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Rising Stars: Meet Christine Mitzuk

Today we’d like to introduce you to Christine Mitzuk.

Hi Christine, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
I was interested in a lot of different things as a kid, and I was the kid who could draw. Initially, I went to college for Landscape Architecture starting in the pre-Landscape Design program, but part way through my first year I was told that most people who graduated from the program ended up designing where trees would go around an architect’s office building or parking lot. That sounded awful. At the time I think I had a lot of rigid thinking so my balloon was burst. At the end of the first semester, I switched to the Design Communications program with a minor in Studio Arts. I loved books so thought I would become a children’s book illustrator. I enjoyed the change in studies quite a bit, and went with the flow of life. I ended up working as a production artist and then graphic designer at a couple of graphic design and marketing firms. After a while, the stress of the job got to me.

I spent a lot of my break time at work looking at fantasy art (unicorns, fairies, wizards, that sort of thing). I started taking evening art classes and started doing watercolor again. My husband introduced me to sci-fi fantasy conventions. I met some inspiring artists, Ruth Thompson in particular was a big influence, and I was amazed that people could actually make a living making fantasy art.

In 2003 or 2004 we went to Gen Con, that’s a tabletop gaming convention. That year there were art directors from Wizards of the Coast doing portfolio reviews. Beforehand I set up an appointment, made some additional fantasy art watercolor pictures, and a handmade portfolio to present them in. I imagine I looked very eager and excited to be there. The Art Director was very gracious. She kindly and gently reviewed my work, asked me questions, and encouraged me to visit the table displays of the artists who they were working with to look at the level of development of their watercolor works. I was blown away by the composition, anatomy, creativity, and refinement. I had a LOT to learn if I wanted to work for Wizards of the Coast.

That lit a fire under me. After that, I started taking figure drawing classes after work at a local art center. I traded the instructor a website for one-on-one instruction. Through her, I learned about The Atelier Studio Program of Fine Arts in Minneapolis. I took the week-long workshop there and I felt like I found my people. They found joy in making pictures, and we’re so focused on art. I hope that everyone has the opportunity to find their people.

A big part of me wanted to pursue making art. My husband and the rest of my family were very encouraging. Follow your passion. Be yourself. I had a lot of fear because I had a safe job and if I quit I would be stepping into the unknown, but I would go to work and at night I had no energy. In 2006, with encouragement from family, I quit my job to attend the 5-year program at The Atelier. I wanted to learn how to make the things I imagined look real. There I learned how to see, how to learn from observation, how to create the illusion of reality, and the imaginative art process. I finished in 2011, then took a few online mentorships specific to illustration for fantasy art with Rebecca Guay of SmArtSchool. With her, I discovered how to meld what I learned from The Atelier with a commercial client project workflow in Photoshop, and other aspects to consider when making art such as the emotional story. I started sending out my portfolio pieces, and attending conventions where I could get portfolio reviews from art directors. I got my first official freelance project for imaginative art in 2013.

Since then, clients have included several tabletop game companies, Llewellyn Worldwide, a giftware company, a radio drama, and private individuals. Most recently I worked with Bezier Games, Inc. as the primary artist creating illustrations for Ultimate Werewolf Extreme. I also teach classes at The Atelier Studio Program of Fine Arts (Imaginative Art, Gesture, Color Theory, Costumed Figure, Composition).

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
It’s challenging sometimes, but overall I think I’ve been pretty fortunate so far. There have been ups and downs, enthusiasm and self-doubt, and health issues (both physical and mental). Years of practicing and learning my craft, and continuing to learn and stretching my capabilities. The sending out of the proverbial messages in bottles and waiting for any replies to come back. We had a few hiccups with life events too, but we’re still making our way. I’m thankful for all the folks that have been cheering me on this whole time, and those I have crossed paths with who gave me encouragement and shared their knowledge.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
Currently, I specialize in fantasy art mainly for the tabletop game industry. I’ve done a number of images for various games including Arkham Horror the Card Game, A Game of Thrones the Card Game, Ultimate Werewolf Extreme by Bezier Games, Inc., and concept art for Glorantha: the Gods War (a Sandy Petersen Game).

Now I’m building a portfolio of book cover art samples so I can knock on doors for that kind of work in addition to game art.

What sets me apart from others? When a project has human characters, and the project goals will allow for it, I like to make the characters look like fantasy versions of regular people. I use a lot of gesture (body language) to help tell the emotional story or personality of a character or their role in the game. And I like to make sure I consider the materials of various costume pieces as well as their age, or other story elements. When I work with clients, I ask questions to better understand what the goal and needs of the project are, and communicate to set expectations.

What matters most to you? Why?
When I teach, it’s important to me to try to share as much information as possible that I find useful. When I make art, I strive to let go of what “should” be and try to work in the space of possibilities (sometimes that’s extra challenging, but I think it just takes practice).

These days, what matters most is time with friends and family, followed closely by continuing to push myself to understand my craft. I like being a lifelong learner, I find it very satisfying, but I also want to create some sort of balance of time with the people that mean a lot to me, and creating the art I love.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Copyright 2020 Bezier Games, Inc. for the 3 Ultimate Werewolf Extreme game art pictures
Copyright Christine Mitzuk for the other imaginative pieces

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