Rogues Gaming

Despite discovering art at a very early age, it wasn’t until his late 20s that James Hayball started taking art seriously.  

His style takes the heart of fantasy and peters on the edge of science fiction. His palette is subtle, but draws you in with its depth. From epic Magic: The Gathering inspired landscapes to intimate battle scenes, James Hayball is cementing himself into a familiar world. 

“In the beginning it was hard to be hard on myself,” he said when I mentioned seeing an old Facebook post that said ‘my art sucked’. “But, it was essential in maximising my progress. You have to be OK with producing bad art for a few years when you’re starting out. It was that discovery of skill that kept me going, and honestly, I am still rarely 100% satisfied with a piece of artwork. I’ve been reassured by far more tenured artists that this is a commonly shared sentiment…”

Taking a step back and allowing yourself a moment of reflection is key, and perhaps it’s this notion of knowing you could do better that drives all creatives to keep expanding on their portfolio. We spoke about the process of creating a new piece of artwork and whether this differed between developing a personal project and working on a commission. But for Hayball it’s a methodical process; “With both, I generally start with a strong idea and then sketch this out,” he said. “I’ll start rendering in black and white because not having to worry about colour at this stage allows me to completely focus on the values, the depth, of the image. Once I am happy with that, I’ll start adding colour through various layers and renderings.”

Much of Hayball’s work is finished digitally, but if you follow his updates on social media you will know that he  often sketches and paints traditionally too. “Digital is just another medium for producing art,” he said. “A program won’t make you a good artist though, not that I think I am the best artist around, but there is no ‘make my art look cool’ button, so to speak.” An artist still needs a knowledge of the core fundamentals; light, shade, anatomy, to name a few. “You need this knowledge to produce a successful piece of art, whether that’s working with oils of Photoshop. At least in semi-realism anyway, which is what I strive for.”

Of course, there are pros and cons with every artistic medium. “Digital is generally a lot quicker,” and some might argue more convenient. “You can change things easier, but you never have an original physical copy”.

When looking at James Hayball’s art I found myself thinking that much of it wouldn’t look out of place on a Magic: The Gathering card, to the point where I would question whether or not I could actually place it. The answer is that I couldn’t, but it is a source of great inspiration and has even inspired the creation of several playmats to Hayball’s name; “Magic: The Gathering is definitely one of my top goals as a client to work with, and yes a lot of my personal work tends to be geared to that style for that reason. But, it’s always a compliment to me when people are reminded of that franchise when looking at my art.”

Aside from inspired personal works, Hayball often takes an existing character or idea, and adds his own twist to it. Take the Trollslayer for example. The recreation is reminiscent of the original and instantly places you in the midst of another world. “With a lot of personal pieces I enjoy painting something from an existing world and my own twist will come through with a particular pose or the overall theme. Since they are not client works, I treat them as personal exercises. I have a lot more freedom.”

Freedom is another key sentiment for an artist. But so is listening. “You should always try to paint and draw regardless of whether you have client work at that particular time. Always listen to constructive criticism too, especially if you’re lucky enough to get feedback from a more experienced artist in your particular field.” 

Hayball is lucky in this respect as one of his adviser’s is none other than renowned Magic The: Gathering artist, John Avon; “I’m extremely lucky that he lives close to me and I met him through a mutual friend. We clicked and became good friends ourselves. I know I’m very lucky to be able to ask him for critique on my work when he is not too busy. In my opinion, he is definitely one of the best fantasy artists in the world. I’ve learnt that you should never give up. Ever. If you want to be a fantasy artist, and make a living from it, it requires hard work and a vision. Listening to constructive criticism is great, but don’t listen to people who say you can’t do it… Believe in yourself.”

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