In anticipation of Vanguards, the first NFT collection by EON Guardians, we sat down with the artist behind them, Tami Wicinas (@tamiwicinas).
Let’s start with introductions, tell us about yourself! How did you get into art?
I’ve loved drawing since I can remember. My parents tell me that when I was little I would get up early every day and draw for hours before they got up. Growing up, people kept telling me I was good at it, so I guess it was always what I wanted to do.
What made you decide to get into art as a career?
I didn’t have much of a social life in school, and by high school I knew for sure that I was happiest when I was in my own world making art. I decided to go to art school for college, and I guess I was committing to an art career with that decision. In school I thought I wanted to go into book illustration and do childrens’ books or book covers, but after graduating I realized how difficult it was to break into that market.
Where and/or what have you worked on before that you’d like to share with us?
Many years ago I wrote and illustrated a webcomic called Wooden Rose, which I self-published and had printed using funds I raised through kickstarter. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I started and I learned a ton. It was a huge project that took 3 years, and I guess I’m pretty proud of having accomplished that.
I recently started a new full time job working at Limit Break, which has gotten some notoriety for the DigiDaigaku project, but I didn’t get to work on those PFPs.
How did you first get into gaming?
I don’t really remember how it started, I just remember playing Kid Pix, SimAnt, and Math Blasteron an ancient little Mac in our house, then graduating to my dad’s PC. I remember getting new games for Christmas and playing them over winter break.
What are some of your favorite or most influential games for you?
I didn’t have a console growing up so I was limited to PC. The games I remember most fondly are Myst and The Longest Journey, both point-and-click adventures, which is still one of my favorite genres. I remember playing those games and thinking it would be really cool to make art for a game like that someday.
Since then the world of gaming has changed so much. I love indie games, especially because I have a hard time with action games and indie games have more variety. They also tend to have creative art styles and use more 2D art. Some of my favorite more recent games are Journey, Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Animal Crossing New Horizons, Stardew Valley, and Subnautica.
What are some of the things that influenced your art style?
There was no internet when I was growing up so it was harder to find art. Digital art only started to become popular while I was in college, so I used traditional drawing and painting tools up until after I graduated when the workplace forced me to go digital.
I think I mostly learned about art through books and museums. My favorite artists were older classic artists such as John Singer Sargent, Magritte, Alphonse Mucha, and Maxfield Parrish. Art Nouveau is a favorite style of mine and a huge inspiration for my personal style.
Being half Japanese, growing up learning about Japanese culture and spending summer vacations in Japan probably influenced me a lot as well. I’ve been a huge fan of Studio Ghibli since I first saw My Neighbor Totoro when I was 9. I tracked down every Ghibli film I could find, and even when they weren’t in English and I couldn’t understand them I still watched them.
How did you get into a career in the game industry?
It wasn’t planned. After I graduated from art school, I was living in Boston and wasn’t getting any interest from publishers, and I just needed a job. I landed a freelance position at a company called FableVision, where they made educational games and media for kids. It ended up being a wonderful experience and an amazing team to work with. I freelanced there for 3 years, then worked there full time for another 3 years. I left because I missed California so much that I decided to drop everything to move back across the country.
Once I had experience working in games, that’s where I was most familiar and comfortable, and where I’ve built up my professional network. My art style has versatility and adaptability that makes games a great fit for me. I enjoy switching back and forth between character design, background art, and UI art.
What have you liked most about working in the game industry?
From an artist’s point of view, I love that making games is a blending of so many different art forms, from design and illustration to writing, animation, and sound. My favorite experience working in games is bonding with a great team, working with talented, creative people on a project that everyone is having fun with and believes in. That magic moment is rare, but when it happens there’s an inspiring, energizing atmosphere that makes it easy to like being there.
After 15 years in the industry, burnout has been a bit of a struggle for me. Having to draw and be creative for someone else for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, can be really draining. Nevertheless, I can’t imagine doing anything else for a living. I feel so lucky to be able to get paid for what I love to do.
What is one of your worst stories from working in the game industry?
I worked at a start-up where they liked to talk big and make promises, and made generous gestures like buying us lunches and expensive equipment. Then after a couple of years, they ran out of money and started withholding paychecks. Not surprisingly they ended up laying off most of the staff. We worked hard on a game that never made it to launch.
After that happened I needed a bit of a break and spent a couple of years freelancing, because I was afraid to put my trust in another company full time. But I think this is a pretty common story in the game industry.
What are some of your interests/hobbies outside of work?
During the pandemic in 2021, I decided to try a pottery wheel class and I’ve been hooked ever since. I really enjoy working with my hands, which is something I’ve missed working digitally. I love how tactile and versatile clay is.
Both my fiance and I are very much introverts and homebodies, so we don’t get out much. At home I enjoy gaming, binging TV shows, gardening, and hanging out with my fiance and my dog.
What interests you about NFTs? And what are some things about NFTs that make you skeptical or wary of NFTs?
The part that interests me about NFTs is the potential for artists to use them to make money from sharing their art. Musicians get royalties every time their songs are played, so why shouldn’t visual artists also get royalties when their art is shared? Currently, free image sharing is very much taken for granted, which makes it difficult for most artists to find work that pays well.
I’m very new to the world of crypto and NFTs. I wasn’t really interested in them before this year when suddenly it feels like most of my work revolves around them and I’ve been forced to pay attention. But even after working on NFTs, I feel like I still don’t really understand or trust them. It seems like with most of them you don’t really know what you’re getting, and there are a lot of scams surrounding them. The EON Guardians project is more unusual and interesting to me because they are being super transparent about where the money is going and what the NFTs get you. I also really appreciate that they’ve been so public about giving me credit for the art.