Interview: Runesael Johansson

Today we’re joined by Runesael Johansson. Runesael is a wonderful digital artist who specializes in character design. He works mostly in roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons. He has recently gotten into drawing World of Warcraft characters too. It’s clear he’s a dedicated and passionate artist who loves what he does, as you’ll soon read. My thanks to him for taking the time to participate in this interview.

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Please, tell us about your art.

Most of my work these days centers around Dungeons and Dragons player characters and NPCs, alongside other TTRPGs and roleplaying games. I’ve also done a fair amount of people’s characters from World of Warcraft.

I work almost exclusively in Photoshop CS-6 or Procreate.

What inspires you?

Primarily, stories. One of my absolute favorite things about doing the work that I do has to be hearing other people’s stories about their characters and the adventures they’ve had with others. There’s such a broad variety of individuals and experiences across the TTRPG community, so every character I ever get to draw tends to be unique or unusual in some way. Even if you have two chaotic good fighters from a small village who’ve sworn an oath to protect their friends, say, those two fighters can and often will be radically different people.

The TTRPG and WoW communities are both enormously creative, and getting to see all of the various ideas that people come up with is something I’m really grateful for and honored to be able to help bring to life.

Additionally, music – I can’t paint without it!

What got you interested in your field?  Have you always wanted to be an artist?

I began drawing because I wanted people to be able to see the characters and places I described in my stories as a kid. However, it was never really anything more than a serious hobby until about 2016.

As obnoxious as this might sound, I’ve never not been an artist, so I’m not sure what it’s like to want to be one. I’ve been drawing since I could hold a crayon.

My original career was in music performance. An injury exacerbated by overuse and stress pulled me out of a performance career, and I kind of spent my twenties wandering around with absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with myself or my life. I was really lost. I’d gotten a full scholarship to a small school, and figured I’d make my way through a four year degree before going on to pursue a masters. That did not happen.

During my late teens and twenties, I was also a volunteer storm chaser with ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Services), and working emergency telecommunications. I loved the work, but it stopped being fun after I realized the extent of the impact that natural and man-made disasters had on the human lives around me. Though the work was fulfilling, I knew I didn’t want to do it for the rest of my life.

There were a few attempts at other careers. Honestly, all they ever taught me was about all of the things I didn’t want to do with my life. The last one being that I wanted to become a French translator and a linguist.

As a sort of last hurrah, I posted a thread on Reddit in 2015 offering to draw people’s World of Warcraft characters. There, I met a handful of really incredible people who brought me into the WoW art community, and from there I got into Critical Role and started becoming increasingly engaged with the TTRPG community. The rest, as they say, is history.

Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work that you’d be willing to reveal?

Most of my work these days is done for other people, so you’re not going to find much of my own personal motifs in the majority of my portfolio.

The signature that I put on my artwork is the text symbol for “thunderstorm.” (It looks like this: ☈) It’s a play on my first name and it’s a nod to the work I’ve done in the past. Also a reminder to myself – if it’s not a tornado, it’s probably not worth getting super worked up about.

I use a lot of blue and gold – they’re my favorite colours, mostly because I’m from a coastal town in Florida and have always loved the water.

There’s so much music in my work, to the point where all of my Inktober pieces this year were just based on songs.

What advice would you give young aspiring artists?

There’s enough tutorials and technical advice these days on the internet that I feel like anything I could say on those subjects has already been said. So, instead, here’s some lessons I learned the hard way.

First of all. Don’t be an asshole. It does not matter if you are the most skilled artist in your particular field, if you treat people like garbage, no one will want to work with you. This includes being vocally critical of other artists. This includes treating the artists around you as competition or as enemies, rather than potential friends or coworkers. This includes being a sarcastic, sardonic shit about everything. Cynicism doesn’t make you cool. It doesn’t make you some enlightened sage of the ages, it makes you a prick. Empathy, kindness, understanding and patience will get you far, far further than raw skill alone. Praise others in public, critique if asked in private. Don’t be an ass to younger artists, they’re doing their best.

Second. Art is extremely hard work. There is nothing cute or fluffy about being a creative of any sort. You don’t get to float around waiting for inspiration, or depending on some “muse” to bring your ideas. If you do you’ll never get anything done, and you’ll never get better.

When you first start making stuff, you will suck at it. You’ll suck at it for a while. It’s normal, don’t stress. Art isn’t something you master overnight or in a year or even in ten years. You will be fighting a continual, uphill fight for most victories and breakthroughs. When you “level up” as an artist, it will be because you worked your ass off. The answers to the problems you face will not be written out for you in books. You will need to find those answers for yourself. If that doesn’t sound like a good idea to you, don’t be an artist.

Third. Talent is a myth and an excuse. There is no bullshit force in the universe that ~magically~ gives you the ability to create anything. There is the only the work, the desire to do it, and the determination to keep doing it when it gets hard. That’s all. You get better by practicing and studying your craft.

Fourth. Art is for everyone. See number three. Art is not for special talented people who have ~the gift~. The arts in general, creative work – they are for everyone and anyone. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If someone says you’re talented, say, “Thank you, I work very hard.” They mean well, take the compliment.

Fifth. There are a bunch of people who will tell you in kind ways and not-so-kind ways that the arts are for fools who can’t manage a “real” career. What they do not and perhaps cannot understand is that not being an artist when you want to be simply leads to a chain of unfulfilling and meaningless careers that you never fully commit to or enjoy. Life is far too short to go through it longing.

Sixth: Don’t be alone. Involve yourself in a community. Isolation is death for artists. Surrounding yourself with artists of all different skill levels will teach you more than any class ever can. A good community will raise you up when you’re struggling, and will keep you grounded. There will always be someone better than you, don’t let that discourage you or inhibit your progress.

Seventh: Rest. If it hurts, stop. If you’re frustrated, take a break. If you need help, ask. Don’t let pain and exhaustion be a point of pride and don’t work yourself to death. Sitting in front of your tablet or easel for sixteen hours a day without eating or drinking is going to fuck you sideways when you get older. It doesn’t say that you’re devoted and hardworking, it says you don’t take care of yourself and don’t manage your time properly. Eat regularly, take your medication, make sure you drink water. Don’t survive on sleep deprivation and energy drinks. Your work suffers when you suffer.

On that note. Great art does not come from great suffering. If you create beautiful things from pain, imagine the things you could make when you’re safe and okay.

Tragedy, trauma, angst, anger and sadness don’t make you interesting. They inhibit your feelings, keep you from growing, they keep you from forming good and healthy relationships with the people around you. They keep you from becoming the person you want to be. Don’t wear your sorrow like a trophy, because it isn’t. The fact you survived it makes you strong. What will make you interesting – and your work interesting – is how you recovered and grew beyond those circumstances.

You are worth more than the things you produce. Don’t tie your self-worth and self-esteem to your craft.

Stay humble. Work hard, be sincere in your passions and in your relationships with others. Be as good to the people around you as you can be, and if you can’t say anything kind, shut the actual fuck up because no one needs your bullshit.  The most important thing in this world that we can be is kind. Life is difficult. Life as a creative is even harder. Do not be the reason someone else decides to quit doing what they love. Everyone has something amazing about them, be receptive to finding it.


Where on the spectrum do you identify?

I’m demisexual.

Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field?  If so, how do you handle it?

Personally, no. I don’t talk about it much as I’m a pretty private person about my romantic relationships.

What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?

That asexual people are sex-repulsed. That we’re frigid or cold. That we don’t actually enjoy any form of physical contact whatsoever. That we’re broken or defective.

What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?

“Even if it gets hard

don’t lose that light.”

Finally, where can people find out more about your work?

Thank you, Runesael, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.

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