Q&A with Adreinne Ezell
This is an archive of the live Q&A with Adrienne Ezell hosted on the Tabletop Mentorship Program Discord channel after the re-release of Adrienne's talk, "What Your Artist Should Do For You & You For Your Artist." It has been edited for clarity.
Mike Belsole: Hey everyone! We've got Adrienne Ezell here for about an hour to answer your questions. There's no queue or anything so feel free to ask away. To get the ball rolling, Adrienne, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
Adrienne Ezell: Hello! I am an creative director by day. That means I handle all the things that make a product, campaign, or game a cohesive thing. That covers everything from color and font choices to verbiage used to hiring illustrators and designers to produce finished printed good and digital assets. Thank you so much for having me!
Mike Belsole: Being a creative director sounds like a pretty big hat to wear! How many projects do you manage at the same time?
Adrienne Ezell: Generally around 3 but I've had 6 going at once. It's all about organization. Mind you, that doesn't count my own projects. I put 'paying gigs' ahead of my own games.
Mike Belsole: Where do you find artists and graphic designers for a project? Is it all about networking?
Adrienne Ezell: Networking is a huge part, yes. Starting from scratch, I use sites like Facebook and scour the art and design groups, as well as Deviant Art, and ArtStation as I mentioned in the presentation. I've also hired an artist I found in Jackson Square in New Orleans that had his work on display for sale on a weekend.
Artist alley at conventions is a great place to scout when conventions are a thing again.
My video highlighted when you're ready for art. That's still subjective sometimes. Does anyone have nuanced questions about 'when' ?
Mike Belsole: At what stage should a designer think about art, if at all? Should they come into a pitch with art ideas, or just leave all of that up to a publisher?
Adrienne Ezell: For pitching to a publisher the only art assets needed are those integral to the game play.
Bert Hardeman: How much say has the designer in the artistic direction?
Adrienne Ezell: Very little generally. There are of course exceptions. For instance if a game is based on characters created in the designers world, ie. if there is an IP property that spawned the game be it Scooby Doo or an IP the designer created.
Some publishers are open to discussing art direction, others are closed to input. If it matters to you, that's a discussion for contract negotiation. On the card game I was fortunate to have signed, I asked the publisher to put a female character on the box and they did.
Hankins Feichter: how do you communicate general expectations to artists, and how much do you let them define the aesthetic presentation alone? do you use mood boards? thanks so much for coming through to share your wisdom!
Adrienne Ezell: I create an art direction document. Even though my illustrator won't be doing any typesetting for a project, having the knowledge of what we are going with will inform the illustration.
But, if I'm going with an art deco look, you can expect to see characters like those in the movie Casablanca and the Great Gatsby rather than Addams Family for instance.
That art direction document covers how I want the end user to FEEL when they interact with what we're making. So, it covers mood, theme, colors, level of seriousness
General expectations like delivery dates, pay, number of changes we agree on before work ever starts and we have in writing.
Hankins Feichter: very sensible! thank you :)
Adrienne Ezell: Example of illustration direction. This is for an IP game I worked on for The Op. I bet you can guess what IP.
Hankins Feichter: love this!
Jason Brisson: How did you learn the language used for effectively communicating art direction? And how do you recommend people starting out learn it?
Adrienne Ezell: I have years of experience. The best way to learn is to educate yourself online. What types of terms are you maybe hearing for the first time or do you have questions about?
Bleed is a very important term. I've seen some amazing work that was 'hand' painted in photoshop, but it didn't have the bleed we needed for the print files so we had to slap it in a frame and lose some of the amazing work because we couldn't risk printing a substandard product.
I cover some FAQs in my blog posts here: http://dreadfulgames.com/category/publishing/printing/
Jason Brisson: I'm finding it hard to describe stylistic distinctions. I end up defaulting to naming artists who's work best exemplifies what I'm shooting for, but it's tough to be exact about my issue, since I lack the language to describe it.
Is there a site that categorizes various styles of art? Or a book you recommend on the topic?
Adrienne Ezell: Find things you like on ArtStation and Deviant art and then look at the tags on them. Then, search the tags in your browser to make sure that's the aesthetic you are going for. I include images in my requests for availability from artists. "I need approximately X illustrations done in this style, by this date, are you available? If so, I'd like to negotiate terms with you and get started."
This is a good rundown of some digital art styles: https://www.architecturelab.net/types-of-digital-art/
Dive into the world of digital art with these 15 techniques that will help you learn to create your very own masterpieces!
Mike Belsole: In the video you mention contract standards with regards to artists. What are some of those standards that artists will expect?
Adrienne Ezell: Kill fee. If your project gets cancelled for ANY reason, what will the artist be compensated for work-to-date completed. Deadlines. Royalties from games sold. Payment terms.
Mike Belsole: As far as managing a project is concerned (and I'm sure it's different for different games) what should you budget the most time and/or money for, generally speaking?
Adrienne Ezell: Front-end organization. This, by far, is the biggest time sink and time saver. You need a calendar and need to stick to it, even if your overall delivery date changes (like because of a global pandemic for instance). It will be your 'bible' for getting your project done. Fill it in religiously and put even tiny tasks on it.
How small? Check in with Artist X. Call X about topic. Renew PO box for company. File LLC report with State Department. Weigh white box prototype and determine box size to order to ship. Calculate shipping. Each of these would be a different entry in your calendar.
For artists specifically, record all agreed upon dates for deliverable. Don't check in too often before the week of the deadline. And always be cognizant of the artist waiting on you and extend the deadline accordingly. Illustrations are the 2nd largest money investment after the Art Direction. Graphic design usually falls 3rd after Illustration. That said, if you have a game like "Drop It" or "The Search for Planet X", your graphic design will exceed your illustration outlays.
Remember that illustration immerses a player in the game, but graphic design is how players will interact with the game and play it. They are both important, but graphic design is arguably more important than the illustrations.
So why the $ disparity? An illustrator may charge $750 on the low end to illustrate the cover of a box. The graphic designer may charge $150 to put the title, designer name, play icons, legal stuff, and back of box verbiage on the box.
(These are low end, round numbers for ease of illustrating the point and not necessarily price points one should anticipate paying an artist)
Mike Belsole: That's really fascinating - thank you.
Adrienne Ezell: That about wraps us up. Any last minute questions?
Mike Belsole: Thank you so much for contributing your time and knowledge! That is such valuable experience and I'm so glad you shared it with us.
Kirsten Lunde: I've arrived late but just read through everything. Thank you so much for all of this Adrienne! It's so tremendously helpful!
Adrienne Ezell: You are very welcome! Thank you again for having me. Have a great weekend!
Jason Brisson: You too!
Hankins Feichter: thanks so much for answering these questions, Adrienne! :)