What drives artists to create? Ask any number of artists, and you’ll receive a wide variety of answers. Ask them again years later, and you’ll receive a wide variety of different ones. Much like their art, artists themselves grow, change, and find new reasons to create. Elisa Swann, who frequented convention artist alleys years ago and now creates personal art as, in her own words, a “nomadic content creator,” is no stranger to navigating a shifting sense of purpose in her work. During her interview with Aetherflow Media, Elisa provided personal insight into how her art has evolved over the years, and how Shadowbringers reignited—and reformed—her passion to create.
Because Elisa spared no detail in her replies, we at Aetherflow Media have decided to not only split her interview into parts one and two, but to also team up with Elisa to host a giveaway for the release of each article! Check out our Twitter for details on how you can win one of Elisa’s beautiful Emet-Selch enamel pins, and come back next week for the next installment of her interview and another giveaway!
There is so much of your work and involvement in the XIV community that I want to delve into, but let’s start with basics. Tell us a bit about yourself!
Elisa Swann: Off the bat I should disclose that I’m not a career artist or creator. For the entirety of my creative life which spans art and writing, I’ve been either in school or working professionally in a very boring, non-entertainment sector!
Rather, I’ve embraced the term serial hobbyist/nomadic content creator. I’ve operated under several pseudonyms across the years in art and writing (original and fan-oriented).
My game/anime adjacent activities date back to fanfiction.net, LiveJournal, and even DeviantArt. I’ve also been a regular contributor to two podcasts over the years in anime, animation, and gaming fandoms. (One podcast is still up on Spotify . The other is sadly lost to nerd history forever.)
How did you first discover Final Fantasy XIV? What aspects of FFXIV most influence your work?
Elisa: As a young impressionable nerd, I have always been acutely aware of the Final Fantasy franchise since Final Fantasy 7. While I didn’t have a Playstation to access the games, my friends played a lot of FF in various incarnations and I would watch their playthroughs. As an anime and animation fan I also saw a lot of Final Fantasy cosplay and art content in fandom conventions all over the United States!
I was finally able to directly experience the franchise when I got a PS3 back for the release of Final Fantasy XIII. I subsequently played through all three titles (although I didn’t finish XIII-3 Lightning Returns).
When FFXIV 1.0 was announced for the PC , I was pretty excited and ordered the Collector’s Set. However in the early test launch my computer did not run it very effectively and I ran into other issues that made playing a challenge. I was also working on a graduate degree at the time, so gave up on my FFXIV 1.0 dream.
As I was finishing up school, I found myself playing MMOs and had also started attending conventions as an artist vending in their artist alleys.
One of the folks who visited my art table at a convention picked up some items/cards promoting my various websites and original writing (a web serial). We kept in contact over the years and they and their significant other picked up FFXIV and thought to recommend it to me.
I was ready for another MMO. So in early 2015, I started playing A Realm Reborn prior to the Heavensward release. As I started playing FFXIV, I was there more for the MMO grind. I was a fan of the Final Fantasy visual and musical aesthetic already. I was still actively working on my writing but would casually draw player characters in my FC. I did make a few random things for Fanfest as artists organized art-trade events.
Then Shadowbringers happened.
It would be an understatement to say that I was deeply moved by the story. Up to that point I had been satisfied just passively enjoying other creators’ works. However, a light switch flipped on and my casual art activities became a lot less casual.
I really hadn’t planned to ever go back to art. However, Shadowbringers’ storytelling inspired me to pick up my drawing tools again. Not only was I doing art again after several years off, but also relearning digital work with new software and new tools.
Tell us a bit more about picking up art again after your hiatus. How has your creative process changed, and how did you tackle any learning curves you encountered when picking up new art tools? Are there other tools or software you would like to try out in the future?
Elisa: One of the big problems when I tried to pick up art again was that my hardware wasn’t really functional anymore. I had a large legacy Intuos tablet that had fraying cords and a computer that would not run Corel Painter (any version) without dying. I started over, with a small pen tablet and with software recommended by FFXIV friends who are also artists.
When you aren’t actively working on your art, you lose some of that muscle memory. I started off really rough. I really don’t like where my work was two years ago, but I’m thankful that while floundering I tried a bit of everything. I remember doing annual month-long ink challenges to push myself into retraining my eyes and fingers in drawing while also exploring cleaner linework.
For a long time I was pretty frustrated. I did not feel I could match where I was in the past. Old me used to churn out fully painted works in two days. That said, my friends from FFXIV kept encouraging me. Sometimes we’d just exchange our resources. Sometimes we’d show each other our art. These small gestures helped me keep going on days I wanted to throw in the towel.
I started working on values/grayscale work because I wanted to improve something that had been lacking from my earlier anime-cartoon work. I had always relied on color to convey something, but felt I needed to check myself and get faster at painting, hence all the grey scale work. There was also something really pared down about greyscale work. I felt like the characters’ emotions and expressions became more in-focus.
More recently I got an interactive screen tablet and I couldn’t be happier. For the first time in a long time, the digital penciling looks a lot like what I could normally accomplish on paper much faster.
In the future, though, I’d really like to look at either simple animation components in the software I use or other animation software. I have always toyed around with simple animations via various gif animators. I’ve always wanted to do something a bit longer with more frames.
Or if I really want to push merchandise-focused art, I may really need to just focus on learning more graphic design tools. I feel like I’ve cheated the need for learning how to properly vector by working with other people who do that for me (as in pin design). But I feel if I continue, I need to do more homework in that area.
Along with your XIV fan art, you’ve also become a curator of official XIV merchandising, keeping track of Japanese as well as English releases of any books or magazines that discuss glamour, supplemental short stories, and lore. Has that always been an aspect of fan culture you’ve delved into, or did it start with your interest in FFXIV?
Elisa: I’ve always enjoyed collecting books and merchandise for the fandoms I’m in. I have a shameful number of animation/anime reference books and then esoterica on the topics that interest me. I enjoy fairytales, mythology, folklore, Japanese Meiji era samurai, architecture, travel, and old Disney!
I did not intend to become an accidental catalogue of some of the lesser seen aspects of FFXIV merchandise. Rather my tendency to be somewhat of a completionist and an archivist has led to some really peculiar collections. It’s embarrassing that I’ve collected so many Japan-only products but I certainly am glad to share what I find with the newer fans.
I feel it’s sad that people don’t know about these publications. For example, as a storyteller, I am particularly fond of the Chronicles of Light hardcover book which features additional stories not housed at the website: Lodestone side stories
The illustrations are astounding and the stories are valuable to those who love the FFXIV lore. I really hope this and other publications will once again become available to the broader global audience.
As we grow as a player base and this game gets older, I’ve been mulling whether we older fans should be preserving pictures and notes about these artifacts of FFXIV history that may be otherwise lost to time.
I also want to advocate that Square talk to FFXIV fans about what to bring back and what new items to develop for the future. While I love and support the fan market that exists, there are some things that only a large corporate entity can efficiently produce at a profit, including books, housewares, and plush!
While Elisa is a recognizable creator within the FFXIV community, her experience as an artist and fan creator stretches long before XIV. Check out part two of our interview next week, where Elisa shares more of her experience as an artist before playing FFXIV, and how creating fan merchandise has influenced her art today. Don’t forget to go to the Aetherflow Media Twitter to enter our giveaway, and we will see you back here next week!
You can find Elisa in-game on Faerie (Aether) as Elisa Swann, or on Twitter, and her website.