I've been thinking about stock art lately due to a few reviews we received recently from two well respected reviewers. One on Trollback Keep: https://tenfootpole.org/ironspike/?p=5854
and the other on Tar Pits of the Bone Toilers:
First off, to be clear....I LOVE receiving reviews, especially from strangers. They can be good or bad, and I still appreciate them due to the opportunity to learn from them, and the time the reviewer takes writing up their thoughts and gripes. Getting a bad review is just an opportunity to improve as a publisher for future projects.
Back on the subject....Through the review and discussions afterwards, people brought up the use of stock art in adventures. The vibe was there seemed to be a disdain for it or that the stock art hardly related to the adventure. One commenter even suggested that we should do our own art for our products, which admittedly made me chuckle a bit as I can maybe do some stick figures at best and didn't think that would enhance the 'scene' of the adventure. But I do agree that there is a certain charm from imperfect hand drawn images that I have seen in other adventures (but they are better than I can do). Luckily Jon has some skill as an artist and perhaps we explore that avenue for fun at some point.
Overall, the discussion gave me a bit of revelation. From my first blog post, I stated I've been slow to the internet scene with this hobby, so seeing the opportunity to purchase and use stock art was a treasure trove to me and was fun. Not only do I love art, but it inspires me and sometimes I can do a full adventure just from seeing one piece of art. Back in the day, a purchased module that had little art soured me and honestly, I would put it down in boredom. I'm not reading a fantasy novel here....I'm reading an adventure...a gaming adventure...and it needs to be scanned and used at the gaming table. Art can express a lot in a picture then just sentence after sentence of description. So in my opinion, art is something I find mandatory, and I have spent hours looking for the right bit of stock art to use for each adventure.
But, I'm assuming people have disdain for stock art because sometimes its hard for it to work perfectly with a scene or vibe. In addition, they see it all the time on every different piece of gaming material they purchase. Maybe the stock art fits the scene, but it jerks the reader back to the first time they saw the picture and makes them think "no wait a minute, that was Halgar the barbarian in the Obsidian Coast...what's it doing in this adventure?" So instead of adding to the adventure, it may break immersion? Or maybe the adventure feels 'old' suddenly because it used some art that was applied before in something else?
In my opinion, art needs to be a tool to the GM and even for the players. It needs to help with the vibe, or help with visualization. So if stock art is breaking immersion or gives a negative vibe, then we got a bit of a problem. And frankly, that sucks...because stock art is affordable, most of it is really cool, and is also a valuable tool to use during layout.
So what's the solution? I supported some artists on Patreon and was able to offer a idea and they would draw it and it was a blast! But it got spendy every month and the art became stock art right away, which leads us back to the 'overuse' problem. But I do enjoy doing the Patreon route because it supports them, so may get involved more in that later again at some point. The other option is to start getting art commissions. But that can get expensive pretty quick! And that is not an attempt to knock on artists because they need to make a living too. Most of their black and white price commissions are reasonable, but it starts to add up quick. So that leads towards the road of Kickstarters or other crowd funding platforms.
Or the final option I see is to learn how to draw?