You can get your dream job, but even a dream job is a lot of work.
Illustrator and artist Charles Urbach said, “I think we do a disservice to young artists — and by young artists, I don’t mean young people, but artists just getting started — that being an artist is wearing funny clothes and following your heart.”
Urbach, who appears this weekend at the annual Charcon gaming convention at the Clay Center in Charleston added, “It’s not sitting on a mountain top drawing dragons or castles or whatever. It’s a job, like being an electrician or a building contractor.”
A successful illustrator whose work has been used in fantasy and science fiction books, as well as a variety of collectable card and tabletop roleplaying games like “Magic: The Gathering,” “Legend of the Five Rings” and “HeroClix,” Urbach said someone like him spends only about a third of his time actually making art.
The rest of his time, he has to manage sales, customer support for people who buy his work and a million other things that support the business of what he does.
“But don’t get me wrong,” Urbach said. “Even on my worst day, I love what I do.”
Urbach grew up playing the kinds of games that he’s created illustrations and art for. He said he was drawn to the illustrations that were typically a part of the different books and magazines that were part of fantasy role playing games like “Dungeons and Dragons” and “Star Frontiers.”
These illustrations both captured and help shape his imagination.
Urbach knew early on that he wanted to draw and work for the companies that created the games he played.
Back in the early 1980s, role playing science fiction and fantasy games were a fringe hobby — the domain of bookworms and nerds.
There were only a few popular games and toward the end of the decade, interest in even those waned for a few years until collectible card games like “Pokemon” and “Magic: The Gathering” sparked new interest that revived and reinvented the industry.
Now, the games aren’t so fringe and there’s more of them.
“There’s a lot more opportunity now for people like me,” Urbach said.
The artist said after he graduated from college in the 1990s, he spent years working as a commercial artist, building up his body of work and hoping he could break into drawing for games.
As a side project, he started taking unpublished art to comic, gaming and pop culture conventions in 2002 to display and sell, before breaking into the fantasy illustration field in 2005.
Now, illustrations for games, books and conventions have become what he does for a living. He’s won awards, including most recently a Chesley Award from the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists.
It has been a longtime coming, but with success, Urbach said he can be a little picky about the kind of work he does.
Sometimes, the illustration jobs he’s taken have been very specific. A particular client might want a very specific image based on what has already been done or based on very rigid definitions.
“That’s sort of top down,” he said.
That kind of work wasn’t bad. There was nothing wrong with it, but Urbach said he always looks for more.
“I want to use my art to build worlds,” he said. “I want to contribute to the world building they’re doing and tell stories through my art.”