Art by Daniel R. Horne
What makes D&D successful? Well, for one it has a dedicated community and fanbase who all hold a love for games, but arguably one of the things that makes D&D so successful is the accompanying artwork. After all, without the fantastical art that gives life to the text and creates an atmosphere and visual aesthetic, D&D is just math and improvising. Without the art, D&D is just a collection of numbers and text and there's no doubt that the art ties it all together. With that in mind, we're going to look at the best D&D artists from each decade up until now.
The 1970's was the first decade that D&D existed within. While there weren't too many different artists for the first few books, the art from that time is iconic.
David Trampier (aka DAT) was an artist who worked on the first edition of D&D and who had a style which blended cartoonishness with realism in a stylistic way. His artwork graced the pages and covers of many of the first edition books at the time. Sadly he passed away in 2014.
The 1980's saw great success and also great adversity for D&D, with D&D being embraced by so many players but also coming under attack from Satanic Panic. Multiple artists brought new life into the fantasy aesthetic of D&D and the art became more standardized.
The 1990's marked a big change in direction for D&D as popularity waned, and D&D was purchased by Wizards of the Coast. However, there were lots of attempts to revitalize the game during this period with multiple campaign settings and sourcebooks.
Clyde Caldwell is one of the most iconic D&D artists from the 1980's. His paintings feature muscular heroes and powerful women in a semi-realistic style, blended with fantasy elements that are more fantastical.
Perhaps best known for his Dragonlance artwork, Larry Elmore also did the artwork for the infamous D&D Red Box. Elmore is a very good character artist, and his depictions of Tanis Half-Elven and the rest of the warriors of Krynn are among the most iconic D&D artworks of all time.
Jeff Easley is a painter who creates dynamic and energetic scenes in his paintings, with vivid colors, dynamic compositions, and a strong sense of action and drama. While others focused mostly on character work, Easley focused on scenes and monsters.
Keith Parkinson was a highly talented artist known for his more realistic depictions of dragons, monsters, and other fantastical creatures in D&D. His paintings were often rendered in vibrant colors and fantastic attention to detail. Sadly, he passed away in 2005.
DANIEL R. HORNE
Daniel R. Horne is one of the most well-known D&D artists and his paintings convey a great sense of atmosphere and action, with an emphasis on realism applied to fantastical subjects and situations.
Perhaps best known for his Dark Sun campaign setting artwork, Gerald Brom's paintings are often described as "unsettling" and are indeed very dark in most cases. Brom has a decidedly haunting style all his own that's often very reminiscent of Frank Frazetta.
Tony DiTerlizzi has a very unique and sketchy style that worked very well for the Planescape campaign setting. DiTerlizzi has a very whimsical, captivating way with his paintings, and it's no surprise that he would later go on to help write and illustrate the Spiderwick Chronicles.
While the 80's and 90's enjoyed the 1st and 2nd editions of D&D, the year 2000 saw the 3rd edition which is still one of the most popular editions as well as the jumping off point for the Pathfinder TTRPG game. Before the 2000's were over, 4th Edition was also released, causing a rift in the community with 4th's departure from the original OGL. 4th Edition continued up until 2014 when 5th Edition, the current edition, was released. 5th Edition has been massively successful, and despite another controversy with the OGL in current times, 5E is still going strong.
Wayne Reynolds pretty much defined the entirety of 3rd Edition, and he also went on to do the artwork for Pathfinder. Reynolds has a real knack for capturing the intricate details of armor and weaponry, which is a boon to any who enjoy fantasy artwork.
Todd Lockwood was a prevalent artist during 3rd Edition and is noted for his ability to capture the beauty and majesty of dragons and other fantastical creatures in his works. His use of color is grand, and he has the ability to strike the appropriate atmosphere in his compositions.
William O'Connor is recognized mostly for his contributions to 4th Edition, especially his additions to Tiefling and Dragonborn concept aesthetics. O'Connor has a knack for details and mood in his paintings.
Tyler Jacobson is best known for D&D 5E, and his work is characterized by a realistic approach to the dynamic aspects of action and adventure. Though he's not the only artist to work on the 5E sourcebooks, he's one of the most recognizable.
There are many more artists for each of these editions and decades, but these were some of the most recognizable, iconic, and memorable. Did we forget any artists you enjoy? Do you have anything to add? Let us know in the comments! -Joe