Longtime Logan Square resident Pat Loboyko is skilled in the dark arts. There’s nothing supernatural about his talents, though—at least as far as I can tell. The artist spends his days illustrating role-playing games (RPGs), bringing the characters that populate them to life through fantastical, action-packed renderings. Lavishly detailed and full of horror and heroics, his images conjure the bizarrely imaginative scenarios that are a fixture of this gaming genre.
Pulling from comics, classical art, and gothic themes, Loboyko has developed a style that is uniquely his own. He is as inspired by comic and fantasy artist Larry Elmore as he is by Francis Bacon, Egon Schiele, Francisco Goya, Paul Rubens, and John Singer Sargent. His distinctive aesthetic is in high demand among RPG publishers and he has long-standing relationships with many of them.
From the biblically-inspired The Seventh Seal to the Dungeons & Dragons-derived Pugmire, Loboyko has lent his talents to a wild variety of games, assisting players in envisioning the distinct universes laid out by each.
“Illustration has a lot of functions,” he said. “It helps portray the world. It helps inspire character creation. And it breaks up the text.”
He defines his style as an impressionistic form of realism and thus draws on real-world images and textures.
“I will take pictures of myself, my roommates, my friends,” he said of his technique. “If someone raided my hard drive they would think, ‘Why is this guy such a maniac with all these pictures of himself in all these crazy poses?’ I’ll go online and look at texture libraries. I’ll look at 3,000 images of fire on Google image search to see what it actually looks like.”
In a very small way, I have contributed to that sense of realism myself. I’ve known Loboyko for over a decade. We first met when we both worked for a struggling educational publisher in Evanston, where I was immediately drawn to his ebullient personality and easy laugh. Loboyko would pose me and my colleagues and take pictures so that he could capture the dimensions and postures of his characters more accurately.
Somewhere out there in the RPG world, there’s a wizard with my proportions, reading from a book of spells and looking deranged … all of this modeled on an image of me standing in a darkened office holding a children’s textbook. Thankfully, Loboyko took some liberties with the facial features so I stand little chance of being mistaken for a wicked necromancer on the street. Though perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad thing if I were …
Loboyko has been immersed in this fascinating sub-culture since childhood, when he first began playing Dungeons & Dragons with his friends.
“I started drawing my characters and my friend’s characters. And their deaths,” he said. “The characters would die a lot. So we kind of wanted to memorialize it.”
From there, Loboyko, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, went to DePaul University for his formal art training. Like many art students, he found the education there to be a mixed bag.
“On one level I wish they would have been more specific,” he said wryly. “And on another level I wish I’d paid more attention to certain things that they were trying to teach.”
Following his graduation, Loboyko held an eclectic series of jobs. “I worked at an ad agency for awhile,” he recounted. “It was a little soulless. I did not mesh with that culture.”
The conservative Christian owner of the company objected to the “pagan” nature of some of the illustrations he displayed at a company art show and Loboyko soon decamped for less restrictive environs. For one freelance gig, he painted cut-out paper ballerinas. The life of the working artist is nothing if not surprising.
From analogue art, he quickly moved to digital, which better suited his needs. While he still sketches out the concepts for his pieces on paper, much of the detail work is done using digital painting tools. He scans the drawings and then completes them using programs like Painter. With specially designed digital brushes, he elaborates on his hand-drawn images and fleshes them out. He augments them with textures pulled from images captured on his phone.
“I’ll look at a stain on the street [and] be like, ‘Oh, that looks cool,’” Loboyko said, laughing. “‘I don’t know what that is. Something horribly organic.’”
This acute talent for observation manifests in his paintings, which, to the untrained eye, look as if they’ve been executed using a physical brush. He’s constantly looking to challenge his capabilities by looking at his subjects from different perspectives. If he is portraying a misty night at castle, versus a sunny daytime scene, everything changes.
“How does stone reflect if it’s wet?” he pondered.
These considerations make all the difference in conveying a realistic impression of a given scene, which is laid out by his clients with varying degrees of specificity. Depending on the nature of the image, it can take anywhere from a day for a black and white image to five days for one done in color.
Not all of his work is in the fantasy realm. “I have kind of a reputation for scary stuff,” he said with a giggle. But he also draws pet portraits and takes random commissions.
“Occasionally you’ll get prospective clients who are like, ‘You can draw a zombie but can you draw a cow?’” he said. “And I’m like, ‘Yes. Do I need to answer that?’”
He revels in adapting his style to a given project and tailoring his skills to the storyline.
“You want it to be a certain spin on something that heightens the thrust of the game,” he said. “What is the game’s ethos? Is it a cyberpunk, dark game? Is it heroes against all kinds of odds? Are they people who maintain their heroic nature? Or are they people who are in a terrible world and they realize it. So they will defeat their enemies by any means necessary. The monsters are going to look different. In the second example, the heroes and the monsters might share many of the same traits. In the first one, the hero is going to look unblemished. He’s going to look taller and have a squarer jaw than anybody else. He’s gonna be shining, brilliant. The monsters are going to be really terrible. In the second example, there’s going to be overlap because the world has corrupted everybody.”
Though he does have classical training, Loboyko credits the refinements of his style to lessons learned from message boards such as Conceptart.org. There he learned from noted artists such as Justin Sweet and Jon Hodgson, who shared techniques and tips.
Though these suggestions were valuable, Loboyko shared: “What it really taught you is that you have to fucking paint. You look at the way that things exist in three-dimensional space. And you figure out how you can break down and simplify the texture and make it look believable.”
Loboyko will on occasion dive down the rabbit hole of the internet in search of just the right image to inform his work.
“The weirdest painting I researched was… this guy who was half-devoured by insects,” he said. “[I wanted to] see if there was something that would add a specific degree of realism so I looked at photos of victims of piranha attacks.”
“For Witchhunter, I looked at a lot of medieval etchings of dragons. I didn’t want it to look like a Game of Thrones dragon. That’s the iconic idea of what a dragon looks like. I didn’t want it to look like that” he said. “A lot of the medieval ones have this weird beakish nose. And some of them have feathers.
He is clearly fascinated by his subject matter. He’ll also take pictures of the dogs that stop by when he is manning the counter at G-Mart Comics on Kedzie, a habit that has born fruit in his realistic renderings for Pugmire, a game centering on warrior canines that have inherited the earth following humanity’s demise.
Such is the life of a fantasy artist—one day it’s gore and death, another it’s dragons, and then, sometimes, it’s just puppies.