24 Sep 2011

Pictures Have Stories: the Summoner

SOME PICTURES ASK you to delve into them, to explore all the bits of imagery included in the scene. The piece I call “The Summoner” is like that. I wanted to give the viewer so many little bits to think about that they would spend more that that oh-so-brief moment an artist usually gets from people looking at her work. I wanted to seduce you into the picture and give you things to discover if you spent more than a moment looking at it.

It isn’t quite the piece I wanted to do, but it is nevertheless a piece I’m proud to have done. More after the jump.

This piece of art was originally done for the Tunnels & Trolls Fifth Edition rules, and was (as I recall) one of the last pieces to be drawn. I’d done the lengthy rewriting and editing, and the intrepid Pat Mueller was transforming everything into a finished book. She and I laid out pages, and if there was a nice blank spot, I did something to fill that space referring to the topic being discussed there. Which makes the inside back cover art a little different — it wasn’t there to illustrate anything in particular.

I wanted it to give the feel of how delvers explored in those days. In its worst form, it was “room-monster-treasure.” In this case, I wanted to turbo-charge the players’ imaginations a little. Yes, here’s the room (complete with a grid on the floor, hearkening to the old school graph paper we used!) and a monster — although whether the magician or the demon being summoned was the more monstrous of the two is for the viewer to decide — but there is more.

A dagger dripping with the fresh blood of the slaughtered fairy, a newt and a rat and an imp quaffing the Light knows what from the goblet in its hand … a Merlin’s-workshop alligator up at the ceiling … a wall-spanning tapestry (what’s behind it?). A spider. A bit of bone like a stir-stick in the mortar on the table. Notes sticking out from a grimoire full of … what horrific spells? A lamp(?) with something arcane for its “fire” or is that a censer? Do you want to breathe what it is exuding, if it is the latter? And there, at the door: the first of the party of delvers about to enter this necromancer’s domain, while overhead, unseen, something caged waits and watches.

If there is not something in there to launch your imagination into more than a few possible scenarios, I can’t imagine what might.

I actually wanted to make the piece feel tight and close and claustrophobic. The room is big, apparently well-lit — but then, what dungeon rooms were not, back then? Either you were in pitch darkness or, once you lit a torch or a Will o’ the Wisp spell, all became clear as daylight. I would do a very different piece today, even if I used the same scene. (Which, as I write this, seems like it would be a helluva lot of fun to try!)

As I was doing the work, I knew it was going to turn out to be something pretty special.  I recall being short on sleep, working crazy hours, because we were on a deathmarch to get the book finished in time for … something. Probably the summer conventions, first Origins and then GenCon. I have a vivid recollection of being deep inside the paper — not literally, but mentally “in the flow.”

Then co-worker Mike Stackpole walked up behind me, startling me out of the paper, breaking me out of “the zone”… and I flinched. Hard. My arm hit the side of the drafting table where I was working, and the pen splashed ink across the work I’d spent hours on.

I was in tears. Mike was apologetic but it was up to me to decide whether to trash it and start over, or try to finish it anyway.

I couldn’t bear to start over.

In an effort to keep my originals pristine, I would typically haved just scraped off a misplaced bit of ink rather than use White-Out. For “The Summoner” piece, that wasn’t an option. Ink was everywhere. So I got out the White-Out, and finished the piece as you see it today.

For some art collectors, something like White-Out is a deal-killer. I hope it is not a deal-killer for everyone, though. This is a pretty special piece, even if it was damaged in the making. Like the City of Terrors cover I talked about last March, it comes from a time when few originals survived, although I did a prodigious amount of artwork. This piece doesn’t have as deep a story as the CoT cover, but I still look at it and remember every line, every overly-elaborate fold of cloth*, and the smell of the very old drafting table I worked on in the Buffalo offices.

I am offering this original on eBay right now, under the description “Tunnels & Trolls ORIGINAL ART “The Summoner” Danforth 5th edition T&T RPG rules” in the Category “ Toys & Hobbies > Games > Role Playing Games > Fantasy.” It is up with no reserve, minimum bid of $200 and a direct-sale price of $1000. Bidding will close the evening of October 4th. I hope it finds a happy home — that’s all I’ve ever wanted for any of my original art.

Yes, this piece does qualify as one of those where “…the men in her art show a hell of a lot more skin than the women.” I believe it was this Ed Heil who made that observation in a forum post I ran across last year, and I’ve been bemused to realize how often he is correct, ever since. While the Tumblog about “women fighters in reasonable armor” has been tearing up the net for weeks (and I highly approve!), I’ve been dressing my women up and my men down for … decades. Guess it’s all in what you enjoy looking at.

And here’s another example of an underdressed male (and another piece going to eBay soon!). Yes, it’s the framework into which a separate drawing of the cavern was emplaced for the black-and-gold box set of T&T. But that’s a story for another day!


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