Ellen Payne is the subject of this month's Game Artist Showcase. Check out her stunning work and read about how she's weaponized time to heal artists' block.
Game Artist Showcase: The Captivating Ellen Payne
A whole year of Game Artist Showcases, you say? So far this year, we've showcased 7 phenomenal game artists, each with their own style and perspective: Yuhang Weng, Betsy Weymouth, Nana, Chris Binns, Jesse Van Weiden, Orlando Flusband, and Melinda Lack. Now Ellen Payne has arrived to help us make it 8.
Ellen, from Germany, works in gaming – though as a PR consultant rather than as an artist. She did once apply for art school, though for reasons that will be forever incomprehensible to us somehow failed at the portfolio consultation stage. Instead, she went on to study communication science and English.
In these early years as an artist, she would spend hours creating fanart for Naruto and Bleach. Though these would be interspersed with illustrations of birds under the advice of her grandfather who insisted that she must not learn only to draw "pretty faces".
'Trust the process.' – Probably an artist's most beloved and despised phrase.
Talking of which, Ellen's early years of artistic exploration were concentrated on portrait photography. She modestly describes these photos as if they were some embarrassing teenage project "putting mud and moss on my face and calling it art" – though taking a look at these photographs, it's clear that she has always had an eye for emotionally resonant visuals.
Follow Ellen's underappreciated art Instagram, but not before checking out her artwork and her Q&A below.
A Q&A with Game Artist Ellen Payne
What games are you playing right now?
If I'm playing at all, my long-term guilty pleasure is League of Legends. Apart from that, I used to play Diablo III a lot, and I generally enjoy story-heavy games such as The Last of Us and Hellblade. I'm a sucker for pretty, artsy games too (like Journey or Gris).
How do you decide on your designs?
I don't actively decide on them, I suppose – but thinking about it, fantasy and science fiction certainly have a heavy impact on me (Star Wars, especially, and recently Dune, as well). There is just so much creativity and thought needed behind fictional civilisations – that inspires me. Concept art of movies and video games are a source of inspiration, as well.
What is your creative process?
It's mostly messy.
I sometimes have a rough concept, idea or art style in mind and try to stick to it – this approach tends to take longer, because the final product just HAS to be like I imagined or else I cannot complete it. Uma took me over a year to finish, because I ran against a wall and didn't know how to wrap it up: "Do I want to add a crown or not?", "Can I make the background work?". I had to develop other skills first in order to actually finish it the way I wanted to. In that case, it meant leaving out unnecessary embellishment.
Sometimes I have a sketch or concept, and sometimes I scribble until I feel an idea forming and just go with the flow. I tend to remove the whole sketch over and over (a common thing among artists apparently), and sometimes start again from scratch even when it seems like I was halfway there – just because I didn't feel it. This might sound like it takes even more time than the first approach, but it actually helps, occasionally, to let loose and create a concept along the way.
For me, I've realised, it needs to be a mix of the two while also allowing myself to put a piece away for a time if it makes me sad or frustrated.
Which piece are you most proud of?
Apart from the fact that I see flaws as soon as I finish a piece… Koy. Not because it's my best piece, but because of my growth and mindset during its creation. I had an idea that I roughly sketched and then couldn't follow through, because I couldn't find a cool colour scheme. Then, I picked it up a year later and finished it in the shortest time while actually enjoying the process of creating the piece. I think I learned so much during that one, most importantly to not give up and to "trust the process" – probably an artist's most beloved and despised phrase.
What's the next step for your art? Are you working on anything interesting?
I struggled for the longest time to find a style and was frustrated, because I thought I HAD to be recognisable (which actually led to me not creating anything at all). That's what I'm working on right now: Accepting the fact that styles are not set, but changing – and in the best cases, improving – as long as you continue to keep on creating. Currently, I'm working more on exercising my visual library than creating something original – which is why there are a lot of studies among my recent pieces.
I do have some ideas in mind on what to do next (visualising a story I have in mind and creating a logical world around it). But most importantly, I want to be more active again, to learn more about colour theory and composition, and to just have fun along the way.
All rights to images are firmly retained by the artist, Ellen Payne. Do not use or replicate them without her express permission.