Today we interview Sorcery: Contested Realm Artist, Brian Smith.
Brian is a self-taught artist, who draws inspirations from several artists noted in the interview, and his father and brother who are also talented artists.
Brian was a pleasure to speak with for this interview. He was very gracious with his time and it was fascinating learning about his background and his interests. It was interesting to hear that Brian has no gaming history whatsoever, and there are some hilarious anecdotes that come across within the interview pertaining to that fact, and his engagements with Erik regarding art concepts and game mechanics.
Brian's approach is fairly unconventional in that it he often skips right past the sketch/concept phase and dives right into the painting. This resulted in several 're-do' requests when they didn't precisely align with Erik's vision for the game piece. Although frustrating at times, Brian respected Erik's dedication and focus on his artistic vision for the game; as we all do with the incredible results that we have all come to love!
In the end, Brian contributed many incredible illustrations that will really stand out in the game and delight Sorcery gamers and collectors.
Art Fan Pro Tip: This is an 'immersive' interview. Take the time to click the links to discover more information about references throughout the piece!
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: For those who are unfamiliar with your work, tell us a bit about your background. Where you’re from, how you got into art and any formal education you have in it, and what projects you have worked on before Sorcery.
Brian Smith: I I’m from Los Angeles, CA and I’ve been here my whole life. I’m self-taught, but my dad and brother were both good artists, so I learned a lot from them. I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and back then there was the art you saw in books, but there was also
great art in movie posters, album covers, book covers, magazines, arcade games, video game boxes, skateboard decks, etc. So I learned a lot from looking at stuff like that.
As for projects, I’ve done some album covers for a metal band called Horrendous. The rest of the time I’ve just been focusing on my own work. That’s given me a chance to make a lot of paintings, which is what I’ve wanted to do more than anything.
[Brian shared separately that he has been working as an artist for 15 years, largely creating his own work, in his own vision, and finding enough buyer interest through Instagram and Facebook to continue to do this as his full-time career. So working commissions is fairly unfamiliar to him, and taking on this work for Sorcery was quite a different experience from his normal work process...as you will hear throughout the interview]
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: How would you characterize your artistic style, and who were some of your major influences?
Brian Smith: It’s kind of surreal…a little sci-fi, maybe. As a kid I remember two art books, …. one of Hundertwasser’s work, and “Spacecraft 2000 to 2100 AD”. I think what I do is maybe a kind of mixture of artwork like that. In the late ‘80s, HR Geiger books started coming out and those got me into wanting to make art. There are some great cosmic abstract paintings by Roberto Matta and Oscar Dominquez, that were intriguing to me.
Oscar Dominguez Painting
I came across Beksinski’s work at some point and was really blown away by that. Those are all pretty strong influences.
Zdzislaw Bedsinksi - Untitled Paintings
Charlie Immer - "Fruity Horse", "Keen Guillotine"
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: You mentioned you have never been into any TCGs/CCGs before - as a player or for art commissions. How were you approached for Sorcery and what made you accept the commission work?
Brian Smith: Yeah this is all new to me. I knew that card games existed, but up until about a week ago I was kind of clueless about the level of interest in them. I’ve been living in caves.
Erik contacted me about doing a single painting and it just grew from there. I could tell that he was serious, so that made it easy for me to want to be a part of the project. I have a tough time with commissions and I don’t do ‘em very often, but he had some good ideas that were simple but effective. I would try to imagine what he wanted, but I don’t picture things clearly in my mind the way some people can. I just thought that once I got started, it would evolve and be kind of cool to see what would happen.
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: Grosse Poltergeist is one of my favorite cards you have done. The juxtaposition of the skull against the nice vibrant background is very striking. What art direction did Erik give you for this one and how did you come up with the concept?
Brian Smith: Yes, the Poltergeist is completely ruining a nice, sunny day.
Erik wanted a swarm of flying objects, like swords, armor pieces and tools, and he said that there could be a ghostly figure or face among the objects. For some reason I paint a lot of screaming faces, but they usually look like they’re struggling, and not out to cause pain. So this was something different for me. I didn’t want the Poltergeist to appear angry, he’s just doing his thing…which makes him even worse. And it just seemed natural to have the objects raining out of his mouth and eyes.
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: Pufferfish is another personal favorite that feels both beautiful and haunting. Can you share some insights into your concept for this piece?
Brian Smith: Thanks. Yeah, Erik wanted a “ball of spikes sea creature”. I had a technique for creating that spike-y texture because I’d done it once before. So I knew that would be the focal point, and to start there. Then, to become a fish, it just needed some fins and a face. I didn’t want it to have eyes, ….. there’s just something unsettling or unforgiving about that. It also looks like its coming out of a cave….like an eel. That was accidental, but that was the effect and it worked, so I left it alone.
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: I have to ask about Pudge Butcher since Erik talks about it in many interviews as having a fun game mechanic that creates great game experiences. What influenced the design concept for this one?
Brian Smith: That was a fun one. I never paint things like that…they’re usually boney figures with lots of detail and texture. I’m sure I must’ve imagined a sort of Jabba the Hut - slob, but more like a real person. And with the same kind of immobile body ….which is why he needs that big hook to reach things. He’s another one with no eyes, or ears…just a mouth....so he can’t be reasoned with. Under the card’s text box, there are some hacked up figures. That was a fun way to fill that space.
[There is a lot of symbolism and story-telling within this particular illustration, which is typical of many Sorcery artworks and card design. The rarity text line reads "An Exceptional Monster of sloth and greed". Brian's 'slob'-like illustration aptly characterizes the 'sloth' intent. The hook mirrors the game mechanic that the card performs in play, as it hooks and drags the closest minion. The butcher "can't be reasoned with" (in Brian's words), which also mirrors the gameplay mechanic in which the Pudge Butcher sometimes drags along more than the player might intend; an example Erik Oloffson has cited as a flavorful game play effect in several interviews he has done.]
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: Devil’s Eggs is another great illustration. Given what we know about Erik’s approach to provide very high level artistic direction, it seems that this card title could have been interpreted in many different ways. Tells us the story of your vision for this one.
Brian Smith: Yeah, looking back now I guess I could’ve painted something coming out of the egg. At the time I thought it would be kind of cool to make it seem like the egg itself had some bad energy around it. Like an aura, or something. So there are are those tortured looking souls hovering over it. It’s also out in space…like a star, and not in the underworld. So it has cosmic powers, which make it even more of a problem.
[The image on the left is the final version of the Devil's Egg.
The image on the right was the first painting Brian had done; prior to Erik asking him to re-work it into the adjusted concept that became the final version. Although unconfirmed, it is my theory that this was likely done to ensure more focus on the egg as the central focal point of the composition. This is more consistent with other Sorcery artwork, in that you have a close correlation between the card title, artwork, and game mechanic.
In any case, both paintings are fantastic!]
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: The Mega Amoeba card was announced to be included as a mini token that all backers will receive from the Kickstarter campaign. So this will be a popular one that is prominently featured in the game. Can you provide some insight on what Erik asked for and how you came up with the concept?
Brian Smith: He wanted a giant, slimy amoeba. I thought it was pretty creative to flip things, and have a microscopic organism as a giant killing force. He had a good idea about how to suggest its size, which was by showing that there were skeletons within the amoeba that had been consumed by it. I couldn’t paint skeleton bones that small, so there are people, instead…trapped, and swimming around in their living, suffering state.
One more thing…sometimes I wasn’t sure exactly what Erik meant when describing what he wanted. For this one he said that the Amoeba “exists on all squares”. I guess that’s a gaming term or phrase, but at the time I just thought that was his was of saying that it was “really big”. Haha
[Brian's backstory here is both funny and ironic. With the $2.5M Kickstarter stretch goal, campaign backers will receive mini-token cards that are 1/4 the size of a normal card. So the Amoeba, while envisioned to be big and illustrated to be big, will also have a tiny mini-token representation as well. These are the fun and flavorful insights that we get from exploring the backstories behind the art!]
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: Are there any other pieces that you are particularly happy with or have an interesting backstory that you’d like to share?
Brian Smith: Yes…I might be wrong about some of these names, but Exile, the Purge Juggernaut, Immolation, Pufferfish, Genocide, ….there’s a “Golem” portrait that I like.
Exile, Purge Juggernaut, Immolation, Pufferfish, Genocide, Golem
Genocide & Golem Paintings
One that stands out for me would be the Bane Spider. I wanted to show that
the spider was awful enough to hurt something that was already dead.
So the skeletal figure is
screaming while the spider-human is tearing his mouth open. He looks like a real pain in the neck.
The backstory to this one is that it was a do-over painting, ….there was an original version that didn’t work for Erik. That happened more than once and it was pretty frustrating. I thought he must be crazy, but he knew what he wanted, so I have tons of respect for his willingness to reject work that didn’t fit his vision. And I’m sure some of the other artists got the same treatment. Hahaha
Original version of Bane Spider
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: What do you think about your first TCG experience? Can we look forward to more work from you in the future?
Brian Smith: So far so good. I thought I would do these paintings and then never really know what became of them. So my eyes popped out of my head when I saw what was happening with the Kickstarter. Then I started learning about TCGs and saw that in addition to playing the game, a lot of people collect the cards and actually care about the art. So that was a nice surprise.
I hope there will be more in the future, and from the look of things, there probably will be.
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: Do you ever do any appearances and do you have any on the schedule? How else can fans support you if they want to purchase paintings, artist proofs, prints, etc.?
Brian Smith: I haven't done any shows, and nothing’s planned, but I’ll keep an eye out and maybe do something at some point. I’m on Facebook and Instagram, so if anyone’s interested in my work, just reach out and message me. I have lots of original paintings and make prints once in a while, so if there’s an interest in that kind of thing, I’m sure I can make it happen.
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like to share with fans?
Brian Smith: I know how hard it is to make even ONE single painting, so I’m shocked and amazed that 400 original paintings were created for this project. I never would’ve thought that was possible, and that anyone would be crazy enough to even attempt it. So hats off to Erik for pulling this off. And the other artists, too. The work that I’ve seen so far is very cool, so I look forward to seeing a lot more of it. Thanks - Brian
Bonus Images Shared by Brian!...
"Boil" Process Paintings (left) and final version (far right)
"Magic Muzzle" Initial, Process (Re-do), and final version (far right)
"Atlas" Process (left) and final version (right) after Erik's request to add figures holding the planets. Brian and I laughed about my initial interpretation that these were "Strong Man" Atlas balls being carried by monsters (haha!)
Mike Servati @ Collector Arthouse and Collector Arthouse on Facebook, signing off...