Dreaming of Anarch: System Update 2021 Art Blog

NISEI Art, Design, and Development Team Member Zoe Cohen:

In my last art diary, I previewed the art I made for two Weyland cards, Ice Wall and Punitive Counterstrike. Today, I’ll be sharing art for two of the five Anarch cards I illustrated for System Update 2021. You’ve already seen a third one, Liberated Account, as part of the Worlds Celebration Pack. Anarch has been my favorite Runner faction since Noise first clicked for me, and I’m excited to bring a broad range of influences to my interpretation of it.

Retrieval Run

Now that I’ve outlined my basic process for photobashing together Deep Dream layers in two previous articles, I plan to focus more on what makes these pieces distinct. Retrieval Run was one of my first illustrations for System Update 2021. It went through a lot of revisions as Krembler, our Art Coordinator and fellow digital artist, taught me a bunch of techniques to create distinct textures for different elements of the piece. Careful use of this approach can go a long way towards clean, clear, shapes, cutting down on some of the wispy strokes of nothing that sometimes appeared in my less refined Deep Dream pieces.

My pitch for Retrieval Run was pretty simple: a dumpster-diving netspace raccoon. I started by photobashing the basic composition, not worrying about style cohesion, knowing that would be a product of my Deep Dream choices. That core composition never changed much.

Racoon emerging from a dumpster, holding a clip-art briefcase

This dream made up a lot of the background:

Stylized illustration of an alleyway with a dumpster, glowing in shades of orange and blue

For the foreground dumpster, we figured a more monochrome, geometric texture might stand out from the liquid light background:

Photo of a blue dumpster, edited to have an angular, geometric texture

For the racoon and case, I tried to capture a Lisa Frank iridescent animals aesthetic, with the colorful detailed linework of the fur contrasting against the dumpster. The end result is below:

Retrieval Run by Zoe Cohen. A rainbow-furred racoon, holding a briefcase, emerges from a dumpster in a glowing, abstract alleyway


I started work on Corroder shortly thereafter, and had a similar line from base concept to layout to layers of dreams. For this one, I wanted to depict a Corroder that was actually corroding something. The most Anarch thing I can think to melt would be a prison wall, both for the metaphor and for the connection to the real-world prison-abolition movement.

The ingredients were simple:

One prison yard with guard tower, courtesy of photographer Larry Farr:

Prison yard with high walls and a prominent guard tower

One puddle on a brick road, photo by Alberto Barco Figari, on Pixabay as despoticlick:

Puddle on a brick road

And a generous helping of neon style images, to taste.

I perspective-warped the road onto the wall, and laid out more brick texture elsewhere. Combining all these elements using the same methods as Retrieval Run above, we get Corroder.

Corroder by Zoe Cohen. The walls of a prison glow with neon purples and oranges. A flaming hole is being eaten out of one wall.

Normally, I would keep these articles to the discussion of the illustration, but the flavor text for this card is also a big deal to me. I spent a lot of time listening to the music of the folk-punk band Rent Strike as I worked on this piece, especially the song “Fair Trade Death March”. The song’s writer describes it as “about the ents and the poisoned Earth and also the prison industrial complex sort of.” Anarch themes if I’ve ever heard them! One lyric in particular, the bridge, lined up so strongly with this it just wouldn’t leave my mind.

This could have gone no further than my personal creative process, but folk-punk is a small world that I spend a lot of time in. I play bass for The Window Smashing Job Creators, and back in the Before Times, when people could gather together for live music, we had the pleasure of opening for Chad Hates George for a couple dates on their tour. John Warmb, Rent Strike’s main singing, songwriting, multi-instrumentalist force, had joined their touring band to play banjo. I couldn’t let this coincidence pass by, so we talked with John and got permission to use these lyrics as Corroder’s flavor text:

"Oh, holy Rust,
Turn foundation into dust.
Oh, sacred Flood,
Wash away what we have become."

—Rent Strike

Next Time

For my third and final System Update 2021 art diary, I’ll be talking about my 3D art pieces from several factions. Stay tuned, and keep an eye out for System Update 2021 later in Q1 2021!