Dreaming in doodles toward a career in game design

by Laura King / Beacon Staff • October 12, 2016

1476320474 lamb dooleyandlamb.jpg
Mercedes Lamb, an artist on campus, with YouTube star Jeremy Dooley.
courtesy of Mercedes Merc Lamb
Mercedes Lamb, an artist on campus, with YouTube star Jeremy Dooley.
courtesy of Mercedes Merc Lamb

Last Sunday, Mercedes Lamb ambled down to the Dining Hall from her Little Building dorm room with her laptop, her Wacom drawing tablet, and a vague idea for an art piece. She grabbed a meal and headed to her favorite corner in the back dining room. Once her computer booted up, and a gaming or horror podcast sounded through her headphones, Lamb drew until she completed the piece—a total of five hours later.

This is not unusual for Lamb when she has a drawing project, whether it’s a personal project or a commissioned piece for another student.

“I have people who will come and be like, ‘You’ve been here all day, haven’t you?’” Lamb said. More often than not, she admitted, she has been.

Drawing isn’t Lamb’s only skill. She’s a junior in the individually-designed interdisciplinary program, and her self-created major is writing for film and theater. After graduation, Lamb said she wants to work on horror video games akin to some of her favorites, “Outlast” and “Amnesia: The Dark Descent”.

Although Lamb doesn’t yet have any game design experience, she’s well-studied in two of its fundamental components: writing and drawing.  She’s expanding her drawing portfolio through commissioned logos and posters for Emerson students, and she’s sold many of her designs online. She said this experience, coupled with her writing degree, could grant her more options to get her foot in the door.

“I might not get the job I want in one game,” Lamb said. “But in the next one I can get the writing job.”

Lamb prefers digital art now, but she didn’t start out that way. Through most of her childhood, Lamb took private art classes where she studied mostly oil paints and pastels.

“It makes me sound pretentious when I say this, but I was classically trained,” Lamb said.

In early high school, Lamb noticed the growing trend of digital artists online. She was drawn in by the artwork and tutorials, so she asked her parents for a drawing tablet.

“That was the item in big letters on the top of my Christmas list that year,” Lamb said. “And I’ve been in love with the style ever since.”

Her work is very graphic, with bold colors and thick lines. She uses the program PaintTool SAI to draw and color her works, and Adobe Photoshop to add any text or details. On Lamb’s Redbubble—a site where artists can sell their work on T-shirts, mugs, and more—she has sold some of her more popular designs. Under the screenname littleartistan, she has posted plays on the logos of campus eateries. One featured the Einstein’s Bagels logo, modified to “Eiseinstein” Bagels, in reference to famous film director Sergei Eisenstein—a joke from her History of Media Arts class.

Katya Alexander was the first person to approach her about a commissioned poster for her film, Mark’s Place. Alexander, a junior visual and media arts major, has been a fan of Lamb’s artwork since they became friends in their freshman year.

“It’s really unique,” Alexander said. “It’s not something you see every day.”

This semester, Lamb began offering her art skills for commission on Facebook. This is where Austin Giroux, a senior visual and media art major, found Lamb’s work.

Giroux is creating a website for his production company, Top Tower Productions, and needed a logo.

“I really trusted her and gave her a lot of creative freedom,” Giroux said. Lamb worked with Giroux to develop an idea for the logo—a whimsical, blue-toned cityscape, with attention drawn to a tall tower at the center.

“I don’t think I’ve met anyone as friendly as her,” Giroux said.

Lamb sets the price for a commission based on the time and effort it will take her to complete it. Small pieces like Giroux’s logo can be completed in one five-hour Dining Hall drawing marathon—and cost around $30. But more complicated works, like Alexander’s $60 film poster, can take her multiple sittings over a few weeks.

“I’m really flexible on that,” Lamb said about pricing.  “I just want people to enjoy the work.”

Even when Lamb isn’t commissioned, she likes to make art for others. Last year, her favorite YouTube gamer personality Jeremy Dooley of Achievement Hunters asked his subscribers to create a shirt for him. Lamb jumped at the opportunity, and posted the design to Redbubble—and Dooley purchased it.

“It’s always so weird when I see him wearing my shirt in his videos now,” Lamb said.

Last year, Lamb met Dooley at PAX East, the Boston leg of a national gaming convention. She’s planning on using the funds from her projects to attend the event again next April. While the convention is undeniably enjoyable, she said it’s also a networking experience.

“There are opportunities to meet big names in the game developing industry,” Lamb said.

Although Lamb is looking to use these connections to build her career, she said she’d like to continue doing smaller, commissioned pieces for people even after graduation.

“[Drawing] has been a part of me since I was little,” Lamb said.