ards of the Coast, 2000 AD, Paizo and more. He’s had the hon­our of il­lus­trat­ing the 12 iconic char­ac­ters for Paizo’s Pathfinder RPG, and has re­cently pub­lished his first collection of orig­i­nal art­work, Vi­sions of War.

Around 25 years ago, though, he was a strug­gling art grad­u­ate des­per­ate to work in an an­i­ma­tion stu­dio. When, per­haps not sur­pris­ingly, no such jobs were to be found, he took the first thing that came along in­stead… he be­came a sign­writer.

“The job con­sisted of mak­ing signs for pubs, in­clud­ing the painted boards that hang out­side them,” he re­mem­bers. “The job was poorly paid and wasn’t ideal. How­ever, I did learn a lot from my ex­pe­ri­ence. I learnt a steady hand from care­fully paint­ing let­ter­ing. I found I could prac­tise my il­lus­tra­tion skills on the pic­to­ri­als and learn how to work fast; the boards were about 120x100cm and I had to paint the same il­lus­tra­tion on both sides within 48 hours.”

The stuff of he­roes

Wayne, of course, re­ally wanted to be il­lus­trat­ing fan­tasy, but fol­low­ing a col­lege course that had ac­tively dis­cour­aged his in­ter­est in the sub­ject, the signs seemed to be his only out­let. “I think very few of these paint­ings now ex­ist,” he laughs, “al­though I know of one that still stands…”

Even that didn’t last long, as he was soon made re­dun­dant and de­cided to go free­lance in­stead, il­lus­trat­ing play-by-

mail games and do­ing the odd cartoon. “It was im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent that free­lance work suited me much bet­ter,” he says. “I’m quite a soli­tary per­son and don’t play well with other chil­dren over a pro­longed pe­riod of time. The only set­back was that I pretty much had to learn how to paint again be­cause I’d con­cen­trated on other artis­tic as­pects at col­lege.”

Nev­er­the­less, Wayne’s real ca­reer had be­gun. His im­agery has since re­mained in

paint­ing style has evolved due to im­prove­ments in my ob­ser­va­tional skills and the dis­cov­ery of tech­niques

the clas­si­cal mould of fan­tasy: heroic char­ac­ters clad in com­plex ar­mour, bat­tling myth­i­cal crea­tures in hos­tile worlds for price­less trea­sures; or maybe a cosy fire­side scene at an inn peo­pled by rogues, wenches, wiz­ards and dimwits. Yet at the same time his char­ac­ters have a dis­tinct, al­most stylised look, far re­moved from the sort of metic­u­lous pho­to­re­al­ism of, say, Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell, and his scenes have a dy­namic, comic-strip en­ergy. You might sum it up as 2000 AD crossed with World of Warcraft, and in­deed Wayne has worked with both of them.

He paints with liq­uid acrylic on art board, hav­ing over the years dab­bled with oils (“I hated the dry­ing time”), wa­ter­colours, and gouache (“the colours tended to be a bit trans­par­ent”). Acrylics, he says, gives him the best of both worlds.

“I use a com­pli­cated com­bi­na­tion of opaque colour and over­washes in my painted work. My paint­ing style has evolved over time due to im­prove­ments in my ob­ser­va­tional skills and the dis­cov­ery of new paint­ing tech­niques spe­cific to the paints that I use.” Even us­ing the same make of paint for years has af­fected his process: “I found that if I use a dif­fer­ent make of paint with new colours then it takes me a while to work out which colours to mix, whereas a fa­mil­iar­ity with a paint range means I in­stantly know what to use.”

One strik­ing as­pect about his char­ac­ter con­cepts is their de­tailed cloth­ing,

echo­ing var­i­ous cul­tures of var­i­ous times, yet still man­ag­ing to seem orig­i­nal. “I’ll of­ten be­gin a char­ac­ter con­cept with a his­tor­i­cal ex­am­ple of ar­mour or cloth­ing,” he ex­plains. “Once I have be­gun a ba­sis from re­al­ity, I can then be­gin de­sign­ing new el­e­ments of the cos­tume – push­ing those shapes and de­sign into some­thing fan­tas­tic or un­usual, but keep­ing a cer­tain part of the de­sign rooted in re­al­ity that will hope­fully res­onate with the viewer through recog­ni­tion.”

An­other tech­nique he uses is to think of the char­ac­ters as be­ing in a role­play­ing game, col­lect­ing more and more equip­ment over the course of an ad­ven­ture: “I be­gin to won­der where they put it all, which cre­ates some in­ter­est­ing vi­su­als,” he says.

When it comes to pos­ing those dy­namic char­ac­ters, Wayne’s ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence comes into play. Most of the time he’s able to rough out a pose with­out need­ing to look up ref­er­ences or use a model. “My ref­er­ence li­brary con­sists of a few fig­ure ref­er­ence books, but not as many as you’d ex­pect,” he says. “The only time I tend to

Keep­ing part of the de­sign rooted in re­al­ity hope­fully res­onates with the viewer through recog­ni­tion

use a live model is if I need to know how a piece of ar­mour looks on the fig­ure at a cer­tain an­gle, or how a hand holds a cer­tain weapon in a given sit­u­a­tion. In that case I’ll take some­thing from my ar­moury and pho­to­graph my­self, or use a mir­ror to sketch what I see.”

Vi­sions of war

One thing that hasn’t changed much since his early ca­reer is Wayne’s slightly soli­tary na­ture. To be frank, he’s happy enough work­ing the way he al­ways has. For ex­am­ple, “I haven’t posted on an on­line gallery yet,” he says. “I’m fairly slow to em­brace tech­nol­ogy but I can def­i­nitely see the ben­e­fits of hav­ing an on­line pres­ence in a dig­i­tal age.”

Aside from his web­site, he’s also now set up an of­fi­cial Face­book group af­ter dis­cov­er­ing some­one else had be­gun a fan­site of his stuff on there. But it’s his new book Vi­sions of War that will hope­fully bring his work to a whole new au­di­ence. It fea­tures more than ten years’ worth of cov­ers, in­te­rior art and card art from his RPG il­lus­tra­tion work, plus some pre­vi­ously un­re­leased paint­ings.

He was orig­i­nally ap­proached by Paizo three years ago with the idea of an art book. At first he was con­vinced he just wouldn’t have enough “qual­ity art­work” to fill it – an idea that was quickly quashed once he’d looked at his port­fo­lio. Nev­er­the­less, progress was slow, and it’s only now that the book has fi­nally been re­leased. “I think it’s ac­cu­rate to say that now is the ear­li­est time to re­lease the art book,” he says. “I have no idea if it’s the right time or not!”

Wayne also has no idea where his heart­felt love of fan­tasy came from in the first place, de­spite cre­at­ing a very suc­cess­ful ca­reer around it. While many artists can point to a par­tic­u­lar book, film or teacher that ig­nited their pas­sion at an early age, for Wayne, it’s just al­ways been there. Or, as he puts it rather more el­e­gantly, “I spent a lot of time in worlds that never were.”

Pathfinder art Orig­i­nally adorn­ing a box for Paizo’s RPG Pathfinder, here Wayne’s art can spread its wings and be en­joyed in full.

Get an ar­moury “I use my all the time. Mov­ing around in the ar­mour is where I take my mo­tion ref­er­ence from. By see­ing how I move my­self, I can men­tally ex­trap­o­late how the move­ment might look at the ex­treme.”

Se­crets of Xend’Dr ik For the syn­ony­mous ac­ces­sory to the D&D Eber­ron set­ting, Wayne went for an­other epic, dra­matic scene.

Talon­rake Aven Magic: The Gath­er­ing has also been a source of steady work for Wayne over the years. Pic­tured here is his paint­ing for the dream card Rel­lon, Aven Com­man­der.

War­lord - Sav­age north Though Wayne’s for­ma­tive art train­ing was in an­i­ma­tion, his love of fan­tasy brought him back to a land of dwarves and gi­ants.

Vi­sions of WAR

The cover paint­ing of Wayne’s first art book, which came out late

last year.

Baine Blood­hoof Wayne has also de­picted char­ac­ters for Blizzard’s World of Warcraft card games.

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