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!


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 inside GHG HQ

Since I enjoy checking out other folks’ gaming setups, I thought it might be fun to quickly show you where I sit to play games and write here at GHG. Most setups out there are so much more robust than mine, and it’s just really cool to see the pride and effort that goes into them. I used to be heavily into home audio and video, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve downsized. Not sure what that’s all about, and chances are good I’ll get that urge again to go big.


Anyway, this is my view throughout most of the day. I do everything on a single Dell U2711 27″ monitor, which can definitely be challenging, especially when you’re trying to play, type, research, and capture video all at once. Although I had issues with its on-screen display controls a few years ago, it’s easily one of the best monitors I’ve ever owned. Great color accuracy, and with a resolution of 2560 x 1440, PC gaming and image editing on it is great.

My mouse is a SteelSeries Sensei Raw, which my good friend from Phoenix recommended. Since I’m left-handed, finding good, ambidextrous mice can be tough, but this one’s perfect. Good feel, excellent tracking, and zero issues so far. It replaced a Razer Lachesis that started giving me trouble within a year, and I don’t see myself going back anytime soon. The mousepad is a SteelSeries QcK Mass, which is large — but not too large at 12.6″ x 11.2″ — and that hasn’t let me down either.

My keyboard is less interesting — a  standard Microsoft Ergonomic 4000 — but since I type far more than I game on my PC these days, it’s my preferred way to click away. I have a CM Storm QuickFire Pro keyboard with Cherry MX Red switches in storage, and that thing’s super-responsive and built like a tank, but I don’t like typing on it, and perhaps more importantly, my wife can’t stand the loud noise.

The speakers hiding behind the monitor stand are part of a compact Onkyo 2.1 system, but I game almost exclusively via headphones, so they don’t get much use. The mains are small, though, so they don’t get in the way and take up minimal desk real estate.

The wired 360 Controller on the right is what I use for most modern PC games, and it’s what I played all three Batman: Arkham games with earlier this year. I use mouse and keyboard for first-person games, but even with those, if a controller option is offered, I’ll generally pick that. I know, PC sacrilege!


In terms of classic gaming, these are my weapons of choice.  Via import, Sega offers this great official Saturn-based USB controller, and it’s perfect for all of those old Sega games. The 6-button layout makes it a good choice for a lot of other fighting games as well, in case you don’t have a traditional joystick. I consider the Saturn directional pad one of the best ever made, so it’s nice being able to use it on PC.

While there is no official Nintendo USB controller, the Buffalo Classic USB Gamepad is about as close to perfect as you can get if you don’t have an adapter and want that Super Nintendo feel. The directional pad sits slightly higher than it does on an official controller, but everything’s responsive and very solid. I definitely recommend it over the more common Tomee knock-offs, which are cheap and of inconsistent quality.


My console stack is pretty light, and only includes the PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U. Nothing too exciting there. They all go through the Pioneer receiver below, and are then sent out to the Elgato Game Capture HD, where it’s split once again between the monitor and my PC for recording. Which reminds me: I still owe you a review of the Elgato. Soon, I promise!

So there you have it. It’s not the most luxurious setup in the world, but it gets the job done.