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Interview with Echo Chernik

Posted on December 30, 2003 by Flames

How did you get into gaming?

While I gamed a lot in college, that really had very little impact on why I chose to become a gaming artist. During junior year at Pratt Institute, students were preparing their portfolios to hit the large publishing houses, and also preparing to get an alternate job while they waited to gain the experience needed. Most of my comrades had color portfolios, and I chose the gaming field because it would allow me easier access to work in a less competitive market. I dedicated my senior year of college to studying different methods, media and history of black and white illustration.

What inspires you? How do come up with new ideas?

Sex, art nouveau and the just plain macabre. I feel most fulfilled when my work is beautiful with just a little bit of ‘uh, that’s kind of disturbing…gorgeous, but disturbing’. I achieved a lot of that with my work in Wraith, and i’m still working on a nice balance of it in my current color art nouveau work.

Do have a favorite medium? Why?

For my current work, I work digitally. The downfall is no originals to sell. But on the plus, there’s the wonderful ‘undo’ button. My black and white work are pen/ink and ziptone. I explored all media before settling on that, and it’s not a commonly used medium, so I enjoyed the fresh look it gave my black and white work.

You’ve done art for a variety of RPGs (Changeling, Witchcraft, Nephilim, Wraith, just to name a few) do you have a favorite? Why?

I loved working with Phil Brucato (the line developer of Mage), as he is one of my biggest fans. It was extra motivation to create work that would really get a rise out of him. I also loved working on Wraith, however. It’s too bad it flopped so badly as a game.

What was the most challenging work you’ve done in the RPG industry?

I find it most challenging when charged to create work that is entirely not within my genre, such as Conspiracy X. The pieces came out well, but I had to work much harder at them. I find much more inspiration with work such as Mage, where I can work in a lot of decorative, symbolic aspects.

I enjoy adding symbolism to my pieces, and make a point to read the game books and really learn about the system. Being an avid gamer myself (ten years or so now), I find game art that much more interesting if I feel the artist truly understood and appreciated the universe. I always try to add that extra touch to make a piece speak to a die-hard fan of the universe.

Where do you see art in the RPG industry headed?

The upcoming artists are always learning off of one another, which in turn is raising the quality of the work. Mostly it’s a labor of love, as it’s a tough way to make a living – which makes for good art, that comes from the heart. Deleria is focusing on the art, working with the artists to inspire ultimate creativity.

As for my favorite rpg artists currently out there, I’m very fond of Andy Brases’ work. Very nice stuff. I also enjoy the work of Robert Chang, Craig Mullins, Alphonse Mucha, JW Waterhouse, Brom, Dave Berry to name a few (not all rpg artists..and not all alive as a matter of fact).

Much of your early work is listed under the name Heather McKinney, is this a “pen” name?

That is in fact my maiden name. When I married, I took the name Chernik. After a few bouts with some art directors (who shall remain nameless) who refused to hire me when they found out I was a woman, I chose to go by my middle name (echo) and currently go by Echo Chernik.

What challenges do women in the RPG industry face and what advice would you give those trying to get into the industry?

Well, in some avenues I find that it’s easier depending on how you communicate with folks. If people like you they want to give you work. On the other hand, I’ve been prejudged against when people found out that I was a woman (thus the name change). I’ve also had people assume my work to be ‘girly’ before even seeing it. But all in all, I guess that could fall under any market. People are much, much more welcoming to women in the rpg market as a whole. I think women have to play the game a little differently than men, but are their chances of being a success any less? I truly don’t believe so – it’s your work that speaks for you, and if someone gets hung up on the fact that you’re not a man, screw ’em.

What advice do you have for hopeful artists looking to get into the gaming industry?

The same advice that I have for anyone looking to pursue the professional commercial arts: above all, learn to draw fluently. Draw what you love, and study other artists. It is okay to learn from other artists as long as you aim to develop your own style in the long run. A style is what is reflected in your larger body of work, not just in one individual piece. Don’t be so concerned about an individual piece as you are in your entire collection.

What RPG(s) are you currently playing?

I’m currently involved in a Shadowrun campaign. I am very fond of the grittiness of the SR universe, and have been playing for seven years or so. While I’ve played other universes in between, I always go back to my favorite – the one that inspires my art the most.

New York vs. Boca Raton, what are the biggest differences? How has moving your studio worked out?

I needed an artistic change, and new influence. There are gorgeous models down here for my new work, and I’m loving the weather. The best part about being a freelance illustrator is that you can be located absolutely anywhere. That makes up for a lot. I rely heavily on the internet for promotion and for delivering work to clients.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on some new pieces for the next book in the rpg Deleria’s universe. Deleria just hit the shelves, with several of my color pieces inside. It has fantastic artwork throughout, and is worth a look.

I have been courting the mainstream market a lot lately, and working on my own pieces. I’m focusing more on color, and less on black and white. My current goal is to compile a book of gorgeous, slightly dark, erotic color pieces.

For more information on Echo Chernik, visit her website at http://www.echo-x.com.

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