Artist Interview: David Szilagyi

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been entranced by great fantasy art. From the works of Boris Vallejo, Keith Parkinson, Frank Frazetta, and Larry Elmore to more recent artists doing work for roleplaying game companies and book covers – there’s something magical about creating new worlds with pencil, pen, and paintbrush. As such, when I get a chance to interview a new artist doing work in the gaming industry, I try to grab it with both hands!

David Szilagyi did some work for me recently for my Friday news articles titled “RPG Showdown” and I was captivated by the many genres he managed to work into the image, but stunned by the way he managed to give the whole picture movement… As such, I think he captured the constant movement of RPG genres and links beautifully!

If you take a look at his online portfolio, he’s done quite a bit of work with

How did you get your start doing art for album covers and RPGs?

I got my start with album covers and concept art by applying to work on craigslist and conceptart.org. I didn’t think that I was good enough to make it as a paid artist at the time. However, once people show green American dollars for your services, you suddenly become very interested in getting as good as possible.

Of all the skills you’ve learned, what’s your favorite skill or technique you like to use? Why? Any examples you can share?

My favorite skill in painting is honestly the fundamentals. It sounds Bruce Lee-ish to say it, but line art with perfect perspective and flow beats a painting with only special effects. Making the readers eye involuntarily flow across the page to the subject is the coolest thing I’ve been working on lately (for an example, google The Rape of Europa, seriously, so good).

After doing logo design, concept and album artwork, and digital painting for a few clients, what’s your favorite project that you’ve done so far?

I did a project recently for a band called A Whisper Rising. After a bunch of talk back and forth, we figured out that they wanted a Tim Burton “Alice in Wonderland” kind of vibe. I had never done any work like that before, and it involved a lot of foliage and small detailing. A LOT of small detailing. And it’s honestly one of my best works to date.

Where do your ideas come from? What helps feed your fertile imagination?

Inspiration’s funny. When your mind is tied up in frustration or anxiety, you can’t think freely. And realizing that you’re frustrated or anxious sometimes makes it that much harder to calm down. I’ve recently been going back to my childhood inspirations, like Quake 2 or Final Fantasy VI. It puts me back in the zone like in forth grade when you think you can be president or a space marine. Same goes with Frank Herbert’s Dune, seeing the space shuttles in Florida, or staying up after my parents fell asleep and watching Adult Swim: anything that got me in the emotional zone of “woah, this is completely awesome.”

If you had infinite time and materials, what would be your dream project to work on? Why?

With infinite resources and time, I’d want to work on a special project. I’m into freerunning and climbing, and my dream room is to make a three story tall room with fully climbable walls, where you could climb on top of a stone angel “painting” and shimmy across an embossed mural of a city skyline, using the skyscrapers and spanning bridge as hand and footholds. Those kinds of things, but have them be everywhere along the walls. I live in my imagination, a lot.

Do you have any advice for artists trying to break into freelancing or just starting out? If you had to do it all over again, where would you start?

To anyone
thinking about starting a career in art, there are a couple things to do right now: promote on forums, and tons of them. I had a problem of pride when I started, thinking that I wasn’t good enough to start working or that I just needed to work a little harder before I promoted myself. Get a post with your best work up, and see what comes back. You might get nothing back, then again you might intrigue someone who has a project proposal due in four days, and they need someone now. Also, keep practicing, Tim Hildebrant once said that the biggest secret is understanding. And that only comes from hours and hours of studying. And once you figure out lighting or perspective, that skill can never be taken away from you.

Also, keep training on what you want to do, not what you think people will want. For example, I love doing action and horror scenes. I do portraits as studies, but I’m not as in love with them. If I put tons of portraits up just because I can make a bunch of money off of them, then I’ll be mostly seen as a portrait guy, and no longer the action horror guy. And I’ll keep getting more portrait jobs instead of the work that I enjoy the most. It’s important to be a Renaissance Man or Woman, learning everything you can about your craft, but make sure total strangers can definitively tell what you specialize in.

And if I had to start all over, I’d hit up Dave Rapoza‘s livestreams and Feng Zhu’s YouTube tutorials. And any sort of “the art of” books, those are a goldmine of ideas and styles.

If there’s a question I didn’t ask that you’d have liked to be asked… What would it have been and what would your answer have been?

For a question that wasn’t asked, it’d be “How do you overcome the frustration in your craft.” In all walks of life, everyone gets frustrated, and sometimes it’s so much that we give up. I overcome frustration by stepping back and thinking about those inspiring moments I talked about earlier. Tony Robbins calls this a state change. Think about your first crush or your favorite video game achievement or when your best friend laughed their hardest. Get really in the zone of how you felt when that happened, remember the little details. And then come back to reality. Odds are you will feel less frustrated afterwards, and maybe even a little inspired to keep working. Easy to talk about, difficult to practice, but believe me, it works.

I have to give a big thanks to David for doing such a great job on the art I commissioned – so if you’re looking for an artist, definitely check out his portfolio. He did great work amazingly fast and at a reasonable rate – three qualities I look for when working with any artist!

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