Interview with Brian Roll

Q1: Let’s start with the common question, if you can kindly introduce yourself.

Hello! My name is Brian Roll, from North Plainfield, NJ, USA. A lot of people know me as Odyssey Art though, since that’s what I use as my screen name on various art sites as well as my own website. I’ve been at my current job at NECA (now NECA/WizKids or for over 9 years. I’m currently the art director/creative manager for Hero Clix ( It’s an extremely fast paced environment but it can be a lot of fun. The experience I’ve gained over the 9 years I’ve been there is unlike that of any other job out there. It’s one of the perks of getting on board with a small company at the beginning and being there through its growth. I’ve been able to learn and do things that would fall way outside a typical job description for an artist.


Q2: How did you get into the field of your work?

This is really 2 stories: the story of how I learned to draw and the story of how I learned to do graphic design. I suppose it makes sense to start with the one that came first chronologically.

I’ve been drawing my whole life. Ever since I was old enough to hold a crayon (and realize that the crayon is for drawing, not eating), I was doodling my favorite things. I was mostly inspired to draw from things I saw on TV. Voltron, Superman, The A-Team, and Michael Jackson, just to name a few. As I grew up, I graduated to pencil, which opened up a whole new world because you can erase it! I kept drawing and drawing, reading as many “How To Draw” books as I could get my hands on. I took a few art classes freshman year of high school but didn’t enjoy them very much, so I went back to teaching myself by looking at comic books and reading more “How To” books. When I went to college, I knew I wanted to do some sort of art major, but at the time, art was the second love of my life behind playing baseball. Balancing the demands of playing a college sport and all the hours of studio classes was tough. To make matters worse, I was struggling with the subject matter and material that was being taught in some of the classes. The stuff I wanted to draw was considered much too commercial and “pop art-y”. Excuse me for wanting to earn some money drawing, instead of just expressing my deepest inner feelings with streaks of paint (me and paint never got along). Things really clicked for me my senior year though. I realized that I was coming to the end of my baseball career and I had found a professor who loved the same sort of pop culture art that I did. He really encouraged me to draw what I wanted to draw AND he introduced me to computer coloring (more about that later on). It seemed like the perfect high note to end my college career on.

But once I was out of college, it was really hard to find a job…..doing anything! So I was doing some freelance graphic design (fooling around with photoshop until I could do what I wanted to do with it) and working in a video store where I had worked summers during college. One night I started talking to a customer about a new movie that was coming out and he mentioned that he worked for company that created and manufactured movie merchandise. I told him I did graphic design and gave him my contact info, thinking it was worth a shot. It took over a month but it paid off. He called me and brought me in for an interview and I was hired as the only NECA graphic designer on staff. As I had mentioned earlier, the fast pace and small staff at NECA has allowed me to gain experience in a ton of areas. The biggest area was learning photoshop. I hadn’t really had any formal training with it and once I was hired at NECA, things had to be done (and fast) so I learned on the fly. I still think there’s no better way to learn a program like photoshop than to be thrown into the fire like that.


Q3: Do you have any current favourite artists, comic artists, photographers who may have influenced you to become the artist that you are?

There’s probably too many to list. I draw inspiration from everywhere and everything. I think each artist has something that you can learn from. Whether it’s composition, emotion, some sort of technique or even just a philosophy of why they do what they do. For example, one of my favorite artists is Joe Madureira. I read an interview with him that said accuracy and using reference is important but in the end, just make it look cool. Sometimes I find I have to remind myself of that. I’ll be so caught up in making the art accurate to the source material that I forget to focus on making it look cool. My biggest inspiration and the guy I admire the most is Drew Struzan, and I know there’s a generation of artists out there that are in the same boat of reverence as I am when it comes to him and his work. He is an absolute living legend. Beyond that, my list would have to include Jim Lee, Greg Horn, Ed McGuinness, Mark Brooks, Frank Cho, Mark Raats, Peter Mahoney and many many more.


Q4: What are the main tools of your trade?

Photoshop and a Wacom tablet. I used to do pencil, ink and Prismacolor markers. When I draw with pencil, I have a big problem with being too intense and pressing too hard into the paper. It makes it really hard to erase or to ink. Photoshop eliminates that issue…..although I’ve gone through my fair share of nibs for the stylus.

Q5: How was it for you to learn the process of that? Did you teach yourself, take classes or learn from other existing artist’s tutorial?

Like I said before, I used to use Prismacolor markers and ink for my work. I never learned how to blend the colors so I developed the style of keeping the hard lines between colors. When I started using Photoshop, that style translated really easily. It probably takes longer than actually blending because the edges of each shade have to be so precise but I’ve come to own it as my style. Years ago, I was at a convention and showed my portfolio to Greg Horn. He keyed into my style and told me “don’t lose that style, it’ll set you apart from other artists”. So different is good!


Q6: Do you think its possible for you to describe the process of your art style, what are the dos and don’ts, the important aspects you set yourself to achieve your style of design?

I think the tutorial describes my process pretty well ( I would say that the most important aspect is to have a good foundation when I’m working. It doesn’t matter how much detail or pretty shading I put in to a piece, if the base structure is off (anatomy, lighting, etc) then it’s just not going to look right.


Q7: What are the biggest struggles you encounter as an artist?

The first two struggles I can think of are actually personal struggles. One is time. Having a full time job, plus things that happen in life don’t always leave me with the time I’d like to have to draw. The second is what I call AADD (Artistic Attention Deficit Disorder). Unfortunately, my ideas and inspiration come a lot faster than I can actually draw. So I’m constantly jumping from one project to another.

I think the biggest struggle that artists in general face, is that people don’t understand or value the time that goes into what we do. People will ask how much a commission is and be shocked at the price. If I spend 3 days on a piece, it’s got to be worth more than 10 dollars!


Q8: Do you have any other future plans that don’t involve creative art?  

I would hope not. Creativity and art are always a part of my future plans 😉

Q9: Do you have any personal mottos, quotes or existing quotes that motivates you to do what you love doing? Can you share it with us or provide words of wisdom from your experiences for those who look up to you?

One of my favorite all-time quotes is from Yoda. “Do or do not, there is no try.” I think that’s great advice. If you want something, make it happen. Don’t just sit around hoping it’ll happen. Another one is from my baseball days. “The harder you work, the luckier you get.” I think if you work hard and put yourself in a position to succeed, luck and good breaks will happen more often.

Another thing I’ve found, is that it’s important to treat people well. It’s important in life in general of course, but it’s really important in art. The art world can be pretty small so it’s important to build a good reputation and good relationships. You never know where the next opportunity will come from, whether it’s an opportunity to get work or to help someone else out.


Q10: What do you think the future will hold for all artists from all backgrounds from now?

There’s so much great and unique talent out there right now. I think that there’s a growing appreciation in the world for what these people can do. I’d love to see that appreciation continue to grow.


Q11: To round off the last question, where can your fans and new fans find updated news and progress from you,  – Where can we find you?

It’s been hard for me to keep up to date with everything on the web, but there’s plenty of places I can be found online.

My personal website:

Website for 17+:

On Facebook:

On DeviantArt:

On Model Mayhem:


Q12: Ok this question is optional for you, you and I know that art theft is so common now in the internet world, so are there any words you want to share or shout at to those who steal people arts?

Ugh, you’re right, it’s far too common. I’ve been at shows and seen my personal work being sold as prints and posters at booths. I’ve seen my work show up on t-shirts on ebay, I’ve seen it happen far too often to myself and my friends. On the one hand, it’s somewhat flattering to know that someone thought your work was good enough to steal. But really, it’s just frustrating because it seems like there’s very little you can do to protect yourself or make people stop doing it.

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One Comment

  1. Posted October 27, 2011 at 2:48 pm by David Manning | Permalink