We’re introducing a new feature on M.E.L.’s blog: Artist Spotlight.
Every Friday, we’ll showcase an artist involved in the Mass Effect community.
This time, we wanted to put the spotlight on Herssian. Herssian is a popular artist who regularly draws Bioware characters. Her art is stunning and we recommend checking her work out! Deb interviewed her for M.E.L.
Can you introduce yourself to readers who might not know you?
I’m just a 20-year-old whose majority of free time consists of playing video games, drawing about said video games, occassionally listening to music, and daydreaming. Lots of daydreaming. Art has generally been a consistent part of my life ever since I was a toddler but I only got a drawing tablet when I was twelve. The real effort I started putting into my work started about two or three years ago which, coincidentally, is when I got completely immersed into the world of Bioware and Mass Effect. I got the itch to try out the world of “Commander Shepard” with knowing practically nothing about the franchise, and a few weeks later, I was crying during the third game’s ending. I’m still crying about the ending.
So are we, so are we!
For our inaugural post, I chose three Mass Effect pieces you did and asked you questions about them. Let’s start:
This is the first piece I wanted to highlight. I find it incredibly beautiful, and I love the description underneath: “take earth back.”
Can you tell us how you started working on it? Did you have this idea of her holding this little Earth from the beginning or did that come later?
When I decided to paint this, I’d had this image of Shepard holding Earth very vividly in my head, and I believe it was around the time I had finished or was about to finish Mass Effect 2 for the millionth time. Which of course meant I was getting emotionally ready for the third game. You see, for me, the first game gives me a sense of wonder and calm, a time to discover a whole new world at your own pace without time running out, without having the entire galaxy’s fate in your hands. The second Mass Effect game feels more personal and focused on a much smaller scale than ME3, which in turn is about high stakes, reclaiming Earth and protecting your own. That’s how I’ve always viewed Shepard as a whole: a person who throughout the trilogy races against time and fights for their family. Illustrating this in a way of Shepard being shown as literally bigger than life (…or bigger than the planet) gave me a feeling of protection. From a technical aspect, I’d now fix a lot of things, but the basic idea remains the same. It’s my own way of having Shepard tell the Reapers: “This is mine. I’m here to protect it. You won’t win.”
She has all those freckles, but I notice so do a lot of the characters you draw. Are freckles an official Herssian signature?
Freckles and moles started as a personal signature because I grew up with a lot of moles as a kid and I’ve always been fascinated by freckles. It took me a long time to appreciate skin imperfections or marks and it’s why I always try to incorporate them into my characters’ designs, even if they all end up looking the same in that aspect. It’s how I remind myself that they’re okay to have, no matter their visibility or amount. There’s also one additional reason in my custom Shepard’s case: I started playing the game after the trilogy had ended, and I felt I needed to pay my due to Jane Shepard. It’s my nod and my slightly guilty conscience going “Hey, I love your design, you’re kickass, but I’d like to have mine look different. She has your freckles though!”. It all worked out in the end. Jane was I’m sure cool with me not choosing her, and I got my frecklemania satisfied!
This comic tells such a devastating story in a few panels, I’m amazed by it. Truly amazed. How do you feel about it? Have you thought about doing more pieces like this?
This piece holds double meaning for me because, aside from establishing some sort of solid backstory for my Shepard, it was a first step towards finishing a cohesive comic by doing some sort of non-painterly lineart. I’ve always been afraid of both linework and comics because all my past experiences were a colossal failure, so actually finishing it was a huge milestone. I remember working on it and going “ohgodohgod I am not going to finish this, I can’t possibly do this” even though I, well… was doing it. I did it. And I’ve improved my lineart ever since that day and I still use techniques I learned while making those panels, which overall turns it into an even more valuable piece for me as an artist.
I still find making comics a bit of a challenge because, even though I don’t mind working on a painting for days, I have apprehension about working on anything else for more than a few hours. Mapping it out, however, and having a solid script wasn’t the difficult part because I’m used to storytelling. I like writing stories and creating worlds with words, phrases, sentences, but when it comes to visualizing something on paper, I struggle. I could tell this story—Shepard losing her parents because she wasn’t careful enough with her biotics—I could write an entire chapter that would maybe turn this into a more meaningful moment, but I think in this case, the shaky lineart and funky colors (purple or blue for human skin and blood?) get across the kind of surrealism I wanted to establish better than filling in the possible blanks. I want you, as a reader, to feel that something’s not exactly right, that this conversation might not be for you. But you’re reading it. You’re still reading it even though it’s someone else’s pain.
Naturally, I’d absolutely love to put out more stuff like this, and I do have some things planned, but those panels will remain the important milestone they are even if I create works with double the artistic talent in the future. It helps that I generally find working on Shepard’s backstory to have an insanely big potential when you realize the trilogy didn’t give us all that much. Maybe for the better too. Maybe it’s up to us to decide what happened in the between, non-heroic moments. And, thankfully, the fans are here for just that. 🙂
You don’t just draw amazing and really beautiful fanart, you also draw really funny things. This one is an example, but there are others. I love it, because it feels true to what is generally found in the Mass Effect fandom. A lot of deep and intense stuff followed by things that are lighter or funnier. Do you consciously try to mix it up or are you just drawing whatever you feel like at the time?
So here’s the thing: I didn’t always feel like creating funny stuff with my video game art. I had this feeling I had to be withdrawn, detached and only put out works that held clear meaning and could make some sort of impact. But that wasn’t really true to me as a fan. I’ve always tried to make fun, light stuff for all the fandoms I’ve been in and not doing this for Mass Effect, a game series I’ve come to love so much, started feeling ridiculous. So I let all apprehensions go, I decided to be slightly truer to myself, and now I spend most of time putting out silly comics about my characters’ experience in the games’ universe. I am glad some of you seem to enjoy them, otherwise it’d practically be me, in my internet corner, laughing on my own like a maniac.
(Which… I do. I do that. It’s great having people laugh along too, though.)
I do sometimes catch myself stopping me from drawing something serious after a row of sober pieces, but it’s not necessarily because I feel the audience is going to get tired, but because I want to get out of the sadness of things for a bit and enjoy myself. While I was playing ME3, during the really heart aching parts, I put out pieces like the one you picked, because making fun of The Illusive Man was the only thing I could control when in-game he was trying to kill Shepard’s squadmates. And during the light parts like the Citadel DLC, I painted painful moments to remind me of the soul of the game. I guess it’s some kind of intuitive balance that dictates how serious my next piece is going to be or not, but if I really want to make something, I will and that’ll be that, no matter the context.
How do you feel about the Mass Effect fandom and your place in this community?
I hold the Mass Effect fandom as a whole close to my heart because I’ve gotten the most support out of all of you. Funnily enough, I have fewer hours clocked in with the Mass Effect franchise compared to other Bioware games because I always end up playing with the same character and choosing similar choices again and again. But I hold Shepard and Co. closer to heart out of any other game because of the emotional bond I have with the events and the tragedy and the ridiculous moments and the quirkiness of the characters. All the characters. I still get heart palpitations thinking of the last twenty minutes of Mass Effect 3, talking to your squadmates one final time, and that doesn’t happen so vividly or leaving such a huge impression with any other video game I’ve played.
As you’d expect, all the feedback I’ve gotten certainly helps in me getting encouraged to share more and more. I guess it’s because it doesn’t feel like I’m doing this just for me. Sharing your weird ideas with other people and having them react adds tons to all of it, no matter how much I try to remind myself that, first and foremost, I’m doing this to have fun and not to get noticed. It’s important to note how much more invested (in my experience and for my works) and actively interested people seem to be for my Mass Effect artwork compared to other fandoms. I have people getting interested in why my Shepard loves coffee so much or what I’m planning to do with my Ryder and it’s crazy to think some people have taken the time to get to know my characters like this? All because we all love this universe and its characters so much. All because we’ve spent time getting to know Shepard as an icon and have our own unique experiences with the games. It’s an incredible community that makes you feel very welcome from the get-go, which also means you have the kind of support that allows you to grow as an artist, if you so choose. And that’s not found this often and readily as it is within the ME fandom.
Thank you for answering my questions 🙂
Let’s end this post with a Mass Effect piece you’ve done and want to showcase.
I’ll probably have to pick this Liara one.
I’ve used colors that are not only obviously found in Liara’s character design but because they inspire me. I love blue and all its shades and getting to work on a widely loved character like Liara while also feeling peaceful during the painting process was unique. It reminds me of the relaxing effect she can have as someone who’s been with us ever since the first game and has never left Shepard’s side for too long, but also her Asari nature and the wisdom she’s capable of holding. It’s one of the few pieces I don’t feel like correcting in any major way.
Thank you again!