Gil - Tell us a little bit about yourself. When did you start to work with illustrations and how this path led you to board games?
I started my working life in a completely different setting: my father had a building enterprise, so I "had" to take studies for working whit him and had to go Architecture instead of the Art Academy I wanted to do. I was young, and my family traditions were strong and so I took that way. But since I liked art, graphic design, story, and fiction from my childhood, I soon found a way to make the job I wanted to do, even if it implied earning much less that what I could earn by working in the building business: I started to work as art junior, and then later as art director, for a communication/branding company.
I had the opportunity to learn a lot, and used all my free time self-training on graphic design, web design, colours, art, and digital drawing.
That gave me the opportunity to restart drawing. After some years, the company I worked whit had financial problems, and finally closed, so I had to start again alone, searching for private clients. It's been hard, but in the end I found some fixed clients.
In the meanwhile, I'm always been interested in games: I've created a RPG (roleplaying game) that I will try to publish in the next months, and also some boardgames, you can see an unpublished one with my graphics here: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/111240/space-commander. And a published one, without my graphics (unfortunately, but that was the other author choice to have an external illustrator, shame on him :P), that's getting some positive reviews here: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/127282/al-rashid.
So, while I was playtesting my games at several games fairs, I had the opportunity to know some game designers willing to self-publish their games, which needed a graphic designer and some illustrations: I had already good esperience in graphic design at that point, and has done something in the illustration department too, I offered to do both at a competitive price, just for the fun to do it, and also to get maybe more contacts in that industry. So my first client was Massimo Pesce, with his "Palio of Siena" game (cover by me here:
Massimo Pesce then presented me to Ghenos Games, a little italian editor which needed a graphic artist for finishing a game...and so it started my first continuative collaboration on the boardgame illustration and graphic business! Soon Ghenos Games got to trust me and my skills, and let me take on all their projects, both for the graphic, packaging and also fair preparations/graphics, and illustrations for covers, boards, cards, and so on. After that, I got contacts with some other italian editors, and I hope to get, sooner or later, to some international or European game company.
You can see most of my commissions in this market here: http://erebus74.deviantart.com/gallery/24833675
Gil - How many games have you done the artwork for, and in which projects are you working right now?
Let me remember...
For self-publishing designers, I've done: Palio (Massimo Pesce), Rendez-vous (Giuseppe di Giovanni), knights and wang-zi (Nicola Castellini)
For GHENOS GAMES: Lupin the IIIrd, Lupin the IIIrd: the expansion#1, Lamborghini, Leader 1:Hell of the North, Wild - the Boardgame, "Il Gioco dei Telefilm", Swordfish.
For myself: SPACE COMMANDER (yet to be finished, until I find someone to publish it :D), and "SIGNORI DEL FATO" (Lords of Fate, my rpg on Angels, Demons, Titans and myths). The last is a big project, you can see a lot of illustrations on my website about it.
At the moment I'm working on:
- GIOCHI UNITI: Provincia Romana (almost Finished, maybe the name will be changed in the end printing, still evaluating it)
- GOTHA GAMES: Race! (almost finished too)
- OTHER: Space Saga (by Pierluca Zizzi)
Gil - Your style varies from the more “serious” or to the more cartoonish, how do you coordinate the line of work for the different styles of board games?
Personally I prefer a semi-realistic style, with a bit of painting in it and vivid colors, but I try to stay close to what the editor asks to me and also I try to learn and explore new styles as much as I can: it's part of the fun and learning process I think. Every time I'm asked for a very different style, I try to see as much work from other illustrators and published works as I can. That way, I can understand what the editor wants, and I can try to understand what makes the style different: a more vivid color scheme, the cut of the images, the poses, and so on.
I also try to adapt my style to the client requests: sometime is simple, sometime is harder, and maybe I'm not always 100% succesful, but for example I find difficult to make a true "cartoon", because I've had not a classic comics course, so I find it simpler to draw something that it's "real" or at least have some real reference. But I'm also trying to find the time to try some cartoons, since it's often requested nowadays.
Wish I studied as a comic artist when I was younger, it would really had helped :D
Anyway, every graphic projects starts with a briefing with the client to understand it's idea about what he wants, and what style he likes: that's an habit from graphic design and communication, but it's always useful since the better you understand the client, the better you can draw to his liking. It's not always possible as I said. For example, for "Provincia Romana" I was asked to do more than 60 cards illustrations of roman buildings. Initially I was asked to make them seem like a "3D" game. So I made several paintings to find the right style. In the end, the client beetween http://erebus74.deviantart.com/art/Roman-Armory and choosed the latter style, since it was more 3D in his eyes, even if I liked much more the other style for a game.
While working on the various illustrations, I found myself drifting again to my more natural style, because I like to paint "realistically" and forcing a 3D assonometric prospective even on little subject seemed a bit forced to me. But probably I will have to correct or redo those illustrations, since the client told me he prefers anyway to have always the same view, like in a videogame.
It's not my work to question the client decisions, I just make suggestions: usually an illustrator never does that, but as a graphic designer I'm used in suggesting since I try to keep me informed on the last trends not only in game design styles, but also in general design and fashion.
Gil - Besides board games, do you do illustrations for any other media?
Yes, I like to do digital paintings for canvas prints, that I use to decorate my house: sometime are paintings, something are photomanipulations, it depends. For my old kitchen for example, I've done a vertical panel 3mt high for 80 cm wide, with some green grapes, water, cocktails and fruits, to go togheter with my green furnitures.
For work, I've also done illustrations for various websites, and often have to "paint" or "photomanipulate" for various reasons/clients for advertising: for example, I had to correct some wine bottles photos to make them all alike for a catalogue of wines, I maked some cartoons characters for a wedding planner site, and I painted a romantic couple for a wedding book of photos, and so on.
Then I make a lot of drawings just for fun, for learning, or for my rpg I already spoke about: I really like painting "Mythics" subjects!
I also try to paint with color oils or acrylics, and do some pencil drawing, but usually I have time for that only in the holidays :(
Gil - where do you get your inspiration and how do you do the research for your drawings?
I think that researching sometime is the longest part of my work: I search the internet both for cultural information on what I want to paint (for example, before painting Seth I researched it's depiction in egyptian myths in several places, from wikipedia to specialized sites on myths, and also on my books about egyptian religion), and for images related to him.
For painting the cars illustrations for "Race!", I searched A LOT of images and videos about real F1 cars of the '80 years (since the game is on that years), and since there aren't enough because most of the images you find are recent and so sport recent cars, I had to "extrapolate" from them: referee on the "pose" of a car making a turn, then referee from a static model of a 1980 car to see it's mechanic structure, and another to see the colors of that brand of cars in those years, and so on.
For inspiration, I always look both at old time and modern painters, both on traditional media and digital, and you can see most of them in my "favourites" folder on Deviant Art (http://erebus74.deviantart.com/favourites/) and also for traditional media on pinterest ( http://pinterest.com/erebus74/art-i-love/ ). The artists that most inspire me are: Craig Mullings, Caravaggio, Frank Frazetta, James Ryman, Steve Argyle, Claude Monet, Van Gogh, and a lot of others.
Gil - How do you credit the success of a game to its illustrations? How important they are to the success of a game?
First of all the cover and also the board and graphics elements of a game, really help to make the gamers "like" it: if the graphics are done well, they feel the "story" behind the game and get involved emotionally in it, and that helps them decide to buy/like it or at least suggest it to others.
Then, there is the "selling" of the product to the distributors: the editors often get only to explain them the basics of the game, and the cover and graphics help really much to sell it, because the distributor sometime has no even idea of the mechanics, and decides on his "feeling" about the game. It depends on a variety of factors, but the illustrations and overal graphic idea are important!
For example, "Swordfish", a new game of Ghenos Games about swordfish fishing in the north atlantic, got sold to America and Canada because of the illustration of important points of interestest of various american/coastal cities, which emotionally involved the potential buyer, and also the cover wich "explained" the mood and idea of the game BEFORE they even tried it!
So, I think graphics are REALLY important for a game, almost as much as the game rules design: just a little less, because if you have a game with nice graphics and horrible rules, you won't get to play it twice :P
Gil - Which are your favorite games and your favorite games designers?
I like several games and genres, but the ones I liked more in the last years are: Eclipse (sci-fi strategy, not perfect graphics but they convey the sci-fi theme well), Command&Colors Ancients (tactical historical battles of ancient times), A Game of Thrones (a bit too long for my tastes, I like a game I can finish in under 2-3 hours at most, but I enjoy it's backstabbing and diplomacy and it's art too), Race for the Galaxy (sci-fi fast card game, I enjoy it's theme even if I think the graphics are sometime good, sometime less, but anyway they "deliver" enough to be liked: that's tells me a bit that "effective" design/graphics don't need to be "perfect" but more "on theme"), Merchants & Marauders (another game that's too long and has some design flaws, but the graphics and the mood are really enjoyable if you like pirates), Pandemic (really simple graphics, but effective, and a good cooperative game), DIXIT (My "perfect" party game: fantasy, chatting, and intelligent design. I also love the graphics, because they are "onirics" and not your "usual" expected "cartoon" or "realistic" style). There are a lot of others of course, but it would take too much to talk about them all ^_^
For game designers, I can't tell I have a "preferred" one, because I think good designers can make games I like but also others I don't like: for me gaming is about "theme" and "enjoyment", and then also about "rules design" and "winning/gaming". So there are several factors that work togheter to make me like it, and the design of the rules alone isn't usually sufficient.
For example, I can tell Knizia makes good rules after playing and seeing several of his games, but I enjoy few of them because they feel a bit "cold" to me.
I prefer to evaluate the single games than the game designers :)
Gil - Do you think that board games can be use for an education purpose?
Absolutely. And also role playing games. I think expecially historical games, and also those depicting modern society problems or "educational" on purpose games, can be very educative.
Also I think that enjoying a game together with the family is much educative: the social and emotional interaction of gaming togheter often makes people growth or learn things about others they never known.
This is expecially true of roleplaying games: I've learnt things about friends and their nature while playing, that they kept hidden inside in real life.
Also strategic and competitive gaming make people use the brain and think, and that's always educative.
And, finally, you can, for example, learn a lot on Rome while playing "Republic of Rome", and it will sometime remain more clear in your mind than just studying it. Maybe playing a game on arguments one is studying can also help "memorize" them better.
Gil - What you know about Portugal? Have you ever visited Portugal?
I've traveled little in my life outside Italy (while I traveled much INSIDE Italy), mostly because I had not the opportunity or money at the right time, and also because I'm a bit of a lazy "house-lover" who likes to go in the places he knows and likes much.I enjoy the portuguese architecture (I studied it together with other european countries in my architecture studies), and it's "navigators and explorers" attitude that transformed in a modern culture open to the strangers and new ideas. Also, Portugal, like Spain and Italy, has seen several historic dominations and cultural influences, and that translates in cultural variety and deep history. I feel the "latin" people have much in common in the way of living life because of that: it's a generalization, but French and German people are culturally more different minded from Italians than Spanish or Portuguese people.
I enojy sea much, but lived all my life in non coastal areas, except for the holidays which I often do in southern italy (my parents come from there, and we have a nice villa in a marvellous place called "Maratea"), and your coasts remember me much of that place.
Also, the Azores have been often associated whit the Altantis myth, and always had a fascination for them: sooner or later I will have to make a tour to see them!
Gil - Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, and we hope to see many more of your artwork in the future.