Artist Spotlight: Travis Bolek

If you’ve seen any of my reviews on YouTube, you might have noticed a new piece of artwork being featured at the end of each video. Travis Bolek — one of my friends from Phoenix, Arizona — recently got in contact with me to collaborate on an idea that would combine gaming with music, and this here is the result:


I’ve dabbled with the ukulele and bass guitar over the past few years, so I thought it would be fun to have me playing the bass while our dog Marley Mae could be strumming along on her ukulele. Those with an eye for detail will also notice that my bass is themed like a Sega Genesis, while the ukulele is styled like the Nintendo Super Famicom (the Japanese version of the Super Nintendo).

I also wanted the colors to carry the overall themes from the other pieces of GHG art that have been produced by Crystal Ferguson and Laura Carberg, in order the bring consistency to the various social media outlets where I’ve been posting my content.

I’m really happy with the way it turned out, and last week, I had a chance to ask Travis some questions about his art, influences, and gaming:

pixel_pit_avatarGray-Haired Gamer: First of all, thanks for being able to do this interview! So to kick things off, how would you describe yourself in one “back of the game box” blurb?

Travis Bolek: Eye-popping, high-resolution graphics with Dolby Digital surround sound and mind-bending end-bosses!

GHG: What, no Blast Processing? Anyway, what or who got you into art?

Bolek: Definitely comic books and video games. Specifically Spawn, Spider-Man, and Mortal Kombat. Todd McFarlane was a huge influence on my early development as an artist, and I used to read the early to mid-’90s Amazing Spider-Man comics. I even had a subscription to them! I remember copying his poses from those books.

Mortal Kombat was huge for me as I would create characters with my friend for unreleased sequels. They were often terrible, generally being just a palette-swap of the ninjas. Who knows? I probably could have gotten a gig at Midway at that age!

GHG: I know the feeling. Do you remember the first thing you ever drew? What was it and do you remember why you drew it?

Bolek: Hmm, that would probably have to be a picture of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that I drew when I was like four. The only reason I remember this is because my mom framed that picture and it’s still hanging in the living room of my parents’ place! I drew the four turtles in a desert, floating up in the air and one of them is being stabbed by a very long cactus thorn.

GHG: That’s fantastic that it’s still being proudly displayed. I somehow managed to not get stabbed by any cactus needles while living in Phoenix. Agaves, though, skewered me plenty. So, what or who inspires your art?

Bolek: Seeing a lot of the modern digital artists from games and movies are a huge inspiration, as well as artists for album covers. I’m inspired by Mark Riddick. He’s an artist well-known for his death and black metal covers. They’re generally done in black and white in a very detailed pen and ink style.

Ed Repka is another famous metal album cover artist. He’s best-known for his art on the early Megadeth albums. His work is probably what could be considered “stereotypical” of metal themes and style, but he has really good composition, technique, colors and ideas that push what the content of the music is. He knows what to paint that will reflect the album — which I’m sure the musicians have their say — but he’s able to take and elevate it to that final stage.

Dave Rapoza is one of the more recent artists I’ve been into. He does freelance work for videogames and movies, and has done a lot of cool fan art, particularly of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He has a very gritty, hyper-realistic aesthetic to his work. Even though it’s digital you can still see his paint strokes, and his work looks like it could fit on a metal album cover, which as you can imagine, is another draw for me.

iron_maiden_sitThen there’s Derek Riggs, who is best-known for most of Iron Maiden’s discography. Again, he has a mastery of composition, technique, color, and a wild imagination. Somewhere in Time (pictured) is probably my favorite album piece; it’s full of hidden references to past Iron Maiden works and other pop culture references.

And of course there are the other usual suspects, like Frank Frazetta and all the classical greats. Basically, I really enjoy most fantasy and science fiction art.

GHG: Very nice! Speaking of fantasy art, Jeff Easley was one of my favorites growing up. In fact, I think I liked the art more than I did playing Dungeons & Dragons! Getting back to your art, what do you like to draw with and on?

Bolek: I typically draw on a sketchpad using a mechanical pencil with HB graphite (0.7 or 0.5mm width). It’s just something I’m used to doing at this point, and I like to ink my drawings occasionally, though I don’t consider myself to be a good inker.

On computer, I have a Wacom tablet and I use Photoshop for digital painting. I try to keep it simple by limiting how many brushes I use and not using too many layers in order to retain a traditional-looking quality. I do like the ease of digital painting especially when it comes to more mechanical and perspective pieces.

GHG: I’m particularly fond of being able to undo mistakes, of which I make many! Switching to gaming for a bit, are you playing anything right now?

Bolek: Yeah, I just recently finished Jazzpunk, which is a hilarious and quirky adventure game. I’ve also been playing through Spec Ops: The Line and Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne.

GHG: Never heard of Jazzpunk, so I’ll have to look into that one. Perhaps a cliched question, but if you were stranded on a desert island, what games would you bring and why?

Bolek: Probably the Mass Effect trilogy, with all of the DLC of course. The last two games are not my all-time favorites, but it is part of a great overarching story that really got me invested in the series. Plus, there’s enough to do in those games that it would keep me occupied for a long time. And Wilson can help me out with the multiplayer.

GHG: And you never know — there might be extra games in that FedEx box. I also have yet to finish any of the Mass Effect titles, even though I have them on at least two platforms. My embarrassing gaming confessions aside, are you looking forward to playing anything before the end of the year?

Bolek: Alien: Isolation, Evolve, and Citizens of Earth are looking pretty good to me.

GHG: Citizens of Earth does look cool! What’s your all-time favorite game(s) and why?

Bolek: I’m glad you added that ‘s’  in parentheses, as I do have a few all-time favorite games.

earthboundFirst up is EarthBound. It’s a very charming, cult classic RPG for the Super Nintendo. I’m sure most regular readers of your site are familiar with this game already, so I don’t have to get too in-depth as to why it’s one of my favorites. A short list includes its quirky humor, setting, art direction, music, battle mechanics, and overall story.

Xenogears is another one of my favorites. It’s a very long and engrossing RPG that has a fairly well done — although convoluted at times — storyline. Plus, I enjoy the combat system between it being on foot and in the mech or “Gear” as it’s called in-game.

Fallout 3 is also up there. I played the first one briefly, but the third one really sucked me in. I think it was the setting of it that really captivated me and the moral ambiguity the entire world had. It was good overall, but tainted by the nuclear fallout. Plus it has a wicked sense of humor and great replayability.

And I have to mention again the first Mass Effect. I know a lot of people like the second one because of the combat, but the first just has a better story, which really puts it above some of the minor gameplay flaws it possesses. It was about the journey and discovering oneself, particularly the human race on the galaxy stage of civilization. Plus, the way the Reapers were presented at the time as this absolutely terrifying, unstoppable force really got me. I actually loved the Mako sequences and even enjoyed the elevator rides which were masking the load times, but they added depth to the game world and characters.

GHG: Man, Xenogears had some great music too. Are there any games or genres you don’t enjoy?

Bolek: Genre-wise, I’m not a big fan of real-time strategy (RTS) games. I’ve tried getting into them with Starcraft and Warcraft III, but I’d always get to a certain point and just stop playing to go focus on something else.

I really don’t like Duke Nukem Forever. It’s one of those games that never should have come out. I find it to be juvenile, the poor reviews are a reflection of its quality, and it bugs me that other games that I wanted got canned instead of that one.

GHG: I’ve never been able to click with RTS either. What feature might make you take a second look at those games/genres you don’t like?

Bolek: For RTS games, maybe get rid of the 20 minute endurance missions. For Duke Nukem Forever? Uhh, next question please.

GHG: Fair enough! So, what’s your dream job?

Bolek: My dream job would be working at Double Fine Productions. I love San Francisco and I respect the work and ethic that Double Fine possess. It seems like a really fun place to work, and I’d love to do animation or maybe some modelling or concept art for them.

GHG: They were definitely a great team to work with! Anything in particular you want to say about the Gray-Haired Gamer piece you did?

Bolek: I really enjoyed the back-and-forth that we had with the piece, and I’m glad that my vision prevailed! Haha!

orange_goblin_by_guyinrubbersuitGHG: It turned out looking really cool, and it works so well at the end of the review videos. Speaking of which, I know music plays a big part in your life. What do you like to play and use?

Bolek: I have a couple of electric guitars, an acoustic and a banjo, which I haven’t really touched in a while. I tend to use medium to heavy gauge strings, as they work better with more aggressive music and down-tunings.

For picks, I use heavy gauges there too as I like the pick to be rigid when I pick fast. I have a few pedals (a digital delay, phase shifter, and distortion), but I don’t have them hooked up. I would like to get a wah pedal and a whammy wah pedal, which is something that Tom Morello and Dimebag Darrell use quite a bit.

GHG: Very cool. In addition to those folks, any other major musical influences?

Bolek: My favorite bands are my influences, so there’s Opeth, Iron Maiden, early Megadeth, Emperor, Death, Ihsahn, Nevermore, and Slayer. They all have songs that resonate with me for a variety of reasons, and I have written music that basically aped their style… in a good way, of course.

GHG: We never did get to jam in Phoenix, which I regret. I probably couldn’t have kept up, though! Any other stuff you’re really into?

Bolek: I love bad B-movies, particularly the ridiculous plots and the generally earnest attempts at filmmaking that they possess.

GHG: And finally, would you like to share any websites and/or services you offer?

Bolek: I don’t have my personal site up yet, but I’m working on it! I do have a deviantART page that has some of my work samples.

As far as services are concerned, I offer concept art and logo creation services.

GHG: Thanks again for taking time to do this interview, and please let me know when your website’s ready to go!

Bolek: Will do, thank you!


Artist Spotlight: Laura Carberg

One of the best parts about working in the videogame industry was the sheer number of creative individuals I met and became friends with. While there are talented people everywhere, it was the shared interests — comics, movies, books, cartoons, toys, and yes, videogames — that brought us all closer together. You could talk about work projects, your favorite character from Chrono Trigger, why you hated a certain filler story from Battlestar Galactica, and the ills of sparkling vampires, and everyone around you would understand and be able to contribute to the conversation. It’s hard to find that kind of interaction in the workplace, and it’s one of the main things that makes me want to go back.

20140710_laurel_c_tumblrBut that’s not what this is about. This is about a cool artist friend of mine who recently collaborated with me to come up with the avatar drawing you see here and on other social media websites. Her name is Laura Carberg, and I had the great pleasure of working with her a couple years ago at THQ’s Quality Assurance department in Phoenix, Arizona. She was already a funny and friendly person at the office, but it wasn’t until she started posting some of her work on Facebook that I realized she was into drawing and painting as well.

I recently had the chance to interview Laura from her home in Phoenix to talk more about her approach to her work, her interests, and of course, gaming.

Gray-Haired Gamer: So, is it hot enough out there yet? Sorry, cheap shot. Anyway, thanks in advance for doing this interview! Besides art, what should the internet world know about you?

Laura Carberg: I’m a comic book nerd, science fiction junkie, and I occasionally lose days at a time to videogames and Netflix.

GHG: Ah yes, the Netflix binge. Many have succumbed to its power. Have you been drawing for a while?

Carberg: Well, I’m 28, and I’d say I’ve been into art for 27 of those years. Some of my earliest memories are of me scribbling some very caveman-like stuff with crayons.

GHG: Mmm, there’s nothing like the smell of a fresh box of Crayolas. Besides cave paintings, do you like drawing anything in particular?

Carberg: Characters, props, and environments mostly, but I like to try a little of everything.

20140710_st_lauraGHG: Can you tell us a little bit about the tools you use for your artwork?

Carberg: Sure thing. I use pencils, micron pens, ink, watercolor, etc. Honestly, much like subject matter, I will try anything I can get my hands on.

When it comes to digital, I use Sketchbook Pro, Photoshop, and I bought a used Wacom Cintiq 12WX tablet. Sometimes I’ll combine digital with traditional elements, too. Each project is different.

GHG: Nice on the Cintiq! I’ve always wanted one of those. Where do you draw inspiration from in coming up with new ideas?

Carberg: My personal life and feelings definitely play a part, but I also very much enjoy the storytelling elements that illustration presents as well.

GHG: Besides the sweet art you did for me, do you have anything else in the works?

Carberg: Yes, I’m part of a Kickstarter that should be starting in the middle of this month! I’m also working on a few personal projects right now, and of course, I’m always open to do commissions.

I’ve also worked on a few prototype board and card games, done some concept art for animations, storyboarded, and other comic-related gigs. As you’ve probably guessed by now, I’ve been into a little bit of everything.

GHG: Yes, a pattern seems to be emerging here. This is perhaps a selfish question, but anything you want to say about your time at THQ before its demise?

Carberg: The feeling of camaraderie there was amazing. We were a family… a goofy, strange, wonderful family, and that came to me at a time in my life when I needed it the most.

Plus, there’s just something awesomely satisfying about seeing a product that has your fingerprints all over it hit store shelves. I’d be all, “Yeah, I was part of that.”

20140710_shep_laurelcGHG: Couldn’t have said it better myself. Before I get all teary-eyed (again), let’s talk a little bit about gaming specifically. Have any faves?

Carberg: Ohhhh man! Yes. The Mass Effect series, Fallout 3, Final Fantasy VIII, X, and XIII, Skyrim, Heavy Rain, the Uncharted series, Civilization V, and The Last of Us.

I love them because in most cases, they’re rich in story and character depth. Oh, and Darksiders 2 has a special place with me.

GHG: You just had to stir up those feels again, didn’t you? What’d you think of E3 this year?

Carberg: I’m not ready to commit to a new console yet, so I actually tried to ignore it! I’m still playing catch-up on my PS3, 360, and my Game Boy Advance SP.

GHG: The GBA SP is so good! I wish it’d had a few more years just to itself before the DS came out. Are you playing anything on it?

Carberg: Final Fantasy V, mostly. I’m also playing Fallout: New Vegas.

GHG: FF5 has one of my favorite title/intro sequences of all-time. Good choice! Anyone you want to say hi to or sites you want to plug?

Carberg: Hello to all of my THQ homies! Also, please check out my work at, Facebook, and Tumblr.

GHG: Thanks so much again for taking time out of your day to do this. I wish you the best with the Kickstarter project, and can’t wait to see more of your art. Stay cool!

Carberg: Thank you!


Artist Spotlight: Crystal Ferguson

Last week I unveiled GHG’s new banner art, which has received a lot of positive response! As excited as I am about the site’s new look, I’m even more excited to introduce you to the artist behind it: Crystal Ferguson. Crystal and I worked together at THQ Phoenix’s Quality Assurance (QA) department several years ago, so I was very happy to have this opportunity to work with her again. She was also kind enough to spare some time for an interview, which was fun and insightful.

Gray-Haired Gamer: Thanks for being able to do this interview today! The banner turned out terrific, by the way. Before we dive in, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Crystal Ferguson: Sure! I’m a freelance artist and stay-at-home mom. I live here in Phoenix with my husband and two children. I enjoy cooking, crafting, and sleeping! If there are any pop culture conventions in Phoenix, I’m usually there attending or exhibiting my work.

20140623_crystal_merpunks_2GHG: I enjoy sleeping too. Maybe a little too much. How long have you been drawing?

Ferguson: I’ve been drawing since I can remember, which was when I was about 2 years old. I was obsessed with drawing mermaids, thanks to Disney’s The Little Mermaid. The only pets I had were fish at the time, so I imagined being one, and I swam a lot.

GHG: Besides mermaids, what other subjects do you like to draw?

Ferguson: I like to draw people, but it’s always good exercise to draw everything, such as inanimate objects, organic subjects, and background elements. I’d like to improve on my backgrounds, because for me it’s a challenge to visualize angles and a character’s surroundings.

GHG: That’s definitely sound advice. What traditional and digital tools do you use for your art?

Ferguson: I traditionally start with pencils to get a rough sketch going, and then ink and color with Prismacolor and Copic markers. If I’m doing something digitally, I use Photoshop and a Wacom tablet. I recently got into Manga Studio 5, which I really enjoy using now.

GHG: I’ve never heard of Manga Studio, but I’ll have to take a look. So, what inspires your art and how do those elements make their way into your work?

Ferguson: I’m very much inspired by other artists. Recently, I’ve been following visual development artists for animation studios such as Victoria Ying, Claire Keane, and Brittney Lee. They have a movement in their drawings that I try to imitate, while keeping my own style. They launched a Kickstarter last fall and blew their original goal out of the water.

GHG: Wow, good stuff! Any recent projects of your own we should know about?


Ferguson: Yes! I’m working on an all-ages comic about steampunk mermaids called Merpunks. It’s about three mermaids who start a private detective agency, and after meeting a scientist/inventor, they use gadgets powered by steam to help solve different crimes. At first they’re small, petty crimes, but there is an overarching story that leads them to a bigger, more serious situation affecting both land and sea. My husband Joshua is the writer of the series and I provide the art.

I’ve wanted to make a comic since first being introduced to Sailor Moon. I read the manga and that’s what got me into storytelling through drawing, and it’s what really made me want to get into animation as well. I had drawn a few stories, but never publicized any of them.

After college, I was hoping to finally get something out there. I asked my husband to write a short story, but it turned into an entire series! There aren’t a lot of comics about mermaids, and the Victorian-era fashion of the steampunk genre seemed like an interesting mix.

We’ve been promoting Merpunks at conventions since Saboten 2013, and Issue #0 was released earlier this year. The next convention we’ll be at is Anime Expo in Los Angeles, so please stop by and say hello if you see us! We plan on having Issue #1 out by Saboten 2014 at the end of August.

GHG: I tried drawing a comic in high school and didn’t even make it past the first few panels. It’s harder than it looks! Switching gears a bit, can you tell us a little bit about your videogame industry experience?

Ferguson: Yes, I graduated with a degree in Media Arts and Animation, and then landed a job at THQ as a QA Tester. Although I was hoping it would lead to an art position at either a game or animation studio, I really enjoyed being part of that team, so I stayed there for about 4 years off and on. I met some really great people and have even had the opportunity to work with some of them outside of QA. If the opportunity came along, I would love to go back! The potlucks, white elephants, and contests made it fun.

GHG: I’m feeling all nostalgic now. What are some of your favorite games?

Ferguson: I like Pokemon, Donkey Kong Country and Kingdom Hearts.

GHG: I just started playing through my first Pokemon game this weekend (Pokemon X). Gotta catch ’em all, right? Are you playing anything right now?

Ferguson: I started playing Disney Infinity with my daughter, and she is just loving Elsa! She keeps freezing me when we team up. I usually play on my 3DS because it’s portable, and have Kirby: Triple Deluxe in there right now. My husband is more of a gamer, so I usually watch him play. He’s playing Shin Megami Tensei IV, Bravely Default, Final Fantasy XIV and Infamous: Second Son.

GHG: Have to admit, I’m a little jealous of your PS4. Anyway, did you want to say hi to anyone and/or promote any other works?

Ferguson: Please visit and Like my Merpunks page on Facebook! Also check out James Perry II’s manga, Orange Crows. Crystallis Navigator is a game I worked on with Elisha Miller, another ex-THQer. I’m available for commissioned work as well, so readers can contact me via the Merpunks Facebook page if they’re interested.

GHG: Well, that’s all the questions I have. Thanks again for taking the time to do this interview, and best wishes to you for a successful Merpunks Issue #1 launch!

Ferguson: Thank you so much for that and for featuring my art!


New artwork for GHG!

Last week, I announced that there would be some changes coming soon to GHG. Well, today I’m very excited to reveal a couple things that I’ve been working on behind the scenes:



First up is a new banner for the site drawn by Crystal Ferguson, who I worked with at THQ in Phoenix. I always knew I wanted custom artwork for the blog, and I had a very simple vision in my head of me sitting in a room playing old videogames. That’s not really that far off from reality.

Originally, it was just going to be me in front of a TV with a window and posters on the wall. Then I got it in my head that I wanted to have a puppy version of our Rottweiler in the picture sitting with me, which I think turned out great! She doesn’t get to chew on bones in real life, though.

I also got a late EarthBound cameo added to the upper-right. It was originally supposed to be the aforementioned window, but I thought a pennant featuring Mr. Saturn would be cooler. The more gaming goods, the better!

Even though it’s a relatively small detail, Crystal and I went back and forth the most on the TV screen itself. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to show on there, but I thought some type of platformer — my favorite genre — would be the most appropriate.

I didn’t want it to be straight-up Super Mario, so we ended up with what you see there. I think it reads nicely and my face does look like I’m ready to jump and grab those coins!

In the end, it was cool seeing how she took my idea and came up with something that’s fun to look at, capturing my original vision and more. One of my favorite things is how she drew my hands on the controller, since I have so much trouble getting arms and fingers to look right in my own art.



Next up is my new avatar, which another friend and former THQ coworker of mine, Laura Carberg, put together. Although I had originally approached her to work on another banner, I realized that I was going to need an avatar not just for the blog, but for the various social media sites that I post GHG content to.

With that in mind, I believe my only specification was that it be a likeness of me holding a controller or handheld. She came back with several ideas — which were all very cool — including one of me juggling a bunch of different game controllers in the air. However, I kept coming back to this one, so away we went.

I quickly realized that the more realistic an image is of you, the more fussy you can get!

What you see above is very close to what her original image looked like. At one point, though, I wondered what I’d look like with bigger, more Disney-style eyes. While they were less squinty and read better — especially when the picture was scaled down — it didn’t really look like me anymore. So, I changed my mind and we went back to the original.

For those who know me from the world outside of the internet, I think you’ll agree that this really does look like me!

We went back and forth a few times on some other very small details; things that nobody but me would notice, but she was fun to work with and had good instincts about what my sometimes vague requests meant. I was always pleasantly surprised with the results and think it turned out great.


It doesn’t end with the pictures above, though. In the coming weeks, I’ll be featuring interviews with the artists, as well as revealing a few other projects that are in the pipeline.

It feels terrific to be collaborating with my former teammates again, and I’d love to keep that going. Please contact me if you’d like to be part of the fun — I would love to feature as much talent here as possible!


A glimpse of things to come

Ever since GHG got started, one of the things I’ve wanted to do is work with and showcase as many of the talented people I’ve crossed paths with throughout my life as possible.

Back when I was working at THQ in Phoenix, one of the things I meant to do — but never did complete — was a “wall of fame” that would display everyone with their pictures, plus tidbits of information about them, including their influences, favorite games, trivia, etc.

Although that never did materialize, I’m very excited to announce that I’m resurrecting something similar here. Behind the scenes, I’ve started reaching out to some of my friends and former coworkers to partner on some small GHG projects. What you see below is the first result of that effort:


I can’t wait to reveal the entire image — which will be used as one of GHG’s title banners — and share the artist interview as well. As much as I enjoyed Persona 4, it’ll be great to finally get rid of what I have now and replace it with some original art.

Thanks again, everyone — your support and encouragement fuel what I do.