Welcome to the Women in Fantasy Illustration interview series. I am interviewing prominent women who work in the Fantasy Illustration Industry. You will find the links to more interviews at the bottom of the page.
This week’s interview is with an up and coming illustrator who is absolutely acing the art of ink drawings; Tawny Fritz!
1. Please give a brief introduction of yourself, your career and your work.
Hey y’all, I’m Tawny. I’m originally from south of New Orleans but slowly made my way to Colorado with detours to Hawaii, Maryland, and Texas thanks to the 8 years of active Army service I endured. Post-military life was full of defense contracting and corporate hullabaloo until I was finally, blissfully laid off from my ‘day job’.
My client work tends to be completed digitally, while personal and private commission work has veered off the highway into the swamps and bayous of pen and ink. I’ve had the pleasure of working on IPs such as Lord of the Rings, Pathfinder, Game of Thrones, and Star Wars, and am currently undergoing the grueling self-induced-torture of a massive personal project to be announced and/or released in 2017. It’ll either be awesome or have me literally burned at the stake like Joan of Arc. We’ll see!
2. When did realize you wanted to make a career out of illustrating?
I remember distinctly a moment during some mid shift while working as a defense contractor, browsing DeviantArt, when I had the realization that people actually made art for a living. Like, I knew that but didn’t? I think it was on someone’s commission information journal post where I was like “Wait… what am I even doing with my life?!” It was shortly after that when I discovered other illustrators who were working professionally and it all snowballed from there. I started following people on cghub, conceptart, deviantart, and eventually found my way to this community via Crimson Daggers and One Fantastic Week. I attended Spectrum Fantastic Art Live and the rest is history!
I remember distinctly a moment during some mid shift while working as a defense contractor, browsing DeviantArt, when I had the realization that people actually made art for a living.
3. What difficulties have you faced in transitioning into becoming a professional illustrator?
The biggest difficulty is figuring out what I want to do, and then figuring out where that applies in the bigger consumer market. The most challenging part is putting myself out there and knowing how to ask for work, market myself, and find clients who are good to work with. It can be very discouraging because it’s all on me, if I fail, I only have myself to blame, and that can be daunting. But it’s also encouraging because it pushes me to hustle harder.
4. What do you like the most about illustrating?
Creating things that didn’t exist before I put pen to paper (or stylus to tablet, etc)! It’s exciting to be given a prompt or to think up an idea and then make that thing real for other people to see. Also, wearing pajamas to work and binge watching Supernatural every day.
5. What do you like the least about it?
I can’t be lazy! ha!
The idea that art isn’t a “real job” can be frustrating. The perception of art as only a hobby devalues the work we do, and a lot of artists fall into the trap of believing their work isn’t worth much.
6. You recently discovered you are much more passionate about drawing more so than painting, can you tell us a little about this realization and what impact it has had?
The moment it became real to me was at the IMC (Illustration Master Class) when I realized the face of Medusa I was painting in oils was askew and needed to be re-painted. I realized as I was “sketching” the structure of her face with paint that it was the drawing aspect of art that I enjoy. Once I get past the initial sketch and structure building, I sort of lose steam. The impact it has had is that I spend WAY more time sketching in my sketchbook lately, which has led to a lot more fresh ideas. I’ve also dedicated more time to working in pen and ink, and people seem to truly respond to that work. I’m sure someday I’ll find my way back to painting when I figure out a method that works best for me.
Once I get past the initial sketch and structure building, I sort of lose steam. The impact it has had is that I spend WAY more time sketching in my sketchbook lately, which has led to a lot more fresh ideas.
7. You ran a successful Kickstarter for your first sketchbook collection, what was the experience like and will we see more sketchbooks from you?
I named my first crowd funded project “Fritz: Sketchbook Vol 1” because I am just presumptuous enough to assume y’all want more volumes! I do intend to do more sketchbooks, they’re a lot of fun and people really dig ’em. I learned a lot from that first Kickstarter, not least of all being to really plan out the logistics of shipping as best you can. There’s the idea that people just throw Kickstarters together and wing it, but that’s not the case at all. There is a LOT of work that goes into the campaign before you ever hit launch, but all that extra effort can really push your project over your goal. It’s pretty stressful!
8. You count Paizo, Fantasy Flights and other gaming companies among your clients. Many aspiring illustrators would love to work for these companies, can you tell us about how you came to work with them and what the typical job is like?
The first thing I did was sort of “match” the client to my art. People have it way backward by thinking you have to “make your art look like XXX company to get hired” but that is the wrong approach. You have to find clients who already hire work that looks like yours. If you’re stylized and colorful, you look to Blizzard. If you’re more realistic and muted, you might think about Wizards of the Coast. Don’t change your style to fit the client, find the clients that fit YOU! That said, the way I crept my way into working for the clients I have is going to events the art directors were in attendance. I met the AD for FFG at Spectrum, one of the ADs for Paizo at IlluxCon, and other various ADs for small press gaming companies at Gen Con. You don’t necessarily have to have a table (although it helps, big time) but you do need to present yourself in a way that says “I’m already a professional” even if you aren’t.
The first thing I did was sort of “match” the client to my art. People have it way backward by thinking you have to “make your art look like XXX company to get hired” but that is the wrong approach. You have to find clients who already hire work that looks like yours.
A typical freelance RPG card/book art commission is pretty straightforward. You receive an art order or art prompt, sketch up a few thumbnails (I usually send 2-4), and when you get feedback for which idea they like, you take it to finish. Some art directors lend you more creative freedom and some are very specific, it all depends on their requirements. Biggest tip: Don’t argue with your art director. If they want something one way, you do it. You can suggest new ideas or thoughts for something, but in the end, they’re the client and what they need is what gets done.
9. What is the best advice you have ever received regarding your artwork and career?
Make lots of art! Jake Parker says “Finished, not perfect” and he’s right. Have a large body of cohesive work and put your best stuff out there. We are our worst critics, but sometimes, you have to let go and let your work stand as it is. I’ve gotten a LOT of great advice over the last few years, but I’d say the absolute best advice is to take your career into your own hands and take control of your own art. Clients are great, they can be fun to work with and they can provide a steady stream of income, but having control over your own body of work is the best path.
Make lots of art! Jake Parker says “Finished, not perfect” and he’s right. Have a large body of cohesive work and put your best stuff out there. We are our worst critics, but sometimes, you have to let go and let your work stand as it is.
10. What are some of your goals for the future?
My biggest goal is to become completely self-sustained, meaning having multiple products (books, etc) available for purchase, and creating a steady body of work that people will continue to want to put in their homes. I have a plan for a pretty big book project that I’m still in the initial planning stages for, and I also have another sketchbook in the works!
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed this interview with Tawny Fritz, check out her website and social media for more!
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View all Women in Fantasy Illustration interviews here.