Welcome back for round two with Andrew Bosley, illustrator of Everdell (and Pearlbrook expansion), Mission: Red Planet, Citadels, Love Letter, and a recently announced collaboration with Stonemaier games, Tapestry.
In this section, we talk about broaching both the fantasy illustration and board game illustration spaces as a freelancer, as well as branding, concepting, and art direction in general.
If you haven’t read it yet, check out Andrew Bosley Interview: Part 1!
What percentage of your workload goes toward tabletop?
Right now it’s almost 100%. I have some very old clients, and I still work in video games occasionally.
There’s been an explosion in demand for board game illustrators. What are some things that have set you apart from other in this space? Is it important to understand all the ins and outs of board games, as opposed to “just” being an illustrator? Is there anything that was really crucial for you to figure out?
Board games were never really on my radar initially, I just sort of stumbled into it. I started off wanting to get into fantasy illustration. But yes, industry conventions are very important – what are the technical needs of the medium you’re working on? You have to understand the whole process.
I’ve studied the entire process at this point – manufacturing, fulfillment, what art is necessary for Kickstarting, and so on. Artists who are interested in the community, in that game space, and take the time, will have an advantage.
Lots of artists will take whatever job comes along, which is okay – probably my first two jobs in tabletop were “just jobs”. Mission: Red Planet and Citadels with FFG – I was excited, I wanted to do a good job, but I didn’t think it was going to lead to a major change in my career path. I wasn’t thinking about how best to serve every aspect of gaming needs.
It sounds so ridiculous, but as soon as I went freelance, I connected with some good friends and started working on a card game. It’s now 5 years in the making. I was working on board games on a personal level way before it was professional.
You talked about wanting to go into fantasy illustration first, what happened there? I confess that I didn’t really think there would be that much of a difference between the two career paths.
They’re different communities. There’s some funny community differences between RPG and tabletop artists. Like I said, board games weren’t on my radar, I kind of told myself, “Okay, I HAVE to get into fantasy illustration, I need to be at Wizards, I need to be on book covers.” I found that board games are not so limited. With fantasy art, publishing is different, and it’s such a strange entrance into that community.
There’s a lot of old gatemasters who decide who goes and who does not. Some jobs came along, but not many. And there’s good, wonderful people in fantasy illustration, but there’s more of a celebrity mentality in that space. In tabletop, it’s much more of a small community of prominent illustrators, very giving, very easy to talk to, and we’re all fans of each other’s work.
As far as differences, I would just say that fantasy illustration is a rewarding area to be in, takes more time to get into, and has more established processes. Tabletop is slightly easier to get into, with so many games being made. When you get into fantasy illustration, you’ll be spending more time building up a portfolio, working for less, and it’s just a bit more of a grind.
I’ve read that in addition to your talent, you consider yourself strong at branding, graphic design, and helping to actually form the game during the design process. How much of a chance do you get to do that, now that you’re a well known tabletop illustrator?
Even now, I don’t get a lot of input. I’ve always loved art direction; I was a concept artist originally, drawing a lot of ideas and having all but one get thrown away. Concept art has to be fast, you have to ideate a lot. I love that process, it’s valuable for any creative endeavor.
Video game companies have money, they can spend the time to do it. They can say, “Hey, let’s send half a dozen artists off, have them explore for a month.” Riot or Lucas Films can do that, they have the money. Video games have been doing art direction as an established part of the process for years.
Board games are newer, or at least the resurgence and revival is, and so many people are making games. There’s not a lot of money in each individual project. Whole concept board game direction is never done – or at least, not very often. Most of the time, they come to me already knowing what they want, and it’s very much, “Hey, put art here”. I really enjoy concepting and I hope that it will become a more common idea. I think games would really benefit from it and look a lot better in the long run.
Do you think a lot of designers don’t know what they don’t know, thematically or conceptually, in the art process?
Well, Dan May, the art director on Everdell – he understands. He gave great direction, but let me run with it too. That doesn’t always happen, and it’s not always available, and not always smart to offer. I’m surprised all the time by how there’s artists out there that would screw that up. They’re given this amazing opportunity, but maybe aren’t professional enough to understand that when you’re given what you need, but not too much, then you can really run with it. But then they’ll be lazy or not do the best possible job.
So yes, a lot of game designers and art directors won’t give the artist any flexibility. I’ll give you an example: I’m not going to say where, but there was a job where I shared my thoughts, but was told, “Look, this is what we want.” They wanted these exact colors, and had so many requirements, but had no experience in what would actually look good.
I apologized and wanted to follow directions and do what they wanted me to do, but had to say “Hey, this is going to look really bad if we do it this way. You might just need to trust me to do this, I know how to make good pictures.”
Be sure to stay tuned for part 3 in the next few days!