D&D 5E (+) What Do YOU Want In D&D Art?

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Pretty simple. It's a plus thread about art! Don't trash other people's preferred art, don't argue about it, just talk about what you like and what aesthetic DND would have if you were the art director.

For me, I would definitely have a few different aesthetics for different parts of the core books and different books, but in general I'd use that big wotc budget to pay for more hand-painted stuff, make room for sketches and other marginalia, and I'd definitely use iconic characters in basically every product. I'd likely only hire one or two big names, though, and it would otherwise be artists that haven't gotten a break yet whose work feels good for what we're working on.

For some examples:

Big name pull would, if I was very fortunate, would be Jon Hodgson (The One Ring by cuble7, others), for stuff like this:

alleyway scene.jpg

and this
forest giant.jpg


To give the wilderness a feel of mysterious, often creepy, dangerous, beauty, especially in the context of peoples like the Forest Gnomes and Wood Elves.

And then art for a scene in a major city might be more like this
city.jpg

and this!
angel city.jpg



Another major note, each iconic character would have an artist who is "in charge" of that character's art, with the overarching overview of the art direction.
 

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vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
Jon Hodgson should do all illustrations for anything requiring illustration in life!

But more seriously, I wish WotC would steal the art department of Free League, their art are always super consistent and thematic, compared to the D&D that is more often going in all the directions, while being well made.
 

Those are pretty much all good pieces, though my tastes in art are somewhat eclectic. It's hard to pin down specific artists or styles.

Overall though, the stuff I like tends to be/have:

  • Generally high-contrast: bright and fairly saturated colors standing out starkly
  • Fantastical vistas. Floating islands, bright-white shining cities, forests with fantastical creatures flying about, ancient ruins suspended in air or hanging over dangerous locales, etc.
  • High-action, but not too busy. Clear action lines and a sense of motion or scale or depth.
  • When not action-focused, showing mundane joys and life's little moments, whether fun or frustrating.
  • Reasonably well-detailed, but not obsessive. I like enough detail to soak up but, again, not so much that it becomes busy.
  • Diverse color palettes. I'm so completely done with the "real is brown" trope.
  • Many different races and identities. I like fantastical races and nontraditional roles, and feel recognized when they show up.

It's cool if you can do stuff like having some continuity across different books, e.g. "iconic" characters as others have mentioned above. Not strictly necessary, but neat if you can work it in without undue effort.
 

It's profoundly impractical, but from a purely results-based perspective I'd love to see a bit of a return to the 2e practice of having a single artist do the lion's share of art for a given setting. So hire Elmore to do ALL the Dragonlance art, or Brom to do ALL the Dark Sun art etc. (For setting books at least - things like core books and more general resources and monster books etc are fine with a mixed aesthetic)

I just think for setting books, having a single artist really stamp their distinct style on the setting adds to the immersion and makes the setting feel more unique and distinct. The raw quality of most modern in-book art is streets ahead of what it used to be, but each book is kind of a visual stew of different styles. For settings, i think a unified artistic vision really adds to things.

Unfortunately, it's a massive workload to put on the shoulders of one artist, especially these days when books are much thicker and more art-heavy and full colour than they used to be. TSR burned out Brom by overworking him on the Dark Sun line, you don't want to do that again. And not being an artist I don't know how possible it would be to hire Artist Z and say 'hey, in this book we're using art that emulates Elmore's style, can you do a piece like that'?

Edit: I'm not saying just to hire back the veteran 2e artists to do everything. I'm saying it'd be nice to appoint a lead artist whose work and style will define the look of the setting and will predominately populate the book.
 
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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Those are pretty much all good pieces, though my tastes in art are somewhat eclectic. It's hard to pin down specific artists or styles.

Overall though, the stuff I like tends to be/have:

  • Generally high-contrast: bright and fairly saturated colors standing out starkly
  • Fantastical vistas. Floating islands, bright-white shining cities, forests with fantastical creatures flying about, ancient ruins suspended in air or hanging over dangerous locales, etc.
  • High-action, but not too busy. Clear action lines and a sense of motion or scale or depth.
  • When not action-focused, showing mundane joys and life's little moments, whether fun or frustrating.
  • Reasonably well-detailed, but not obsessive. I like enough detail to soak up but, again, not so much that it becomes busy.
  • Diverse color palettes. I'm so completely done with the "real is brown" trope.
  • Many different races and identities. I like fantastical races and nontraditional roles, and feel recognized when they show up.
Yeah, I love this. I would love to see stuff with epic fantastical vistas and regular folks who live in those fantastical places, like Netherdeep does with the orc chef in front of the horizonback turtle.

But yeah, all of that. 100%
It's cool if you can do stuff like having some continuity across different books, e.g. "iconic" characters as others have mentioned above. Not strictly necessary, but neat if you can work it in without undue effort.
Yeah absolutely. One thing they did really well in 4e was that dwarves had clear material culture that was distinct from others and consistent across books, for instance.

Combine stuff like that with iconic characters and places and recurring types of little vignette scenes, like "shwarma after the battle" type scenes where beat up and tired iconics are eating steaming food wrapped in some sort of dark green leafy thing with a kobold chef cleaning up in the background, or having drinks at a coffee house with little sand pits in the center of each table where a genasi server can prepare fresh coffee in the heated sand and at another table a grill is set over the center and strips of meat and veg are being cooked like Korean Barbeque.

Show the kinds of cultural elements that help people really dig their fingers into the where and who and how of their character's backgrounds and the places they visit.
Edit: I'm not saying just to hire back the veteran 2e artists to do everything. I'm saying it'd be nice to appoint a lead artist whose work and style will define the look of the setting and will predominately populate the book.
I think a good compromise here would be to do what movie studios have done to very good effect in (sometimes otherwise truly terrible overall) movies, and hire an artist who "gets it" to both make art for the setting and act as the lead artist for the book, acting much like the lead designer on a project, but specifically overseeing the art, and help them build a team of artists to work with primarily.

Collaberation between disparate visions with an overarching theme and someone who can set boundaries and requirements for the team to work within is one of the best models for making excellent art that humanity has come up with. IMO, often much better at it than encouraging solitude and unfettered indulgence of one's individual vision, but that's a whole thread of arguments.
 




OB1

Jedi Master
What I want most from published D&D art is variety. I've been inspired by so many different artists and styles through the years, picking up an old or new book and flipping through pages when I've got DM writer's block. For example @doctorbadwolf your example above of the angel statue by the waterfall just clicked something for me in the latest campaign I'm working on that has my mind racing to fill in details.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
What I want in D&D art I don't think is often shared opionion: I want less of it. What they have is good to fantastic, but I don't need full page illustrations all over the place. When I've seen a piece of art a couple of times it has little additional value, while as a reference the contents of the book retain value. So for me we need enough art to give a feel, but we are well past that point and into high-expense page-stuffing with limited value to me.

So I'd like to cut it down to maybe half or a third of what they have. Have a gorgeous cover. Want every race and class to have a a main and a few minor images? I'm with you. Magic items and gear? To a point, or maybe B&W sketches. But we pass how much I want and I enjoy it once or twice and then it is just filler pages for me. I'm not even saying this to decrease the cost of the book - pay the creatives more.
 

I said this in the other thread, but the Young Adventurer's Guides have the same or similar art but without the various backsplashes, and it looks much better IMO

MTOF:

corpseF.jpg


vs YA Guides



beasts-behemoths-pg-59.jpg
bnb-weretiger.jpg
 

Dausuul

Legend
What I would like:

Coherent style within books. Each book should have a definite style, consistent across all of its art. It doesn't all have to be by the same artist, but it should at least look as if the artists went to the same school.

If two books are closely connected--typically by setting, such as Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft and Curse of Strahd--they should have the same or similar styles. However, Wizards doesn't do 2E-style product lines any more, so for the most part each book will stand on its own.

Distinct styles between books. You should be able to look at any given art piece and say "That must have come from Tasha's Cauldron of Everything," just by the artistic style alone. Every time you pick up a new D&D book, it should be a moment of discovery to see what they did with the art*. To hell with brand identity; the identity of the D&D brand is bold variety. (Yeah, I realize that's a tough pitch to the marketing department.)

The Core Style. So if every book has its own style, what should the core three be like? I was going to suggest a melange of different artists and styles, but on reflection, I don't think that would work. It would just look like a mess.

Instead, what I would want (and this is just my own personal preference) would be "realism-plus." Everything should look close to the real world, but just a bit more dramatic and theatrical. Armor is well designed and functional, but with more baroque and decorative features than you'd expect on a real battlefield. Swords are properly sized, but also a bit decorative, and they gleam as if they were just polished. People are heroically but reasonably proportioned, and they are either unusually clean (for adventurers slogging through a dungeon) or fantastically begrimed and bloodied.

Style-wise, I'd want intricate detail and crisp edges with minimal blur. Subdued and diffuse lighting for the most part, not a lot of intense point sources. Inline art should have no background at all. For full-page art, the background should also be highly detailed, and it should have that same "realistic-plus" look. The landscape should look like something you could imagine seeing in the real world--but if you did see it, you'd stop and stare in awe before clawing for your phone to snap a picture.

Basically, I want Larry Elmore back, minus the chainmail bikinis and the '80s hair. Well, maybe just a little '80s hair. :)

*Okay, it won't really be a moment of discovery, since you've undoubtedly seen the cover and the cover should be an exemplar of the style. But if you hadn't been keeping up on the latest product and someone gave you a wrapped copy of the book as a present or something, it would be a discovery.
 


Scribe

Hero
I like books to be consistent. I like the art quality to be consistent throughout the book, same with the tone, or theme. I love art that creates the backdrop, landscapes, for example by artist Rob Alexander, or art seen in (even the cover) of Rime of the Frost Maiden.

Something which evokes a feeling of both real, and fantastical. Not just Mountains, but MOUNTAINS. The most misty of forests, where you can smell the moss, and the scent of the rain never really disappears.

I want the Monsters to be Monstrous. I want the Adventurers to look like you would if you lived a life of adventuring in the wilds of the world between villages. A bit greasy, a bit rough around the edges, and a bit wild.

I saw a review for the latest batman. "Its dirty looking, when contrasted to the clean of modern cinema." Get some grit in there, when it comes to the characters get some dirt on those hands.

One of my favourite characters of any D&D media, is Korgan Bloodaxe, from Baldur's Gate 2. No, he's not a good guy, but he will be a faithful companion, and he will banter with most of your party regardless of composition.

There's another thread where there was discussion about XP for Gold, so you go in stealth, get the loot and go, vs XP for Killing, and I want the art TO be that kick in the door type of action.

I dont think what I really want, is ever actually going to be in the cards again.

1. Consistent Art Direction/Style in a book.
2. 'Lead' Artist setting the style in a book.
3. Epic yet REAL looking landscapes.
4. Action with a bit of that 90's look, if not full on 'Wayne Reynolds/Dark Age of Comics', but if the choice is Wayne, vs 'Current 5e' I pick Wayne every day.

I'm not looking for downtime shots. I'm not interested in a quiet night around the campfire. Kick in the door.
 

South by Southwest

Incorrigible Daydreamer
OB1 said it for me: variety. Show me art that I already enjoy, sure, but also show me art that I haven't yet learned to enjoy (but can). It's almost true by definition that I can't know what the next artistic style I'm going to fall in love with is: I haven't fallen in love with it yet.
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
What I want is evocative art.

I find most art that's published in the books of big players to be certainly adequate and technically impressive, but to me it has no soul. It almost all looks the same, different artists all brought under a very inoffensive and bland art direction. I want different books with different mediums, different styles, different layouts. I want some life in these big books, I want to read the book and just not be able to stop thinking about the mood it puts me in.

However, I think what I'm looking for is a bit incompatible with D&D. It has willingly moved toward an art direction that's easy to digest because it wants the default art for the default game of TTRPG. It wants to be the default option. Something that doesn't challenge you too much and is just easy to pick off the shelf and be like "I've seen this a dozen times, this is comfortable".

Examples of games with incredible art direction and moods for me:
  • Symbaroum, by Free League.
  • Vaesen by Free League.
  • Mork Borg, no interest in playing it, but oh boy.
  • Orbital Blues by MuppetSoul
  • The art of Tim Bradstreet in older editions of Vampire the Masquerade.
A strong art direction can carry a set of pieces that's less technically impressive.
 
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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle


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