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Talon Dunning

Artists Notes

What can I say? I love Ravenloft. I'm an old-school Ravenloft fan from way-back, so I was, like, super-thrilled to get this gig. I used to play and run Ravenloft back in college (around the early 90's) so I'm pretty familiar with the overall feel of the setting as well as the characters involved (Domain Lords, etc.). So it's a lot of fun to get to draw characters with names like "Van Richten" and "Von Zarovich." That's one of the reasons I try to accept any Ravenloft project that comes my way if it involves portraits, even if I'm already up to my elbows in work. I just can't pass up the opportunity to draw these characters.

One thing I always try to do with Ravenloft (and really with any of my fantasy illustrations) is make sure that even the most generic "PC stand-in" characters are interesting. I want people to look at my pics and wonder who these folks are. The racial illustrations in the main d20 Ravenloft book (reprinted in the Ravenloft Player's Guide) are great examples. Each one of those characters has a name and a class and a few even have backgrounds. Like the Calibans are siblings, the dwarves are a married couple and the human on the right (the guy with the scar and the black robes) was a university rival of Van Richten who was expelled when a rumor spread that he may have a connection to the Vistani. So these aren't just random, generic examples of a race. They're characters. In some cases, they're even old PCs. The pics I've done for prestige classes are a little more generic, but even some of them have taken on lives of their own as I've had them appear in later illustrations.

Check out page 77 of "Gazeteer II." The three "PCs" being scrutinized by the disapproving Lamordians are three characters from previous books (specifically the Crypt Raider and Avenger from "Van Richten's Arsenal" and the female halfling from the Player's Guide). I did something similar in the "Gazeteer I," as well. Page 15 shows Van Richten's rival again along with the Anchorite of the Mists from "Van Richten's Arsenal." Even the Taroka Deck saw one or two repeat characters. Both the Five of Coins and the Three of Stars sport characters from previous books.

Overall, Ravenloft is my favorite setting to draw for. I love the creepy mood and the historical costuming. I usually choose to work in pencil on paper or bristol board, although I did venture into inks for the Taroka Deck, which, by the way, was the most stressful project I've ever undertaken just due to the sheer amount of drawings required. Some are more successful than others, but, as a whole, I think they came out pretty darned good. In fact, I've been pretty pleased with just about everything I've done for Ravenloft, especially my portraits. I really enjoy drawing those.
I sincerely hope that Ravenloft fans like my work and that I can continue to help visualize the setting in the future.

Futher Notes on the Tarokka Deck

The inclusion of the animals was not only intentional, but mandated by the art notes. Each suit of the Tarokka has a corresponding animal that represents it. The cards that contain representative animals are as follows:

  • Rat (Coins): Ace, Nine, Ten
  • Wolf: (Glyphs): Ace, Three, Four, Eight, Ten
  • Snake (Stars): Two, Five
  • Raven (Swords): Ace, Nine, Ten
  • All four: Five of Glyphs, The Dark Master, The Hero

I don't know what prompted the inclusion of the animals on each individual card, nor why the Five of Glyphs (The Druid) warranted all four, when it isn't a major arcana card. It's worth noting that while The Innocent also features a snake, this wasn't (as I recall) meant to be representative of the suit of Stars, but rather, representative of the dangers of ignorance, as well as being a veiled Biblical reference (vis--vis, Eve and the Serpent, the original "loss of innocence").

More Tarokka trivia:

  • The Tarokka deck is the only art I produced for Ravenloft in ink. It was originally going to be done in black and white colored pencil on gray paper, a-la Mark Nelson, but after doing two cards in that style, I decided it wasn't working and started over in ink. I later wished I'd simply done them in pencil just like all the rest of the Ravenloft art.
  • The original art was completed on 14 x 17" bristol, with three drawings to a sheet. Each illustration measures 4.75 x 7.75".
  • The Broken One, The Prison, The Temptress, and The Artifact are the only cards based specifically on the original Tarokka cards by Stephen Fabian. I credited Fabian on those pieces. The rest are all original compositions.
  • The Tarokka project was the first time I introduced both my trademark "patch
  • hatching" technique and my "boxed in" signature.
  • The gravestones on the Eight of Stars features the last names of myself and several members of my regular gaming group.
  • The Tens card of each suit features a known Ravenloft character, the "master" of that suit. They are: Alfred Timothy (Master of Glyphs), Jacqueline Renier (Master of Coins), Strahd Von Zarovich (Master of Swords), and Azalin Rex (Master of Stars). Strahd also makes an appearance on the Six of Stars. Other characters makes appearances as well, including Victor Mordenhiem and Adam (the Ace of Stars), Madame Eva (the Four of Stars), and Death, the Darklord of Necropolis (the Eight of Stars).
  • The original illustration for the Four of Stars only includes three stars. The fourth was added digitally to correct the mistake.
  • The Ace of Coins was the first card I completed. The Beast was the last.
  • The Innocent, the Five of Coins, and the Three of Stars all feature original characters that I had used in previous Ravenloft illustrations. The Five of Coins, in fact, includes three. The Five of Glyphs features one of my own PCs, a Celtic aasimar druid from a Planescape game (the original PC had horns, which were eliminated for this piece). The character's name is "Vannon McOein."
  • The background of the Nine of Coins is riddled with Easter eggs, mostly in the forms of the book titles, which include "Ravenloft," "Vampire: The Masquerade," "The Art of Talon," "The Best of Playboy," "I, Strahd," and "Dark Secrets." The Miser's other artifacts include the Hand of Vecna, The Devil's Eye (the diamond from The Rescuers, a model of the Death Star, a teddy bear, Harry Potter's glasses, and a portrait of Strahd's tragic obsession, Tatyana.
  • The royal robes worn by The Dark Master were based on those worn by Napoleon in Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres' portrait, Napoleon on his Imperial Throne. Ingres is one of my favorite painters and an influence on my work.
  • The Ace of Swords and the Six of Swords are a matched set, each showing similar images but with reversed subjects.
  • The Six of Stars and the Seven of Swords each contained white details drawn in pencil over the black ares (the woman's reflection in the window and the villagers' faces, respectively), which the scanner did not pick up.
  • To my knowledge, the Tarokka deck is currently the most valuable product I've ever worked on, with decks selling for around $350.00 online.
  • The Tarokka deck took around 6 months to complete, my personal record for the longest I'd ever taken to finish an assigned project until my recent Savage Mojo project, Dogs of Hades, which took nearly two years to complete. At 68 cards, the deck still holds the record for the greatest number of individual illustrations in a single project, though.


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