Questions for Mr. Theo Black – L5R Artist

 

Ever wonder what it’s like on “the inside?”  Well, here’s a brief glimpse into the life that sees a bit more than we do, to say the least.  Mr. Black’s been doing artwork for Legend of the Five Rings for a while now, so it’s time to tap (or bow) into that wisdom and find out a bit about how things work…and they say card games don’t teach you anything…

 

Well, first of all, how did you get started in art? Did you ever figure that your life would turn out like this?

The first place that took a chance on me was Stuart Taft of Game Systems.  He let me do a pen and Ink cover for their small
 press Magazine.  They were great!  Stuart was one of the best art directors I have ever had.  This is not to say that small press 
companies have to be nice to artists.  They don't and sometimes they aren't.
My first big break was from K.C. Lancaster of L5R.  She took a chance on me after seeing a very period fantasy piece I did of a 
Byzantine queen called Black Anis.  She saw it at Gen Con 1998. I learned then how important it was to display work at cons.
I wanted to be a fantasy artist for a long time. I hoped more that figured.  Confidence is key but one cannot assume much is this 
business.
 
Kakita Brent: See!  We should have gone to GenCon in ’98!  We could have gotten in on the ground floor!
Mirumoto Christopher: True…though at the time, we were still poor…oh wait…that hasn’t changed, has it?


Which cards have you illustrated for Legend of the Five Rings? Out of those, do you have any particular favorites or are there any 
cards that you still wanted to improve?
 
Well, the list is quite large.
Take the Initiative, War Weary, Firefly Tattoo, Coordinated Strike, Flee the Darkness, Costly Alliance, 
Moto Ride to the Shadowlands, Let Your Spirit Guide You, Ratling Guard, Makashi, Ninja Infiltrator, Poisoned, Karmic Strike, 
Forward March, Parade Ground Practice, Togashi Jodome , Hitomi Kobai and a few others I can't think of right now and a few 

others that are not out right now.

I love the Crane clan because they are so strict and crewel like in the high courts of mediaeval Japan.  Also because they are 
fun to paint with all the blacks, whites and blues.  My best piece is probably Hitomi Kobai, My worst is probably Ninja Infiltrator.

Mirumoto Christopher: Yeah!  Kobai rocks!

Kakita Brent: Eh…personally, I dig the Firefly Tattoo!  I’m all about that picture, not to mention the +1 Focus values!  Yeah!  
Oh, and of course Take the Initiative…go Uji!

When you are assigned a piece of art for L5R, what information are you given and how do you go about finding inspiration for the work?
I am giving a paragraph.  Sometimes it's big sometimes little.  Makashi had a lot of info because he looks like all clans and none. 
They were even very detailed about the pose, weapons etc.  Karmic Strike was light on the description, “Two Samurai doing 
each other at the same time.”

Kakita Brent: Nice to see that they give the artists some good leeway…

Mirumoto Christopher: I don’t know…giving artists free will sounds like a bad idea to me…after all, you’re an artist!

We realize that you have other projects that you are working on, care to enlighten us as to what they are?

I just got a Magic card assignment, some Pirate Nation cards, and some postcard designs for Georgia, Tennessee etc. 
I've also worked on Monster Manual two 3rd Edition, Dungeon Magazine, Changeling, Werewolf, The Babylon Project, 
InNomine, Burning Sands CCG, Doomtown CCG, Wheel of Time CCG, Gary Gygax's Legendary Adventures, Gyrps, 
Ars Magica, and some others.
Mirumoto Christopher: Man…that’s about fifteen different jobs!  How did he find the time to talk with us?

Kakita Brent: Forget that…how does he keep his hand from falling off?  I mean, think of all the artwork coming from that man!

What would constitute a normal day in your life, or does such a thing even exist?

Well not really, I wake up late and work till 3 AM when I'm freelancing, when I temp of freelance sometimes I take 2nd shift, 
which is the same hourly schedule.  I take video game breaks, check email, and try to see the sun for some time every day.
Kakita Brent: That’s what I need…a job where I wake up late, and take video game breaks.

Mirumoto Christopher: I don’t know…I spend most of my time avoiding the sun…

 What advice would you give to an aspiring artist trying to break into the profession?

Don't go to art school.  Go to school for something marketable and do your art at home.  Get supplies, a computer and 
kick yourself in the ass every day.  Paint; draw what you want a lot. When you have something good, bring it to a con.  
Meet other published artist,  (usually) only they can tell you if it's good enough, (usually) only they can give you the real 
names of who to send your stuff to.  Steal from other artist both dead and alive.  Do not be afraid to take ideas, techniques. 
If you look at many artists today you will see the influence of the old masters.  I have taken from Maxfield Parish and 
Tony Diterlizzi has from Arthur Racham as Rupel has from J W Waterhouse.  I think every artist should have another artist 
to worship and learn from.  Sometimes the best teachers are the teacher's work.
Kakita Brent: Note to self…steal from everyone…got it.

Mirumoto Christopher: “Kick yourself in the ass every day?”  Man, being an artist sounds rough.

Any information, artwork, rumors...anything really that you would like tell us?

I heard there are Dark Crystal action figures on the way I can't wait for.  Hasbro will be making 80s style transformers again, 
for all of you L5R players who want Katanas; they sell them really cheaply on ebay.  I got a Tachi for $30, no joke.
Mirumoto Christopher: Transformers!  I’m there!

Kakita Brent: Bladed implements!  I’m there!
 

In parting, we would love to know... what is your favorite tattoo?

My wife has a ring of fairies around her right thigh.

Mirumoto Christopher: You think Togashi did that?
Kakita Brent: I wouldn’t put it past him…

 
Well that’s that!  Naturally, we can’t thank Theo enough…this guy is a genuine nice guy.  Hope that everyone’s had fun here…I know I have.  Thanks again, Theo, and good luck to you in future endeavors…and with a list that large, I’m sure that you will appreciate all of the luck that we can send you.