Interview by: Alaina McNeal
Yaniir Dice is a well respected handmade dice business where creator Jen Vinson brings characters, places, and events from her Dungeons and Dragons campaigns to life through artisan dice. But dice aren’t the only thing Jen creates, also making D&D inspired badges and designs for stickers, coffee mugs, and more on sites like Redbubble and Society6. Read more about Jen’s inspiration, how graphic design influences her work, and how creating D&D accessories grew from rolling trays for her party members to what it is now.
Are you a dice collector, too, or mostly a creator? If also a collector, what’s your favorite/most prized set not made by you?
I am also a dice collector! I can’t pick just one, so my favorite sets are my fantastic glass by Crystal Maggie, Eldritch Fire by Dispel Dice, Violet Incantation by Seersword, and The Unraveling by Arcane Hallows.
Many of your dice are inspired by your D&D campaigns. Could you share a little bit about how your campaigns/characters inspire you and how you go about translating them into dice sets?
With a few exceptions, all of my designs are inspired by characters, places, or events in my D&D campaign. I have a pretty vivid visual image of the game world as I play, and color and texture play a huge role in that. As I’m designing a new set, I am also usually writing the prose that go along with it. The goal is to capture the *feeling* of that character, place, or moment in time, both with the dice design itself and the prose that accompany it, so that feeling can be conveyed to others without needing the broader context of the campaign lore. I also take exhaustive, meticulous, sometimes excessive notes while I’m playing. This definitely helps me remember things in the game, but those notebooks have also become an invaluable tool in my dice designing. Sometimes if I’m looking for inspiration, I’ll pull out my campaign notebook and comb through the earlier pages. There are often really inspiring things that I had forgotten about that then get turned into new dice.
How did you first find the world of D&D?
A friend who wanted to get back into creative writing decided that learning how to play D&D and writing a campaign would be a fun and challenging way to do that. So a little over 3 years ago, he started DMing 3 concurrent campaigns at once, all in the same world, and I joined in to play in 2 of those.
Your company started out with custom rolling trays and grew from there. Are dice your best sellers?
The rolling trays were mostly just for my D&D party members. Since we couldn’t find any rolling trays that really suited our needs, I decided to make them myself, and base the designs off of everybody’s characters. I made and sold a few to other friends upon request, but I never really intended for them to be a constant presence. I actually never intended on selling dice when I started either. I was making them as gifts for my party members. After receiving so many requests to buy them when I posted them on my instagram account, I decided to keep making them and offer up what I made for sale. I really never dreamed they would garner this much attention.
How would you say your style has grown from your first sets to now?
My own style and voice are still pretty similar to how they were when I started, because I have a pretty persistent design intention throughout most of my work (enigmatic, a bit creepy, ominous, etc), but I have branched out into some things that are little lighter and more delicate as well. It took me a year of dice-making to finally experiment with floral inclusions. I’m having a lot of fun with that at the moment. The biggest change from when I started to now though would be the quality of the dice I produce. We all have to start somewhere, and when I began, there wasn’t nearly the abundance of resources and tutorials that there are now (though the dice making discoveries group was a huge help for a lot of things.) So experimentation, trial and error, and patience has helped me grow a lot in that regard. I’m still learning new things all the time.
People are trying their hand at making handmade dice all the time, with groups on Facebook created for giving advice. What’s the one most important piece of advice you have for beginners?
It’s actually 2 important pieces of advice.
1. USE PPE. There is no safe exception to this. A respirator for organic vapors MUST be used with ALL resin, even resin that tries to claim it is non-toxic. (It’s not non-toxic anymore once part A and B are mixed). Always wear gloves. Always wear a particulate filter mask and safety glasses when sanding. Resin is serious and dangerous business. Do not be cavalier about protecting your health and the health of any people or animals you live with, please!.
2. Persistence and patience! Dice making is not easy, nor is it cheap. There will be a lot of failure until you’ve got it down, and you will need patience and persistence to get through that learning curve. You will spend a lot of time, and you will probably spend a lot of money to get there. But you will get there! Have patience and keep trying! Absorb as much info as you can before you start to mitigate all the failed casts.
Do you have a favorite set that you’ve made?
This is always a really hard question. I’ve had a few sets where I couldn’t believe I let it go instead of keeping it lol. I usually think of my first Twilight over Skyclave set, and Lady of Masks.
What is your crafting space like?
I have 3 different crafting spaces now, to keep myself sane. I have a basement studio where I do my casting and then evacuate and let the ventilation system suck the fumes out. Then I have a desk out in the living room where I do inking and packaging. Just this past weekend, I created a little sanding and polishing workspace out in my sunroom that used to only ever get used for dice photography. I’m really enjoying spending time out there now that the weather is gorgeous. I used to do everything in my basement and it was depressing.
You’ve collaborated with other artists for things like patches with @threadmancer on Twitter and sold sets through LevelUp Dice at conventions. Do you have any other collaborations coming up with other artists?
Yes! There are some cool things coming up, but the pandemic has naturally made some of these collaborations slow down a bit. I tend to wait until everything is in place and ready before announcing partnerships like that though, so keep an eye out! I was also going to be a guest artist at the Level Up Dice booth at Gen Con this year, but covid-19 has thrown a curveball to those plans. We may be doing some special online event via twitch though!
What has been the most challenging part of being a dice marker?
At first it was definitely the inability to please everybody. I am only one person, and I can only make so many dice. When the demand outpaces your ability to supply, there will always be upset people. It was hard to handle before, and I was often having to remind people that I am one person doing this around a full time job, and the angry comments about the difficulty of obtaining my dice sometimes made me want to not make dice at all. I had to go full Hufflepuff honeybadger at folks a few times when angry people went after other dice makers after their sales. I’ve since developed a real thick skin about my own productivity. Having my patrons as a wonderful support network helps. Plus, I get to spoil them with patron-only sales and auctions and that makes me feel good.
You also are a designer and work full time. How do you find the time to stay creative/productive outside of work and not get burnt out?
Burnout is definitely a serious risk for me most of the time. I often have to battle my own mind-set that if I’m not being productive at every given moment, I’m wasting my time. The single biggest way I’ve found to make sure I’m not burning myself out is by not taking open public commissions or doing wait lists, to be honest. Owing people things gives me terrible anxiety, so I work on dice at my own pace, and sell them when I am ready. I do not set a deadline for myself until I am confident that meeting it will not be a serious strain on myself. When I have enough sets for a sale already cast, that’s when I will set a sale date. I realize I am lucky to be able to work in that way, as not all artists (or even all dice makers) necessarily have that luxury.
How has your background in Graphic Design helped you in your dice making?
It has been a huge asset. You can learn the techniques and the mechanics of dice-making and produce dice just fine, but having an eye for design sets your work above and beyond. Having a trained eye for color, texture, proportion, etc., and the restraint to take a “less is more” approach has helped me establish a consistent tone in my work than I probably wouldn’t have been able to achieve as effectively otherwise. Many of the dice-makers I most admire have a professional background of some sort in art or design, and it definitely shows in their work.
You also have your artwork on sites like Society6 and Redbubble of things like class emblem stickers. How important is it for you to be diverse as a creator?
It don’t think it happened consciously. I just have a lot of different hobbies and skills accumulated over the decades I’ve been making art and crafting that all happen to tie into each other really naturally.
You recently started a Patreon for your dice-making. How has it benefited you as a creator?
It has been an incredible experience. Naturally, the income boost is helpful (especially right now during all the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic), but the single best part of it has to be the community it has created. I have a discord server tied to my Patreon, and the people in there are some of the most kind-hearted, supportive, enthusiastic and incredible people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. And they’re not just supportive of me and my work, they’re supportive of each other. Once it’s safe to do so again, I’d love to have a big meetup with them at a convention or something some day. They’re just the best.
Have you considered using a crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter to create dice on a larger scale? Why or why not?
I haven’t, actually. And I doubt I ever will. With huge kickstarters comes huge responsibilities. I have seen a lot of kickstarters bite off more than they can chew and then flounder and burn out, and I don’t want to be in that position. Something like that usually requires a team to manage rather than just one person. Dice making is my creative outlet, and I want to make sure I continue to enjoy it. I feel like the fastest way for me to stop enjoying it would be to owe something to potentially thousands of people.
Do you have anything new and exciting planned for the future?
Yeah, there is a partnership coming up with a really cool company that I am so excited to get rolling on. But I can’t say anything just yet! I also have some new products coming out that will accompany my dice – more geode coasters, resin trays, some trinkets, and a special logo D20.
People love your dice because they’re different. In your opinion, what is it that makes your dice unique?
If I were to go by what people have told me, it’s probably the stories behind them. Each of them is deeply meaningful to me and I put a lot of time into the design behind them to make sure they capture what I’m trying to convey. Attaching stories to the sets has now become fairly common in the time since, but I think that was at least what set them apart in the beginning. That, and probably my smoky tendril designs like Loch Noir and Grave’s Gift.
What is your favorite thing about the dice community?
The emotional aspect of dice. People attach meaning to the objects in their lives, and the dice community has an especially unique way of doing that. While I love making dice that have a story, what makes me even happier is when other people attach their own stories to the dice they collect. A lot of people create dice palettes for their characters, and a dice set that means one thing to me may mean something completely different to another person once the dice are in their hands and being used for their own character. Loch Noir has a deeply personal story for me, but for someone who buys it, it becomes about an experience their own character had, and becomes deeply personal for them too.
Want to see some of these beautiful dice created by Jen? Check out:
@_yaniir_ on instagram,
Cover image sourced from instagram @_yaniir