WC: How long did the book take to complete, and what were some of the biggest hurdles in getting it done? How much research did you have to do?
Swords took two years to write and illustrate after I signed with Candlewick Press. I faced some crazy personal hurdles along the way, but stubbornness pays off! Perhaps the biggest hurdle was getting over self-doubt. If you let your confidence slip, it can freeze the creative mind in its tracks. I had to trick myself in various ways to loosen up and paint.
I did a little research here and there, but I mostly relied on my memory. Fortunately, I had filled my head with lots of sword-related imagery and information over the years. When I started to think too much about conveying a detailed history of the sword, it would bog me down like I was working on a text book, rather than a "fun" book. So I hewed to a more whimsical approach, and let my pen go wild. I scribbled down notes about what was on my mind as I went, and the captions were then derived from those original notes. This system kept me inspired throughout the project, and I hope it will add a quirky, fun quality to the book.
WC: The art of Swords is really, strikingly beautiful and extremely detailed ... how long does it take to finish a page (or two-page spread, in some cases)? How often did you have to re-draw something?
Thank you! An average spread would usually take two or three weeks. But, I am also prone to strange bursts of activity, where I can finish a huge chunk of a page in a sitting. I had to rework a few areas here and there until I was happy, but I tried to keep a steady momentum, so the work would continue to flow along. I was terrified of running out of time, and it was close at the end. My habit of working vampire's hours came in very handy.
WC: I have to ask - what is your favorite sword?
My favorite type of sword? Ah, if I were to pick based on today's mood, I think I'll take a samurai sword. But my mood changes! I've always loved medieval European swords, too.
WC: How many swords do you yourself own?
Not as many as I'd like! Someday, I'll collect them in earnest, but for now, I have around nine or ten.
WC: How do you think your work in gaming has influenced your art, or contributed to your passion for the sword?
My work in game development taught me to think with a hard-core attitude about my projects. You must keep a mind-set that IT WILL GET DONE, come hell or high water. Blizzard also imparted a real sense of quality over quantity. They really try for "all killer and no filler." That has influenced me in a very positive way.
Also, I worked with a bunch of Sword nuts, just like myself, so we talked about swords all the time. We had tons of real swords around the office, and Blizzard North even gave swords out as gifts (they once gave me a beautiful Scottish Claymore). Swords and gaming marry nicely.
WC: What about the other way around - how did your passion for swords find its way into your game art?
The very pictures that got me hired at Blizzard North had swords in them. And then, suddenly, I was being paid to paint the things that I had been doodling for ages! It was a dream come true, and I had a wild time.
WC: After Swords ... what's next on your plate? Another book?
Yes! I'm busily working on a second book! In fact, I'm about halfway through and I'm having more fun than ever. This next one's going to be a neat one - the same size as the last book, 96 pages, chock-full of illustration. Think monsters, heroes, weapons, and adventure. :)
WC: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us? Something you've never been asked in an interview before, maybe! Or anything at all?
I'd just like to thank my fellow gamers out there. I've raised a family and pursued a true passion, and I credit my patrons (all the game and now, book buyers) for this blessing. Thank you! Oh yeah, and a big hello and best-wishes to all my friends out there who are hard at work making us more games to play!
WC: Thanks for your time, Ben!
It has been a pleasure and an honor!
Keep checking WarCry for an upcoming in-depth review of Swords: An Artist's Devotion!