Saturday, 18 June 2011

Guest Post - Alex Tooth (Pt1 - Introductions!)


Well, I thought rather than extensively plan out any super detailed and structured set of posts, I have decided to just jump in with a new post and write something.

I have kindly been invited to contribute to this blog by Koshime, he has been a great help on getting me started in the industry and I think this will be a good way to give something back to "future Me's"! What I mean by this is give any tips and helping hands to the complete beginner.

So where to start... firstly I guess a bit about who I am would be useful! Then I'll try to give a chronological account of how I got from A to B and my plans to get to C over the next few years. I'll try to spread it out over a few posts whenever I have a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon or something :)

//////// So, who am I ? ////////

I'm a freelance illustrator working in the gaming industry, this covers your tabletop games, collectable cards games, video games and anything similar. I work pretty much exclusively in Digital, though I have some pencil skills - really the bulk of my work is done on a PC with a Wacom Intuos4 tablet. I paint my images in Adobe Photoshop and I use a lot of Autodesk Maya for any 3D bits and pieces I might require.

I certainly class myself in illustration and not concept design. Though some of my work includes designing, I don't have as many aspirations of purely doing this for a living. The distinction for me is really the story-telling aspect of illustration, which I have found not as prevalent in concept work.

I have been taking professional jobs for around 6months now for companies including Catalyst game labs, doing some work on their Battletech line, also Fantasy Flight Games, Alderac Entertainment and most recently Privateer Press.

I only do work in the Fantasy and Sci-Fi genres right now, and have little interest in "real-world" illustration projects.

//////// So - how did I end up doing this kind of work? ////////

Now I know this is where 99/100 illustrators say they were drawing since their mum put a pencil in their hand at the age of 2. Well this really isn't true for me - honestly I rarely drew a single thing until I was 27. So my route into this may not be the usual one.

However I have been playing video games since I first got an Acorn Electron in 1986 or so. This went the typical route of NES, PC, SNES, PS1, PS2 and so on - I always knew the games industry would be where I'd end up career wise, in some shape or form.

Luckily, at school I could draw things easily and Art and Design were really the only subjects I could do in my game-geek adolescence. I ended up taking animation at Wolverhampton University - total waste of time, but Uni was the thing you used to do after school. I am not saying Uni is a bad thing, certainly not - and I will be writing about the benefits in a future post. As with most colleges, you either teach yourself something or fail - so I managed to learn some Maya4 from a good book and put together some 3D animations to get through the course. Nothing I could land a job with after Uni, BUT funilly enough it's a tool I still use to this day, 8years on.

So the 5-6 years following Uni, I did various "normal" jobs to get by, factory worker mainly, various shop assistants - I am sure many of you can identify with me here. I eventually ended up as a games tester for about 3 years, which I always heard was a "door" into the games industry. It's not by the way, so don't let people convince you otherwise! Really it's a bunch of 20-30 somethings playing games all day for a pretty much minimal wage - I won't lie though, it's a fun job and I am sure there's WAY worse things to do :)

Then one day around my 27th birthday, early 2008 I was looking around a local magazine shop and this one glossy magazine literally BEAMED "take meee!" this was of course ImagineFX magazine. So after flicking through for a little while, I was blown away, I didn't know what the hell I was looking at, where this imagery came from, who made it - all I knew is I liked what I saw, ALOT. If you're not aware of ImagineFX, it's a fantasy art magazine started in 2006, I'd recommend heading over too and checking out what they do!

Discovering this Artwork and reading about the processes involved, seeing amateur works to uber pro stuff - finding out people were doing this stuff in their bedrooms on their home computer, no paintbrushes and canvasses, it really suddenly dawned on me "Hey I could be doing this!" - after a short while I gave up my job as a games tester, moved home and started learning about Art.

//////// Phew! OK, so you may be wondering why I just wrote all that? ////////

I wanted to make the point that anyone can do this, and that you don't need special degrees, mentors, extensive art training, drawing since a child, special talents or knowledge - I hadn't heard of Frank Frazetta or Wizards of the Coast until a couple of years ago! So I really hope some of you can get the extra boost of confidence after reading stories like these, that little push you needed to make a good decision about your future - remember life is short and it's never too late.

I am now just over 2 years after "picking up the pencil" and now making a living wage out of my Artwork. And over the course of my next few posts I want to share all the key moments, stages in the process and my plans for the future. It's not a complicated thing, and it's getting easier and easier everyday with the aid of blogs like these, forums and the wonderful, helpful, loving and constantly growing fantasy art community we have here online at our fingertips :)

I am really looking forward to sharing my experiences here and reading about others like me, just getting started with their Artwork.

//////// Study and Personal work 2009 ////////

//////// Personal work 2010 - featuring in "Expose 9" ////////

//////// Study and personal work 2011 ////////


  1. It's amazing how far u have come in such a short period of time. Ur a real inspiration :)

  2. Thanks for a great introduction and sharing your journey Alex.

    I think the main thing is, to relate that anyone can start on this journey, at any time and with enough perseverance, self application and joining up the right dots - to be able to both enjoy and live art.

  3. Great post Alex.

    And yeah, I do find it quite encouraging to know that I'm not the only one starting to focus on illustration at a late age, and that you can 'make it' even starting late.

    I'm 28, have always been able to doodle but never did any real training in art, I'm a programmer by trade. But I've been participating in the IFX 365 day challenge this year and can really feel my skills growing. I harbor the dream of becoming good enough to work professionally in illustration.

    Thanks Alex and Koshime, inspiring blog!

  4. Hi Gareth,

    You are certainly not alone.

    I started as a self taught artist, focusing loosely on illustration & design at 21.

    Subsequently throughout medical training - the sketches from anatomy and dissection class, were intermingled with the typical cars, planes, trains, and mechanical designs.

    Japanese animation & design were miles ahead of western standards then, and formed the staple rare diet (if one could obtain rare sample of them) and concept art per-se was not born yet.

    At 25, I started serious concept and industrial design and worked a range of freelance game projects.

    It was not till I hit 31 that I had enough inertia, sufficient mileage and experience to take it fully pro, coupled with some amazing friends and artist, we are where we are today with Opus Artz.

    Suffice to say, once you have that critical thinking, critical analysis and art hat on that it is impossible to switch off, that is the level of inertial self drive, motivation to suceed.

    To paraphrase Ratatouille, " Anyone can draw!"

  5. Good stuff, totally inspired me, thx's guys and Alex =))

  6. I am a 32 years old lawyer, like you alex never did any serious effort before that , want to convert to 2d art. Its great to know that its possible at late age and in relative quick timeframe to become a professional illustrator as this is a dream for me. Your progress inspires me. I have started in the past 6 month steadily increasing the hours I spend with drawing with my intuos 4. I am now into 25 hours per week and I hope that is enough to really give me the skill eventually that is required to become a professional. I dont mind waiting for 3 years, doing a job I love is a high priority for me and I never liked being a lawyer anyway. But my parents scared me out of becoming what I wanted as I am sure many other are in a similar situation like me. However with reading interviews like yours I understand that this is where my heart is and I am no longer scared and afraid to invest loads of time in it. Any sucess I have and will have will be because interviews like this motivated me. Thank very , very, very much for helping me with such a tough decision.

  7. Kilon, you're in good company.

    I guess the fact is we have only one life experience. As such, following the passion is important for the longevity of the body, mind and soul (fulfillment)

    Some of todays top artists did not train as artists. Infact, they would have scientific medical background, ex cardiac surgeons, medical research assistant, chefs, nuclear submarine technicians, game designers, ex 3D modellers, etc.

    What is important is a keen eye, some degree of unique life experience (to bring to the trade) and most important of all the passion for art.

    assiduus usus uni rei deditus et ingenium et artem saepe vincit (Constant practice devoted to one subject often outdoes both intelligence and skill)

  8. Greetings. What happened and will blog updated?
    Great idea for blog, I'm sure you will have readers, but will continue to write, please, it's very useful knowledge.

  9. Ladies and Gentlemens,

    This is a goldmine. Actually I am in the same boat like you Koshime (so not that kind who has been drawing since age 4-5) hehe
    I have got a lot inspiration reading this blog guys.
    Thanks a lot.
    Yeah and it would be great if you could continue writing this blog.

    Best of Luck to Everybody :)