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Eric Torres: In His Own Words
Nov, 17, 2020
Eric Torres: In His Own Words
“You and I are something special.”
This affirmation, on local artist Eric Torres’ website ericimagines.com, is a reminder of the inherent creativity in each of us, of our ability to produce something amazing, even when we feel our smallest. A designer and full-time design director, Torres is exceptional—and works hard—at harnessing his innate creative forces to manifest otherworldly spheres and stories through tabletop games, fiction, printmaking, and more. He has partnered on illustration and design projects with a wide range of companies and organizations, from Harkins Theater and Desert Financial, to the Phoenix Suns, Toyota, and the Scottsdale Center for the Arts. But he always finds time to produce original games that require players to interact deeply with universes and fantastical characters of his own making, resulting in mind-bending gaming experiences beyond the likes of Connect Four and Shoots and Ladders, Battleship and Risk.
We spoke with Torres to learn how he stumbled into the world of game illustration and design and why he continues his quest to build fictional worlds.
Here’s Eric Torres, in his own words, on his inspirations, his process, and championing the creative goals of others.
“If you’re reading this and creativity is part of who you are, know that it’s ok to remain an artist. We don’t need permission, or the highest education, or the most money, or even all the support of everyone around us. All we need is to choose to remain on the path.”
Eric Torres at the Desert Botanical Garden. Courtesy of the artist.
PhxArt: Tell us about who you are. Where are you from, and what first inspired you to pursue art?
Eric Torres: I was born in Phoenix and grew up in Tolleson, a dusty town on the outskirts of the city. I’m the eldest of seven siblings, and my family ancestry is Yaqui Indian as well as Spanish and Portuguese. We were a family of humble means, but my parents made sure we had art supplies and access to our public library’s summer reading program. Mom taught us to view creativity as a way of entertaining ourselves and sharing with others, too.
My inspirations began with Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and The Muppets. As I got older, I was all about animated TV shows and kaiju movies on Science Fiction Theater on Saturday afternoons. I credit these shows for influencing my imagination, sense of color, and storytelling. But from the perspective of having the right attitude about creativity, I have to say Bob Ross helped a ton. I would watch him paint while I sat on the carpet and drew. I didn’t know it then, but the way he talked about his creative process and promoted a healthy view of one’s art skills left a little dent in my childhood. And through other shows like Bob’s, I learned about all sorts of creative professions. He’s a big reason I decided to remain an artist as I grew up.
Looking back, I know my mom put aside her personal creativity to raise her children, but she’s still an artist at heart. That’s something she passed on to me. With the way the world scene is now, creativity has never been a more important part of my life. It’s entertainment. It’s an escape. It’s the way I meditate, too. In the end, each line I draw is part of my life story. Whenever I want, I can look back and see how far I’ve come.
Eric Torres, Pop-Tree series, “Ramen Night,” 2019. Digital print. Courtesy of the artist.
PhxArt: As you were growing into your identity as an artist, what were some experiences that shaped your creative vision and thought process?
Torres: Being raised in a migrant and agricultural community like Tolleson meant there was a mix of whites and Latinos living side by side. I didn’t fully fit in with either. My Yaqui Indian and Spanish/ Portuguese background meant I didn’t look like other kids in school.
But I was different in other ways, too. I was a book worm. I was held back in 4th grade and watched my classmates move on. I didn’t wear trendy clothes like other kids did. The result was a light-skinned, awkward, bullied boy who felt alone.
By the time I entered Tolleson High, things were better. I was drawing more than ever and started sharing my art with a few friends. I won the admiration of some teachers who saw my potential and helped me grow. My peers started to appreciate I could draw pictures for them to give as gifts. I even made a few dollars here and there drawing party flyers for the seniors.
Then I made the decision to go to Trevor Browne High for my senior year. That decision seemed like the best at the time, but if I could do it over again I would have stayed with my classmates in Tolleson.
In the spring of 2000, I graduated from a local art school called Collins College. Sadly, the school developed a bad reputation and eventually closed. But the instructors I had there were some of the best teachers I’ve ever had—the lessons they taught helped me reach some great accomplishments. They were hard on me and pushed me to do better than I thought I could. Looking back I feel like my rather non-prestigious degree was more about me gaining confidence in myself, not just teaching me software or art theory. I’ve worked as a designer ever since.
As hard as all of those school experiences were, they taught me to cope with adversity. It all prepared me to take on the world of “adulthood.” Back then if you asked most adults, being an artist wasn’t a “real job.” It was something people didn’t take seriously, and as a person of color, there were times I knew I was being overlooked and devalued by people in positions of authority.
Regardless, I feel like those of us who held on and kept growing as creatives actually won out. Now, companies and brands are driven by design. Artists and other creative professionals who know how to collaborate well with others and who deliver great work are in demand. In my role as a design director, I see firsthand each day how important visual communication is to people.
For me, breaking through adversity is not about living as an angry or aggressive person. It’s about persistence—by doing what we can to understand others and educate them with as much patience possible. We must champion our creative goals relentlessly, no matter how small or large they are. I haven’t had an easy journey to get where I am now as an artist or designer. “Bad vibes” happen in the real world. I’ve experienced failure and heartbreak, too. But in the end, adversity leads to creative toughness, and that’s something we need in this world.
If you’re reading this and creativity is part of who you are, know that it’s ok to remain an artist. We don’t need permission, or the highest education, or the most money, or even all the support of everyone around us. All we need is to choose to remain on the path.
Eric Torres, World of Rynaga cartography, 2008–2016. Digital prints. Courtesy of the artist.
PhxArt: How did you get started in game design, and what informs and shapes your work as an artist?
Torres: I began studying game design because I wanted to create playable experiences to share with my friends and family. I remember playing Candyland as a kid and wishing I could know more about each area on the board. I wanted to know the backstories of each character. I wanted more art, more color, and more to explore, like the kinds of games I enjoy playing now.
We all know titles like Monopoly, LIFE, and UNO. However, game releases these days are about more than moving linearly on a path or random card draws. Games now are about choices, exploration, and discovery. Thematic elements and immersion are more important than ever.
My first game design experience was a result of a personal project called World of Rynaga. First, I released an illustrated story entitled Prelude, in which I used a limited set of icons to produce all of the imagery. After completing the book, I wanted to bring the characters of this world to life in a card game, so I embarked on a three-year effort to study game design and make my first game. That’s how Iconica was created.
Iconica features colorful characters from World of Rynaga. It’s a game in which players choose three characters from an expansive collection and then engage in a contest of strategy and tactics, all with the goal of knocking each others’ characters out of the game. Each character is an individual capable of greatness with their own abilities and weaknesses. As an indie game, Iconica has received a nice measure of success, and I have plans to grow and refine the collection.
Understanding and applying principles of game design has made a deep impact on my creative sensibilities. Combining elements like writing, math, imagery, rules, and game mechanics to create something fun requires patience and intent. Along the way, I’ve had setbacks and I’ve course corrected more than a few times, but in the end, you might say I mostly learned game design by doing it—by giving myself over to the process. Now, whether I’m designing a game or not, every personal project I produce is rooted in some sort of fiction I’ve imagined.
Eric Torres, World of Rynaga, “Iconica – Game of Strategy,” 2016. Tabletop card game. Courtesy of the artist.
PhxArt: As someone who creates fictional worlds, what are some of your favorite universes created by others?
Torres: The public library was my window into the world of fiction growing up. In my early years, I read Aesop’s Fables, The Wizard of Oz, and The Wind in the Willows. Then I learned about the works of J.R.R Tolkien, Frank Herbert, and Arthur Conan Doyle. From there, I explored Choose Your Own Adventure books, manga, and comics. Writing and drawing my own stories just started happening naturally.
One key inspiration for me are the many works of Hayao Miyazaki. Reading about his efforts on films such as Nausicaä of the Valley of The Wind, Princess Mononoke, and Ponyo always fills me with admiration. Mr. Miyazaki is an example of someone who uses routine and discipline—things I’ve struggled with sometimes—to get projects done. He’s also a person who’s brought a lot of good into the world through his creations, despite having endured hardships and setbacks.
It’s important to have inspirations, and it’s good to pay homage to those who help us on our creative paths, whether they’ve done so directly or indirectly. We are the sum of all of our inspirations. It’s unavoidable. There is opportunity for us to achieve originality in the creative work we do, but we must not be discouraged with how challenging it is to achieve.
Eric Torres, Written in Dust, 2018. Screen printed poster. Photo by Larissa Torres.
PhxArt: What are the media that you prefer to work in?
Torres: I’ve been using pen and ink to draw for as long as I can remember. As an illustrator and designer, I’ve experimented with painting, woodcutting, and scratchboard over the years, but I always come back to line art. Most of my work these days starts with pen and ink sketches, which I turn into more evolved pieces using digital tools. Lately, I’ve had some time to return to watercolor and linocut as part of personal projects as well.
Creating with physical media is great for when I want to immerse myself in the process and take time to make something very personal. Analog work inspires lots of inward reflection and meditative thoughts for me. Over the years, I’ve made a conscious effort to reserve time weekly for this practice.
Digital illustration, on the other hand, offers ways to express ideas with efficiency, precision, and flexibility. There’s also an ease of scalability with digital work that can be very important for various applications. This kind of creativity not only results in less waste, but it also saves lots of production time. As we grow, time becomes increasingly important.
In general, how I work also tends to be about who the work is for and what I want to accomplish with a piece. From the perspective of tools, it’s a great time to live as an artist. So much is at our fingertips.
PhxArt: Who are your greatest artistic influences?
Torres: Most are classic writers and/or artists. Some were world-builders, too. I’m inspired by Hayao Miyazaki, Charley Harper, Mary Blair, Jim Henson, Brian Froud, J.R.R. Tolkien, Retta Scott, Takeo Takei, Alain Grée, and Erté, to name several. Lately, I’ve been following the works of Marion Deuchars, Ethan Hawke, Gaston Pacheco, David Petersen, and Sanna Annukka.
Music is important to me as well. These days I listen to Caribou, The War on Drugs, ODESZA, Spoon, The Seatbelts, Little Dragon, M83, and Kurt Vile. There is some amazing music created for video games, too, a fact which is often overlooked these days. Like most creatives, I’m curious and interested in all sorts of artistic expressions. Drawing inspiration from others is great, but the key is remembering we need to tell our stories without being overly influenced by others.
PhxArt: What is something you’re currently working on that our community can expect to see soon?
Torres: Currently, I’m creating a new tabletop game experience called Written in DUST that I’ll bring to Kickstarter in 2021. With this project, I’ve been highly influenced by the Sonoran Desert and my love of where I live. Written in DUST tells a story through brief glimpses into the fantastical characters, creatures, and landmarks of a desert otherworld. This project combines reality and fiction in a way that leads to something strangely familiar for those of us who live here in Arizona.
On a broader note, I think fiction allows us to examine reality without the fear or anxiety of confrontation. For instance, water plays a central role in Written in DUST. As a native resident of Phoenix, I’m increasingly concerned about this limited resource. We live in a place where water seems to be the right of some, while others, such as Indigenous peoples, must continually struggle to secure access to water. I wonder what this means for our future.
Through fiction and fantastical settings, we expose the nonsense of reality. We can unravel complex social issues or embrace sensitive subjects in the context of something unreal. The unrealities can be poetic, satirical, whimsical, or all of the above. There’s no right or wrong. There’s only our voice.
Eric Torres, Written in Dust, 2020. Tabletop card game. Courtesy of the artist.
To learn more about Eric Torres, visit ericimagines.com and sign up for his newsletter to get updates on his projects and early-bird access to new games.
You can also join his live art streams on Twitch. Dates and times vary. Visit twitch.tv/escapestation and follow to receive go-live notifications.
We’re curious how creatives are navigating the time of coronavirus. Eric Torres shares what’s giving him life as a creative during quarantine.
Torres: I’m watching classic TV and movies and playing board games with my wife, Larissa. I’m also virtually connecting with friends, reading books like Rules for Knight, doodling nonsensical critters in my notebooks, relaxing with video games, and wandering the Desert Botanical Garden.
Due to pandemic realities, many of the creatives I know are thankful to have work, but they’re overworked. It’s mentally draining, especially with the added layers of maintaining our physical well-being, helping loved ones, and trying to sustain a sense of optimism. I’ve been going through all of this myself. It’s a day-to-day effort. It helps to remember others are in the same boat and doing their best.
For us kids who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, the year 2020 held so much promise. It was the future—flying cars, robot assistants, better living through tech, a cleaner environment, faster and better food. All of it was possible! Well, that future is here, and it’s all inside out. Things are heavy. Angry. Volatile. Ours is a world where the self-centered, corrupt, and ignorant thrive.
But good is still out there. Being hopeful is still important. Truth, honor, integrity, loyalty—these things still matter. If all of the darkness we’re facing forces us to be more introspective and make changes, maybe good will win one day.