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  • Writer's pictureAlex Connolly

Twenty Two in Review



I'm staring out at the world in 2023 from a covid oubliette, considering the year we've all just send packing. It's been a good one.


2022 was the year I finished my graphic design course and changed career horses mid-stream and midlife. A year where I freed myself from the yoke of teaching, a job that I found myself in years ago and just kept with it out of sheer practical necessity. The sense of freedom was tempered by the fact that freelance life is a hustle, and I'm still learning to do the infernal self-promotion that I generally hate. But more on that later.


Highlights


Salvage Union

This was a real treat. Getting to design a bunch of mechs for an increasingly popular tabletop RPG IP, and design a detailed cutaway of the game's signature Magpie machine for their core rulebook cover was humbling.


Some of the mechs designed for Salvage Union were really satisfying, remaining personal favourites to this day. Really excited to see folks get the hard copy in hand, as Aled and Panny at Leyline cooked up something special with this one. Moreover, working alongside some spectacular artists on the project was an honour.


ECOPUNK

This is a carry-over from 2021, but ECOPUNK came out this year, which was great. While definitely in the shadow of all the killer artists on the project, it was nice to see my little additions next to art heavies. Also, perhaps a milestone in experimenting with more painterly approaches, and wanting to pursue those techniques further.






Biplanes versus Dragons / 1 If By Land...

More TTRPG antics! This was a really fun one, and slightly outside my comfort zone. Cover design for Homebrew & Hacking's spin on D&D, and a slew of tokens/units for projects set in a steampunk/science-fantasy world. I would like to revisit projects like this, as it offers new and often challenging things to concept and render.






Spectres of Brocken

Another TTRPG project, this time for Aaron Lim's mecha-teen examination of friends, foes and robos. Had fun rendering two images for the book, and seemed to strike a real chord with Aaron. A grand ol' time.



Deadnaut: Signal Lost

A carry-over from a couple of years ago, Deadnaut: Signal Lost got a Steam page! Was honoured to have worked in a tiny way on the game, the sequel to my pick of 2014. Can't wait to play it later this year.


Current Project: NDA

The current project affords me one of those smug social media "all my art is under NDA" passes, but this ongoing work is absolutely wonderful. It's comfort zone stuff, but has let me really push my design chops, and without hyperbole, is probably my best and most cohesive artwork yet. Can't wait to get the greenlight to share it, but it's long-term stuff.


Personal Artwork & Commissions


The start of the year allowed for a little more personal artwork time, but most of that has been shelved in the intervening period. If there's a lesson to be learned in the freelancer life, it's that the more art you do, the less you do for yourself! Which is fine, but I was able lucky enough to be commissioned a few times for one-offs. A good feeling.


Mid-to-Lowlights


Work-Life Balance


This was a tough one. Balancing being both a freelancer and the primary homemaker meant I tended to work stupidly long hours, and every day. Knowing when to switch off is a lesson yet learned, and the midnight oil continues to burn.


Social Media Upheaval


The Twitter buyout by dollar store Tony Stark was a massive blow to my sense of employment stability, as it seemed for a moment that everyone was leaving the platform. As a guy who has relied on the platform for all my gigs to this point, the tumult felt needless and personal. We'll see where it goes, but the upside is, social media took a backseat at the twilight of 2022, and it helped calibrate usage. Mastodon looks promising, but who knows in 2023.


NFTs & AI 'Art'


More needless tech sector narcissism, where hype and witless unwillingness to develop skills on your own appears to be the mantra. NFTs were thankfully laughed out of the room, although I still see people listing artwork on sleazy 'disruptors' like Superare et al. Hope all that prostituting was worth it, Beeple.


AI is the new creature appearing to threaten livelihoods, and it's a more insidious beast -- primarily because it isn't represented by hideous JPEG monkeys, but by scraped data from unwitting artists. While the output is often just as grotesque as Yuga Labs' grift, this sort of thing is already being touted as a fast-track to 'good enough' by unscrupulous hacks. I'm buoyed by art directors saying they'd never hire an AI promptisan, but plenty would, and the art world is tough enough for so many as is. Let's hope true patrons of the arts continue to feel good about hands with five digits.


Lessons & Resolutions


The Hustle


As mentioned in the opening, self-promotion is a sickening thing. In the cocktail of self-worth, I've always gone for two-to-one ratio of deprecation and pride. Which, naturally, doesn't make for the most effective of self-spruikers. Coupled with the overwhelming feeling of not wanting to look at older art, which would form the bulk of retweets/boosts/promotional fodder, it does make a bloke feel he's going into the game with an empty tank.


As such, another lesson yet learned, and best learned fast.


Oh, and blog more, I guess?


The Style


The current project has, at last, allowed me to finally find my style. It's been a long time coming. Linework, colour, brush types etc., all seem to be coalescing cleanly. These are nebulous concepts, but every creative person knows what it means to get those pipelines of artistic interlocutors bedded.


Offline Mode


I plan to make time for all the toys of production purchased over the last year. I've got a little CNC mill I want to use, get familiar with sublimation printing with the Epson Ecotank I gingerly refurbished, and simply do more woodwork. In an age of digital commodification, where Silicon Valley sleazebags continue their intellectual right-click-save-as mentality, I feel it's prudent to keep as much of the creative output as physical as possible. And also, the therapy of a DIY project is a special sort of catharsis.


Recommendations


Finally, a few things that I thought were the bees knees in 2022. Usually, this list would be a lot more in-depth, but the entire internet picks up any slack in that regard.


Angus Thornett & Rob Parsons (YouTube Documentarians)

Angus Thornett produces fascinating and unhurried videos on the history surrounding Hobart. Accompanied by his little white terrier, Thornett has the uncanny ability to focus in on unassuming parts of the greater Hobart area and tell deserved stories in a gentle, ruminative way.


Rob Parsons is a true adventurer, exploring the picturesque and remote Tasmanian wilderness. His stories often include panning for gold, paddling the riverways and hiking through the Western side of the Apple Isle. Highlights include finding lost colonial graves and hidden ice-age caves. Incredible stuff.


NORCO

I didn't play too many new release games this year, but one that just continues to linger on in my imagination is NORCO. A strangely nostalgic techno-gothic adventure on the American gulf. Magical realism beneath the flicker of refinery flares. Impeccable tone, gorgeous to look at and sublime to hear.


Andor

No explanation. Andor. Not just a good Star Wars show, but a good show by any metric. We all know this.





Hardspace Shipbreaker

Finally, a most beguiling of simulators rolled out of Early Access. Hardspace Shipbreaker tasks players with deconstructing derelict starships for parts. It's an addictive first-person clamberer, couched in Homeworld aesthetic and asks timely questions on class and economics. Top shelf.


Summary


Here's to a fresh year, one with more stable opportunities for all and greater equity. Looking forward to sharing projects, and working on a bunch of others. Hope you have a good one, too.



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