Art Direction for Arora: Age of Desolation
May 18, 2022

Suzanne Helmigh Art Director

Do you ever wonder where all those beautiful artworks come from when browsing through TTRPG books? How does it work? How do artists get their art in there? Well, wonder no longer because our principal art director Suzanne Helmigh is here to shed some light on the mystery.

When game designers/writers are working on their draft of a project, the art director starts off with something called a ‘concept art push’. This is a period in which a team of artists put their heads together to illustrate the best visual ideas to bring a new world to live. They try to solve any kind of visual question that may arise like: “What does this new race look like?”, “What kind of houses do the people of this new realm live in?”, “What will be the coat of arms for this creepy new cult?”. The more of these questions are solved the better and smoother the next stages of the project will go!

Arora Concept Art

Artist: Isabel Gibney

For Arora we really wanted to capture that feeling for post-apocalyptic fantasy with an emphasis on survival, treacherous terrains and of course… Dragon mayhem!

Once writing is finalized, it’s handed off to a graphic designer who’s in charge of creating a graphical layout plan for the book. This will not yet look finished but will give the art director a better idea of where there will be space for art and what kind of space it will be. Some places call for an illustration, others for a character portrait, or a full body creature without a backdrop. So long as the artworks matches with what’s happening on the page and adheres to the visual rules that were set in the concept push, the graphic designer will later be able to piece it all together into a beautiful book.

Equipped with the writing, the concept art and the layout of the book, the art director will write art assignments which they will divide amongst their team of artists. Personally, I like to play to everyone’s strengths and make sure they are matched with topics they enjoy working with. So, before the art assignments are sent out, I (the art director) will email my recruited artists to see if they are on board for this project. I’ll ask them what they dream of illustrating and how many artworks they can do within the given deadlines. For Arora this means an art team of people who know how to enhance the essence of danger and the grittiness of a world where survival is an everyday worry.

Arora Survival Concept Art

Artist: Isabel Gibney

So, what about deadlines? Oh yes, just like every stage of the project the deadlines are essential to make everything work. When it comes to the artworks the standard deadlines are two weeks for sketches and another two weeks for the final artworks. No matter how many pieces the artist agreed to work on, they keep these dates in mind. Those four weeks combined are called an “artwave”. Oftentimes projects have more than one artwave. Grim Hollow: The Monster Grimoire was such a big project, it had six artwaves, divided over 2 art teams whose timelines were woven into one another. #maths #smartplanning

So where do these artists come from you may wonder? There are multiple routes on which you can venture off to become a TTRPG illustrator. Be really lucky and get scouted by an art director who discovers your gallery online. Power to you if you take charge of your own destiny and send your online portfolio to [email protected]. This inbox gets looked at regularly to enrich our database with fresh, skilled artists!

What kind of portfolio art is needed to amaze the art directors?

Ideally, we love to see portfolios that already look like they contain art for TTRPG’s. Showing a range of skills in both character, narrative, and environments. Sure, everyone has their own strengths! The best creature artists sometimes don’t have the same quality when painting human characters. Just like artists who do amazing characters may sometimes really be weaker at illustrating architecture.

Our favorite artists are either great at their one thing or are at least moderately good at all things combined, which itself results in stunning visuals. Compare your artworks with that from our publications and see if yours would match! This is a method you can apply as an artist to any kind of art job you wish to have.

I can’t wait to show you the full visual realm we’ve created for the first release of Arora: Age of Desolation.

Arora DnD Cold Survival

Artist: Isabel Gibney


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Grim Hollow: The Monster Grimoire offers over 400 new monsters, tailor-made for a dark fantasy campaign.

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