Summer of Gaming Week 1: S.C. Watson, Illustrator

So in my hunt of people to interview and ask questions for the “Summer of Gaming” series, I broadened by horizons. Not only would I just focus on the guys that made my favorite games from the 90’s when I grew up, I’d also poke at some more recent fellows.

This search led me to S.C. Watson, an illustrator and artist for Space Empires V, a game I spent a whole lot of time on before getting a great new computer in 2007. His iconic “painted” portraits of the races always stuck with me, giving a greater “realism” to the game than the previous 3D models. He’s a self-taught artist, doing all sorts of traditional and digital work.

After some hunting I finally found Shane’s portfolio site and contacted him via e-mail. Explaining my intentions and project, he willingly agreed to contribute.



So, you have quite an impressive bio. What kind of art do you do? Do you have a preferred medium? (Digital, pencil sketches, etc.)?

I do a number of different things art wise. Everything from fine art, to children’s illustration, book covers and interiors and the occasional portrait. I’m always open for the freelance project. My preferred mediums are pencil, colored pencil, oils and digital depending on the needs of the project.


How did you wind up working with Malfador Machinations? When and how did that come about?

I was a fan of Malfador’s Space Empires games from early on, and I did a lot of portrait mods – facilities and such – and some race portraits. Aaron liked what I did and hired me to do the facilities in Space Empires IV. A few of them were done by someone else, if I remember. And, later, he hired me to do the alien race portraits for Space Empires V.


It’s nice to run into another Malfador fan, and seems quite fitting that a good fan gets roped into doing art for the game. When did Aaron contact you approximately for work on Space Empires IV (year-wise)?

I don’t remember exactly, but I think it was something like 2000, 2001 or thereabouts. Obviously prior to SEIV came out. Work on SEV was done in 2005


What was your design process for drawing up the alien portraits? Did Aaron give you free reign of interpretation or had specific guidelines to follow?

Aaron gave me a lot of freedom in creating the aliens for the game, though I did try to base them heavily on the early designs so they’d be recognizable to the players. The Eee, Jraenar, Phong and Xichung were most heavily influenced by their originals concepts. The neutral races I had a lot of freedom with, with some input from Aaron here and there.


I remember one of the neutral races was a race of mechanical “tools”. That was an interesting variation for a race to use a “None” atmosphere type! Are the race portraits for Space Empires traditional or digital art?

All digital. The style varied more than I’d like in a normal situation like this, but the work was freelance, and spread out over long periods of time, and so in my opinion it suffered stylistically.


Some of the races that were in SE4 didn’t show up in SE5, such as the crystal Cryslonite, the Toltayan and Fazrah. What was the reason for this?

I don’t have an answer for you on this one, because while I had a lot of freedom, I didn’t choose the races to illustrate. Aaron asked me to illustrate the specific races, including the “neutrals.”


Hmm, his design choice, I see. It’s been a bit of a mystery why they were absent since the game came out. :O Thanks for finally answering that for me.

It’s been quite awhile since Space Empires V came out. Has Aaron done anymore work with you regarding future Space Empires games or that was the end of it? Has your contribution to his series given you recognition and/or new prospective work at the time?

To the best of my knowledge, Space Empires V was the end of the line for the franchise. I just recently heard through the grapevine that he sold it to Strategy First, but I don’t know how much truth there is in that. In terms of 4x strategy games, Paradox Interactive appears ready to pick up and carry the torch with the impending release of their new game Stellaris, which looks to be a more than worthy successor to the genre.

There has been a certain amount of recognition because of it, but nothing extreme. I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily translated over to gigs, but at the same time, I don’t treat any different than the work I’ve done for Wizards of the Coast, Fantasy Flight Games, or any my self-publishing clients.


I’ve heard good things about Stellaris! Looking forward to its release.

Yeah. Stellaris looks like it’s going to rock. I’m planning on doing my own alien race mod for it as time allows, which should be fun 🙂


As you do digital art, do you have a favorite hardware setup? What equipment do you currently use for digital work?

I use Corel Painter 12 on PC. I’ll alternate back and forth from Painter to Photoshop depending on what I need. My usual process typically includes doing initial work with pencil and paper, scanning it, and then kicking it over to Painter – though I don’t always do this. It tends vary from project to project depending on what type of feel I want for the piece. There’s advantages and disadvantages to both methods.



Do you use a tablet when you do digital work? Or completely by mouse?

Wacom Intuos Pro Medium. God, I can’t imagine working by mouse D:


Per your bio, Orcas Island seems a bit off the beaten path. Does this help or hinder with your work? Do you have Internet difficulties? Have you ever actually seen any orcas that gave the island its name?

I think it’s made certain aspects more difficult. For instance, I can’t go out and get a job at a game studio like I could if I lived in Seattle, but for freelance work it’s fine. No internet difficulties here – as a matter of fact, we just updated to fiber broadband.

I have seen orcas a couple of times – Once on the ferry, and once on tour. Big animals!

By the way, where are you located?


Eh, I’m located in Parrottsville, Tennessee. Small rural town near out in the middle of nowhere, not too far from the Smoky Mountains National Park. :S

Nice to know I’m not the only one out in the boonies 🙂


Though no orcas appear in the cow pastures to entertain me. D:

Ah, but there’s nothing like watching the majestic field bovine chewing cud in the morning!


At least you’re getting fiber! Still stuck with a wireless long-range wi-fi signal over here. Can barely play Elite: Dangerous on the thing.

Seattle’s spitting distance from Vancouver where Blackbird Interactive’s calls home. Are you familiar or a fan of the Homeworld series? I also hear that a few companies and people do reside in Seattle that do game/design work. Do you consider that city a hotspot for those things?

I think I played Homeworld … once? A friend of mine got it when it originally came out. From what little I’ve seen of it, I thought it was pretty awesome. But I never ended up getting into it. I’ve always been more inclined towards larger strategy games like Sid Meier’s Civilization, Stars!, Space Empires, Europa Universalis, and such. Though I do play a swath of other games as well.

As for a city being a “hotspot” for game design, I think it really depends on the city. I know there’s several game companies in Seattle, most notably Wizards of the Coast, and Vancouver (even Victoria) play host to several. So, I think it has a lot to do with where the city is located, and what its primary industry is.


From doing work for so long, how has the industry for illustration changed? Do you think it’s taken a turn for the better or worse? How have you adapted to change?

When I first started out doing illustration in the 90’s, it was all traditional media. There were whispers of digital tech on the horizon, and there was a lot of speculation about what it would mean, how it would change the industry, and a lot of worry – people didn’t understand what they were looking at. None of the fears really came true, and a lot of opportunities opened up.

With digital media, I don’t have to worry about supplies or drying time. I can do an illustration from start to finish and immediately email it my client – all on the computer! This was unheard of when I started. The industry has definitely changed, and I think for the better – in a lot of ways, it’s become more accessible, not just for illustrators, but also for consumers and clients as well. As for how I’ve adapted, I’ve had to grow with and learn new technologies.


So, personality test! Favorite food, movie and TV show?

Oh, geez. Favorite food … Um, Mexican/Italian/Sushi? 🙂 Movie: Not one particular favorite, but sort of a genre – realistic sci-fi – so, like Alien, Blade Runner, Pan’s Labyrinth, Battle LA (totally underappreciated movie, IMO), Mad Max: Fury Road, that sort of thing. But I also love The 5th Element & Big Trouble in Little China, too! As for TV: Things like BSG, The Expanse, Black Sails, and Peaky Blinders. 😉


5th Element is pretty good. It’s goofy but likeable that I can relate to. I still can’t get over the Multipass jokes.

The 5th Element is such a stupidly fantastic movie. There’s just so much to love about it 🙂


Nice! Lastly, are you currently working on or contributing to anything exciting? Any recent or upcoming projects?

I just finished up some more card art for Fantasy Flight Games. One of the LOTR expansion packs. Three pieces I’m really pleased with, but obviously can’t show at the moment. Also working on some middle grade children’s book illustrations for a story I’m working on with my wife.

And, of course, always working on my fine art projects. Just got back into colored pencil, so have a beautiful piece that’s coming together there. As a side note, if anyone is interested in getting updates, I try to send out a newsletter about once a month that covers new and available works, and current projects. Sign up form is on my website for those inclined.



With that and a quick photoswap of each of our backyards, Shane and I wrapped it up there.

You can follow Shane’s work below on his website. Also subscribe to his Facebook page as well (Both linked below. I guarantee you that you won’t be disappointed). Lastly, thumbed some of his works with permission.



I’ve been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember. I’m mostly self taught, but have been fortunate enough to have been mentored by Todd Lockwood and E.B. Lewis.

I’ve done work for Wizards of the Coast, Fantasy Flight Games, Malfador Machinations, and various private clients, including independent authors.

I also do gallery work – currently some of my pieces are available at Crow Valley Pottery, Mia’s Cafe, & soon through The Gallery, in Eastsound, WA

I accept commissions for all sorts of projects, from book covers, event posters to pet portraits. Just send me a note via my “Contact” link.

I live and work on Orcas Island, located just north of Seattle, and just east of Victoria B.C.


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    • Janeil_H

      It’s coming soon, hang tight! Still dealing with some leftover stuff from my job fallout but getting things back in order. 🙂