Thursday, February 26, 2009

Who is Erol Otus?

You mean you don't know? Erol Otus is one of the most unique and beloved fantasy artists from the early days of the genre! He's also my all-time favorite fantasy illustrator. He designed many product covers for TSR hobbies in the 70s and 80s and took things in a more psychedelic direction.

Some of Otus' work has graced the early Dungeons and Dragons basic books and game sets. Below is one my favorites.
Click for a big, detailed looksee.

I love his artwork because it's colorful, it's expressive, and it's evocative. Much of the fantasy art that's prevalent today is almost photo-realistic, or trying to emulate a sustained, conventional approach. The result can be a muting of imagination. But not Otus--his stuff is wild and very personal. It's definitely his own persona showing through. In my mind, that's true art.

Otus' contemporary Jim Roslof did illustrations in a similar vein. Roslof is credited with creating the box top of my favorite board game, a fact I wasn't aware of until this year! Imagine going decades believing the art was Otus'!

You can see many similarities between the two. Both employ an almost surreal effect in portraying monsters. The adventurers also have a lot in common, including the way they're drawn and in terms of color and adornments. But if you look closely, the artists don't use light the same way. Both pieces are quite colorful, but Otus' D&D cover is moodier. He won't let his light travel too far--just a few reflections off the dragon's snout (from the torch) and off the sorceress' arm (the green glowing ball). I'm still not entirely sure where the room light is coming from--which gives it an eerie, unsettling feeling. It's quite clear in the Roslof piece that the light is coming from three different sources--behind the monster (what the hell is that thing?!), the wizard's staff, and the treasure. Much brighter all around, and yet these two pieces seem to use similar color palettes.

I was surprised and delighted to learn of Roslof's work this year and now I count him among my favorites. Kind of a nice surprise--now there's another artist who's work I wasn't aware that I loved!

Anyway, when I saw the notice for the contest I thought this would be a great opportunity to practice my own decidedly pathetic art skills. While there are prizes, I really just wanted to be able to improve my drawing abilities (ha!) and have fun.

Learn more about Erol Otus and his work. Props to fellow Otus enthusiast and avid gamer Jeff Reints for his wonderful efforts to document Erol's work.

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