Art Director: Process Outline

art directorIn this piece I will outline a very basic structure of what an art director responsibilities are in the tabletop RPG scene. I thought I would take some time to explain what it is that I do, so others can assess whether or not they need one on their project, or if someone is filling that role unintentionally. I also hope folks who are excited about being art directors will find this interesting or useful as well! I have been casually doing art direction for Magpie Games since it’s conception in 2011. Back then it was pretty easy because I was also the one creating the art. As Magpie Games has grown, I have gained new skills by working with other artists as well as working for other companies, like Evil Hat (thanks, Fred and Sean!). I have served as art director for Evil Hat on Young Centurions (due to be published in 2016) and many of the Fate Worlds, Storium creating game banners, JWP’s 7th Sea Second Edition, and Magpie Games products. Samples from published products I have worked can be found on my “Art Direction” Pinterest board:

What is an Art Director?

In my experience, the job of an art director in the RPG industry consists of two parts; 1) you compose and direct the art for a product, and 2) you coordinate and supervise the art as it is produced. Simply put, an art director tells the artist what to draw and then works with them to make it happen.

The Process:

The process can vary depending on what company or scale of the project you are working on, but this is an outline of the basic process I use as an art director. Many art directors bring their own processes and contacts with them, so if you find something that works, run it by your employer and see if they are cool with it. <Each step features an example from the Sails Full of Stars Fate World cover I did with artist Elisa Cella>

Art Notes

Art notes are ideas and suggestions from the author or publisher to the art director. Before I begin to make the artist spec for the artist, I ask the author of the product if there is anything that they think would be cool or exciting to highlight in the art. I generally regard these notes as suggestions and use them as jumping off points rather than worrying too much about including them in the artist spec. Notesv4

Artist Spec

An artist spec is the document that spells out exactly what the artist will draw. It includes format of delivery, dimensions of each piece (bleed and margins), a style guide (recurring themes and/or characters),and what is going on in each piece (who is in the scene, what are they doing, what is in the background, etc). I get the dimension specifications for each piece (including format of delivery) from the layout artist and I write the style guide based on the text and author notes. The description for each scene depicted is generated from my fresh squeezed brain juices. specV4

Contact & Contract

Next, I contact the artist, show them the spec, and ask if they want to be a part of the project (all with the project director CCd to the emails). Before I contact any artists I rank them in the order I think would be the best fit for the project and then contact them, one by one. If the first one is interested in the project, great! If not, I ask the next one on the list. This ensures that I don’t have to tell any artists “sorry, I know I just asked you, but the artist I really wanted just agreed, so we don’t need you.” (Bleck!) No one wants to hear that. When an artist agrees I hand things over to the project manager to step in and send over the contract for them to sign. Having another person involved (and CCd) in the process is always a plus, as: (1) it delegates responsibility for different aspects of the project (especially if anything goes awry) to different authorities and (2) when someone else is watching people generally behave better. CCdV4


I use a two step approval process:
  1. The artist sends me a sketch phase: I'll look it over, give them notes, or approve it.
  2. They send me the final version: I'll look it over, give them notes, or approve it.
I leave it up to the artist to decide how they would like to structure turning the art in (batches or one at a time). I just ask that they let me know. ApprovalsV4


In order to best accommodate this workflow I ask for all the pieces in their final form be handed over once the job is complete. It is really easy to lose track of what is a final file and what's a preview during the direction process (generally conducted over email)! Sails_Full_of_Stars_o_A_World_of_Adventure_for_Fate_Core_(7364733)V3 There is a lot more to be said about each step, but hopefully you find this outline helpful for shining a light on what an art director’s process looks like. The more I work with artists, the more I learn about art direction; every person has their own way of working, so whatever your process, it is best to spell it out for others so they know what to expect when working with YOU. I will likely do another post about art direction in the future, so let me know in the comments what aspects you would like me to address in more detail.