Bartłomiej Kordowski: Art in Board Games #51

Bartłomiej Kordowski: Art in Board Games #51

Editors note: This interview was conducted earlier in the year but has taken a while longer than usual to appear on the site. I’m very happy to finally get to share mine and Bartłomiej’s chat. I hope you enjoy and if you have any questions don’t forget to leave them in the comments below.

Hi Bartłomiej, 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?

Hello! I'm very glad to share my passions with you. Together with my family, wife Natalia and two little girls, we live in Toruń in Poland. The youngest daughter Eliza is now two years old and the older Lidia is four and a half years old. For over four years my passion is to be a cool dad. My second passion is painting which I've been doing from a young age and I'm currently working as a board games illustrator.

So how did you first get involved in making board games?

During my studies I painted a few illustrations for a collective card game "Veto". It was my first contact with a board game publisher. I had a lot of freedom in this creation so I could practice and develop my skills. At the time I bought my first tablet and I made my switch to digital art. Then after my studies ended, I started working for advertising and illustration agency. I have been working on many different projects from pizzeria leaflets, business cards to book covers and computer game arts. 

After a few years I decided to look for my own jobs and I began working as a freelance illustrator. This, which I didn't mention earlier, helped me in my other passion which is board games. I love gaming and this is one of the nicest ways to spend time in good company. This is why I decided to send my portfolio to publishers and I got lucky. I managed to combine work with pleasure. At that time "Rebel" publishing house was looking for a new guy in the industry and it fell to me. I received a work order for my first big project - the Dream Home board game and from the beginning I was in constant contact with Rafał Szczepkowski a Game Development Coordinator at that time. He showed me in from the kitchen (back door) of this game industry and gave me a lot of good advice and tips. 

Working on Dream Home took a long time. From the start to the end of the project it had been a year. I've never had to do over a hundred illustrations before, design layouts, box, tokens, the first player marker and so on. It was hard but with the aid of my wife (she is also an illustrator) we finished Dream Home. Many of the details which can be found in rooms were painted by Natalia. Working on this project was a big lesson for me and through this experience I realized how much time every phase of work consumes and also what rules support the visual side of board games.

Did the experience on Dream Home change how you approached your next projects?

In few aspects yes. First of all, I have become more aware of how to spread my time across the work and how fast I need to work too. Knowing how much time to spend on the box cover, how long on components I can therefore more precisely establish when my work will end end.  My biggest challenge is the cover art and I'm always stressed because I know how important this is for developers. That's why I try to complete the cover concept first. Everything else is pure pleasure.

You've worked on a number of games released this year which have featured a collection of artists work. What do you think the major differences are when working as a solo artist compared to being part of a team of artists on a board game?

That is true, this year I have been working on a couple of team projects. There were projects where I had to simply adjust my work to the graphics prepared earlier and I had to work on their basis. This is harder but fortunately, that doesn't happen very often. In other projects where I was part of the team, each artist watched over a different aspect of the board game. So it was with the Spy Club board game. I illustrated cards, characters, the box cover and other artists were responsible for layouts, typography, compositions, game visualization, commercial, printing etc.

Of course, all these things make sense if there is an art director. Someone who watches over everything and has a vision of how a particular game should look, selecting the right people and paying attention to graphical coherency. This is very important and in the case of Spy Club, those people were Jason Kingsley and Randy Hoyt. I think that such an approach to the subject is the best way in big and time-consuming projects.

Working as a solo illustrator you have more control over the visual side of a board game. It's a bit more challenging because you need to take care of almost all graphic elements, but personally, I like this way better. I often choose what the board game will look like and this brings me greater satisfaction. In my case, these are typically small games such as Blossoms, Staropolski Wokabularz (Old Polishlexicon), O kocie w kłopocie (Cat in trouble).

One of those collaborative projects was Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig, the recent Stonemaier Games, and Bezier Games release. Can you tell us more about your role in this project?

It was a special situation and my role was limited to illustrating the box cover. When Jamey Stegmaier first time contacted me he offered me to join the team working on the art for the room tiles. Unfortunately at that time I was working on Spy Club and our timing didn't fit. However, we made a deal that I would end up working on the front cover and title. I had an insight into all illustrations showing the rooms of castles so I could look at them to get into the atmosphere. Based on the description from Jamey, combined with the room art I started working on the cover and the final illustration is inspired by the game tile themes. I was very happy about this project,  it was one of the most interesting jobs I’ve recently had, all the more, I love to paint landscapes.

Having worked on a number of board game box covers are there any key elements you try to include and do you think the box needs to reflect the game inside?

I think that most of all the box cover art should put you into the game vibe. If we also add an interesting style and great colors... it's perfect! That kind of illustration stays in the mind and causes us to want to know more about the game. At least it does for me. Recently I was hypnotized by the box cover and graphic art for Feudum made by Justine Schultz, so much that I decided to buy a game on KS version for the first time. In the case of the illustrations I make, the publishers usually already have some idea of what should be placed on the cover. For example, if I get a brief that it should be a sweet, friendly kitty game but the arrangement of the whole scene belongs to me then I always try to sneak a piece of story in background and details to pull the viewer into the game world.

With Spy Club, you mention the game having strong art direction to hold it together. Could you talk us through the direction you were given and how this helped you to create more cohesive illustrations?

My work on Spy Club began with creating a deck of Clue cards that were shared into six categories: Crime, Motive, Suspect, Location, Object and Distractions. Certainly the subject of the illustrations was important and I was supposed to illustrate each subject but I had a wide margin of discretion with how I did this. The game mechanics and usability were the most important factors and required that the categories should be clearly different from each other.

That point was well tested by the publisher and the same solution was given by the game prototype. Graphics from each category have their own color code (for example the predominant color for locations is green). For the illustrations used on campaign cards there were no restrictions so in that case when layout was put all together it was connected with the main characters and their hobby. The game prototype also outlined the direction of iconography and textures. I think that such preparation of game elements and a good brief make it possible to better understand the game objectives and facilitate the work in graphic arrangements. In my view it is the key to a coherent and attractive product.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to work as an artist?

Looking at my current work I see that I still have a long way to achieve the level I wish to. It's a little disheartening, but the good thing is that looking at my older works I can see how they are evolving and that there is a progress. So my advice is don't lose your confidence and keep drawing. Creating is the best work ever.

What are some non-game related creations (books, music, movies, etc) that you’re currently enjoying?

I'm a movie fan and I love movie soundtracks, so while working I often turn on a list of different soundtracks, also those from computer games. Most commonly on my list is Bladerunner, music from Gothic series or Machinarium. But recently youtube is successfully giving me a whole gallery of lo-fi hip hop/study/chill/homework music radio that put me in a good mood for the day. From time to time I also listen to the board game video reviews such as Dice Tower, Rhadho, and local things like PoGraMy, GambitTV to find out a little more about new games. After work, in my mind there are only my children.

Do you have any current projects underway, or coming up that you’d like (or are able) to tell us about? 

There is one project which me and my wife just finished late last year called Wodny szlak (Waterway) by FoxGames publishing and it should be in store this year in Poland but I believe that in time this will be also released in other countries. It's a family game known as "My first tile drafting game" in which you build a river path, gather resources like wood or wheat and ship them to lumber mills and water mills. We love tile games and it was an obvious fun to illustrate those small landscapes with snaking river. On another recent project we have also had tiles to illustrate but this time it’s about building sandcastles. As part of our research we grabbed a bucket and shovels and moved to the beach.

Finally, if we’d like to see more of you and your work, where can we find you? 

You can find my work here at ArtStation website.

Thanks for taking the time to chat to me Bartłomiej Kordowski.

All images supplied by and copyright of Bartłomiej Kordowski.

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