Chances are if you love fantasy gaming you’ll have thumbed through hundreds of dragons, druids and decomposing corpses painted by Dan Scott. With World of Warcraft, Magic: The Gathering and Warhammer on speed dial, he’s the man trusted by the planet’s elite fantasy publishers to make their worlds spark into life.
Dan’s depictions of classic fantasy have inspired a fanatical following among many role-players. “I was completely surprised and a little flattered,” says Dan, as we raise the spectre of two devoted fans. “I’ve had people ask me to personally design a tattoo for them, but these guys actually got tattoos of art I’d already done for game products.” Dan reveals that the first man had a full-colour image of his art from the Magic: The Gathering’s Memory Plunder card across his back. The other had the WarCry card Fast March on his upper arm.Fan Fair
“I spend so much time by myself in my studio, toiling away for hours on end with very little human interaction,” says Dan. “It’s easy to forget that people actually get to see and enjoy the art I’m producing, so it’s really cool to get out and get to meet some of those people.” Dan has accepted that developing some kind of fandom is part of the game with the type of art he’s creating, and he admits it’s something he enjoys. “It’s a really nice side-benefit of doing this type of art. I know artists in a lot of other fields don’t ever get to interact with or meet fans of their work.”
What’s refreshing about Dan is his devotion to fantasy art and role-playing-game illustration. Like the two fans who had his work inked forever across their bodies, Dan is a fantasy fanatic. Before turning pro, his interest in fantasy art was spiked by the comic Dragon Slayer, which led him to play Dungeons & Dragons – and from there to discover the art of Keith Parkinson, Larry Elmore and Fred Fields.A comic start
“Early on, though, it was definitely comic books that were the biggest inspiration,” he says. “I was a big Marvel comics fan and would draw all the characters. I remember discovering the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe series as a kid and trying to redraw every character in it in my own version of the books.”
At school, Dan was a dreamer, his head stuck in Marvel art books while his maths notes were fodder for doodles – and, like most boys, Star Wars turned his head. “It sounds clichéd but I’ve always drawn, as far back as I can remember,” he says. “I just never stopped like most people do as they grow up.” Putting down his graffiti-strewn maths books, Dan attended the University of Central Missouri for five years, where he majored in commercial art and illustration. As well as introducing the basics that The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe couldn’t teach, the course opened the door on digital art – and Dan jumped through.
“It turns out digital ended up being the best fit, but I learned almost nothing about it in college,” Dan explains. “I was there in the early- to mid-90s, so digital just wasn’t used nearly as much as it is now. Almost everything I’ve learned digitally has been self-taught, through trial and error, examining others’ work and instructional videos, books… and magazines like this one.”
Working in Photoshop and Painter, Dan sings the praises of both software packages, but admits that in the early days Painter was a bewildering option. “The interface was confusing and nothing seemed to work the way I expected,” he says, offering a tip for first-timers: “It helped me to pick one brush I felt comfortable with and use it for a while. Over time I branched out to using more and more brushes.” Photoshop was more intuitive, but Dan confesses that it’s been an easy-to-learn, hard-to-master journey for him, which has thrown up its fair share of hideous filter and lens flare experiments. Not that you’d find them in his finished paintings. “It’s absolutely amazing all the things you can do with both of those programs. I learn something new at least once a week. The trick is remembering everything you’ve learned and when the best time is to apply it.”
Skill with the stylus is important, and Dan says he now uses it more than a traditional pencil. “It’s become second nature,” he explains, “even to the point that it sometimes takes me a while to get used to sketching with a pencil when doing conventional sketches.” However, in his mind there’s no excuse for not mastering the basics. Learning colour theory, proportions and composition were Dan’s bedrocks, and research is crucial too. “It ensures your image is accurate, but can also serve as inspiration,” says Dan. “Whether you’ve painted horses dozens of times or you’re doing it for the first time, you probably have some preconceptions in your head about what they look like. Doing a little research may make you try a different skin pattern, muscle structure, colour, pose, angle or even how the light interacts with its skin. It can help keep you from falling into the same patterns every time.”Big Break
Armed with traditional training, self‑taught digital artistry and a fan’s eye for fantasy art, Dan embraced the world of freelance illustration. There wasn’t much work straight from school, but his first commission, from an internet-published collectible card game called Chron X ,was invaluable in offering him a taste of deadlines, contracts and working with art directors. Then the big boys came calling.
Dan’s break came with a commission for Warhammer 40K. “It was the first work I’d done for a major licence and paid much better than anything else I’d done at the time,” he says. There’s a sense, though, that he considers his first commission for Magic: The Gathering to be the moment his career took off. “I’d played Magic since college, so it was kind of a lifetime goal to do art for that game,” he says. “It was such a thrill to finally get to do it.”Fantasy love
Dan’s career seems to be driven by his love of the fantasy genre. The first cover he painted was for Dragon magazine, a D&D bible for many (including Dan himself). “Growing up playing Dungeons & Dragons, I was familiar with Dragon magazine,” says Dan, “so it was very exciting to get to do a cover for them.”
His current commissions only serve to secure his place in the fantasy genre elite. He’s continuing to work on Magic: The Gathering and World of Warcraft, but his well-thumbed copy of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe is coming in handy, since he’s about to begin painting an issue of What If? for Marvel, with Dave Ross pencilling. “It would be nice to paint over my own pencils but I know I could never make the deadline if that were the case,” says Dan.
Asked about life as a freelancer, he says: “If you’re a workaholic personality then it can be very difficult to have any sort of personal life.” Dan lists the troubles of a jobbing artist, including the health insurance nightmare in the US, irregular paychecks and the lack of formal benefits – so don’t expect bulging pension pots, bonuses or sick pay if you take up the stylus. “Despite all these pitfalls,” says Dan, “it’s a deeply enjoyable job and I really hope I’m able to do it for the rest of my life.”