One of my favorite parts of JordanCon is strolling through the dealers hall and art show. You can feel the creativity in the air, and there are so many talented and inspiring creators to meet.
For 20+ years Charles Urbach’s colored pencil work has appeared on book covers, RPGs, board games, and collectible card games, including: Magic: The Gathering, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and A Game of Thrones. He is a 2018 Chesley Award winner and instructor at events around the world.
In addition to being a prolific artist, world-builder, and storyteller, Charles is one of the most down-to-earth, approachable, and encouraging professionals I’ve ever encountered. I was delighted to have the opportunity to interview him about his career and to share this blog with my #jordanconfam.
For more beautiful art, be sure to check out Charles’ Etsy shop and follow him on Facebook….
Etsy store: https://www.etsy.com/shop/CharlesUrbachArt
Social Media: https://www.facebook.com/CharlesUrbachArt
Without further ado, here’s the interview…
What’s the best part of being an award winning Sci-fi and Fantasy artist?
Experience, and the freedom that comes with it. 30 years of working professionally as an artist teaches you how to face and overcome a lot of challenges. In that time, if you’re learning and growing, working humbly, diligently, and mindfully, you build the confidence and wisdom to make choices and set your own goals and boundaries. Like any career pursued with passion and skill, the hardships, choices, victories, losses, and sacrifices you face inform the person you become.
What originally inspired you to become an artist?
I encountered fantasy and science fiction on television and in books in the 1970s, at a very young age. My family enjoyed genre entertainment and was successful in the music industry. This fostered an appreciation for imaginative storytelling and understanding of a life in creative expression. I was encouraged to learn and create. Even before I could read the Lord of the Rings, the covers of the books drew me into an imaginary world. I barely understood what it was about, but I made up my own stories based on those covers. I would do that with all the visual worlds I saw in books, film, and TV – even after I could read and understand them better. I loved extrapolating beyond the confines of the stories presented. In the early 80’s I encountered the famous “red box” edition of Dungeons and Dragons, and Larry Elmore’s cover art for that was particularly inspirational. Seeing his work, and that of other illustrators in publishing and gaming, gave my interest in world-building a direction. Their work showed me there was a career in drawing the things I loved. Since then, I’ve never wanted to do anything but write and draw.
What of your original inspiration and motivation for becoming an artist have you held onto throughout your career?
The sense of wonder, unlimited potential, and world-building without boundaries. As a creative professional, more than any other career, the opportunities to learn, explore, and express ideas are endless.
Most rewarding moment of your art career so far?
Seeing the successes of artists I’ve mentored. Teaching other artists and helping them succeed based on hard work, critical thinking, perseverance, humility, and ethical behavior has been a part of my work from the beginning. I’ve been in the field long enough now to see them achieve success and pass those values onto other artists.
What’s your favorite thing to draw?
It’s not specific subject matter, but any project where I’m allowed creative freedom. I love exploring all kinds of genres, worlds, and ideas. The joy comes from the freedom to find what I connect with in a project and explore it.
The pandemic has presented many dilemmas and setbacks for artists this year, especially those who use events like conventions to network and sell their work. What have you done to stay resilient and pivot during this challenging time?
There were two principles I followed through 2020.
From my first job in art as a graphic designer, I’ve emphasized diversity in my education, skill set, and work ethic. I’ve always tried to adapt my work and methods to the circumstances at hand. Challenge is the norm in an art career and learning to face and adapt to adversity is critical for success. It’s trendy now for artists to specialize and follow what influencers and self-appointed teachers tell them – and there can be short-term advantages to that – but my approach has always been to build a slower but more enduring model by diversifying. My personality is inclined toward that, but more importantly, I’ve seen the benefits from it. All along, I’ve worked hard to build as many diverse relationships and skills as possible – many outside what people would consider the community and culture of art. Covid presented unparalleled difficulties, but I was able to source the prior relationships and skill sets I’d developed, as well as reach out to the fans and supporters who have always been the base of what I do. That diverse support structure was enough to get by and prepare for what would come after.
The second principle I embraced was a commitment to readiness for the post-Covid world. Even with limited resources, I put as much effort as I could into building relationships, finding new ways to market my work, and making new art ready for the opportunities that would inevitably return. I tried to look past the immediate difficulties and focus tangibly on the future. It wasn’t always easy to do that, but even a small effort kept the gears moving forward.
One of my favorite quotes is, “It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” 2020 was very dark indeed, but I tried to live and work with a spark of light in my heart and mind.
If you could give aspiring artists one piece of advice, what would it be?
Think for yourself: Think critically, independently, and creatively about every facet of your artistic journey. Creativity doesn’t end at the edge of your sketch pad. Ask challenging questions of yourself and others and measure the answers against common sense and what you know to be true. Look for patterns and power structures in the individuals and institutions you encounter and always search for the “why” behind what you find. Apply the same culture and standards of critique to the people and institutions who would impose critique on you. Embrace new ideas and learning, but don’t believe and internalize the negative reinforcement you encounter. Learn from and understand those challenges for what they are and what they say about the world of art, but don’t let that or any group define you.
Favorite Pokémon? Why?
Baby Yoda. What do you mean he’s not a Pokemon? He’s got macarons and Jedi powers – kinda the best Pokemon ever. Grogu-mon I choose you!
Find Charles online here:
- Etsy store: https://www.etsy.com/shop/CharlesUrbachArt
- Social Media: https://www.facebook.com/CharlesUrbachArt