This is the first post in a new feature series on GBN celebrating some of the many great artists working within interactive fiction. In each ARTIST SHOWCASE we intend to show and discuss individual techniques, workflows and visual styles, often peering behind the scenes to witness and understand all of the craft, technical skill and personal flair that these accomplished creatives bring to every illustration project.
Alberto Dal Lago graduated as an illustrator from the IED institute in Milan, and since 2005 has collaborated with many Italian and foreign publishers, creating stunning ‘visual suggestions’ for clients such as: Wizards of The Coast™, Paizo Publishing™, Privateer Press, Applibot inc., Stone Arch Books, Ares Games, Panini, Mondadori, Lisciani Games, Edizioni Piemme and Salani. He has taught as a professor of Digital illustration at the International School of Comics in Padua (Italy) since 2013 – a job that he loves due to the freedom of imagination and thoughts. He lives and works in Vicenza, Italy.
Since 2013 Alberto has been the official cover artist for the historical series of Lone Wolf™ gamebooks created by Joe Dever, published in deluxe versions by Vincent Books Publisher (Lone Wolf Deluxe Edition). This ARTIST SHOWCASE will focus on his fantastic cover illustrations for these special Italian editions, highlighting his creative process from initial concept to finished art as we delve into the mind of this talented artist.
How much freedom did you have regarding the Lone Wolf Deluxe Edition series: are the final images your specific choices or did the publisher nominate the cover content for each book?
I’d been working together with the author, Joe Dever, for years before he passed away in 2016. Every time I was about to start a new cover image he would provide me with a very detailed art brief containing a description of his chosen scene, along with some short notes and references taken directly from the gamebook. Joe would propose a scene that he’d love to see depicted, and both of us would then discuss it with the publisher. Every one of his proposed scenes always met our desired taste for the series.
Did you enjoy working like this with Joe?
Yes, I did. But let me say that this is actually a very common way to work. When I’m asked to complete a project I usually follow a document called an ‘art order’ containing descriptions and references. Joe was able to provide a very accurate art order, plus, his feedback was always enthusiastic, making me feel very confident about what I was doing.
How much preparation is involved in your work: do you produce highly detailed sketches or tone/colour tests before beginning the final art?
To me, the most successful work starts from a well-planned sketch. The longer you spend on preliminary sketches, the better. After the sketch is completed and it has received approval, I create a highly detailed image of black & white values only, and then I apply colour. But I must be sure that the values are working successfully at this stage before continuing. I do sometimes start directly with colour, however, for me that specific technique requires a much longer development time.
If your normal method is to initially create and check values, in what specific circumstances will you actually begin with colour?
If a deadline is very strict and I feel confident with the subject, then I’ll start directly with colours, but this doesn’t mean that I’d actually ignore the values. The values will simply be included within the colours, rather than in a separate, preliminary grayscale.
Your illustrations regularly contain dramatic tension and movement. Is this something that you’re always keen to feature in your work?
Yes, I do feature those elements in my work, thank you for pointing that out. I’m constantly inclined to create a particular type of composition, one notably characterised by strong dynamism and movement. In fact, I do not like to use static scenes, nor characters holding a steady pose. I like to catch the viewer’s eye by playing with lines, volumes and values that contrast together to achieve a dramatic composition.
So, exactly how do you add movement and drama to an illustration that is relatively static. For example, can you explain the compositional process behind your striking cover for ‘The Masters of Darkness’?
It’s a matter of technical rules about composition. I could have drawn the main character standing directly in front of the viewer at eye level (see progress sequence below), instead, I chose to depict this creature (a Gnaag) with an improved perspective, producing a pose that allows the viewer to see it in an elevated perspective, showing its full height with an angle that changes slightly from the bottom to the top. This, plus a strong light coming from above, adds tension to the whole image; you can feel this horrible, threatening presence looming over you. I also ended up adding tentacles that move around the body, conveying the viewer’s attention back to the main character. Now there’s a strong sense of movement even though the creature is just standing.
What are the most important factors for a successful cover illustration?
First of all it must be readable and understandable: then, it must tell a story. The cover illustration condenses the entire content of a book, presenting a concept or a fact in one single scene. The composition must work as well as the mood and the colour palette do: I believe that it should bring out genuine emotion in the viewer.
Can you explain ‘readable and understandable’ for those who aren’t familiar with such terms. What are you thinking about when sketching, and what are you then working on as you develop an image to ensure that this is achieved?
‘Readable’ means that all of the elements present within the scene can be easily seen and understood by the viewer: who is doing what and where, plus the different planes inside the illustration (foreground, middle ground, background) and the focal point. Our brain reads the whole image through these elements. So, whenever I produce sketches, I must pay attention to where I want to collate these important elements in order to achieve a progressive order of appearance: if the focal point is in the middle ground, for instance, I’ll have to put a key-light on it even if I have other elements in the foreground (which would be in shadow, in this case).
What are your favourite subjects to illustrate?
I really love horror subjects: creatures, monsters and creepy characters. In general I like to create epic illustrations with a specific mood, whether the subject is a fantasy one or not.
I would summarise horror as a genre reliant on mood – would that be why you’re attracted to those types of subjects, or is it just the opportunity to illustrate fantastic, nightmarish monsters?
A little of both, I guess. To me the horror genre is not only about mood, but it does bring out ambiguous and self-contradictory feelings: being attracted to what we fear. I guess it’s something that basically allows you to look inside yourself – whether you like it or not. This, of course, leads to the opportunity to illustrate nightmarish creatures!
Are there any genres of interest to you that you’re yet to explore?
I recently bumped into the sci-fi genre, which was something I’d never actually explored before. I produced some illustrations for Starfinder® (by Paizo Publishing™) and I must confess that I really did have fun!
What was so enjoyable – the opportunity to create images different from your previous work, or particular visual elements of the sci-fi genre?
Sometimes it’s a good thing to change the subject and create illustrations that you wouldn’t normally. Exploring a new genre makes you work with different approaches and learn to draw new things, keeping yourself in a constant challenge. And the more you draw, the more you improve. Or, at least, you understand what you definitely do not like!
Are you influenced and/or inspired by the work of other artists or illustrators?
Yes! I grew up with some strong influences in the 80s – Frank Frazetta was firmly amongst my favourites. I’ve always loved Caravaggio for his stunning use of light and shadow, and the sculptors Michelangelo and Bernini for their meticulous attention to anatomy. Over the years I’ve discovered a lot of terrific artists who have certainly inspired my work. I’ve also (re)discovered some paintings from the old masters, art which provides such tremendous reference material from which to learn anatomy and the rules of colour. I strongly recommend that all aspiring artists start with them if they want to learn more about colour theory and composition.
Alberto Dal Lago’s ongoing series of Lone Wolf illustrations exhibit all the expected qualities of a professional artist: compositional strength, desirable action, interest and great technical skill. His exciting images perfectly capture a dramatic moment in time, presenting a scene from an unfolding storyline where a hero rises against oncoming monstrous threats and dark enemies are faced with grim determination. The action is tangible and, as crafted by Alberto’s skilled hands, is portrayed with energy and movement to entice the eye and excite an individual’s call to adventure. His inspired colour palettes also add significantly to the content and composition, with harmony and contrast working together to direct the viewer’s attention and highlight the central focus of each image.
His broader portfolio is equally impressive, featuring covers for other Joe Dever products (The World of Lone Wolf, Freeway Warrior, Lone Wolf Adventure Game), artwork for numerous RPGs and tabletop miniatures games, various book and magazine covers, and illustrations based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.
You can see more of Alberto’s fantastic art at:
Lone Wolf™ was created by Joe Dever – all rights reserved
All images and materials are copyright protected and are the property of Alberto Dal Lago ©