Art Evolution 7: Jeff Easley

Art Evolution 7: Jeff Easley

Six artists were now represented in my Art Evolution project, beginning here, and the feelings of dread that I couldn’t get this accomplished were turning into the problematic emotion what will I do if this success continues? I needed to push forward with the concepts involving Art Evolution, and the Eras of Art that I’d put into play.

mmii-254My newest contribution, ‘Planescape Lyssa’, gave me a great snapshot of the twilight of TSR. This time-period was something I called The CCG Era [Collectible Card Game], and with the artists I’d already collected I had wonderful representations of The OGL Era of the two-thousands, The Independents Era of the late eighties, and The Groovy Era of the late seventies. A fine collection, but I was missing one glaring contribution, something from The Masters of Oil Era of the early eighties.

To fill this slot, I was going to have to go after at least one of the Big Four, Larry Elmore, Jeff Easley, Keith Parkinson, or Clyde Caldwell. I’d studied the names and their art, and for the first time began putting my research down in a written format. Research became paramount as I started piecing together my feelings on the subject matter.

Styles came out, mediums used in different time periods, and what the industry was leaning toward from year to year. It was a revelation, and I used whatever knowledge I could to push the project forward.

Of the Master of Oil, Easley was certainly the most prolific in gaming terms of the remaining artists but he had no website or available email. I managed to get some contact information from Jeff Laubenstein, who had met Easley during his time at FASA and at several renaissance fairs around the Chicago area. Connections inside the industry were starting to come together, and the more I talked to artists, the more entwined I became in their world.

unearth-arcane-254Now, I’d loved Jeff Easley since I first remember seeing his work on the cover of the AD&D Monster Manual II, and I had the pleasure of meeting him at GenCon in 2008.

He was sitting alone at a booth, nobody around, and I kind of walked around the periphery of his site-line thinking to myself, ‘Holy crap! I’m pretty sure that’s Jeff freakin Easley!’ The small blurb below details the encounter that followed.

The approach, you know the kind of slow walk like you aren’t B-lining toward someone as not to scare them. I figured it worked in the wild, so why not in a convention hall…

Me: Uh… you’re Jeff Easley…
Jeff: *looking up from a sketch and smiling* Yep.
Me: *pause* Um, you did the cover of the Unearthed Arcana.
Jeff: Yep.
Me: Do you remember putting in a picture of an open spellbook with runes all over the pages that actually had secret phrases like ‘help me’ and ‘send money’ in it?
Jeff: *still smiling* Yeah, that sounds like me.
Me: Uh… I saw that…
Jeff: *just staring at me*
Me: *pause*
Jeff: *pause*
Me: Well thanks…
Jeff: No problem

kara-tur-2541Yeah, I think I’ve kicked myself for that ultra-fanboy moment for two years. Still, my email relationship with Jeff was much more professional, and I found him to be a wealth of information about TSR’s ‘pit’.

He’d spent his life there, and openly admitted that he would still be there if he could be. I think that speaks volumes about Jeff’s devotion to his art, to the industry, and to a love of role-playing in general.

Jeff is like the veritable catalogue of RP art, and if you meet him I think you’d be impressed with his winning smile and a glint in his eye that always makes you feel like he’ll turn around and open a cupboard into another realm of fantasy existence. In the end, Jeff said he’d be delighted to participate, and I now had a representative of every RPG era.

Lyssa, by Jeff Easley

Click image for larger version.

In the new environ of the eighties, TSR was launching bigger and better by the day. When it retooled its AD&D hardcover book line, the art director needed someone to create the new feel of the game. In this he turned to the talents of Jeff Easley.

 easley-lyssa-300Although his first work for TSR took place in the 1982 module, S4: Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth as an interior artist, Easley’s real beginning came as the cover artist for World of Greyhawk in 1983 and from there he moved to the pole-arm wielding giant on the cover of Monster Manual II. He would continue to thrill us with magical creatures and beasts in over a dozen module covers, but the true focus of his fabulous eighties art is catalogued in the almost supple essence of his hard cover core books.

Jeff Easley took us to the Far East with Oriental Adventures and he provided us with the famed skull-capped wizard in perhaps the greatest RP supplement ever created, the venerable Unearthed Arcana. Readers went spelunking with goblins in Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide, and to top it all off he gave us his vision of the different heavens and hells with Manual of the Planes.

As the eighties wore on, Easley was called in to provide some of the first glimpses of Ed Greenwood’s masterwork, the Forgotten Realms, and once again took us east to Kara-Tur. That boxed set cover of an Oni, castle walls, and falling samurai provided a stark realism to a world yet unplumbed by TSR fiction or adventure module. Easley opened a treasure chest; and his oils were richer than Solomon’s mines.

Some refer to Easley as ‘draconic’, although not in the nature of his personality, but in the creationism of his subject. Easley melds ‘modern’ eighties culture, like feathered hair and puffy clothing with ancient lines of scale and plate. His hand turns the mundane into the marvelous, and as you look at his subjects you almost believe they could exist.

However, as inspired as his figures are, it is his dragons that led the eighties into a time of power. Easley is like a muscle car enthusiast with his winged behemoths, their pronounced jaws, thick bands of reptilian muscle and painted scales act as the ‘machine’ while their fire and lightning breath create a spark of ignition for an engine of unchained magic. Through Easley’s brush we explored what it meant to look into the eye off the beast, and with each bold stroke he promises to deliver that magic our imaginations so heartily desire.

When Jeff finally moved away from TSR, even after a decade into their inclusion into Wizards of the Coast, he’d contributed to over two-hundred supplements, by far the most lasting artist the industry has ever seen.

To view Art Evolution 8 click here

Current Status: Jeff is still putting out great art, the past couple of years on some very awesome guitars! He’ll be attending Illuxcon in the upcoming weeks, so if you are close by be sure to say hello.

Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
g. lovell

Awesome project. I really enjoyed a trip down memory lane. For me, there was a synergy between the art and my own imagination. Gaming without the art would have held little appeal.

[…] To view Art Evolution 7 click here […]

[…] ‘High Draconic Lyssa‘ by Easley was complete, and Tony DiTerlizzi was encouraging me to join Facebook because he thought […]

[…] November I posted the Art Evolution piece on artist Jeff Easley, and when I asked him if he enjoyed it he responded, ‘Yeah, if I ever do an art book, you can do […]

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x