Interview with Todd Gamble: Forgotten Realms Cartographer

The following is an interview with Cartographer, Graphic Designer, Illustrator, and Model Scenery Creator Todd Gamble who spent a number of years working for Wizards of the Coast on the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting for Dungeons and Dragons.  For me, he has been a creative influence for many years as well as a positive influence in the small logging town of Snoqualmie.  The quaint city of Snoqualmie is deep in the rain covered Cascade Foothills of Washington State.  It was a pleasure to meet with Todd and take a short journey into his past accomplishments.  Please join us now as we travel into the creative realm of Todd Gamble, artist magnificent!

Jon: So, you worked at Wizards of the Coast for a number of years and did cartography for the Dungeons and Dragons games including the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting.  How many years did you work for Wizards?

Todd: I think I worked there for about six years or so.

Jon: Please tell us in detail what a normal work day is like at Wizards of the Coast for a Grandmaster Cartographer such as yourself.

Todd: Roll in to work when I wanted, coffee in hand, say hello to my coworkers and sit my ass in front of a monitor assembling maps.

Take a long lunch, if it was sushi, we’d walk from the restaurant to Toys R us and get something cool and unnecessary, then walk to Half Price Books which rocks and get some cool art reference books for mapping ideas.

Later on, take a break from work and go get an Americano, stay late and get some more maps done. Fight my way home in traffic from Renton to Shoreline which was lame.

Jon: What was it like working with other artists and cartographers?  Was there anyone memorable that you especially enjoyed working with, or had strange little quirks?

Todd: It was awesome working with other artists. The illustrators, sculptors, and mappers worked in a secure area called New Siberia (because it was so far away from the rest of the employees and behind two large steel doors which required an electronic key card to get in. There were all kinds of neat costumes stored in our area for the illustrators to use on models.

I especially liked working with Matt Wilson because he was always so nice to me and not big headed like some of the illustrators there. He has his own successful company now, Privateer Press / Iron Kingdoms. I also liked my lead, Robert Lazzaretti.

He took me in when I was new and showed me all the ropes single handedly. He taught me how to use the computer basically. Up until then, I had no real computer training and I was worried about that but Rob helped me out. His wisdom helped me get three EN Awards for best in cartography. I was so proud to receive them because the real people chose for themselves in that contest.

Jon: What are some of the different projects you worked on at Wizards?

Todd: I worked on several Avalon Hill military strategy games, Pokemon JR trading cards, Star Wars RPG, maps and illos for several gaming magazines, Map of the week on the web, fantasy novels, 3D miniature scenery and cardstock structures, D&D maps and Forgotten Realms maps and more.

Jon: Are you still doing work on the side for wizards of the coast?

Todd:Yes, mostly maps for fantasy novels. Once in awhile, they will throw me a board game to do artwork for.

Jon: You are an amazing artist and I have followed your work for years.  After working on cartography you also built model scenery both for miniature photo shoots for Wizards and for model railroading.  Tell me about your history with model railroading and model scenery.

Todd: I’ve always liked anything in miniature form. My passion is for model railroading because there is so much real history to delve into. Where I grew up in Northern California (Ingot, CA.) there was plenty of mining and railroad history. A flume carried cut lumber from Terry Mill down to a small line that carried lumber and ore to Bella Vista. They would send apple shipments down the flume as well. I used to go hunting for spikes along the old roadbed as well as climb around the old gold mine buildings.

I tried to recreate the scenery around me in miniature and that’s how I became addicted to scenery building. Wizards had me build several miniature sets for photo shoots for their miniatures. Now, I build model scenery as a profession (among other artistic endeavors). You can see some of my work at my website ToddGambleART.com and on my blog at toddgambleart.blogspot.com

Jon:I’ve seen some pretty impressive graphic designs that you have dreamed up.  How do you get started on a project?  Do ideas just come to you or do you sometimes have to go out into the world and look for inspiration?

Todd: An idea usually pops into my mind as the client is describing what they want or think they want. But I still do research on the web and magazines and books at my local coffee shop (Isadora’s Café, downtown Snoqualmie, WA.)

Jon: Isn’t your Dad a graphic designer?  How did he influence you?

Todd: My Dad was a major influence on my creativity. He was a fine artist when he was younger, became a firefighter and then created his own advertising and design business from his home. His company grew from our home into a business park with employees. I was one of his employees for awhile. I learned more from him in design than I did from my formal college education. He taught me how to be professional above all. My Mom was also a great influence on my creativity. She is an artist and showed me that art is everywhere and you can make art without any money. Just look around and hot glue stuff together or paint it or whatever.

Jon: What kind of a graphic design would you dream up for NerdTrek.com?

Todd: Geez, I like the way it looks now. I’d have to think about that one for a bit. It’s an awesome place to go each day and daydream.

Jon: Is there anything you would like to say to our NerdTrek.com fans?  Do you have a website or blog where they can check out more of your work?

Todd: I would say keep your dreams in front of you always no matter where you are in life and they will eventually come your way. Maybe not when you want them to, but it’s better when they come naturally in their own time. Also, it’s ok to be weird and playful with your imagination. Dr. Suess says,”I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells.” And, Albert Einstein say,”Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

You can see some of my work at my website: www.ToddGambleART.com and on my blog at: http://toddgambleart.blogspot.com

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About Jonathan G. Nelson

Jonathan G. Nelson is the editor-in-chief and owner of NERD TREK. He is also owner/publisher at AAW Games / AdventureAWeek.com, a tabletop gaming company based in Snoqualmie, WA. Connect with Jonathan via Facebook.