Interview: Runesael Johansson

Today we’re joined by Runesael Johansson. Runesael is a wonderful digital artist who specializes in character design. He works mostly in roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons. He has recently gotten into drawing World of Warcraft characters too. It’s clear he’s a dedicated and passionate artist who loves what he does, as you’ll soon read. My thanks to him for taking the time to participate in this interview.


Please, tell us about
your art.

Most of my work these days centers around Dungeons and
Dragons player characters and NPCs, alongside other TTRPGs and roleplaying
games. I’ve also done a fair amount of people’s characters from World of

I work almost exclusively in Photoshop CS-6 or Procreate.

What inspires you?

Primarily, stories. One of my absolute favorite things about
doing the work that I do has to be hearing other people’s stories about their
characters and the adventures they’ve had with others. There’s such a broad
variety of individuals and experiences across the TTRPG community, so every
character I ever get to draw tends to be unique or unusual in some way. Even if
you have two chaotic good fighters from a small village who’ve sworn an oath to
protect their friends, say, those two fighters can and often will be radically
different people.

The TTRPG and WoW communities are both enormously creative,
and getting to see all of the various ideas that people come up with is
something I’m really grateful for and honored to be able to help bring to life.

Additionally, music – I can’t paint without it!

What got you
interested in your field?  Have you
always wanted to be an artist?

I began drawing because I wanted people to be able to see
the characters and places I described in my stories as a kid. However, it was
never really anything more than a serious hobby until about 2016.

As obnoxious as this might sound, I’ve never not been an artist, so I’m not sure what
it’s like to want to be one. I’ve been drawing since I could hold a crayon.

My original career was in music performance. An injury
exacerbated by overuse and stress pulled me out of a performance career, and I
kind of spent my twenties wandering around with absolutely no idea what I
wanted to do with myself or my life. I was really lost. I’d gotten a full
scholarship to a small school, and figured I’d make my way through a four year
degree before going on to pursue a masters. That did not happen.

During my late teens and twenties, I was also a volunteer
storm chaser with ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Services), and working
emergency telecommunications. I loved the work, but it stopped being fun after
I realized the extent of the impact that natural and man-made disasters had on
the human lives around me. Though the work was fulfilling, I knew I didn’t want
to do it for the rest of my life.

There were a few attempts at other careers. Honestly, all
they ever taught me was about all of the things I didn’t want to do with my life. The last one being that I wanted to
become a French translator and a linguist.

As a sort of last hurrah, I posted a thread on Reddit in
2015 offering to draw people’s World of Warcraft characters. There, I met a
handful of really incredible people who brought me into the WoW art community,
and from there I got into Critical Role and started becoming increasingly
engaged with the TTRPG community. The rest, as they say, is history.

Do you have any kind
of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work
that you’d be willing to reveal?

Most of my work these days is done for other people, so
you’re not going to find much of my own personal motifs in the majority of my

The signature that I put on my artwork is the text symbol
for “thunderstorm.” (It looks like this: ☈) It’s a play on my first name and it’s a nod to the work I’ve
done in the past. Also a reminder to myself – if it’s not a tornado, it’s
probably not worth getting super worked up about.

I use a lot of blue and gold – they’re my favorite colours,
mostly because I’m from a coastal town in Florida and have always loved the

There’s so much
music in my work, to the point where all of my Inktober pieces this year were
just based on songs.

What advice would you
give young aspiring artists?

There’s enough tutorials and technical advice these days on
the internet that I feel like anything I could say on those subjects has
already been said. So, instead, here’s some lessons I learned the hard way.

First of all. Don’t
be an asshole.
It does not matter if you are the most skilled artist in
your particular field, if you treat people like garbage, no one will want to
work with you. This includes being vocally critical of other artists. This
includes treating the artists around you as competition or as enemies, rather than
potential friends or coworkers. This includes being a sarcastic, sardonic shit
about everything. Cynicism doesn’t make you cool. It doesn’t make you some
enlightened sage of the ages, it makes you a prick. Empathy, kindness,
understanding and patience will get you far, far further than raw skill alone.
Praise others in public, critique if
in private. Don’t be an ass to younger artists, they’re doing their

Second. Art is extremely hard work. There is
nothing cute or fluffy about being a creative of any sort. You don’t get to
float around waiting for inspiration, or depending on some “muse” to bring your
ideas. If you do you’ll never get anything done, and you’ll never get better.

When you first start making stuff, you will suck at it.
You’ll suck at it for a while. It’s normal, don’t stress. Art isn’t something
you master overnight or in a year or even in ten years. You will be fighting a
continual, uphill fight for most victories and breakthroughs. When you “level
up” as an artist, it will be because you worked your ass off. The answers to
the problems you face will not be written out for you in books. You will need
to find those answers for yourself. If that doesn’t sound like a good idea to
you, don’t be an artist.

Third. Talent is a
myth and an excuse.
There is no bullshit force in the universe that
~magically~ gives you the ability to create anything. There is the only the
work, the desire to do it, and the determination to keep doing it when it gets
hard. That’s all. You get better by practicing and studying your craft.

Fourth. Art is for
See number three. Art is not for special talented people who have
~the gift~. The arts in general, creative work – they are for everyone and
anyone. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If someone says you’re talented,
say, “Thank you, I work very hard.” They mean well, take the compliment.

Fifth. There are
a bunch of people who will tell you in kind ways and not-so-kind ways that the
arts are for fools who can’t manage a “real” career. What they do not and
perhaps cannot understand is that not
being an artist when you want to be simply leads to a chain of unfulfilling and
meaningless careers that you never fully commit to or enjoy. Life is far too
short to go through it longing.

Sixth: Don’t be
Involve yourself in a community. Isolation is death for artists.
Surrounding yourself with artists of all different skill levels will teach you
more than any class ever can. A good community will raise you up when you’re
struggling, and will keep you grounded. There will always be someone better
than you, don’t let that discourage you or inhibit your progress.

Seventh: Rest. If
it hurts, stop. If you’re frustrated, take a break. If you need help, ask.
Don’t let pain and exhaustion be a point of pride and don’t work yourself to
death. Sitting in front of your tablet or easel for sixteen hours a day without
eating or drinking is going to fuck you sideways when you get older. It doesn’t
say that you’re devoted and hardworking, it says you don’t take care of
yourself and don’t manage your time properly.
Eat regularly, take your medication, make sure you drink water. Don’t
survive on sleep deprivation and energy drinks. Your work suffers when you

On that note. Great
art does not come from great suffering.
If you create beautiful things
from pain, imagine the things you could make when you’re safe and okay.

Tragedy, trauma,
angst, anger and sadness don’t make you interesting.
They inhibit your
feelings, keep you from growing, they keep you from forming good and healthy
relationships with the people around you. They keep you from becoming the
person you want to be. Don’t wear your sorrow like a trophy, because it isn’t.
The fact you survived it makes you strong. What will make you interesting – and
your work interesting – is how you recovered and grew beyond those

You are worth more than the things you produce. Don’t tie
your self-worth and self-esteem to your craft.

Stay humble. Work
hard, be sincere in your passions and in your relationships with others. Be as
good to the people around you as you can be, and if you can’t say anything
kind, shut the actual fuck up because no one needs your bullshit.  The most important thing in this world that
we can be is kind. Life is difficult. Life as a creative is even harder. Do not
be the reason someone else decides to quit doing what they love. Everyone has
something amazing about them, be receptive to finding it.


Where on the spectrum
do you identify?

I’m demisexual.

Have you encountered
any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field?  If so, how do you handle it?

Personally, no. I don’t talk about it much as I’m a pretty
private person about my romantic relationships.

What’s the most common
misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?

That asexual people are sex-repulsed. That we’re frigid or
cold. That we don’t actually enjoy any form of physical contact whatsoever.
That we’re broken or defective.

What advice would you
give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their

“Even if it gets hard

don’t lose that light.”

Finally, where can
people find out more about your work?

Thank you, Runesael, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.