3DTotal:Could you begin by telling us a little about your background and the path you have trodden to get where you are now? Daarken: Sure, my name is Daarken and I grew up in a sleepy little Texas town where tumbleweeds and horses were aplenty. After attending the University of Texas at Austin for a year for computer programming, I finally realized I didn't want to write code for the rest of my life. As a child I had always enjoyed carefully creating master copies of various comic book covers in pen and ink. The titles I drifted towards were of characters that had a mask of some sort: Spawn, Spider-man, TheDarkness, and anything else that I could get my hands on. The reason for this was because I couldn't draw faces…at all. Instead of facing the problem head-on [Laughs], I just avoided them. It took several years before I was able to draw a decent face.
Anyway, after I decided to become an artist I moved to San Francisco to attend the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. In 2004 I graduated Cum Laude with a BFA in traditional illustration.
Three months later I received two phone calls: one from Fantasy Flight Games and one from Wizards
of the Coast. I have no idea how either of them found out about me; I probably should have asked. I will never forget my conversation with Wizards of the Coast. This is basically how it went:
WOTC: Would you be interested in doing some work for us?
WOTC: You don't even know what the project is yet. Don't you need to know more about it before you agree?
Yeah, I was a little green back then [Laughs].Since then I have been freelancing non-stop. In 2007 I received an email from Mythic Entertainment wanting me to work on the game Warhammer Online:
Age of Reckoning. A few weeks later I flew out for an interview. After working at Mythic for three years I decided to go back to freelancing full-time. Right now I am freelancing for Wizards of the Coast, Blizzard, Fantasy Flight Games, Big Huge Games, and Mythic from time to time. I am also working on an art book that I hope to release by the end of 2011.
3DTotal: It is great to have such prominent clients headhunting you. For anyone unfamiliar with these names what role do Fantasy Flight Games and Wizards of the Coast assume in relation to concept art and how easy/difficult has freelancing been since? Daarken: Well, most of my freelance work deals with illustrations as opposed to concepts. The work I do for Fantasy Flight Games and Wizards of the Coast has to do with collectible card game illustrations, book illustrations, cover illustrations – things of that nature. There are always advantages and disadvantages to freelancing or having a staff position. While freelancing gives you the freedom to have an open schedule, the checks are sporadic and you don’t get any of the traditional benefits that come with a staff position. Another thing that most people don’t realize is that you have to pay estimated taxes if you are a freelance artist, so be sure to save 30-40% of each paycheck for taxes. Finding freelance work hasn’t been hard for me; luckily I have a constant flow of clients to keep me busy.
3DTotal:How would you describe the development of your work over the last few years and what do you feel have been the key advances you have made as an artist? Daarken: I feel that I have improved tremendously over the past several years. I can't even stand to look at the work I was doing three or four years ago. I'm not really sure why anyone hired me back then! Working at Mythic really helped me push my ability to resolve my images in more detail. Back when I first started my paintings were extremely loose. I think a big part of it was due to laziness. My paintings have also progressed in terms of color use and contrast. I basically coined the name "Daarken" because my paintings were very dark. Not necessarily dark in nature, but dark in terms of contrast. Most of my paintings were barely even visible; I can't believe my art directors let me get away with some of those paintings!
Daarken: Something else that I have been working on lately is pushing my compositions and incorporating more environments and backgrounds into my paintings. I am so used to working on very small print-sized illustrations, like Magic: The Gathering and World of Warcraft, that I tend to leave fairly vague and simple backgrounds so that the characters will read better. Creating art is a constant learning experience and one that I hope will never come to an end.
3DTotal:As a concept artist you are expected to create convincing images and designs that convey a certain sense of realism and plausibility, and yet often focus on subject matter that does not exist. How, as an artist, do you regularly tackle this problem and what do you feel are the key principals involved? Daarken: I think one of the key things to remember when creating believable concepts for subjects that do not exist is to base them on things found in the real world. Using the real world as a reference can give your concepts that little sliver of realism that will push them from being something silly to something that is tangible. Another important aspect of concept design is the details. Little details can be an important factor in portraying a real object as opposed to a clearly made-up one. For example, when I am designing armor I try and figure out how the armor is put together. I think about where the straps should go that hold the pieces together, or where the rivets should go. Thinking about these things will translate in your concept and give people the feeling that it could actually work.
3DTotal:What have been the main differences and considerations you have had to take on board within the games sector compared to previous commissions? Daarken: First and foremost, as a concept artist your job is to envision what the art director wants and be able to execute a painting that is clear and precise so that the modeler can build it. In illustration work you can let light and shadow hide much of your painting; when doing concepts you can’t do that. Many pitfalls that novice concept artists run into are they don’t realize they have to work within the limitations of the
available technology. If you create some crazy outfit for a character you have to keep in mind that this design is going to have to work in the game itself. If the model can’t support dangly bits hanging off the character, then you probably shouldn’t spend time painting them in your concept. Is the clothing you designed going to cause a lot of clipping problems with the model? Are you going to cause problems by designing a character that is wearing heels when none of the current models are built to support that feature? These are all things you have to keep in the back of your head.