“I spent a lot of time in worlds that never were”
Fantasy and comics artist Wayne Reynolds
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
Baine Bloodhoof Wayne has also depicted characters for Blizzard’s World of Warcraft card games.