Tue
Jan 27 2009 2:46pm

Jon Schindehette, an interview with Wizards of the Coast’s senior Dungeons and Dragons art director

William O’Conner, Devon Caddy-Lee

Jon SchindehetteJon Schindehette is the Senior Art Director for Dungeons and Dragons and is one of the most hard-working ADs  you could run across. Besides his work at Wizards of the Coast (and the staggering amount of illustration he is involved with), he is an outspoken and passionate fan of art and artists.  Clearly a man for whom the day job must be hectic, but not a chore. His blog ArtOrder is a daily must-read for anyone interested in fantasy art—he tirelessly seeks out new talent, interviews established artists, and gives business advice.

Can you briefly outline your responsibilities at Wizards of the Coast?

At Wizards of the Coast, I have the title of “Senior Art Director of Dungeons & Dragons.” It’s an innocuous sounding title, but it is wide-ranging and requires many hats. In short, I am responsible for the look and feel of the entire brand. Chris Perkins, D&D Creative Manager, is my cohort in crime on the R&D side of the house. He and I work together to ensure that the brand stays on the creative straight-and-narrow. That means keeping up on the entire product line—including our traditional print products, miniatures, web art direction, digital initiatives—the list goes on.

In addition, I am tasked to grow, support, and promote the artist community. This is a role that I really enjoy, and I’m looking forward to lots of discussions on ways to execute this goal.

One of my favorite duties as senior art director involves world building—whether it is fleshing out existing classes, characters and monsters, or dreaming up new ones—this is the ‘cherry on top’ part of the job.

In addition to all that, my day-to-day responsibilities are art directing our two ezines, Dungeon and Dragon.

...Makes for some full days!

How did you get to your current position?

I guess that depends on who you ask. Some might credit my mad ninja skills, others my “game geekness,” and others think that I promised pony rides to upper management. Myself, I think I was just in the wrong place at the right time.

Seriously though, working on the D&D team is really a “dream come true” job for me. I know that sounds dorky, but it’s true. I was a D&D gamer back in the late ’70s (hmmm, showing my age), and by a strange twist of fate I started at Wizards the very same day all the TSR folks did. For a long time, most of the company assumed I was from TSR since I went through orientation with them. Years later, when I had the amazing opportunity to work on the look of D&D 3rd Edition with Dawn Murin, Todd Lockwood, and Sam Wood, I thought I was in heaven. How does it get any better than that? Well, by being offered the opportunity to be the Senior AD for D&D!

How much artwork are you responsible for throughout a year?

Me personally? I’m almost afraid to count it up.

If you include all the magazines, RPG products, flash animations, 3D models and textures, and concept work—I will have around 1,000 pieces under my belt over the course of the next year. If you count all the pieces I have to review and approve with all the other products and initiatives in the D&D line...I really have no clue.

John StankoHow do you balance new talent with tried and true artists?

Between losing folks to the electronic gaming industry—or to an unnamed Tor art director—it is important to keep adding folks to my artist rolodex.

I try to add one or two new artists with each major project. Sometimes schedules and booking require me to take on more, although that makes me a bit nervous with the additional risk it brings into the mix.

Name some of the places you go to find new artists?

Conventions, online portfolio sites (deviantArt, ConceptArt, etc.), referrals, Spectrum

What marketing from artists works well for you?

Effective marketing. The kind that includes contact information. Seems obvious, but I’m amazed at how many emails I get that say “Please review my art” and have a single piece of art attached (or a ton)...and that is it! No contact information. No cover letter. No link to a professional web site. Nothing. Zilch. Zero. Nada.

I came to Wizards from the advertising world, and I am just appalled at the poor quality of self-marketing I see today. Now to be honest, I blame the art schools for a lot of this failure. In my course work, while the focus was on building and showing your portfolio, there was almost no discussion about how to get your portfolio seen, how to research a company or industry, how to self-promote...

I was lucky enough to have some great mentors once I entered the real world, and they taught me a ton about promotion. That has become a running theme on my blog these last couple of weeks.

Try a nice and simple html email. An interactive pdf. A mailer that is useful rather than just something to decorate the trash can (or recycle bin). Last of all, be creative! A unique promo piece is a lot more memorable than a beautiful postcard.

What makes for a good WotC portfolio?

Five to seven pieces that show your strengths.

Show me you know anatomy, weight, motion, composition, and have solid storytelling skills.

Research my products, and show me you understand what we are doing. Don’t show me work that is not relevant or appropriate.

What are the exciting, or scary, aspects about working with an artists you never worked with before?

Exciting—they are stoked, excited, passionate, and determined to impress me.

Scary—have no idea if what I saw in their portfolio is what I’m going to get, if it will be on time, if it will show up at all...

Franz VohwinkelWhat are you pet peeves in website portfolios and other self-promotions?

Hard-to-find contact information.

Websites that don’t allow me to scroll through the images quickly.

Websites that have all kinds of annoying bells and whistles that detract from the experience.

Promotions with broken urls.

Promotions that use other peoples’ art without proper credits (seriously!!).

Can you name anyone on your wish list?

The list is too long!

What do you do for fun?

Photography. Work in my vegetable garden. Ride my horse and my Harley...not at the same time. Build stuff...

Any other advice you would like to give?

Read my ArtOrder blog*grin*


All paintings © Wizards of the Coast.

Artwork seen here: William O’Conner, Devon Cady-Lee, John Stanko, Franz Vohwinkle.

3 comments
Corey D. Macourek
1. Corey D. Macourek
jon is a humble man. He is a very honest AD and gives the honest unfiltered, but focussed truth about art direction...and about everything else. It's been an honor to know Jon as my friend and to work with him at Wizards for a number of years. I DO read his blog and HIGHLY recommend everyone is every discipline to read it. Jon gives amazing advice and feedback that you can't get much anywhere else...especially from one of the echelon of brands to work for in the fantasy genre. Kudos, Jon.
Gregory Manchess
2. GregManchess
Years ago I had the pleasure of working with Jon on a cover that was just a lot of fun to paint. And Jon was the one that made the project that way! I think he's another of the AD's that direct by directing less and stimulating more. His comments about self promotion are spot-on, and I, too, point to the art schools for their lack of real education in the arts. Keep going, Jon!
Corey D. Macourek
3. Laura Larson
Great interview, a pleasure to read.
Keep up the fantastic work and influence in the art community. Wizards and D&D is lucky to have you. Rock on :)

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