Compendium of non-Caucasian Fantasy (/SF) Artwork

edited April 2009 in Story Games
Due to my crushing white limousine liberal guilt, I tend to play a lot of non-white characters in games. And, when I run games, I tend to try to make my fantasy worlds fairly ethnically diverse. So, I am often faced with the challenge of finding art for non-white characters - and, this is rather difficult sometimes. It's not that there's NOTHING out there - it's just harder to find, especially if you want art that puts non-white characters in more standard fantasy garb or situations (e.g., an asian who isn't a samurai/ninja, or an african-looking fellow without a spear).

If I had an artistic bone in my body, I would just make a bunch of relevant art. But I don't. And if I had a million dollars, I would commission someone to do a bunch and then just give it away.* But I do not.

So, I'm trying to think of a way to create a resource for folks looking for character art that isn't of white folks - and my secret agenda is also for it to be out there for other people to find, so that when they're looking for character art, they might say, "wow, this black guy with the badass sword is awesome!" and the fictional world will become a little bit more diverse. I'd like the final product to be available online for free (or very cheap) and maybe sell a printed copy through something like lulu at cost. I'd also like artists to get reasonably compensated for their contributions - this isn't a call for charity art. And, while I'm willing to kick in a bit of my own money, I can't invest a huge amount.

I don't have any great ideas on how to do this - except that someone wise told me, "post this idea on SG." My best one so far is to figure out a reasonable rate to pay an artist for a portrait, then put up a project on something like Fundable for 10 or 20 times that, and "ransom" the project. But I'm open to anyone who knows what the heck they're doing and would like to see something like this exist, too.


  • One model that might work would be to make it a charity project. Solicit and cajole 20 artists into working pro bono, get 20 writers to create companion setting bits based on the illustrations or vice versa, threaten somebody into laying it out, put it all in a pretty full color POD book and donate the profits to a suitable charity.

    So, you know, cat wrangling for a cause.
  • The best resource for adventuring type stuff (other than google image search) would be Osprey books. They are military, but they cover a truckload of cultures and time periods. If you want Joe Average images, try looking for costume reference manuals for certain areas and eras used by historians and wardrobe designers. Some of this is hard to come by or pricey, but not always.

    It is a good idea to know the term for the costume or character type you are looking for in the native language. Do a Google image search for a hougan, gurkha, or a shugenja will get you closer to what you need. It is not a safe assumption to make that artists in Korea sit around and make fantasy art of Western Knights or that Spanish artists do not have a picture of El Cid or two (although he is very Western, and thus assages none of your guilt, I fear [grin]). Google language tools can help you with that as well. Translate the term "ancient warrior" or "wizard" in the target language and do some test searches.
  • Posted By: JuddG...would be Osprey books
    This series is indeed awesome. You're probably not going to find "my unique awesome character who is unlike all the others in his clan", but you will get some solid renderings of (mostly warriors) of all races and cultures, which is a great start to build a visual image from.

  • I'm happy to work on commission and I love drawing interestingly ethnic people, but I don't give away my work for free or cheap unless it's a gift to a friend.

    Speaking as a consumer of art and a guy who's starting to learn the culture of, say, the online freeformers at Gaia and so on, I strongly believe this concept has much stronger legs and better sustainability if you don't take the ownership away from the art. No one wants to be that guy with the avatar art that's exactly the same as that other guy's avatar art.

  • Find the Osprey books illustrated by Angus McBride. Dude was a genius. Check out his samurai. They're stocky, scarred, and each possesses totally unique facial features because each is a totally different guy. My only problem with Osprey is that they're wholly military, so when you want to know what someone wore to get married or see spirits, or what they made bread with or how they plowed their fields, you're out of luck.

  • I'd suggest also looking for children's illustrated history books. These often have excellent pictures of daily life in Tenochtitlan or whatever.
  • edited April 2009
    Angus McBride is my favorite artist ever.
    You can find alot of his stuff with a Google Image search. He also has several non-Osprey compendiums (although they may be compendiums of art that once appeared in an Osprey book)

    But alot of these suggestions I think are missing a key issue
    especially if you want art that puts non-white characters in more standard fantasy garb or situations (e.g., an asian who isn't a samurai/ninja, or an african-looking fellow without a spear).

    Like maybe I want a Templar Knight circa 3rd Crusade looking guy...who happens to be ethnically Asian. Not going to find that in an Osprey book.
  • Though I utterly lack art skills, I love the idea of a Story Game Names Book style project in this vein. If there's anything I can do to help it go, I will.
  • I think this would happen if someone organised it.

    It needs someone to organise it.

  • The problem I'm seeing with this, is that you're going to want quantity here and even if you're asking artists to work cheap, that's still going to add up pretty quickly. If you go the Story Games Names Book route and put the proceeds towards charity, and get artists to donate their work to the project you run up against other problems. For one thing, you'll still want quantity, but it's harder to ask for quantity if you're not paying. For another thing, you tend to get what you pay for, and if you're not paying anything, you could wind up with a lot of well-meaning crap.

    You should think of some methods to make the creation of these images as easy as possible. Sticking to greyscale images is one obvious solution. Keeping the size small is another. Think headshots, webforum avatar-sized. Have some examples of what you'd generally like to see and what you don't want to see handy. Make a specific website for this project, outlining all the specs and info.

    You'll probably want a lot more artists than this community has on hand. There are a bunch of drawing groups that do a sketch-a-week based on a different subject every week. Maybe you could get your foot in the door at one of these places. Livejournal artists are prone to go meme-crazy on occasion. A couple years ago someone said "Let's redesign Batgirl" and a couple of hundred people jumped on that bandwagon through a convoluted chain of friends lists. One thing in your favour is that comic people are pretty charmed with dorky stuff now. If it's for charity, that could help spark another one of these crazes.

    One last thing: While character portraits are nice, and your cause is one I sympathise with greatly, I wonder how useful or interesting a book of portraits alone (unless it had some really good work in it) would be to your average gamer. I'm an artist myself, but to be honest, I don't really care about portraits of my gaming characters, beyond a loose sketch on scratch paper if the game's in a lull. I think there needs to be more value added to this project if it's to be appealing to creators and consumers alike. It needs something to bump it up beyond 'kinda neat idea' to 'must have this'.
  • My wife has chatted with me about this on many occasions. Some of you may not know me, I am the White Male, married to a Black Female. See Form Profile for Pic.
    So starting from that personal reference, I have no idea how people play non-white characters in games.. I am very guilty of writing game Demos full of not characters with not defined race. I do try and have one or two female characters..

    But back to the topic at hand. Part of the problem is that some artists do not seem to know how to draw non-white people. This is easily seen with art of black women, often what I find are darkly colored thin woman. Forgotten are their curves, faces and hair.. My wife just reminded me that there are coffee books of photographs if someone needed reference art.

    I don't know how to make this happen, maybe we just need to raise awareness, and push the collective subconsciouses. I would love to own a coffee table sized book.. Off to check Amazon...

    On the note of Story Game Names, I found the few culture references very useful, I wish all of the entries had some.
  • I'd be down to do some art, but does it have to fantasy?
  • A whole bunch of DeviantArt illustrations were posted to the Gamers of Color livejournal community a while back. There you can find stuff like this


    If that's what you're looking for, maybe you can contact the artists listed in that post?
  • Posted By: DanielSolisA whole bunch ofDeviantArtillustrations were posted to theGamers of Colorlivejournal community a while back. There you can find stuff like this


    If that's what you're looking for, maybe you can contact the artists listed in that post?

    It actually looks like one person collected a bunch of *others' * art and assembled it, into a single downloadable file (with credits to the artists in the file, it appears). Is there a direct link somewhere, or do you have to post your email address to the original poster?

  • Another thought is to do this project online, with every image bearing a link to the artist who did it. Then you can solicit artists on the basis that it's free advertising for their commission work.
  • edited April 2009
    Posted By: DanielSolisA whole bunch ofDeviantArtillustrations were posted to theGamers of Colorlivejournal community a while back.

    I've been thinking about this a bit recently, after being asked if I had some sort of racist agenda, there being only whites in my fantasy game Fabula. I replied that I indeed have black communities there too, which I have, but then; I've never really played those black communities. In fact only one character have originated from one of these black communities in 20 years, and that's it. No yellows or reds or browns. So I felt guilty as hell, after thinking a bit ...

    Any perceived problem should have a working solution. So I have made myself a solution, political correct it is, but still; a good one. The people of my world will no longer be all whites; they will live in cultures with a variety of skin tones, like most of us really do. They will have skin colors ranging from black to yellow, the intermixing of skin-tone being part of the overall culture of all men, in whatever setting I use in my fantasy world. The only exemption is my green and black orcs, my coal-grey gnomes, and my dusty-grey dwarves.

    I look forward to writing up a new edition of my game with this incorporated. I am excited about how this will influence my writing, and translate into functional game-elements. I will have to work it into the character-sheet, of course, creating a space for skin-color. And I look forward to have some great art supporting the fact of multicolored cultures in my world.

    The link provided by Daniel is invaluable in that respect. Thank you!
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