The Art of the Elements
The Redsky 5e Conversion Book is launching on Kickstarter soon!
Will you be there at the beginning of our tale?
Alex: Hi everyone! Alex and Matt here. Today we have something very special to share with you: the final art for Redsky’s six elemental philosophies!
If this is your first time hearing about Redsky’s Elements, you should check out Tyler’s brief overview of how they work. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can check out my longer article where I detail how the Elements were designed.
Matt: Hey y’all! Alex and I have been hard at work designing the art for the Elements over the last several months, and we hope it shows.
Alex: Matt did most of the heavy lifting. As art director, Matt came up with most of the final designs and painted all the final illustrations. My contribution was mostly in the early concepting stage, where I helped prototype early versions of the Elements.
Matt: Alex is responsible for the philosophy behind the Elements, so he also helped by explaining what our high concept goals were for each Element. Alex and I took several stabs at the designs of the elemental icons, trying to balance these high concept ideas with the rule of cool.
Alex: Not only did each design have to visually represent its philosophy and look cool, but all six had to work as a set too. Fire, Air, and Void represent kinds of Chaos, whereas Water, Earth, and Aether represent kinds of Order, so that had to show.
Matt: On top of everything else, the designs had to look like they all belonged to the same world. It was not an easy task. Ultimately I rooted each elemental symbol in more practical terms of visual design. I assigned each Element a geometric shape I thought fit them the best according to their ideals.
Alex: Without further ado, we’re going to discuss the design for each Element in detail. I’ll give a brief description of each Element’s philosophy, and then Matt will discuss the visual design.
Matt: Sounds good. Let’s start with Fire.
Alex: Representing chaotic emotion, Fire is an explosive and energetic Element. It’s the Element of powerful impulses and euphoric feelings. Owing to its passion, Fire can be single-minded and obsessive at times. At its most extreme, Fire has the tendency to metaphorically (and yeah, sometimes literally) self-destruct.
Matt: I really wanted Fire to look HOT. The final design is aggressive and sharp, to match Fire’s unrestrained volatility. I assigned Fire a triangle frame in order to represent it’s single-minded direction and purpose. With a strong base from which to fuel its powerful ideals, Fire burns with an aggressive and primal energy.
Alex: Next up, there’s Water. As Fire’s opposite, Water represents ordered emotion. Water is the Element of conscious self-control and mindfulness. It’s also the Element of self-improvement and restraint. At its worst, Water can be very judgmental of others and (owing to its self-consciousness) overly cautious.
Matt: Emotions can be erratic, like waves or ripples in a cup. I assigned Water a circular frame because the circle is the perfect smooth boundary. The tides come in and out cyclically. No matter how you pour water into a circular cup, the boundary of the cup contains it. Even as it falls from the sky, water limits itself to the form of a raindrop. Collected and contained, Water is always in motion but never at risk of breaking its boundaries.
Alex: Air is next. Representing chaotic intelligence, Air is spontaneous and unpredictable. Air is the Element of creativity, intuition, and thinking outside the box. It steps outside of stagnant intellectual traditions and questions them. At its worst, however, Air can seem arbitrary, useless, or just downright distracting.
Matt: Air’s novelty means that it can either be trend-setting or completely bunk. Unsure of whether it’s going up or down, I gave Air a diamond frame. Air is all about multiple perspectives interacting with and against each other. With this in mind I set out to create an icon that would represent varying viewpoints and ideas in a single powerful shape. With an infinity of ideas breaking away from the main form, it remains unclear whether Air’s vortex is ascending or descending.
Alex: Air’s elemental counterpart is Earth. Earth represents ordered intelligence, and is the Element of systematic reasoning, intellectual caution, and community thinking. Earth aims to make steady and certain progress in its knowledge, but at its worst can stifle creativity and reject new solutions as too outlandish or untested.
Matt: Earth is systematic and rigid, and so we gave Earth the most systematic and rigid frame shape: the square. Coming up with a symbol for Earth was an interesting challenge.
As it turns out, there are only so many natural ways to represent Earth. Most natural designs either look like mountains (which would have been too similar to Fire), rocks, or trees. And none of these shapes are uniform enough. So we had a challenge, and Alex ended up doing most of the leg work on this one.
Alex: Ironically, we had to think outside the box to come up with Earth’s design. Our new design had to have symmetrical right angles which still somehow felt like a good representation of stone and soil. I drew some inspiration from the uniform patterns of Dwarf cities (Dwarves are Earth, by the way), and a ton of inspiration from various meander patterns, also known as Greek keys.
Matt: Greek keys are just so dang cool.
Alex: One Greek key in particular caught my eye. It looks like a bunch of spiraling cubicles, and I knew right away that with some modification, it could work perfectly as a symbol for Earth. I rotated the image, modified it to look like a chain wrapping inwards on itself, inverted the positive and negative space, and voila! That’s how the symbol for Earth came to be.
Matt: Although it’s abstract, we found that almost everyone we asked correctly identified it as a symbol for Earth and thought it looked cool. We’re super happy with that result. Nearly finished now: it’s time to talk about Void.
Alex: Representing chaotic society, Void approximately represents individualism. It’s the Element of liberty and individual freedoms. Void aspires to protect the rights of individuals and reward excellence, but at its worst it can lead to inequality and excessive social disorder.
Matt: Void is individualistic, strays from rigid norms, and prizes excellence, so I gave it a star-shaped frame. The star gives Void the opportunity to branch out in every direction.
As a symbol, Void meets in the middle as a show of agreement on a small set of essential values, but then quickly spirals outwards. This represents the divergent paths through life available to people in a Void society. These paths are jagged and sharp though, in order to show that this freedom comes at the cost of uncertainty and danger.
Alex: Last but not least, there’s Aether. As Void’s opposite, Aether represents ordered society. It approximately represents collectivism. Aether is the Element of unity, safety, and compassion. At its most extreme, Aether achieves unity through repression, safety through tyranny, and compassion (whose latin root means ‘to suffer with’) by making everyone suffer equally.
Matt: Aether represents a tight relationship between an individual and their group, so I assigned it a hexagonal frame. The hexagon is one of nature’s strongest shapes, whether it’s alone (like a snowflake) or in a large tessellated group (like a beehive).
I designed Aether’s symbol to capture the way that people in Aether societies can serve their own specialized roles, but will always be a part of the group, with little chance to break away. In contrast to Void, Aether’s paths through life are safe and lead back to community, although this comes at the cost of limitations and conformity.
Alex: That just about does it!
Matt: We hope that y’all enjoy our designs for the Elements and what we’re trying to achieve. For more about how the Elements were designed, you can check out Alex’s article if you haven’t yet.
Alex: Follow along with us for more! We’re a small but dedicated team and can use all the help we can get right now. Finally, which Elements most speak to you?
Matt: We’ve got a ‘which Element are you?’ quiz in the works that you won’t want to miss!
Alex: Take care now!
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