The First Date

Sam “King of the Hilltop”


For those catching up, this series is for people who are unsure, or just learning about, the process of commissioning art for their board game. In our first post, we talked research and finding artists. Our second post went over how to approach them. At this point you have finalized who is doing the artwork and you have signed the contract. Now, it’s time to start the really fun part and get that artwork started!

Quick Note On Contracts

I recommend when working with anyone to do commissions, a contract will be good for both parties. It helps to outline the expectations on both sides so that you can all look at it later for reference. If you do your planning like I showed you in earlier blog posts, a contract will not be hard. You will already have all of the information and then it’s just details and negotiation. However, for a first time, I would recommend getting legal professional help. I recommend going local if you can and work with them to create a standard layout for you. They will also have any information on what your state requires if there is anything in particular to cover. That way you can use that contract for future commissions as well. It will pay dividends to get it done right the first time.

Time For That First Date – Art Description and Reference

It’s now time to start the process of doing the actual art! WOOOOO!!!!! So, the first thing you should do is make sure you have an overall theme and setting. This will help guide the artist in the right direction when they make choices because they will make a lot of little choices along the way to result in the final piece.

You will need art descriptions for each piece of art you need along with corresponding references. References are your friend! Use all of that research you did in step 1. Here is an example of what we went through for one of our rituals in Cult of the Deep.


Quick Setting

Cult of the Deep is late 1500s. The world has had magic for centuries and has accelerated the course of history. The ability to better control the movement of sailing ships and to provide food has increased the travel between nations. However, magic is tightly regulated and controlled (usually) and most people are not naturally gifted with magic. It’s a learned art. There are exceptions and those who are “sorcerers”, or those born with innate magic, are deemed very dangerous.
The tales and myths of monsters and gods are mostly true. Things like the minotaur, dragons, the kraken, and hydras all exist. Trolls, goblins, orcs, Tengu (bird people), etc. all exist. People who are shunned or who seek power will sometimes turn to dark magics like that of the Cult of the Deep.
The Western Hemisphere is controlled by a number of empires including the long standing Mayans, the Aztecs, and the Incas. In this world, they have not fallen and, in fact, the Mayans are one of the major magic/technology powerhouses on the globe.
There is a substantial amount of merchant traffic so a lot of ideas are flowing back and forth between nations.
Cult of the Deep takes place on the coast of Greece. A modest city that is a hub for trade going in and out of the North Atlantic and Mediterranean.

Ritual Card – Astral Rift

Astral Rift – (Astral Rift 3, Warp Gate Astral Rift, Icon Cosmos B) an ancient gate, maybe in a cave with a couple suggestions of ruins and bones, that spirals with energy. Would love to have that spiraling energy that reminds people of movement as well as the icon that will be on the dice and on the rituals.

References for Astral Rift
References for Astral Rift

What if the gate was on top of a pyramid like structure, much like the Mayans/Aztecs, a pyramid with steps. At the top are some fallen columns but there are these tentacled structures and the eye is where the rift opens up? (Ancient Symbol B) We would of course be focused in on the rift itself and we would only see a small portion of the top of the pyramid but would love your feedback on this.

Additional Art Reference for Astral Rift
Additional Art Reference for Astral Rift

So then Liam sent me a very rough draft so we could start hammering out some broad strokes.

1st draft Astral Rift
1st draft Astral Rift

At this point, Liam and I discovered that we much preferred to talk over the phone if possible. We talked about adding a cultist for scale, adding some glyphs and lighting to the pyramid to make it a bit more magic-y.

Liam then sent me the first color draft with some additional details I was not expecting, which was awesome. It kicked off an idea that we implemented throughout the entire game that would help tie things together. The color of magic for the cult.

Color Draft 1 Astral Rift
Color Draft 1 Astral Rift

Then this is where I would add my thoughts via my AMAZING art skills with Microsoft Paint.

Astral Rift Color Notes 1
Astral Rift Color Notes 1

This would be followed up with a text version that would discuss in more detail what I was looking for and where the artist could take some liberties.

1) Less Debris, make sure what little there is falling, looks like it’s falling from the ceiling.
2) Tentacles need to match in their relative locations. Turn the far right one to better match location. I have some shapes drawn on the picture. The left most tentacle just looks like it is curvier. Part could just be the angle but they look and feel like different shapes to me.
3) Need to add some main arms/tendrils. Doesn’t need to be the same but it definitely needs to add some hints that this is what that is.
4) Need to make sure that the rift is in the center of the platform, as such, if it has “astral water energy” coming off, it needs to obscure the back tentacle if it crosses the perspective (farthest right in this case.)
5) Try to add some interesting galaxy patterns and references, I especially like the blue/green colorings. Needs to read water but also “Astral Water Energy!” Not sure how this is done…no pressure. Thoughts on this? The other option is leave the outside like it is, with a bit of a hint towards the astral/cosmic but the eye of the storm shows a sky shot like in the references. Showing that it connects to other worlds, astral planes, places, etc.
Energy rift references
Energy rift references

Liam was amazing at turning this idea into reality and after a couple tweaks, this is what we ended up with. He even added the eye shape from the symbol icon where the eye is on top of the pyramid. That was his idea. The cave was his idea. Man, just phenomenal work on his part. Liam is likely the best decision we ever made for Cult of the Deep.

Final Astral Rift
Final Astral Rift

Here are my thoughts back to him…

“Dude…that piece sings! Yeah, that piece is good. No comments. 🙂”

At this point you need to let the artist know you are done and it is time to move on.

Give and Take

Now each artist is going to have a different methodology. Liam happens to use grayscale and values to help him draw up the initial sketches which gives me a lot of information on how he wants to introduce light into the piece. Others do a simple sketch. Some people want the artist to have more control and that is okay too. Liam was very patient with me throughout this process as I learned a lot about being a better Art Director. It comes down to prep work and more prep work. You need to identify your most important pieces and also what your artist’s strengths are. Liam’s greatest strength is in drawing people. The faces, the colors, and so those were left toward the end of the project as we knew setting the scene and getting the props right would make working on people easier and he would be able to make amazing people quickly.

Driving Home – Final Thoughts

It’s important to know, each artist works differently. I know I said this already but it is imperative. The medium they work in, the process, their strengths and weaknesses; you have to be able to pivot when working with different artists. This is something I am still learning but I hope this look into art direction will help you in the process.

Good luck to you and happy art directing!


Ed “Duke of BAzlandia”

Since I don’t have much to say on the art side of the house, I figured I would just give a brief thought on something I have been thinking about lately. I have been thinking a lot about value and what makes a board game valuable or determining its cost. It is an interesting thing. Most of what I hear is you take what it costs to manufacture and ship to your warehouse and then multiply that by a number and that is what you should be selling your game for. I would probably use that as a rule of thumb. It is just interesting to me that all of the other costs aren’t really factored in. The amount of work that goes into a game from design, art, graphic design, playtesting, quoting, shipping, and the list goes on. It is literally hundreds and hundreds of hours by multiple people. None of this is used as the basis. These are all calculated after the fact when determining price to make sure you can actually break even but it isn’t something where you add up all of the cost and then decide I am going to make X amount of money and then try to publish and sell the game. From a customer point of view, I never give it much thought. It isn’t an easy thing to do and more than likely you are lucky to break even.

This also assumes that the customer wants that particular game and is willing to pay that price. I like to drive around town and look at houses for sale. It is a little hobby of mine. As I have done so I have learned a few things about the pricing of housing. It is amazing what difference the location makes on a house. A house is sold on what the buyer and seller have agreed the house value is at. A house in a nicer area goes for me as the same house in a area that is more run down or is perceived as a bad area. A house can have value added by different features, etc. but most of the value is what someone is willing to pay. You can buy a large house for $100,000 that you couldn’t build for that much all due to the area the house is in. You may even buy your house and have to carry home owner insurance for several times what you paid for your house all due to the cost of rebuilding that house.

So what does this all have to do with board games? People value games differently just like houses. A board gamer just uses his taste and play preferences instead of location.

2 thoughts on “How to Find and Date Your “One True Board Game Artist”- Part 3, First Date and Commission

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