Justin Hillgrove: Art in Board Games #14
This week we have Justin Hillgrove an artist who has worked with on games such as “JunKing” and “By Order Of The Queen” with Junk Spirit Games.
Hello Justin thanks for taking the time to speak to us. Firstly, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with my wife, 4 kids and some chickens, ducks, rabbits and a cat. I work out of my home studio on all kinds of art, mostly doing traditional acrylic paintings of non-traditional subjects like monsters, robots and the like. I also self-publish a comic and illustrate board games for our indie game team “Junk Spirit Games.” I sell my art, books, games and toys through galleries, art shows and online (ImpsAndMonsters.com). I’ve been showing my work for the last 11 years – full-time for the last 6 years, and worked as a graphic designer for 10 years before setting out on my own. When I am not creating art, I am usually gardening or playing games and hanging out with my family.
Now we know a little more about you, I have to ask, as a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an animator or a toy-maker when I was a kid. Later that idea expanded to include just about anything art-related.
So how did you first get involved in making board games?
A few years ago an old high school acquaintance, David Gerrard, approached me and basically said “Hey dude, I design games and you draw stuff. We should make games.” I’m paraphrasing but that’s the general idea. Sounded like fun so I jumped in, then we recruited my friend Travis Torgerson to do layout and design so I could focus on the art.
When you are working on the art of a board game can you give us a quick overview of your creative or thought process and has this changed at all since you first started?
I always start with a lot of sketching, getting feedback from the team as to the direction of the art. Then I usually pencil and ink my characters, scan them into PhotoShop and color them digitally. Once I have some of the core art figured out, I’ll plan out a cover image and paint it in acrylic paints on a canvas and scan that. From there, all the elements go to Travis, our designer, who puts it all together and makes it look good.
You were involved in the creation of By Order of the Queen, so could you tell us a little bit about what that involved and what were the biggest challenges you faced?
Our second game was a pretty massive undertaking that required a lot of time and effort by everyone on the team. There was so much art to be done that we recruited another artist friend, Zach Vail, to do additional art including the board map and card backs, as well as a number of spot illustrations. I created art for about 70 hero cards (64 of which were used), 49 items cards, 52 monster cards and a bunch of other spot illustrations and game assets.
I love character design so creating the character art was a joy. The game designer and I both have daughters who enjoy gaming and we feel strongly about making games that appeal to men and women, so we took care to make sure that at least half of the characters were female, and that none of those characters were sexualized (as tends to be the norm in most fantasy and game art). We were also world-building – creating a fantasy world that was filled with creatures that aren’t just standard fantasy, but instead included unique peoples and creatures while still giving a nod to a lot of our favorite DnD tropes.
Most of the challenges faced were more related to the game mechanics, card layouts and the overall “look” of the game. All of these received multiple overhauls during the year we spent working on “By Order Of The Queen.” On the art production side, the biggest challenge was the amount of art that needed to be produced, but as I mentioned previously, creating both the heroes and monsters was a lot of fun.
What was the inspiration or core idea that drove your work on By Order of the Queen?
One of the ideas behind By Order Of The Queen was to make a board game that would give you the great highlights and memorable moments from playing a DnD or other fantasy RPG campaigns, so much of the inspiration came from those games that we’ve been playing since we were kids. We also wanted the world we created populated by a fantastic mix of races that all mesh together similar to something like a “Babylon 5” kind of style.
What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
I listen to a lot of audiobooks while I work, and some of my favorites are The Dresden Files and anything by Brandon Sanderson. I also just started re-reading “Bone” by Jeff Smith. If I need to think I prefer silence or a little classical music.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to work in the board game industry?
Go places and meet people in the industry and join board game designer groups. Don’t just wait for a “help wanted” ad to show up. Like so many things, you kinda need to make it happen yourself so get out there.
Do you have any current projects underway, or coming up that you’d like (or are able) to tell us about?
We (Junk Spirit Games) will be at GenCon Indianapolis showing off our upcoming game “Crows.” This game was originally designed by Tyler Sigman (Red Hook Studios / Darkest Dungeon) and he will be joining us in the booth. We are excited to be demoing the game and talking to people about our other games. Of course, depending on when this interview is published, GenCon may already have passed and we’ll begin getting ready for next year.
(All images and artwork supplied by Justin Hillgrove)