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?
My first half of my life was spent in Maryland near the Chesapeake Bay fishing for their best crabs. As a young child I always have this fascination to draw on any blank space like my own bedroom walls to satisfied my wild and busy imagination. Growing up with dyslexia through my young school life had pushed me more into drawing as an easy excuse to escape from the difficult school assignments. I later found out that the school would report to my family that my future, at best, would be a janitor mopping floors if I continue this habit in class. My parents refused to believe this and found a program specialized to help children with dyslexia. Through the rest of my elementary studies I stayed with a small group of classmates and managed to befriend another classmate, who I could draw with at lunchtime or after class. Later Star Wars became a fascination which I shared with my new friend, whom I would compete with to see who could draw the best Star Wars characters.
Through the last years of high school I realized my future will be with art. So I perfect this idea through art colleges. After five years I graduated with honors from Maryland Institute College of Art in 1991. But my mistake was not excepting the non- paying interns doing the school years and found myself working with landscaping and shelving books at a book store for the first few years. I remember working at these book stores and shelving those awesome covers by Jim Burns, Michael Whelan, Ken Kelly, Easley and Larry Elmore and I would imagine myself sharing the shelf with these great illustrators. It was both frustrating and motivating and so I would go home every evening after work and paint into the wee hours.
My luck started to change in ‘94 when Avalon Hill game company wanted to buy one of my military pieces of Rommel the “Desert Fox” which they saw on a promo sheet I sent out…although it was “only” meant to hang on a wall as decoration for the CEO, not as a game cover.
Now that I had their attention and found that they were big on military art for their war game products I started to research the subject more and painted pieces that would later get my foot in the door for an interview that gained me a position later that year. The pay wasn’t great plus it was a work for hire contract, but what mattered more to me was exposure, published work, and commercial art experience, and it also allowed me to indulge my other passion, gaming.
Avalon Hill is where I truly perfected my traditional and commercial art skills. They promoted me to their lead illustrator and allowed me to take full control of illustrating game packages such as “Advance Squad Leader,” “Diplomacy,” “Machiavelli,” “Hannibal,” “Successor,” “Titan Arena” and “Age of Renaissance”.
Later, in 1998 I accept to go onboard with a computer game company called Talonsoft. Here is where I really dug in deep with various computer software, like Bryce, 3Ds Max, Adobe Illustrator, in addition to learning new tricks with Adobe Photoshop and mastering my Bryce 3D. I started to play around more with 3D program, which allowed me to rotate my scene and importing figure models to real environment settings. I was then able to render them to a psd file for that final 2D painting with a Wacom tablet in Photoshop. Now this new method of making art became really fun and working for a game company and seeing your art being played was very rewarding.
Two years after joining Talonsoft, we merged with Take Two Interactive and I went from in-game artist to their game cover artist and published award winning titles like “East Front,” “West Front,” “Century of War,” “Age of Sail,” “Vietcong,” “Tropico” and “Railroad Tycoon 3”.
In 2001 the company started to down size and my own position was being threatened, so once again I started freelancing and distributing promos. By 2003 I was one of the last few to be laid off and that’s when I decided it’s time to be my own boss.
With a lot of help from my wife and family we worked on a business plan to incorporate my business to KMI Studio, LLC and took on some reliable clients, which remain to this day. Not committing myself to one genre, I accepted a mix of illustration jobs from book covers to advertisement, greeting cards, editorial for magazines and, of course, the gaming industry.
GiL - How many games have you done the artwork for, and in which projects are you working right now?
Oh gosh, I’m guessing around 75 board game titles and probably around 25 computer/DS games. A bulk of these game titles are covers and board art only, but in the mix are the whole shebang. Games like “Age of Renaissance” (which is my favorite game to play), my new one “Triassic Terror”, (got to love those Dinos), Spectral Rail and a self published game called “Dragon Valley”.
Others may be just a card art for Dominion, Triking Games or just a cover and board for games like “Provincia Romana” by Giochi Uniti, “Arkham Horror” by Fantasy Flight and “Zombies” by Twilight Creation. Currently I’m working on a very exciting assignment for Stratelibri Division of their “Blue Max” expansion of the WWI biplanes.
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?
As an illustrator it is important to illustrate what the client wants and to fit this style to the subject of the assignment. This is a business and the day I want to paint in my own style will be my retiring time as a fine artist not a commercial artist. Now most successful illustrator will have a portfolio that consists with one style for marketing purpose. This is to grab client’s attention and recognition but not limiting this style for job assignments. Yes, we may have this consisting style mainly because we were hired for it but we can and do other styles when needed.
GiL - Besides board games, do you do illustrations for any other media?
Yes, and to keep my business alive it is important to not stick with one media. I believe it is a good idea to hit all categories, when one fall short the other picks up. I’m an illustrator who creates images for publication that needs to communicate to the customers. When I venture out of in-house jobs from the gaming industry I knew it would be important to keep myself busy with work by accepting other media. I love freelancing more than a in house job, this allows me to set my own salary, wake up to no morning alarms, go to places when I want and where I want without telling a in house boss and most of all I work from home. My morning traffic are my dogs.
I accept other media such as mass market book publisher like Baen Books and Simon and Schuster. I try to keep busy with editorial pieces just about every other month with National Geographic, The Military Officer magazine and computer covers for Activision, EA, ID and 3D Realm and if a day or two open up I’ll fill those in with some work for the greeting card industry. This eclectic mix of clients has kept me on my creative toes.
GiL - where do you get your inspiration and how do you do the research for your drawings?
Well this busy head of mine is constantly thinking of ideas. This is the longest part of the job is coming up with a great idea and researching that subject matter. You want to be original every time and to do this I start by searching the internet then I force myself to drive to the library (didn’t use to be a problem until Google). It is good to get out of the home studio for a library or a bookstore and check out the new releases. Also depending on the subject matter especially historical assignment which we need accuracy would require some good research in that department in a bookstore or library. Movies can help but it usually don’t line up with my assignment. Visiting to some museums would work, which was really nice when I use to live near Washington D.C. It is really important that you get your research correct; it is a good way to lose a client if you incorrectly illustrate a German King Tiger tank for a WWII game that is on a beach head landing at Iwo Jima with some American Marines. Man, how embarrassing would that be.
GiL - How do you credit the success of a game to its illustrations? How important they are to the success of a game?
As a gamer I believe in first impression to jump into a new game. I belong to a game club who are not artist and they to agree that it should look attractive for them to even get involve to a new game. A box cover can tell a whole lot in a split second from a shelf which is very important to game publisher and to that passing customer who want a quick answer to what he or she is looking at. My take is if the art is bad to look at or boring how would you even want to play. Image is a huge part it’s what we are doing constantly when you are playing a game. Yes the mechanics of a game can be the most important part but you need that selling visual part to even suck you into a game. It’s like a dinner menu that has picture of the food versus just text. I’ll have what she is eating it looks good. This is why I think some movie selection works better with the covers than movies with just a text list. It’s too much work to read all that stuff rather than a picture that is doing the work for you.
GiL - Which are your favorite games and your favorite games designers?
Hmm, my number one favorite game is “Age of Renaissance” published by Avalon Hill. It may be a bit long for most folks but a long game is more rewarding to win. This game has a bit of diplomacy, historical elements, conquering territory and buying advances for your nation. This game is perfect for table top as you can negotiate with other player or try to intimidate others for your own benefit. But be careful you want to stay as friends and not make real enemies. My other favorite game is the new Axis and Allies WWII series. Another long game but players can actually leave or jump in or this can be a team base game. My third best is Air Baron which has to do with the United States airline industry. These three are my first choice game but really I like many game and try to play a new one each week. For something quick and less luck or a no dice game would be the Eurogame style, like Power Grid or Pillars of the Earth (absolutely love the artwork on this one). Far as game designers would be Don Greenwood, Jared Scarborough, Ben Knight and Peter Hawes. Sorry for not naming them all but it’s a start.
GiL - Do you think that board games can be use for an education purpose?
I believe so. Games where you interact with others can improve your social skills. I notice kids who play with computer game alone have trouble when it come to table top games. They lose their focus too soon and the lack of diplomacy, communication or negotiation with other players. A game that requires strategic thinking forces you to think which is in a real life scenario like a Leader who is defending his nation. Some of these rule books are novels and have a student read through a game manual then come to class to explain to a few group of kids of how this game works is identical to any normal class assignment. It take reading and understanding what you read then explain and play out from what you read is to me an educational experience. Board game you actual need basic math skills Also it is a way to learn how to be a good loser and learn how to win without any guilt. I wished my teacher had made this type of assignment for me when I was struggling in class. This has motivation and excitement which would force me into reading so we can get together and play it out. The stuff I was reading in school had zero interest mix with boredom that didn’t inspire me. A mix of fun is the motivator.
GiL - What you know about Portugal? Have you ever visited Portugal?
Ah shucks I was hoping that this interview would take place in Portugal. I think the internet killed that possibility. Nope never visited Portugal but I hope you would think of me for any future invitation so we can enjoy together your fine food and wine with our favorite board game. I’m very fond of your castles and how globalized and peaceful your nation has become. Maybe it has something to do with it being on the Iberian Peninsula as the most western country of Europe.
GiL - Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, and we hope to see many more of your artwork in the future.
You are welcome and yes I love what I do so you should see more. It’s a good feeling to turn a hobby into a working career and to top it off it’s with my other passion, games.