The Dragonlance Nexus

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Matt Stawicki Fan Q&A

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

This is a transcript from the fan Q&A held on the boards the weekend of April 2-3, 2005 with artist Matt Stawicki.

The following is a transcript from the fan Q&A held on the boards the weekend of April 2-3, 2005. For convenience's sake, I've edited the transcript to match up Matt Stawicki's answers to the questions that were asked. I've also edited out my ground rules for the Q&A.

Dragonhelm: Greetings, friends and fellow companions, and welcome! This weekend, we have as our special guest, artist Matt Stawicki. Matt's artwork has graced the covers of many Dragonlance novels of late, defining the modern look of the setting.

Matt Stawicki: First and foremost I'd like to thank everyone for the support & continued interest in my art. Dragonlance has been by far the most entertaining & creative challenge of my career as an illustrator. I'd like also to thank Trampas for the inviting me to forum & community. Lets get started!

Dragonhelm: You've followed in the footsteps of some pretty big names, such as Elmore and Easley (amongst others). What is it like following in their footsteps?

Matt Stawicki: I feel very fortunate to be following in their footsteps and have definitely been influenced by all the great artists who have done Dragonlance. Following such established artists was pretty nerve racking at first. When you think of Dragonlance you immediately think of Larry Elmore and Jeff Easley. Its a lot of pressure to live up to the standard these artists have set, but the great response to my art has helped me feel right at home.

Dragonhelm: Could you tell us about the process of creating a painting?

Matt Stawicki: The process can vary quite a bit from job to job but basically goes like this: I start with rough black and white sketches usually sketched on the computer, using programs like Photoshop or Painter. I like the flexibilty I have in digital programs. Corrections & changes are much easier with the digital medium than more traditional mediums like oils. I also use a digital Wacom tablet & pen. The sketches are usually based on notes or chapter excerpts I recieve from an art director. Once I get a few basic compositions worked out, I pick two and start to refine them and add color. Usually what I end up with is a sketch that looks like a loose, less detailed version of a final painting. Once I know which sketch the client or art director prefers, I photograph & gather what reference I need to refine the piece further and actually start working over the color sketch. which becomes the underpainting for the finished art.

Darcwulf: How did you first get involved with Dragonlance?

Matt Stawicki: I had just finished my first cover for WotC the cover for the Icewind Dale trilogy. They seemed to like what I had done and they came back for more. The first Dragonlance cover I painted was Dragons of a Fallen Sun. That went pretty well and the opportunity came along to get on board with the rerelease of the Dragonlance series. I was very excited, needless to say...

Darcwulf: Which of your many DL masterpieces is your personal favorite?

Matt Stawicki: I think I would have to say Time of the Twins. I like how much impact Raistlin's robe has against the bright cityscape. I also like the way Rastlin completely surrounds Crysania in the darkness of his robes and yet she remains pure & light against him. I thought it really captured their relationship in the story.

JOSHUASIGEP44: What character in the Dragonlance setting do find most difficult to draw?

Matt Stawicki: Tasslehoff. I think he is more challenging because the art thats been done with him varies so much. In some art he looks young and more child-like & elven and in others hes looks rough, a seasoned fantasy warrior. His size and age were a challenge for me. I had a hard time getting him to where I thought he looked like the character I read about the books..

JOSHUASIGEP44: Going the other way what character do you enjoy drawing the most?

Matt Stawicki: Raistlin is my favorite. I just think he's cool.

Splinter: For the re-release of the Chronicles, did you use the originals as a base for the covers, or did you picture it in your own mind?

Matt Stawicki: For the re-releases I was sent the books to read which had the older art on them. The art director suggested I use the original cover art as character guidelines only. After reading through the books I did have a distinct picture in my own mind of what I thought the cities and landscapes would be like.

Splinter: What inspires you to draw, so well might I add?

Matt Stawicki: Thank you! I find a lot of inspiration in music and other artists. I'm also a big science fiction & fantasy movie buff and found Lord of the Rings to be very inspiring.

Ken Uth Clarence: Your Dragons of Autumn Twilight painting in the Masters of Dragonlance Art book to me is the heart and soul of the Chronicles series. There are always castles and fortresses in fantasy literature, but the town of Solace is unique. Your painting gives the feel for the immenseness of the Vallenwood trees. I love the way Flint looks as grumpy as ever, as if daring one to take a step forward towards his adopted home...

I notice that for the most part your paintings, at least those that I've seen, have the characters in the lower right of the canvas. Is this a personal preference or is it intentional to allow the focus to be on the "landscape" rather than the people?

Matt Stawicki: Thank you Ken, Dragons of Autumn Twilight is one of my favorites also. I really enjoyed creating a city in the trees.

I think the landscapes & enviroments are crucial to the scenes in the Dragonlance series and positioning the characters just off center and to the right does put focus on the landscape. Because of the design of the book jacket, the characters are situated on the lower right side to leave room for the book title, spine, etc.

Tamora Amberleaf: Matt, you drew a very cool dragon's head in my D&D 3.0 Player's Handbook at Gen Con 2000. I want to thank you again for that, I show it off at every opportunity. Are you planning on being at Gen Con this year?

Matt Stawicki: At this moment I can't say for sure whether I will be at Gencon or not. It's something I've been considering for the past few years but my work schedule sometimes just doesnt allow the time away from work.

Tamora Amberleaf: Are you working on any other Dragonlance art right now? If so, can you tell us anything about it?

Matt Stawicki: I am in fact working on a Dragonlance cover. I am just starting the second book in the Taladas Chronicles. I should hopefully have the art finished in a few weeks.

Talinthas: I'm a huge fan of your art, Matt, especially the sweeping landscapes on your Legends covers. How do you decide what a particular character will look like?

Matt Stawicki: With Dragonlance many characters have already been established by the existing art. When I get the opportunity to create the look of a character for the first time I usually start with a written description. I like to see what unique characteristics I can add , for example, what kind of hair cut the person might have, jewelry, scars etc. I ask myself what are the little things that give this character his or her personality.

Talinthas: Do you read the book first, or are you given a description?

Matt Stawicki: I am usually given a brief story outline, basic character descriptions and possible cover scenarios the art director would like. Some times I do read through an entire book and other times I am given 'call outs' -meaning I'm told what chapter & pages the author or publisher would like a scene plucked from. I prefer to read the books myself and get a truer sense of the story but unfortunately there's not always time for that with publishing deadlines.

Silverback: Just wanted to extend my appreciation for your work Mr. Stawicki. I do not believe Dragonlance would be complete without your wonderful artwork. Please keep the artwork coming.

Uziel: Is there any scene or character in the DL setting that you long to illustrate, but haven't been able to cover as yet? (ie. grand scenes in your head that are bubbling to get to your tablet pc).

Matt Stawicki: I really don't think of it terms of specific scenes I would like to do. I think more in terms of the type of painting I would like to do. For example, I would like to do more multi-figured battle scenes.

Uziel: When given a project to cover, are characters or a scene identified as the ones to illustrate, or are you given an open choice in a novel as to what you can do. The anthologies for example, such as 'Search for Magic'. How do you choose which stories to feature on the cover, and which don't make it?

Matt Stawicki: It varies from job to job. In some cases I get a manuscript and I am left to develop a concept from scratch and sometimes I am told exactly what the client wants to see. Dragonlance comes somewhere in the middle. I am usually told which characters should be in the cover and where the scene takes place. Since we have developed what I like to call a 'movie poster' look which is the figures in an iconic type of pose that is the look that for the most part I am told to stay with.

Occasionally I am able to break from that format and 'Search for Magic' is one of these cases. In this case I was told which characters to put in but wasn't told which ones to make more prominent. In fact, I think we had a concept that just had a single dragon on the cover when I started this job and when the art director saw my concept for the montage they decided to go in that direction.

Kyra Starleaf: How did you decide how your characters are dressed in your paintings?

Matt Stawicki: I try to base my the dress of my character on something historical. From there I start to make changes that things a more 'personal' look.

Kyra Starleaf: How do you decide which characters get to grace the cover?

Matt Stawicki: Most of the time I don't. The clients usually know what character or characters there want to see.

Richard Knaak: Hey, Matt! Just wanted to welcome you to the boards and say I've been a fan of your work since you did the cover of THE HORSE KING for my Dragonrealm series. Really love the cover for EMPIRE OF BLOOD!

Matt Stawicki: Thanks Richard. I like the Horse King also! The Ghost Knight in the background was my favorite part of that painting. Glad to hear you like the cover for 'Empire of Blood'. I think it is the most dramatic cover of the series. The Minotaurs have been great fun to work on.

Dalamar_thedark: How do you draw your covers? Do you first use pencils? Then do you use pen? Do you use paints?

Matt Stawicki: When I first got into the field I used very traditional methods. I transferred a final pencil drawing to a piece of masonite and painted it in oils using a common painting technique that starts with a monochromatic underpainting (I liked to work with a burnt umber color) . Then color and detail refinements are added until you have a finished painting. I worked using that method for a number of years. Having said that I had always had interest in the growing digital technology and what it could bring to illustration as a tool. It was a year or two before I did my first Dragonlance cover that I decided to make the switch over to working digitally. For the last several years I do all my work on a computer. I use a Mac and work mainly with Photoshop and Painter. I also swear by my Wacom digital drawing tablet. The drawing tablet really lets you 'draw' or 'paint' in a digital media.

Dalamar_thedark: Does the author of the book request a certain pose for the characters? Or do you decide how it looks?

Matt Stawicki: This also varies from job to job. Sometimes the client gives me a manuscript and asks me to develop a cover concept or I work with an already defined concept.

Darcwulf: Does this mean you use models for the details of the people in your works? If so, how do you do those darn Minotaurs?!? (They are brilliant by the way! Night of Blood especially!)

Matt Stawicki: I do photograph models for my work. I really try to make my art believable and I find that using photos as a guide or starting point for some things is a big help. Of course in fantasy we are left trying to create things that don't exist and trying to make them look real.

For something like a minotaur I started by gathering reference of bulls, cows, and rams. I also put together some photo reference of medieval armor. From that I drew a rough sketch. At this stage I like to work in Photoshop. I find it to be very flexible and it allows me to make refinements quickly. Once I worked out the basic look and poses I photographed models to help with further details like the hands, costuming etc.,

Darcwulf: Who are some of your favorite artists, Dragonlance and otherwise? Also I just wanted to say that I love the cover for "City of the Lost". I did not notice when I first pick up the book that there was a dragon behind Linsha, I was just thrilled to get the book. When I took a good look at it later, it was a fantastic reveal, my eyes were on Linsha's face but they were just drawn back to the dragon eye behind. It looks like Linsha dominates the cover but that eye just intrudes.... It is absolutely fantastic!

Matt Stawicki: I really like this cover also. This was another case of experimenting with a different approach. As far as artists I like...there are quite a few. In the fantasy field I like the work of Frank Frazetta (of course), Michael Whelan, The Hildebrants, Donato Giancola, Todd Lockwood and James Gurney just to name a quick few. More tradition painters I like are NC Wyeth, Howard Pyle and Norman Rockwell.

Nighthawk: At what stage in your life did you decide to be an artist?

Matt Stawicki: I have drawn since I was a kid, but I would have to say that I was probably in high school before I made a real commitment to choosing a career in art.

Nighthawk: What did you do before working for WotC?

Matt Stawicki: I have been a freelance illustrator for about 13 years now. For several years when I first got into the field, I did not do fantasy work exclusively. After taking many different commissions 'to pay the bills' I decided that I wanted to focus only on fantasy work. It wasn't long after that, the first Dragonlance commission came along and started a great relationship between myself and Wizards.

Snifferdoo: Would you say that Painter is more difficult to use than Photoshop or do they use a lot of the same functionality? Is Painter like Photoshop with the use of filters? I'm curious because I'd like to see what kind of effects I could get with maps using it.

Matt Stawicki: I find Photoshop to be an easier program to work with. Things are easy to find and the program feels very intuitive. Painter is a bit tougher to use but I feel can produce the look of paint (and other natural media like pastel ,watercolor etc.) very well.

Queen of Darkness ( Margaret Weis): I wanted to extend my welcome to the Dragonlance message boards and to thank you for participating in the Q&A! Many of our fans have asked where they can purchase your artwork. Could you provide that information?

Matt Stawicki: Margaret, I want to thank you for inviting me to participate in this Q & A and also for giving me an opening for some shameless promotion. ;-) I have many of the Dragonlance pieces availible as art prints on my site .

Silverback: Just wanted to extend my appreciation for your work Mr. Stawicki. I do not believe Dragonlance would be complete without your wonderful artwork. Please keep the artwork coming.

Matt Stawicki: Thank you. Dragonlance has been a lot of fun and a great challenge to work on.

Devils Echo: Now, in my and many other's opinions, you are a fabulous artist. But. . . did you ever think of becoming a writer or something like that? Because your art rocks, and I just kinda think "If he can paint that, woo hoo, maybe he could write it awesomely."

Matt Stawicki: I have thought about creating my own stories. For now though, my schedule is pretty busy and I don't have much time to develop personal projects. Maybe in a few years!