Élise Plessis: Art in Board Games #16
This week we have Élise Plessis an artist who has worked with on games such as Onirim, Urbion, Sylvion, Castellion, Nautilion and with publishers such as Z-Man Games, Filosofia and Asmodée.
Hello Élise. thanks for taking the time to speak to us. Firstly, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hello. Certainly. I am 34 years old and currently live in Iceland in a very remote area. I am French and I studied graphic design in Paris and Brussels in Belgium. I spend my time between freelance illustration, travelling and part-time jobs here or there such as a waitress, house-keeper, shop employee, receptionist or tourist guide. I’ve always enjoyed working in different places so I like to keep a foot in reality, meet people and get ideas for my drawings. Plus I’m lucky to not have any money problems so can choose to work on any illustration project I like. I enjoy reading a lot, wandering around the fjords and playing ping-pong.
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 a cat but somebody told me it wasn’t an option. So, my next decision was to become an illustrator. Or an explorer. Or a writer who also draws cats and discovers new lands in their free time. I wasn’t totally sure.
So how did you first get involved in making board games?
It really came as a surprise! Shadi Torbey involved me. We met in Brussels at the end of my studies and he took my card, then 3 years later he found it again when he was looking for an artist to draw Onirim. He asked me if I would be interested in realizing the prototype. I loved the idea of putting nightmares and dreams in images as I’m fond of poetry and really love to escape from reality. That’s how it all began.
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?
Every game in the Oniverse has a different theme; The Labyrinth for Onirim, The City for Urbion, The Forest for Sylvion, The Sand Castle for Castellion and The Aquatic World in Nautilion. I first stop and try to think about what this implies specifically. Then I try to imagine how that would look in the Oniverse. In fact, I just begin to dream, take some paper and let the pen run. Some of my ideas are really stupid but some are better. Shadi helps me to sort these out and keep it all coherent.
I’m much more organized now than I was before. Drawing the first game in the series (Onirim) took me a long time because I was very impulsive. I didn’t take the constraints into consideration, like what the dimensions of a card were, or the placement of the pictograms. I really just threw some ideas down on whatever I had to hand at that moment. Bus tickets, tax papers, anything really and I ended up having to redo the same drawings multiple times. I now manage to channel my energy in a more proactive and efficient way.
You were involved in the creation of the Oniverse games so could you tell us a little bit about what that involved and what were the biggest challenges you faced?
It’s involved many hours of work, a lot of paint, wax pencil, felt-tip pens, thousands of email exchanges with Shadi and a good coffee machine. During the process I’lI send Shadi my sketches, drafts and later the colored versions and he lets me know his opinions about them. He’s kind of a diplomat so he would never say to me that my drawings were ugly, just something like “It’s nice... but how about we make the creature smaller, or in a different colour, or with bigger ears and we could switch the head and tail around too”.
One challenge we have during a project is working together to try and figure out which of my images will be the most appropriate for the purpose (or the effect) of each card. Shadi might already have a precise idea about what he wants or he might just let me draw freely. The images themselves might end up giving him new ideas which can lead us to new images, leading to even more ideas and so the cycle can continue.
The Oniverse is a series so we’ve tried to keep links and relations between the games. There is a strong connection through the theme and art style but also through some of the characters and places, which can come back or complete each other. We also make references to previous games or give clues about upcoming ones. Mainly, we are just having fun.
What was the inspiration or core idea that drove your work on the Oniverse?
The idea of the Oniverse came from Shadi and it was part of his ambition from the very beginning. We first worked on Onirim and that was the game that opened up the door to the Oniverse, after all, we’d just found the keys and escaped from the nightmares!
It was a surprise for me but it was great to find out that I would have this big playground world to invent in. From there came a lot of creatures, hairy, friendly or mean and their homes, habitats and tempers depending on the game and it’s theme.
We’ve imagined another world or reality which is inspired by the one we live in but more dreamlike. Nature has inspired me a lot. There are so many different shapes and colors around us. So much creativity and diversity in the millions of creatures and plants that exist. I wish I could have helped designing them.
What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
I read a lot of graphic novels. My favorite artists are Nicolas de Crecy and Dominique Goblet. I am also a huge fan of the work done by the Japanese company Studio Ghibli. Plus I enjoy reading children’s books, watching cartoons and animated films, such as The Song of the Sea.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to work in the board game industry?
From a visual point of view, I would say you should dare to do something surprising or unusual. I find the visual landscape too conservative and uniform in the board game world.
Do you have any current projects underway, or coming up that you’d like (or are able) to tell us about?
Nothing certain yet. Only top secret projects.
Finally, if we’d like to see more of you and your work, where can we find you?
You can find me at the bottom of an Icelandic fjord in a little wooden cabin surrounded by arctic foxes and blueberries. Or you know, just on www.eliseplessis.com.
(All illustrations, sketches and photography supplied by Élise Plessis)