Time for a new blog post series! Guild Guidance is aimed at DMsGuild creators who need a bit of help getting started, or have a particular issue they need addressing. I’m going to share my limited wisdom on what can be done to remedy certain problems, and improve your overall production.
This post is going to address artwork: What is it? Where is it? How should I use it?
What is it?
For the purposes of this article, I’m going to focus on interior artwork. This includes a variety of different art; stock art, filler art, spot art, commissioned illustrations and dozens more. I’m excluding cartography and cover art from the category, because I think they could have articles of their own.
For most DMsGuild creators, interior art is quite generic. Unless you’re willing to splash the big bucks and get a professional artist to illustrate all the artwork for your adventure, you’re likely looking for some staples. Appropriate monsters, locations, NPC art, and likely some stuff to fill empty spaces that’s at least vaguely relevant to your product. These products can be found for free, at a small cost, or at great cost if commissioning. Something to note is the three rules of art (and most other things). Cheap, Fast, Quality. You can only ever have two of these when sourcing art. If you want it cheap and fast, it probably won’t be quality. If you want it fast and quality, it won’t be cheap. If you want it Quality and cheap, it won’t be fast. There’s very little you can do about that, so plan in advance, budget carefully, and don’t stress.
Where is it?
Art for DMsGuild can be found in a whole bunch of places, so I’m going to look at the most prominent examples of where to find it, and rate them based on the categories above out of five.
DMsGuild Creator Resources
Cheap 5/5 Fast 5/5 Quality 3/5
The essential for all DMsGuild creators are the DMsGuild art packs. Not only are these files free to use in any DMsGuild product, but they’re all immediately downloadable from the DMsGuild website. The majority of this art is monster art, and a lot from old editions, but there are a few more recent pieces in there, and a few locations and maps. In general, these are a great basis for your interior art. Unfortunately, the quality of artwork varies considerable, much of it is poorly cropped and awfully labelled. Thankfully, I’ve done my bit to try and clean this all up.
I would highly recommend this artwork to everyone hoping to publish on the guild. It’s not all great, but pick carefully and you can really elevate your work.
DMsGuild Stock Art
Cheap 4/5 Fast 5/5 Quality 4/5
In many ways, Stock Art is very similar to the DMsGuild Art Packs, except rather than coming from the site themselves, it’s provided by generous artists who generate content, and sell you a non-exclusive license to use it. Essentially, this means you can buy the artwork and use it in your publications, as can anyone else. A lot of the time, you need to credit the artist in some way, either by the art or in an acknowledgements section of your product. Be sure to check the license agreement (usually provided in the description or with the artwork) to make sure you credit correctly. Artists often like to know that their work is being used too, so if you drop them an email they’ll certainly appreciate it, and might even help promote you. I most often use stock art when I’m looking for higher quality work than the art packs, or if I’m after something specific they don’t have. Here are some grand examples; Arcana Games, Luiz Prado, Patrick E Pullen.
DTRPG Stock Art
Cheap 4/5 Fast 5/5 Quality 4/5
I’m only including this category as a separate entry because people often forget to check out DMsGuild’s sister site, DriveThruRPG. The pros and cons of this art are the same as those above, but I often find that DTRPG has more art available. Great examples include Dean Spencer, Purple Duck Games, Daniel Comerci.
Royalty Free/Commercial License Art
Cheap 5/5 Fast 4/5 Quality 3/5
This is a tough one. Essentially, there is a LOT of artwork out there that is free to use in commercial products, provided that you credit the source. A lot of this is old artwork that was copyrighted but whose creator has been dead for a long time, or art specifically made to give away. One way of accessing this art is simply to search for key terms in Google Images then go Tools>Usage Rights>Labelled for reuse (with modification). Sometimes this brings up a wealth of amazing artwork, sometimes it’s about five crayon drawings of a sad looking dragon. The quality of artwork can vary wildly, and it’s EXTREMELY important that you double check the art license. You’re looking for Public Domain artwork. A big, safe place to search for art like this is WikiCommons.
Contacting Artists Directly
Cheap 3/5 Fast 2/5 Quality 5/5
There are literally hundreds of different websites where artists can show off their creations for all to see! They range from seasoned professionals to absolute newcomers, and thus the quality varies too. Although it’s a little cheeky, sometimes directly emailing an artist to see if you could use their artwork is a great way to get some original, beautiful artwork, that’s unlikely to be used by anyone else. You should expect to pay for the art, but occasionally artists are just happy to be credited for their work. The biggest trouble with this method of acquiring art is your ‘hit rate’. You might message 25+ artists about specific pieces, and only receive 5 responses, two will say no, two will ask for hundreds of dollars for a commercial license, and one will let you use it for free. Despite this, if you have the time. I’d still recommend giving it a go. Websites where this can be done include DeviantArt and Artstation. Many artists have their own websites/emails.
Cheap 2/5 Fast 3/5 Quality 5/5
Probably the best way to get exactly the art you need, in exactly the style you want, for exactly the right price is by commissioning an artist or two to help you out. Many DMsGuild publishers have started doing this more and more, including myself. Commissioning artwork can be very expensive (hundreds of dollars) and take a long time to come through, but ultimately there’s very little as rewarding as seeing your product come to life through an artist’s brush. You might have to negotiate with several artists to get exactly what you need at a price you can afford, but I guarantee it will be worth it in the end. As well as the sites above, you could turn to specific Facebook Groups, Fiverr, or approach artists directly through their social media or email.
How should I use it?
Liberally, and with the proper acknowledgements. The first thing to do before publishing artwork that you’ve acquired is to double check the license. Make sure it’s Public Domain, or that you’ve fulfilled the license terms, or that the artist whom you commissioned is absolutely in the clear that you will be selling their art as part of your product. Once you’re certain you can use the art, try to use as much as possible. Some products have art on every single page, others every few pages, but all of the best-selling products have art of some kind. Try to make sure the art is relevant to the product you’re selling, try to make sure it’s high quality, and definitely make sure you give credit.
If you have any other great art resources that I’ve missed out, let me know in the comments below!