Katie O'Neill: Art in Board Games #32
Editors note: The Tea Dragon Society card game is still in production with Renegade Game Studios (due Q2 2018), as such there is no finalized art from it in this interview. There are some process images later in the article, however, the vast majority of art on show is from the graphic novel this game is based on or Katie's portfolio.
Hi Katie, thanks for joining me! For our readers who aren't aware of your work could you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
I'm an illustrator (mainly making graphic novels for kids), living in a small city in New Zealand. It's a pretty inspiring country to be an artist in! As an artist, I'm self-taught and posted my work online as webcomics for several years while I worked part-time as a copywriter. One day my editor emailed me and asked if I'd like to work with Oni Press, and it basically kept snowballing until I reached the point I'm at now, drawing for a living! I'm also an avid gardener, hiker and general nature enthusiast. And of course, I love tea.
You describe yourself as a self-taught, so when you were starting out how did you develop yourself as an artist and what illustrators or works inspired you?
Thankfully I grew up just as art communities on the internet were starting to flourish, so as a teenager I had access to a lot of digital artists to look up to as examples, and a number of them made tutorials that helped me grow and understand the software I was using better. Nowadays I probably use very few of the actual techniques that I learned then, but gaining that initial confidence to work digitally and intuit drawing software was extremely valuable.
Your beautiful graphic novel 'The Tea Dragon Society' is being turned into a card game, so could you tell us more about the graphic novel itself? How did you first come up with the idea and what is it all about?
The Tea Dragon Society came from a very simple idea I had, cute pet dragons that grow tea leaves on their horns, which ended up growing and growing as people showed a ton of interest in the idea. Eventually, I had enough to craft a little story about the characters who look after them, in this case, a blacksmith named Greta, a shy mystical girl named Minette, and the bonded owners of a tea shop, Hesekiel, and Erik. The tea dragons are extremely fussy (as players will discover when playing the card game!) so there is a danger of losing the art of caring for them, and of brewing the tea. The book is about appreciating traditional crafts and finding new meaning and value in them.
You say the story is really about appreciating traditional crafts, so what draws you to this message and are there any ways you think we should be doing this in general?
I think there's so much to learn from traditional methods arts and crafts, and other things such as making and growing food. They can take a lot longer, but the products are so beautiful and there's so much more intention and engagement with the process. I think it's important to keep knowledge of old crafts alive for their own sake, but they're also beneficial for the practitioner, encouraging patience and mindfulness. There are so many ways, and I think one of the best ones is to join a local group where you can learn from those with more experience.
So as I mentioned previously your graphic novel is being turned into a card game. How did that happen?
I'm super lucky in that Oni Press has really amazing connections with merch and board game developers, so all I've had to do is supply the artwork! Oni Press came to me about the idea and I was definitely aboard, and also completely into leaving it all to the professionals. The developers (Renegade Game Studios) captured the atmosphere of the book so perfectly, the first time I playtested it, even with simple mock-up cards, I knew it was just right. After the gameplay essentials were worked out, I was given a list of art assets to create and we took some from the book as well, to help it tie into the story.
When choosing the art from the book what were the main things you were trying to convey?
Mostly it was just done based on the relevance to each card so that players could get an idea of how that card might function in the Tea Dragons world. So for example, we have cards to do with grooming and taking care of the Tea Dragons, so we were able to pull art from the book from scenes where Greta is learning how to take care of them.
Was the process of producing the new assets for the game different from the way you'd usually create art?
It was a little different in that I had to convey ideas in just one panel, rather than having many! But other than that it was the same. For example, things like a grumpy Tea Dragon would normally have context in a book, but instead it was an interesting challenge to draw a character that not only looked grumpy, but had enough visual info to make it more interesting and vivid.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to work as an artist?
Figure out what kind of artist you want to be first- maybe you'd love to work fulltime in a studio, or maybe you're just interested in telling your own stories and don't mind working another job to support yourself. Determining what really makes you happy about art is really important. It's also okay to change your mind too! Just as long as you're being honest with yourself about whether you're happy or not.
What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
I'm really into gouache paintings at the moment, especially impressionist or abstract work. I've never been much of an abstract person before, but the older I get the more I appreciate it.
Do you have any current projects underway, or coming up that you’d like (or are able) to tell us about?
I'm mostly working on graphic novels, and I have a new one coming out later this year called Aquicorn Cove. I also have plenty more stories about the Tea Dragons world that I would love to share someday!
The Tea Dragon Society Card Game is due Q2 2018, you can find out more and pre-order a copy on the Renegade Game Studios website.
(All images copyright of Katie O'Neill, 2018)