Art through the Eyes of a Dungeon Master: Junior Jay Hernandez

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Claudia Lin

Junior Jay Hernandez assembled a box to store their Dungeons & Dragons supplies as well as smaller, unfinished art projects. Plastered on top of the box is a painting by Hernandez of the symbol of “The Bureau of Balance,” where most of the Balance Arc of the D&D podcast “Adventure Zone” starts. The symbol is adorned with forget-me-not flowers, which reference the main plot point of the podcast: to remember the past, according to Hernandez. “It was also a reminder to me to hold tight to the precious memories I’ve made with my friends,” Hernandez said.

By Erin Choi and Claudia Lin

Skilled, delicate fingers meticulously poke at the screen of an iPad mini as junior Jay Hernandez, with headphones tucked neatly in their ears and Dungeons & Dragons podcast “The Adventure Zone” playing in the background, swiftly sketches a cartoon-style character. However, the drawing is not of any common Disney heroine or Pixar villain: the miniature, dark-haired figure on the screen is a non-player character (NPC) named Tadeo from a recent game of D&D.

As Hernandez sits in front of me on Zoom — an array of Funko Pops aligned neatly on the shelf behind them — they cannot help but chuckle at my stumbling knowledge of D&D. Face illuminated, they launch into an animated explanation.

“Humans naturally want to create art. It just comes out in different ways. Art comes in so many different forms, and it just so happens that my favorite form is D&D,” Hernandez said. “I love it because you have so many different people coming in. You have those really hardcore ‘I’m going to give my character a voice, and I’m going to dress up as them,’ and then you have those people that just play for fun.”

Humans naturally want to create art. It just comes out in different ways. Art comes in so many different forms, and it just so happens that my favorite form is D&D.”

— Jay Hernandez

Hernandez draws much of their artistic inspiration from D&D, a role-playing game in which players create their own characters and roll dice to determine how their actions impact a fantasy world. Heavily dependent on player decisions, the D&D storyline is customizable and changes with every campaign — a term used to refer to a new gaming cycle with new characters.

Jay performs the role of Dungeon Master.

“It’s kind of like the story person,” junior Kristen Fong said. “They control the world; they create all the plotlines. We each had our own backgrounds, but Jay reached out to us like, ‘Hey, what do you do have in mind for your character?’ And so they tried to tie all of our characters together, which was really interesting. My character ended up being cousins with one of the other characters, and we didn’t even know about it.”

Jay’s D&D group gathers every Saturday from 2–5 p.m., each person temporarily supplanting their own personalities with their characters’ and embodying traits they may or may not have in real life. Whenever Jay encounters an artistic block, they sift through memories of these games to find artistic fodder.

“Whenever I’m feeling like I can’t draw anything, I’ll go back through our little playthroughs of the different games, and I’ll pick out NPCs or an encounter that I like,” Hernandez said. “I’ll put all of my imagination into creating them and bringing them to life. It helps me because this is something my friends created, so it means a lot to me and it’s something that I know I’ll spend a lot of time on to make perfect because it has a strong emotional tie and story.”

Hernandez often sends pictures of their drawings to their D&D group chat to show how they view their friends’ characters within each campaign.

“It’s really nice to see their passion as they keep on sending different revisions,” junior Matthew Yeo said. “They’re always like, ‘Oh I made a better one; here’s a better one’ and ‘Does A look better than B?’ They keep asking us these questions, and it really shows how passionate they are and how they grow and how they play D&D.”

Hernandez continues to create fan art for D&D, all the while expanding their artistic subject range to encompass other games. Recently, they molded their first sculpture — engraved with runes and glazed with a medley of colors — which takes elements from a character in the video game, “Journey.”

“There is no actual originality in the world,” Hernandez said. “That isn’t supposed to be a nihilistic view where I’m saying there’s no creativity left in the world. I’m saying that we are all telling the same stories, but just with different perspectives. It’s all about accepting that, in its own way, your art is original because it is your own take on it.”

This story was originally published on Portola Pilot on March 8, 2021.