Welcome to the Women in Fantasy Illustration interview series. I am interviewing a selection of 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 none other than Laurel D. Austin, who works for Blizzard Entertainment! Laurel has mastered the digital medium and creates absolutely stunning work. Enjoy!
1. Please give a brief introduction of yourself, your career and your work.
I’m a Canadian artist living in California. I lived in Canada till I finished school and then fobbed off to England, where I worked at a company called Splash Damage. It was was this pretty small, close-knit indie game studio that developed AAA first person shooters. I was really young, and didn’t know a thing about guns, but my first game there ended up being BRINK. We got a lot of great feedback about the art style, which I played a major role in developing.
I made a big move a few years ago, coming to Southern California to work at Blizzard Entertainment, and I’ve been here ever since.
2. When did realize you wanted to make a career out of illustrating?
I was one of those people who always knew they wanted to be some sort of artist — I just didn’t know what kind. James Gurney’s Dinotopia series was a huge formative influence on me. Illustration was always one of my favourite things as a kid.
Unfortunately for that side, I’ve always been a person that craved stability, so a staff job in games as a concept artist was where I initially gravitated. Though I very much enjoy concept art, my interest shifted over time into storytelling within images, rather than via the look of a single character or snapshots of places.
The unfortunate thing about concept art is that so much of your work has the tendency to be tossed into a black hole and never used. There are massive reams of amazing art from all of our favorite artists that right now exist, but are locked away in NDA vaults, never to be seen. Some of the art I’ve been most proud of in my career, I will never be able to show. Thankfully, this rarely happens with illustration. Illustration is meant to be seen.
3. What difficulties have you faced in transitioning into becoming a professional illustrator?
I started off as a concept artist in games, and have since made the jump into illustration for games. The latter is a lot more of a niche thing — a bit of a unicorn job, really. They’re so rare, and Blizzard is one of a small number of companies that needs dedicated on-site illustrators. I was lucky to land in the position I did.
4. What do you like the most about illustrating?
Beyond just the joy of painting cool things, the storytelling aspects are always tons of fun. The most successful illustrations I’ve done have always been the ones where I was able to transmit a feeling to the viewers. Whatever that feeling is.
5. What do you like the least about it?
That last 10% when you’ve solved all the problems and just need to paint all the damn scales on the dragon!
6. You attended the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, what was the art school experience like for you? Would you recommend it?
I think NSCAD has a lot to offer that few other schools do, and not an insane price tag. It’s pretty free-form as schools go. You can really drive your own path and development, and they’ll help you get there, but it’s not as focused as somewhere like Art Center in Pasadena, and on the whole they don’t have access to instructors that are as industry savvy, or many nearby professionals that actually work in the industries. As Canadian schools go, however, I think it’s one of the better options. If you are a person who actually likes to produce artwork, but who is pretty self-motivated and just needs a bit of structure and some resources, they’re great for that.
One thing it had going for it while I was there (and I believe still does) is an absolutely stellar anatomy instructor. I got so much out of that class. In-depth instruction, figure drawing of lean muscled people and even cadaver drawing. It was fantastic.
7. What initially drew you to Blizzard as a company?
I think like a lot of people of my generation, I grew up playing Blizzard games. They were a big part of my childhood, so when the opportunity came up to work here, it was the fulfillment of some big childhood imaginings.
On a practical level, there’s just so much different stuff to work on. I work in the Anvil, which is Blizzard’s Story Development team, and on any given day I could be painting whimsical, colourful stuff, dark fantasy or scifi. I work in a number of different areas — illustration primarily, but sometimes sculpture painting for our statues and concept art for the various games and cinematics. There’s always a new challenge.
8. What is a typical day like for you at Blizzard?
A whole lot of painting! Most of my job is producing work — some of which can be seen externally as illustration for the games, and some of which stays internal for use on the projects. A lot of what any specific day is like will depend on what sort of project I’m working on. With something like Lords of War , there was a lot of meeting and talking with the directors and consulting with the 2.5D Motion Story team, but if I’m doing an illustration it’s mostly just buckling down at my desk. There are a ton of amazing artists on my team, and they’re a good bunch to hang out with and get feedback from.
9. What is the best advice you have ever received regarding your artwork and career?
Draw a lot. Paint a lot. Do original art. Do master copies. Do life studies. Do self-portraits. Make a lot of art and make a lot of *different* art. If you ever stagnate and feel like you’re not improving, change it up. Go seek out what others are doing and try to approach problems in novel ways. Go back to golden age illustrators or old masters and try to find out how they did what they did.
Once your art is at a certain level of proficiency (provided you are also posting it online) you will attract attention naturally and you won’t have to seek out work as much, so don’t worry about that. The world will tell you when you’re there.
10. What are some of your hopes or goals for the future?
I’d really like to make my own original story and IP. I think this is the natural progression for people who tell stories with their art. It’s fun to play in the worlds that others have created, but I’d really regret it if I went through my whole life never having created something of my own. The problem is that writing is its own enormously difficult craft, and it’s a huge undertaking to make anything of quality. Writer/artist duos are often best for these things. Many minds are nearly always better than one.
Best of luck with the IP, Laurel. We can’t wait to see what you come up with!
Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed this interview with Laurel. If you did please take a second to share it, so even more people might enjoy the series, thank you!
View all Women in Fantasy Illustration interviews here.
Laurel D. Austin Portfolio