Thursday, 30 April 2020

Customizing Stock Art

Originals here and here.
As I've mentioned in the past, it can often be difficult to find stock artwork that matches your specific needs. However, commissioning lots of custom art can rapidly become expensive. That is why I like to "cheat," by selecting the stock art first, and then designing various monsters and adventures around it. Unfortunately, that isn't always an option.

Two days ago I released The Gobfather, a new crossover mini-setting for Saga of the Goblin Horde and Wiseguys, and for this product my normal approach of choosing the artwork first simply wasn't an option -- I needed a whole load of goblin gangsters, and I couldn't actually find any matching stock art. Nor could I afford to commission custom illustrations.

So I took my "cheating" to a whole new level: I chopped up a selection of different stock art images, resized and recolored them, and then I stuck the various pieces back together, creating my own unique illustrations. I used Photoshop, but you could just as easily use GIMP, or some another image editor. 

I decided to use artwork by Rick Hershey of Fat Goblin Games for my customized illustrations, for several reasons.

Original here.
First, Rick has an absolutely huge selection of very reasonably priced artwork to choose from, and when combining images it's essential they all have exactly the same style.

Second, the Fat Goblin Games license is very generous in terms of what you can do with the art (many artists don't allow you to modify their artwork at all, let alone chop them into pieces and reassemble them).

Third, I find the artistic style Rick uses easy to modify. I think this is mostly due to the black outlines, and a comic book style that tends to be more forgiving of minor mistakes.

Finally, of course, Rick draws lots of goblins! That's actually why I used so much of his art in Saga of the Goblin Horde, and it was nice to keep the same artistic look in The Gobfather.

To modify an image, I first duplicate the layer, then I zoom in and start cutting away the parts I don't want. I'll do this several times so that different parts of the image are in separate layers -- I might have one layer for the eyes, another for the mouth, another for the hands, and so on.

Originals here and here.
If the image has a thick black outline, I'll select that with the magic wand and copy it to the top layer, as it'll often help conceal minor discrepancies in the lower layers caused by cutting.

Not every part of the image needs to be cut cleanly, only those that will be visible in the final image. For example, I didn't usually pay much attention to the necks, because I knew I'd place a large goblin head over the top.

However, when images are combined, it's important they match up exactly. That means a clean edge on any parts of the image that will be visible, with the new component precisely rotated and resized to match the main image.

You can also use a fade-to-transparent effect to overlap two images (such as when I placed a new nose on Don Bignose's face). Other images should have a slight overlap, to avoid a gap between them -- for example, when I added Chip Chop's head, I placed it behind the suit collar and then cut away the suit.

This approach is also very convenient for changing colors, as it means that (for example) I can make the skin green without changing the color of the clothing, or darken the suit without changing the brightness of the steel knife.

Changing the proportions of an image is something that should be handled with great care, and I try to avoid this whenever possible. I did do it for one of the goblins, as I needed to turn a tall thin crime boss into a short goblin -- but I removed his hands first, replacing one with a larger duplicate of the original hand that also kept the original proportions, and the other with a goblin hand from another image.


While I don't have the skill to create my own art from scratch, it wasn't too hard to modify existing images, and I think the results were pretty good. This process obviously requires a fair amount of time, so if you can afford to commission custom art, that's still the better option. But if you're on a shoestring budget, and can't find the exact stock art you need, this is definitely a viable alternative.

All of the artwork in this blog post is by Rick Hershey. Publisher’s Choice Quality Stock Art © Rick Hershey / Fat Goblin Games (