Multifaceted artist, Ron Baird, shows us how to embrace technology and never give up on the artistic process.
Ron Baird is a Character Designer, Illustrator, Visual Development Artist, and Concept Artist. He graduated from BYU in 2019 with a BFA in illustration and works on board games, magazines, children’s books, and much more.
Ron Baird: I graduated from BYU in 2019 with a BFA in illustration. Jordie La Febre is a big influence on me. Cecile Carre, Annette Marnat, and a ton of other French artists and animators. I love French animation and Bande Dessinée. Likewise, I am influenced by great draftsmen and educators artists like Will Weston and Glenn Villppu. Of course, my old professor Robert Barrett taught me how to draw and paint.
Currently, I am working on a pretty cool project with Ravensburger that I am not allowed to talk about. It will be announced soon, though. I’m also working at Sunrise Animation on The David Movie, my first feature. I also worked as a lead artist at Spacestation animation, doing work on a kids’ cartoon for Youtube brand A for Adley.
Those have a few million views each. I’ve done artwork for 5 different board/Card games for different companies like ThinkFun, Ravensburger, and Breaking Games. Then a couple of kids’ books, a few magazine articles, a couple of audiobook covers for Audible, merchandise design for YouTube brands, and a bunch of other little gigs.
What was the Board Games project all about and how did you go about its execution?
Ron Baird: I’ve done a few board games. Most recently Mitternachts-Katzen (midnight cats) for ThinkFun. The game is only released in Germany currently. It may be ported to the US if it is popular enough. For this game, I did the cover, the board, and a bunch of cardboard tokens.
With any client, I send them sketches and color comps, then they send me back notes. We go back and forth till a final is approved. I also heavily worked on the game, Cafe Chaos, for YouTuber James Rallison’s Odd 1s Out franchise. I worked with a couple of other artists on that, Kin (Katie) Wald and Emilee Dummer. Games like that take a lot of managing because the same icon may appear in a dozen different places within the game.
What are the essential skills that allow you to be so multifaceted as a Character Designer, Illustrator, Visual Development Artist, and Concept Artist?
Ron Baird: Learning how to draw well. By drawing well, I mean how to use drawing and design principles to analyze and interpret what you see instead of straight copying. Drawing is key to all principles such as line, shape, mass, form, value, weight, perspective, composition, proportion, edge control, and others. Another thing that allows me to work across platforms like that is just being a little ADHD. I’ve had a hard time committing to a single thing. I like to try new stuff artistically, which can be both a blessing and a curse sometimes.
What has the experience been like working across multiple genres? Also, what challenges do you face therein and how do you overcome them?
Ron: It is very fun! Also, it allows me to have a broader range of clients. If I am in between studios, I can look for illustration work. One challenge I face is kind of a mindset challenge. For example, in visual development, your main duty is to describe what something looks like and how it functions for the 3D modelers. Drawings, thus, need to be descriptive but not as polished as illustrations.
Also, since they don’t need as many narratives, I sometimes get into an illustrator’s mindset and want to make all the drawings pretty, kind of going beyond what’s necessary. I have a sticky note by my Wacom Cintiq that says Faster Looser Sketching. It just reminds me that my vis dev work doesn’t need the level of polish an illustration does.
Please tell us all about The Flying Flamingo Sisters project.
Ron: Flying Flamingo Sisters is an audiobook written by the very talented Carrie Seim and published by Audible. It’s about 3 young sisters who fly a pink biplane in a flying circus. They get pulled into a great adventure when their parents go missing. It’s kind of in the style of a 1930’s radio show. Super fun!
I had a great time working on it. Carrie and the audible people were great to work with. There are some jobs that you just love because they feel like a perfect fit. This was one of those. I love old-time adventure stuff and tried to capture the fun and adventurous spirit present in the script. I was inspired by the artwork of Drew Struzan and his movie posters for Indiana jones. Hence the collage-like composition, too.
What kind of children’s books have you been involved in and what did your role and work process entail?
Ron Baird: Just a couple of early reader books for Hooked On Phonics, one called The Hat and another titled Reindeer Number Eight. They gave me the book transcripts; the number of illustrations and notes on what the illustrations should be. I sent them back sketches which they may have some notes for. Then it’s pretty much on to the final artwork. The turnaround times on those were pretty tight, so there wasn’t a ton of time for revisions. I stayed up all night one time trying to finish one of them. That’s how it goes sometimes.
Could you take us through some of your visual development and concept art?
Ron Baird: All the cowboy-themed artwork in my portfolio is inspired by stories my grandfather would tell me and my cousins when we were little. They were called Wildfire and Jim stories, about a boy named Jim and his horse Wildfire. He would just make them up on the fly but they sounded like they came right out of a Louis L’Amour novel.
They had a very Indiana Jones quality to them. Also, many kinds of morality tales about how we should remember to pray and things like that. Jim would get lost in a cave but he’d pray and wildfire would find him, for example. He was a very spiritual guy and that was a big influence on me. Not that I am opposed to more gritty artwork but I find myself drawn to fun adventure-style stuff.
What, according to you, is the future of illustration and where do you want to personally take it?
Ron Baird: Well, technology is evolving and that is very exciting. I know AI is a pretty hot topic in the art world. I’ve seen it make some amazing stuff but never anything so specific as to be able to replace the artist. So I think we should embrace technology. Funny, artists like to tout how progressive they are until they feel threatened.
Many were opposed to photography and digital illustration when it became a thing, then to selling NFT, and now to AI art bots. The world continues to spin and artists have been needed for thousands of years. That’s not about to stop. Embracing new technology can only help artists.
Finally, your word of advice to those inspired by your work and style?
Ron Baird: Keep drawing. Don’t give up! And go check out my gumroad. I’ll teach you to draw 😀