Michelle Smallwood is an artist doing work for a variety of role-playing games. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for me:
Question. Your work is very distinctive and precise, telling a story without extraneous lines or detail. Can you talk a little about your training and process?
Answer. First off, thank you for inviting me to participate on your blog! For as long as I can remember I have been interested in drawing and took many art courses through out school and up to the college level. I wasn’t very confident in my skills and actually started in pre-vet courses, but after taking art as an elective I quickly shifted directions. As far as process, it can vary. Unlike a lot of people I see I have a hard time sketching over and over again so I tend to observe and think. I will find photo resources, watch movies or shows, or simply look outside. After that gives me an idea, I can finally start sketching without so much frustration. Usually I end up with a few attempts before it solidify on the page.
Q. I'm intrigued by the Class Alphabet you have up on your website. Can you tell us a little about it? I see it is a work in progress.
A. I am glad you saw those! I had so much fun with them and they were actually started for a personal tabletop role-playing game project called The Matter of Elbe. They were inspired by illuminated manuscripts and were intended to be the lead into the description of the character classes for it. As the game evolved some were nixed or replaced with new class ideas. Someday I will get back to them and finish it out, I planned on eventually making them into a full rpg alphabet. Some of the letters are bit difficult to find meanings for that relate.
Q. For folks that may be interested in talking to you about commissioning work, can you explain your process? How do you like to work, what mediums or subjects do you find most enjoyable, or anything else you think may be helpful.
A. The process for commissioning is pretty simple, I prefer people check out my portfolio and make sure my style fits what they want and just toss me a message on twitter or email. I like to be very flexible with price and offer varying degrees of complexity. My favorite way is to give a menu and let you check off the boxes of what you want, line art, color, portrait, and etc. I love to work in lots of mediums including digital (preferred right now), colored pencil, graphite, ink, and watercolor being my favorites. Acrylic and oil painting has taken a backseat since I have a 5 year old and prefer to keep my supplies on the safe side. For subjects, I am a fantasy fanatic and feel most comfortable with subjects in that realm of imagination and love creating characters be it humanoid or animal. Just don’t put too much trust in my ability to do anything with machines with lots of perfectly straight lines or has to make logical sense! I love animal/pet drawings too; real or imagined.
Q. Can you talk a bit about any upcoming projects you're involved with? I see you're working on a couple of games that have a specific setting. Are you doing writing for this as well as art? Are there some links or products of yours you would like to plug?
A. Lately, if I am not working a project with you its been personal projects, all of which I work on with my husband, @StudiosSphere on twitter. He is the writer for it all but I do help with ideas! We have spent the last 10 years developing our world, The Matter of Elbe. It has grown into something we are very proud of. As a means for introducing our design and artistic perspectives, we’ve released some short, proc-gen adventures. Additionally, our first Zine-length product is ‘A State of Being,’ which is a replacement for standard alignment systems from any game. After that, we released ‘Kinopea’, an urban survival adventure game, using a very light version of our system. This product comes with rules for generating neighborhoods within the city, horse racing rules and gambling odds, political factions, and the like for exploring it.
We’re currently working on ‘Høglund’, a more advance version of our rule-set, that is set in a Norse-inspired region of our world. Unlike ‘Kinopea’, this is a place of great heroes, deeds, and exploits that are told within epic quarrels and boasts at the local mead halls. An example would be a character taking up the boast to state they would be ‘the one to recover the sword of Beorn the Frenized.’ Another project we have is a system agnostic resource book of magical items. I have most of the artwork done for it but it still needs stats and descriptions written. After this we’re looking to wrap up design on the full version of our game!
All of our products that are complete are up on itch.io