At its heart, Geek Bomb is fundamentally about celebrating, inspiring, and getting to know women in geek. Founded by our Boss Bomb Maude Garrett and featuring a Bomb Squad filled with diverse, talented, and totally badass ladies, Geek Bomb has a mindset much like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Females are strong as hell. And it’s about time we start celebrating that again. So, we’ve decided to relaunch Women in Geek, our interview series that spotlights, shows off, and talks about the wonderful ladies who are leading the geek entertainment field.
Joining us this week is Jenn Ravenna, a concept artist, illustrator, and photographer who’s currently working her magic in Seattle with Microsoft’s Xbox Mixed Reality team. As we continue our efforts in spotlighting women in the nerd world, we had a little digital chat with Jenn about her inspirations, her hopes for the future of the industry, and the advice she’d give to those just starting out.
Geek Bomb: First off, when did you realize that you were, in essence, a geek? What geeky things are you up to now?
Jenn Ravenna: I knew I was a geek from a young age when my favorite pastime was playing the Nintendo and Super Nintendo with my dad and cousins. But the most profound moment was when I was working at a government law firm and they had posted mini biographies of the interns. I was reading them one day and everyone else’s bio made it sound like they were training for the Olympics outside of school and work — while mine talked about naps and World of Warcraft. I definitely knew then.
Today I still play video games — though [I’m] less World of Warcraft and more into Skyrim and Dragon Age — and am very interested in the many facets of sci-fi and fantasy culture. In my free time I like to travel, pursue photography, and practice kickboxing/karate.
GB: Let’s get our foot in the door by asking how you got your foot in the door. What’s your industry origin story – how did you get started? What advice can you give to those looking to break into your industry?
JR: I got started in the industry a bit later, at 25. I interned at a company called Harebrained Schemes and worked on the game Shadowrun Returns. To this day, it’s probably still one of the most fun projects I’ve ever worked on. I really enjoy collaborating and seeing a massive project come together and just work; being part of something like that is really special and immensely satisfying. Eventually, Harebrained Schemes hired me full time and I worked on Shadowrun: Dragonfall, Shadowrun: Hong Kong, Necropolis, and the upcoming BATTLETECH game. Since then I’ve worked at Hi-Rez Studios, Microsoft, and have done work for clients such as Fantasy Flight Games, Wizards of the Coast, Black Screen Records, and HarperCollins Publishing.
For those looking to break into the industry, some advice I’d give is to:
1. Do due diligent research in a specific area you think you’d be interested in the entertainment industry. Concept art and illustration can be very broad. Do you want to work in video games? Do you want to work in film? Do you want to work in animation? Do you want to work in publishing or tabletop games? Do you like 2D concepting or 3D concepting? Do you like environments or characters? There’s a lot to consider, and for younger artists I think they don’t realize how many options there are! Really ask yourself what you want.
2. Find out what you love to do and go for it. The advice I hear from art directors all the time is, “Don’t do work if it’s only because you think it’s what people want to see.” If you don’t like making the work, it’s not going to be fun, and it will show. If you enjoy the work and it’s good, people will come to you.
3. Always practice, ask for feedback, and never stop learning.
GB: What is the most difficult obstacle that you’ve had to overcome in your industry or are maybe even still overcoming?
JR: In the industry it would be the amount of competition. It’s fierce out there, and there are so many talented artists! I’m still trying to improve all the time. Sometimes the most difficult obstacle is overcoming myself and my own fears — fear of failure.
GB: Picture yourself at ten years old. What advice would you give her? What would she love to know about present-day you?
JR: Start art earlier. Look at studying at ateliers, or animation schools, or go explore the world more before committing to your education. Don’t date until you’re 25, it’s not worth it.
Ten-year-old me would probably love to know that I’m an employed artist, traveling, a lot less socially awkward, and living happily in Seattle with my cats and dogs. She’s probably be surprised at the amount of traveling I do now, and that somehow someone pays me to do art.
GB: Who are your female role models and/or inspirations?
JR: A lot of my female inspirations are other artists in the industry. I really love Karla Ortiz’s work in film and her costume designs. Her work is a level I aspire to be at someday. Jen Bartel is also amazing. She’s incredibly prolific and business-savvy, but also really kind to her fans and peers. I’m a big fan of Tran Nguyen’s illustration work. I love the draftsmanship of Eliza Ivanova, Naomi Baker, and Joy Ang. In photography, definitely Annie Leibovitz. There are so many kick-ass women in the industry, too many to list, a lot to be inspired by.
GB: Who are some of your favourite fictional female characters of all time?
JR: Xena, Zoë Alleyne Washburne [from] Firefly, Cara Mason [from]Legend of the Seeker.
GB: How would you like to see this industry grow for not only women, but within the entertainment space?
JR: The gaming industry has a reputation of being unstable either by mishaps or through acquisition reorganizations. I would like to see the industry examine why this is the case and what we can do to make the industry more sustainable for growth and foster the talent, not constantly shuffle people around. I would also like to see the industry treat their artists better. Artists are often underpaid compared to other positions on the same projects. In some cases it’s expected that artists should be on contract without an opportunity at a full time position, and I think that’s wrong. I’d like to believe individuals in my field want to feel the same kind of stability as their coworkers. Fair treatment of artists and sustainability is a good place to start for a healthy industry.
GB: Where can people discover more about you? Socials/website/podcast or channel links.
JR: My art:
Thanks again to the lovely Jenn Ravenna for joining us to celebrate the magic of women in the nerd world!