I love to draw sexy images. I’m upset by sexist art.
The two statements above can be totally non contradictory as I hope to prove with some of my artwork.
I recently had to illustrate 2 games which had an atmosphere of sensuality. As usual, my first care is toward transmitting the atmosphere and themes of the games through the images I create for them.
But in this case I had a further agenda: I specifically sat down to work on these projects thinking “I want my art to be appealing to women. I want them to find what they are looking at sexy “.
The games in question were 1001 Nights and Bacchanalia.
For the first I had very clear art direction from the game author Meguey Baker on part of the images. 1001 Nights is a game where each player is a courtier of the sultan’s court and pass away the nights telling stories to each other. They cast other court members as characters in their stories. Each courtier also has ambitions and envies towards the others and they negotiate their ways towards each of those through their storytelling.
At its best 1001 Nights is a game of enticing atmosphere and colorful imagery inspired by the classic book of the same name.
Before illustrating the game I read a collection of the 1001 Nights fables and was captivated by the colorful imagery as well as by the sensuality of some stories (really, there are some surprisingly torrid and explicit love scenes in that book!). And that was the atmosphere I tried to recreate in my drawings: dreamy, romantic, colorful and sensual.
Bacchanalia was the second project I worked on and here I was art directing myself. Bacchanalia is a rewriting of a classic game by Paul Czege called Bacchanal. The original game used dice of various size while the new version is card based. The premise of the game is that each player is accused of a crime against the roman empire in 61 A.D. and is on the run with his/her lover. They happen to pass through a town where a bacchanal is being held and Bacchus and other gods have come down among mortals. The game consists of the adventures of the characters throughout the bacchanal while they try to reunite with their lover and get away from that dangerous situation. At its best the game is sensual, scary, romantic and creative.
This last project was even more challenging: I wanted to have a kind of understated sexyness. Characters seducing the viewer without showing anything that couldn’t be safe for work. It sure was a fun challenge!
Looking back on this two projects, what did I do, exactly to achieve my objective?
– the beautiful and scantily dressed man/woman ratio is either balanced or there are more underdressed men than women.
– women don’t appear weaker/more passive/more victimized than men.
– the characters are people (well, in some cases latin gods or djinns, but you get my point…) not pieces of meat. None of them is just standing there being sexy, they are all doing something/have something going on behind their foreheads.
I specifically wanted to get as far as possible from that look you so often see on fashion models or in commercials, you know the one, it’s the one that says “I’m so bored by this world my mind is going numb”. Also, let’s stay the hell away from that other look: the “generic badass scowl”.
So: expressive faces, absolutely, even if the expression is “Come here, sexy”.
I think a good example of this balance is the cover for Bacchanalia: we see ample expanses of skin both from the woman and the satyrus. The pose says she is abandoned but in control at the same time. In fact it is her reaching out for the hand of someone she is about to bring into the scene: she decided a threesome is about to happen here and we can see it even if nothing really daring is being shown.
“Ok, but, in the end, Claudia, why do you care so much?” I feel like asking this to myself because, really, I do seem to care a lot about this stuff.
Maybe it is because I’ve seen for years gaming manuals with images catering to tastes that weren’t mine, and felt the need to balance things out. I cannot be alone, I reasoned, there must be a lot of other people out there who, like me, want to see for a change more sweaty biceps and less damsels in distress in their gaming books. And why not? Some cliches are really sexist and, above all, BORING. We can welcome a change.
Essentially I must admit I made something I liked and felt right to me. And the biggest satisfaction in this is when I see women in a convention stopping at the booth were these books are displayed and grab those among the others, looking at the art with appreciating smiles. This really makes me happy.
Finally I feel language shapes minds and images are a form of language. I grew up and live in a sexist environment. I breathe it every day. Expressing myself accordingly is what comes easiest. I had to learn to consciously check myself to avoid this, asking myself every time “Is this what you REALLY want to say?”. It’s a conscious effort but it’s the least I can ask of myself and anything else would be just laziness.
I feel all my works, humble as they are, are a drop in the ocean of the big image conversation going on continually in the world and now I want to choose my words carefully (for instance I wouldn’t draw now some stuff I drew in the past).
Of course I’m well far from alone in producing artwork with an eye to this issues, I’m happy to say there are loads of awesome artists doing the same. Also other people discussed the same issues brilliantly. The firsts that come to mind are the art direction guidelines of Sarah Perry Ship, and of course wundergeek’s blog Go Make Me a Sandwich.