Ken Meyer Jr is one of Vampire: the Eternal Struggle‘s most prominent artists, with over 150 credits to his name since the game’s inception in 1994. Ken has also been a prolific contributor to Vampire: the Masquerade, as well as a number of other games including Magic: the Gathering. I was honoured to talk with Ken in January 2019. He was very generous with his time, and over the next week I’ll be adding further posts sharing some of his favourite pieces, behind the scenes information on models, and more besides.
B: I was first made familiar with your work via Vampire: the Masquerade sourcebooks in the early to mid 1990s, and you have really been a go-to artist for Vampire and VtES now for three decades. How did you first came to work on the World of Darkness?
KM: The first gaming work I had was on a book called Lycanthropes from Mayfair Games. I think Richard Thomas saw it or had some contact with somewhere there, since the work was very similar.
B: What has it been like for you creating art for a card game, versus a roleplaying game? Are there particular artistic challenges that are thrown up by the change in format?
KM: Well, I actually liked the work more on the card game, mainly because it was all color, mostly portraits, so it played to my strengths (though I did a TON of black and white work for White Wolf’s books). As for the actual process, it did not really differ that much…I think the card game paid a bit more, so that is always a factor. Also, since it was mostly portraits, it was less work!
B: What has it been like to find yourself coming back to some characters that you may have painted in both Vampire: the Masquerade and VtES? Do you approach those sorts of pieces differently, or is each piece approached on its own, as its own unique creation?
KM: Well, there is some connection, of course, if it is the same character across platforms (like Kemintiri). If at all possible, I would use the same models, who are usually friends. I would say the approach does not vary though, really. I either take or find a photo (if the subject is humanoid or an existing animal) to use for reference, sometimes send a sketch in if required, pencil it, then paint. A few I just went straight to paint, but not very many.
B: Do you recall what the starting briefs were for you, for cards like the ones featured here?
KM: Hahahah, if I recall….it is to laff. My memory is terrible. Usually, I would not get more than a sentence or two (though much of the time, they might mention the sect, clan, etc.). It would usually have some sort of visual description…and then I would try to think of friends who might be close to that, or, I might do a photo search and find something close to it. I have a bunch of photos I have shot myself in the past, in a big filing cabinet, and I go through that.
B: A piece like Skindoctor, to pick just one example, is very bold and distinctive. What made you choose the colour palette and composition?
KM: Well, I do tend to work pretty saturated in general. I also like strong light and shadow distinctions, which is what led me to working on horror stuff to begin with. Strong lighting, lots of shadows, that sort of thing is usually mostly in horror or film noir. Sometimes the palette is determined after I start. To be honest, for some of the pieces I’ve done for VtES, I don’t know if I was that aware of color theory, and just went on what I thought looked interesting. I used green probably because I wanted a sickly sort of tone to the piece.
B: Who did you use as the model for these, and are they seen in any other pieces of your work?
KM: For Skindoctor, I used myself. Sometimes I am couldn’t find anyone else and was forced to use myself… or, sometimes, I am just lazy. I’ve also used myself as a model for Khalu (obviously changed, and I think I borrowed some glasses for that one), and Destruction [Editor’s note: the picture at the start of this article].
B: Considering that you may well be the game’s most prolific illustrator, have you ever had the chance to play a game of VtES? What sort of hobby gaming, if any, do you enjoy?
KM: It is a travesty I know, but no… I have never played any of the games I worked on. No reason other than time limitations, really. And, by that time, my extra-curricular activities (tennis, movies, TV, reading) had been pretty much established.