Tuesday, 18 August 2009


My favourite fantasy artists, I would say, are Tony Diterlizzi, Larry Elmore, John Blanche and John Howe. I think that what these illustrators have in common is a thorough grasp of understatedness; even in their grandest moments none of them ever stray into the evil empire of Over The Top. (Except when Elmore gets carried away with the female chest area, and frankly if you have a problem with him doing that I have a problem with you.)

This is the major turn off for me of post-TSR D&D art, I have decided. The loss of the understated.

My current desktop picture is this John Howe masterwork. You don't get more understated than this picture, but I defy anyone to look at it and not want to step inside that room, and then out that door and into the glorious world beyond. The fact that this effect is achieved without the presence of a single person is testament to the skill in composition. Shine on John Howe, you crazy Silmarillion-esque diamond.


  1. Interesting. I think you have a point about understated and you certainly do about WotC era art.

    My personal favorite fantasy artists are all of that strand that ran from the Pre-Raphaelites to Art Nouveau. I consider much of the book illustration of the early 20th century to be the pinnacle of fantasy art.

    I think much, but not all, of the art of that period shares the understated element you describe. None of it, at least to my knowledge, has the combination of baroque and grotesque that characterizes the dungeon punk error.

  2. I wonder if this work would have the same draw if it didn’t play on cues that connect it in our minds to the story.

    Does it matter? Is that a bug or a feature?

    I tend to be drawn towards understatement in fantasy. Not just in art but generally. I like fantasy worlds that feel closer to real life than to those that are more over-the-top.

    That said, I can really appreciate the over-the-top style on occasion. Especially if it is well done.

  3. Herb: "Dungeon punk error" or "dungeon punk era"? Or is it the same thing? ;)

    Robert Fisher: Oh yeah, the Howe image is doubly powerful because we all know whose house that is. But I still think it would draw you in even if you'd never heard of the Hobbit.

  4. He also cleverly avoided having to draw the hinge mechanism on that door ;)

  5. The mark of a great artist. ;)

  6. I've come to love John Howe's work too. But I think my favorite artist from back in the day is Dave Trampier. He had a solid style with heavy lines in black and white, or lush colors, powerful composition, and a good understanding of his material. It was a little cartoonish - but not so much as Sutherland - and it actually fit well with the non-realism expected from the D&D game system itself. Yet I love how he made things with verisimilitude - the dwarf with a sword and lantern, the scruffy human with clothes, metal cap, and spear. These were the way I envisioned MY characters! Not as heroic super-men, but as regular people who achieve exceptional things.

    I think that's why I don't like the art of 3E-4E. I want to play a character with humanity, who I can think like. I don't want to play an eight foot tall absolute badass Lava Born Insectoid Space Monk with serrated obsidian tentacles and six thousand eyes. I want to play a person as a character.

    Trampier, and to some extent Elmore, Howe, and Foglio, and to a far lesser extent Sutherland, draw something that sparks my imagination. I get none of that from the latest artistic trend in D&D.