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An Interview with Mindjammer Artist Ian Stead

February 21, 2014

This week the Meme Machine catches up with sci-fi artist, ship designer, and mapmaker extraordinaire Ian Stead, and asks him about his work and the awesome ship images, deckplans, and gear which he designed and illustrated for Mindjammer – The Roleplaying Game.

Meme Machine: Hi Ian! Thanks for agreeing to appear on the Meme Machine. Could you tell us a little about yourself – what work you do with RPGs, what you regularly play, and what games you’ve worked on?

Ian Stead: Well, I live in the lovely city of Lancaster, with my lovely wife and insane arthritic rabbit Mr Boo (although we’re not sure he is a rabbit…). I’ve drawn stuff all my life, but it’s only in the last few years that I’ve started doing it for clients. So far I’ve done a lot of deckplans, technical art (eg play sheets), and gear illustrations like vehicles and guns. On top of that I’ve done some non-deckplan maps, and some “space art” like planets and space scenes. I also do layout work, and some writing; I’ve self-published as Moon Toad Publishing and Gorgon Press.

Currently I play once a week – after a really long hiatus – with Peter Cakebread (of Cakebread & Walton). I’ve worked for clients such as Spica Publishing, Gypsy Knights Games, VBAM, Mongoose, FFE, Mindjammer Press, Zozer, Moon Toad, Gorgon Press, and John Brazer Enterprises; I’ve worked on games such as Mongoose Traveller, VBAM Campaign, Mercenary Air Squadron and War Dogs.

Meme Machine: So what’s your process for your design and art work? What software do you use? Do you work freehand?

Ian Stead: My process is pretty much the standard: sketch, design, then submit and tweak like hell to the client’s wishes. I’ve found I even do “rough flat images” in Sketchup too [a design application – ed.], submitting a page of designs and letting the client pick from there.

I mainly work with computers, though more and more my work is looking like it was hand-drawn. I can work freehand, but I love the freedom of computer art, where I can do so much more with one particular ship or vehicle design, for example; and also the fact that I can pull the ship models from the actual deck plans.

I really should look at doing more freehand. I can draw, and I miss it and feel out of practice – though I do sketch out my rough ideas in pencil first.

For software I use Sketchup, Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign. I also have a Bamboo graphic table, which is so underused.

Meme Machine: Who are your influences when it comes to art and design?

Ian Stead: The late Peter Elson is my biggest influence. When I was about 9, I received a TTA [Terran Trade Authority – ed.] book as a Sunday School prize – that, and a diet of Space 1999, Doctor Who, Blakes Seven, etc, really started my addiction to all things science-fiction. Other artist influences include Jim Burns, Chris Foss, HR Giger, Munch, Bryan Gibson, Rob Caswell, Tom Peters, Rodney Mathews, Bob Layzell, Chris Achilleos, Fred Gambino, Chris Moore, John Martin, and a few others.

Meme Machine: How did you approach the Mindjammer project? Did you do much research? What kind?

Ian Stead: First of all, I read the novel [the “Mindjammer” novel – ed.] – quite quickly, as at the time I was commuting 45 miles a day, so it was a welcome aid on the journey home. Then I started with the Mindjammer vessel, to hopefully get the look and feel of the Mindjammer universe. Sarah gave me a few images as pointers, too, and lots of background info, such as the 1st edition Mindjammer rules and setting. Fortunately I love the universe, and Sarah has created a wonderful piece of work.

Meme Machine: What do you think is unique and unusual about the Mindjammer project from a design and art perspective?

Ian Stead: For me, I think I stretched myself. A lot of my older work is very technical and straight lines; Mindjammer is a bit more organic, without being biotech as such. I think at first I was a bit daunted, but in the end it has worked out really well; I still have to pinch myself and say “I did that!”

Everything in the Mindjammer universe has a more flowing look, except the Venu (“Boo! Hiss!”). I’ve found more organic stuff tricky, but this has proved I can do it.

Meme Machine: Where did you get your inspiration for the ship shapes? And the vehicles?

Ian Stead: Nature, and what is floating about in my head. They say not to create from your mind, but I do to a certain degree – but influenced by things like sharks, fish, birds, and other things. In fact the Manowar was inspired by a nautilus. The vehicles are inspired by lots of real life and fictional examples, and directions from Sarah.

Meme Machine: What’s your goal when you create deckplans? What is it that you want to enable GMs to do with them?

Ian Stead: I want my deckplans to be clear, almost precise, and easy to read. I find the over-detailed cluttered ones a bugger to read! I hope GMs will find them a great tool to help players understand the layout of a given ship, and also to use them for things like combat.

Meme Machine: Where would you like to take your Mindjammer design work next? Is there anything specific you’d like to work on?

Ian Stead: I’d like to build something like Gentility Base, and do a more detailed map of the Botany Bay, and perhaps a world, too.

Meme Machine: What other projects are you working on at the moment? Anything you can tell us about?

Ian Stead: I’m currently working on my own work, a project for FFE, and one for Spica Publishing.

Meme Machine: Thanks very much for appearing on the Meme Machine Blog!

Ian Stead: Thank you!

You can find out lots more about Ian and his work at his website, Biomass Art, and contact him by email at biomassart-at-gmail-dot-com. Look out for Ian’s ship designs, gear and vehicle designs, and deckplans in Mindjammer – The Roleplaying Game, and in future supplements in the Mindjammer line, and in many other fine RPG products.

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