Wednesday, 19 December 2012

2012 in review

So posts annually is it now, eh Jonny boy?

So be it.

I've been busy this year. Very busy.  In November 2011 (funnily enough right after my last blog post in 2011) I went full time at cubicle 7, in a role which initially mixed lead artist with art director.  I had been part time AD there for a year previous, and the opportunity came to step up, leave behind full time freelance illustration for a regular pay cheque and an end to most of the piece work.

I made sure that painting would still be part of my job, contractually speaking. I know too many brilliant painters who have taken promotion away from the coal face into management, and it makes me sad.  So being pig headed I tried to do both.  And freelance for other companies on the side.

And it's worked out.  I adore working with the team at Cubicle 7.  I love what removing the piece work nature of making freelance art has done for my work and my confidence.  I have learned a gazillion new skills in 2012, done new things, and traveled to America for the first time.  Twice.

So here's a brief run down of what I do.

I paint a bunch of the art for The One Ring.  I think this is the highlight of my career to this point.  We won the Gold ENnie (rpg Oscars basically) for the art in The One Ring.  Whilst a great deal of the glory for that falls squarely on the shoulders of John Howe, I'm very proud of my own contribution which has been well received beyond all expectation.  I thought we would get a lot of criticism for taking Tolkien back to it's "dark age", earthy, authentic roots.  People love it.  I was far from alone in feeling this is a true vision of Tolkien's world.  That's indescribably gratifying.

To jump back to the awards - I hate awards, I hate competitions. I don't paint to be better than another painter.  But it's not without a small whiff of hipocrisy that I say I really really wanted that ENnie for the work we all did on The One Ring.  And when they announced that we had won the adrenaline surge was incredible.  I'll never forget the walk to the stage.  I have completely forgotten what I said on the stage. I know I thanked John Howe and Tomas Jedrusek who also provided art for the game. I'm pretty sure I thanked Robert Hyde of Sophisticated Games for putting up with us.  I also mentioned Paul Bourne who justly deserves a share of that gong for his amazing graphic design work.

Back to the list of what I do these days.  So I also source and direct artists working on Cubicle 7 products - Doctor Who Card Game, Victoriana, The Laundry... the list goes on and on, and you can learn more here should you wish.  I really enjoy the art direction.  I didn't realise how much I could enjoy working as a team.  I also didn't realise I could channel my negative feelings that things are not always run the best way to get the most from freelance artists into something much more positive.  It's always a struggle to get the best for my teams - freelance artists are truly the bottom of the food chain, and the easiest to inadvertantly mistreat in many ways.  Hopefully my 14 years of freelance experience inform me on that.  Hopefully.   All publishing is a compromise, and things always crop up, but getting the chance to fight that corner, to turn around the art department of a company and make it something better, something stronger has been very gratifying.

I paint most of our covers, and where needed internal art.

I also run a lot of the social media channels for the company day to day.  So if you see posts from Cubicle 7 on Facebook and Twitter, that's usually me.  The other team members do help out, so it's not always me.  But most of it is.

I take care of the Cubicle 7 website too.  When I inherited that it was frankly... not fit for purpose.  It had been more or less abandonned as an unfinished work.  The buttons for "our games" linked to larger versions of the buttons.  And that was very much the tip of the iceberg.  As is often the case with small companies, pinning down one person to take charge of this, with the ability to do so, had historically proved problematic.  Over this year I've made sure it is at least a baseline functioning site where gamers can go to learn about our games.  We update a couple of times most weeks, and those updates spread through the net via our feeds and social media.  There's usually something new to look at on the site these days.  I've also been heavily invested in getting good pack shots of our games, since the company was beginning to develop a reputation for not delivering - early mistakes in the running of c7 had meant product was being offered for preorder with insanely long lead times, and with the vagaries of production there were some products that had apparently vanished.  We no longer offer preorders until books are off to print, I'm happy to say.  With that in mind getting solid photographs of real books and games has been a priority in helping to turn that rep around.  Equally with games like The Doctor Who Card Game hitting mainstream stores, and multiple Christmas gift catalogues we needed to make the leap into having suites of images for press usage.  One corner of my studio is now a permanent photography area, so I've had a crash course in relearning that too!  There's still a lot more to do - so much to do in fact, but that will come in 2013.  At least the buttons work, and you can grab some info and a character sheet download for most of our games now.

I set up and handle C7TV, Cubicle 7's youtube channel, providing all video assets, composing the music, editing the video, writing the interviews and so on.  This has been a huge learning curve, though a very satisfying one.  We've topped 50k views, which was a nice milestone.

In the mid part of this year I took on responsibilities for much of our customer facing marketing our games, and that is very much still a work in progress.  We now have a coherent (if ever-changing, ever refining) structured approach to spreading the word about our games, which was always lacking.  Now at project milestones key marketing events are triggered hopefully bringing people on board with what we're doing.  Still another case where there is a lot of work to be done - I feel we're just getting up to the basic acceptable level on this.

The C7 team also took on the running of Dragonmeet this year, which I helped organise - it's a one day games convention in London.  Everything went well, footfall was markedly up some 30 - 40%, and I was very happy with our efforts in social media to create a buzz around what should be a hotly anticipated and well attended London show.  We're getting there.  2013 promises to build on the successes of this year's event.

There's a variety of other things I handle within the company which are much harder to define, so I'll not waste words on those. I'm always busy.

All in all I'm extremely happy with my decision to go full time.  Outside of that I've been able to keep working for some of my preferred clients, as well as adding some new ones.  I think this is very important as it keeps me outward looking, continues my insight into how other companies do things.  And as much as anything else, I have always enjoyed the more enjoyable points of freelancing.  With my added art direction experience I feel I bring more to the table.  I like to keep things positive, but it hasn't all been sunshine and roses this year at work.  We've had our share of set backs, bad deals, disappointments and frustrations.  But hey.  On balance it's going far better than I dared anticipate in January 2012.  Heck, when I joined the company full time no one was sure if we'd make it.  So we're closing this year winning, but battered and bruised, and all the stronger for it.  It's also very nice to get to talk about "we", rather than just "me".  Who knew I would enjoy being part of a team?  Still, glad to be remote working still.  Otherwise folks would get murdered.

Some highlights of this year:

The ENnies -- already spoke about that.  We won 4 awards in all, 2 silver and 2 gold.  Our UK contemporaries Pelgrane Press also cleaned up at these awards, which was most gratifying to see. Go Team GB. (hey, we all know we all employ a range of freelancers from across the globe, but it's a nice thought that these tiny companies from the UK punch so hard above their weight).

Doctor Who Card Game - We got the opportunity to make it happen and took it.  It was an absolute joy and privilege to work with Martin Wallace, and to get the chance to art direct such an important project.  The decisions on the art style, the design and presentation of the cards was mine, and I'm very proud of it.  One of my scariest career moments was the email I wrote presenting my ideas to Martin.  Martin knows his stuff and then some, and he had the power to just say "no, rethink".  Sometimes you only have one idea because it is the right idea.  I didn't have a plan B. 

With the go ahead we had just 5 weeks to product 72 cards. I handled half of them in that time (again proving that I'm the wrong AD to moan to that you have too much work. Get over it. :) ) and assembled a small team of trusted artists to handle the rest.  You can find out more about all that elsewhere, but I'm extremely proud to have worked with those guys, and we made a good looking game.  I am confident that the time constraints on the visual production simply don't show.

Outside of C7 it's been great to still find the occasional slot of time to work with my friends at Paizo. I love what they are doing and their passion for games and gamers always shines through. I owe a huge debt to the art direction style of Sarah Robinson at Paizo, who always says "yes" more than she says no.  She has an amazingly light touch which empowers her artists to shine.  I do my best to emulate this where I can.

I also got the chance to make some more World of Warcraft cards, which was great, and something I felt I should be doing, likewise I contributed a bunch of articles to ImagineFX magazine this year. Always a pleasure.

Couple of highlights rolled into one: Working over John Howe's pencils for the cover to Tales from Wilderland and the Elrond card for the uber prestigious Lords of Middle-earth expansion for War of the Ring.  Talk about high pressure jobs, but both amazing opportunities and experiences.  Plenty of times I thought "why did you agree to this?".  Sitting looking at a John Howe sketch and making the first marks in paint on top of it?  Hmmmm.

I got the chance this year to make some covers for the new Glorantha books from Moon Design.  Achievement unlocked.  Say no more.Except that the kickstarter for the Guide to Glorantha, which I have made the cover for, and will be making another for in the New Year, topped $250k. Put my work on your book, get $250k.  See?

Travelling to Origins in Columbus, and GenCon in Indianapolis was amazing, and I couldn't have wished for better company.  I have wanted to go to the States for such a long time, having worked with clients over there for over a decade.  It was wonderful to meet colleagues and clients face to face at long last.  It was a shame that due to my job role I couldn't spend more time socialising, but them's the breaks!  GenCon was equal parts exhausting, mindblowing, work-affirming, and just plain good fun. See everyone next year in Indy!

So it's been a great year.  Loads more happened, I've worked with wonderful people who deserve a mention but I fear no one is reading at this point.  Francesco Nepitello, Stuart Boon, Gareth Ryder Hanrahan, Andy Peregrine, Walt Ciechanowski and so many more. A last huge thank you to my two partners in crime, and esteemed colleagues, Dom McDowall-Thomas and Paul Bourne.  Dom has given me a fantastic opportunity, and a kind of job security that has changed how I see so many things.  I hope I can work hard enough to repay that.   And what can I say about Paul Bourne, our lead graphic designer.  Simply the best.

So enough words. Here's some pictures what I done. I'm sure I'll feel compelled to write more words to accompany them...

Tales From Wilderland, over pencil sketch by John Howe:
Elrond for Lords of Middle-earth from Ares Games, over pencil sketch by John Howe:

Doctor Who Card Game:

Sartar Kingdom of Heroes and Sartar Companion covers for Moon Design:
Monster Island for Runequest 6/Design Mechanism:

Art from The One Ring Lake-town Sourcebook, which I got to solo illustrate:

These are brand new, and this is something of a new direction for interior art for Cubicle 7. I worked very closely with Paul Bourne on these, and it's really nice to see all the elements of a book - the writing, the art, the layout, the graphic design and marketing concerns all come together in these single spreads.  Expect more in this vein in 2013.

I was on the other side of the camera for this shot of Dom with Will Weaton and Felicia Day at Origins.  Achievement unlocked as I handed them both a copy of The One Ring:
The Ennies 2012:

There's always more stuff I'd like to show, but as ever much of what I do is covered by NDA agreement.  And this seems like a slim look at everything I did this year.  Ah well, it's not like you bought my autobiography.

I'm very much looking forward to 2013.  2012 was undoubtedly a tough but ultimately satisfying year.  It hasn't been easy work, and there have been innumerable challenges to face in terms of technical, professional and personal, and so many things to learn as I moved further behind the curtain of publishing and production.

Hilariously I am ending what has been probably the busiest work year of my life laid up in recovery from surgery, having developed appendicitis during Dragonmeet.  Me being me, I just carried on much to my surgeon's horror, and the horror of my colleagues and family. Ah well.  If that hadn't happened I wouldn't have had this chance to reflect on the year.  See you in 2013.  Probably December.

If you're interested in seeing more of my work my Deviant Art Gallery is probably the one I manage to update the most frequently. For shame!:

And you can keep up with things over on my FB liker page:

1 comment:

  1. Great to see you posting on the blog again, Jon. I hope that you get well soon!