Tyler Myatt: Art in Board Games #52
EDITORS NOTE: Board games often have creative or artistic directors to project manage and help ensure there’s a cohesive vision behind the work. This is especially important on games that have multiple artists involved. I’d been wanting to speak to more creative directors about how they work and I’m very grateful for Tyler for taking the time to speak to me. If you’re a creative/art director and want to speak to me about your work in the industry then get in touch!
Hi Tyler, 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?
No Problem, Ross! Thanks for having me! I work as the Creative Director at Grey Fox Games here in Saint Louis Missouri. I also live about 5 minutes away from our office in a house with my lovely wife Morgan and my two cats Theron and Artemis. That is over in Maryland Heights.
My work includes Illustration, planning, and graphic design of board games from start to finish. A little less on the illustration side though, it is so time-consuming so we commission out a lot of it.
So how did you first get involved in making board games?
Well, I always loved the look and feel of board games. As an artist I was so drawn to games like Small World, and Sheriff of Nottingham, etc. just based off of the way they looked. The look of a game can totally sell me on it. Anyways, I saw a job opening for Grey Fox Games and immediately went to their Office and asked to be interviewed. I showed up in my best suit and had my portfolio ready! 2 weeks later I had the job.
My first assignment was to work on a game called Bushido and another game called Harvest Dice. Harvest Dice is a cute little roll and write game and is entirely done by me. All of the art and graphics, rulebook, etc. You should try it out! Bushido took a lot longer and we had some issues with the original character art. After taking it into consideration we decided to go with new character art, which set back the release time but it will be 100% worth the wait. The rest of the art and graphics in the game are done by me.
When you start a project, how early do you decide what will be done in-house and what will be produced externally? What are your first steps?
First off, we make sure the game is at a point to where there won't be very many huge changes to the game mechanics. That way we don't run into a situation where we have spent time and money on an aspect of the game which we then have to scrap because something changed.
So, when that point is achieved, we move forward and discuss what kind of audience we want to reach (kids, adults, gamer crowds, family, mass market, etc.) from there we will sometimes write down style aspects and feelings we want to convey or maybe even some backstory and elements of this "world" we want to bring to life.
Afterwards I will go on to some of my favorite sites like ArtStation, or Pinterest (I mainly use Pinterest) and look stuff up. I like to create boards on Pinterest. It is an amazing reference tool for artists and I think everyone should check it out. Once I get a bunch of findings together I will make a "mood board" which is really just a big document with a collage of references put together. I take that and show the Ceo, Shane, what I have and what I am thinking for the project.
He gives me the okay and then we discuss budgeting and how much of this project i will do and how much we will have farmed out. Usually, a lot of the big illustrations we will have one or more artists do. It's just so time-consuming, so we have to min/max a lot here. Let's take City Of Gears for example. We had two different artists do the building art and another artist do the front cover of the game. I did everything else. One important thing that I like to have done in this process is getting the cover art done first. That helps me figure out how the rest of the game can look from there so that you really get a look into the game from a glance at the cover.
We are constantly finding artists we like and try to keep their information for later use. The biggest thing we look for, however, is how good the work you can do in a short amount of time is. Making games is always on a time crunch so you gotta be quick. When we reach out to an artist we like to be very upfront. we take a few of their pieces that stand out to us and link it in the email, telling them what aspects we like about their work and how we would like to use it in our game. we then tell them what the game is about and wonder if they would be interested in working on the project with us. After that we tell them what the budget is and go from there.
I know lots of creatives use Pinterest as a sounding board for ideas. How important is it for your research and has it replaced more traditional methods for you?
So Pinterest is a site that allows you to make something called a "Board" these boards can have any number of things pinned to them. So for instance, one of the big projects I worked on recently was our Reavers of Midgard Kickstarter. I went on Pinterest because I knew the style I wanted to go with. At the top of the page I wanted this Carved wood header with all these cool runes and knot work and dragon heads.
Obviously I can't just pull that stuff out of my head and make it accurate. Most people can't haha. So I created a board called Viking stuff and then started searching for things like "Carved viking stuff" "viking symbols" "norse mythology" "viking ships" etc. then from there I started making all the art for the page. This method helps me stay consistent with the final outcome and helps me capture the feel of what I am trying to do.
If you don't use Pinterest you are doing yourself a disservice. It is so incredibly useful and you can find a lot of inspiration on there.
How do you think wearing many hats in your job, such as graphic design, illustration and creative director work has changed your perspective on each role?
Well, at first hand, I thought working for a game company would be me sitting in a cubicle, drawing characters and monsters and items and whatnot all day long. That is very much not the case. I do all of that (minus the cubicle part), but also I answer emails, attend meetings, do graphics , make icons, sketch out crappy looking boxes for components, crawl through Pinterest constantly, play prototypes, make kickstarters, update graphics, make advertisements, and anything else that needs visuals. All of that happens at the same time haha. You really have to be good at time management. At the beginning of all this I was not the best at it but you really just kind of HAVE to learn it. Like, sink or swim.
I remember at one point in time I was working on a Kickstarter, making graphics for 2 other games, AND doing the art for another game. It was pretty stressful but you have to get use to cutting down vines one at a time, eventually you start to see a clearing ahead. I get way less stressed now than I used to and it is starting to become second nature.
What do you do to ensure you can stay on top of things, how do you prioritize and structure your daily or weekly workflow?
Well to be completely honest, this work is very chaotic. Work on this, now work on that, oh! also work on this while you are doing that, and then do these two things. It is a lot to keep up with. Therefore, I use a LOT of sticky notes, and also this cool pad of paper with cats on it :).
In order to keep things prioritized, however, there is a lot of making lists after talking with my boss and coworkers. We also use a system called Trello. It's a project management system based around making checklists and applying due dates on specifics parts of projects. I also get a lot of requests in email format so i use a small priority system in there as well.
You mention the timescales being quite short for turning around artwork on a board game project. Could you give us an idea of how long we're talking and how much art gets produced within that time?
This is a really good question and it is also very difficult to answer. This sort of thing varies from artist to artist. Let's take Reavers of Midgard for example. Reavers has a ton of BEAUTIFUL art by Yaroslav Radeckyi and let me tell you this guy is FAST. We were so fortunate to have him work on that game because he just pumps this stuff out. I'm talking full illustrations in like, 2 days. That is very fast compared to a lot of illustrators.
When we start this process we usually try to find different people with the same style we are looking for. We ask them some questions and really like to dwell on the "how fast can you do something like this?" referring to one of their pieces we like. Most of the time they say it was faster than it actually probably took but that's fine as long as it is close. You have to remember they are trying to sell themselves. So, depending on what their answer is we use that to gauge the time frame of what we expect the art turnaround to be. We always give some cushion room as well for our sake.
So lets say if we tasked Yaroslav with 50 illustrations and he can do let's say 3-5 a week. we would probably give him 12-13 weeks for the project. if we need the project done faster, we would get multiple people on it. and cut that time down to a third. Here's the thing, Illustration takes time, and when you understand that, there is less pressure.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to work in the industry?
I believe that the best thing you should do is find out exactly what you want to do, go to your favorite games on your shelf, read who all made the game and reach out to those people in a humble way.
Just simply say something like "hey, I love your games and I would love to get into the industry myself, what kind of first steps did you take to get to where you are now?". Most people are nice and will email you back. Though, it might take awhile because we are always busy!
People love being complimented on their work and I believe that is the best way to start a conversation. Also, if you are an artist, I suggest not sending them your art asking "what do you think about my art?" I can answer that question for you right now, What do YOU think about your art? If your art comes into the conversation organically then by all means feel free to share :)
If you think you have the skills necessary to do this, then put on your best suit and put together a great portfolio and start sending it out!
What are some non-game related creations (books, music, movies, etc) that you’re currently enjoying?
RETRO WAVEEEEEEEEE!!! I love this genre of music right now and it puts me in such a good mindset for creating.
My spotify playlist for this is really cool if you want to check it out! it's called Session:Neon. Musical artist suggestions - Mitch Murder, The Midnight, Timecop1983, FM-84, Kalax, Gunship. I also like this super happy EMD stuff lately likeeeee AIKA, HoneyComeBear, Cosmicosmo, succducc, JVNA, dark cat, Snail's House.
I'm a kid at heart so this really positive sounding stuff really speaks to me and I listened to a lot of this stuff while creating all of the art and graphics for Creatures and Cupcakes.
Do you have any recent projects, or upcoming that you’d like (or are able) to tell us about?
Yeah! We have just recently released Creatures and Cupcakes, Feelinks, and Bushido. Run Fight or Die! And Tsukuyumi: Full Moon Down will be released shortly. Also, we are doing Kickstarters for 2 big games you NEED to look out for all coming VERY soon:
After the Empire - A Tower Defense, Worker Placement game set in the Middle Ages.
Science or Die! - A Real Time Dexterity game where players design and build cures to save the world from disease.
This is going to be a killer year for Grey Fox Games so keep your eyes peeled!
Finally, if we’d like to see more of you and your work, where can we find you?
All images supplied by Tyler Myatt.
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