The artist is kind of the unsung hero of the board game world. The designers rightly get the credit for coming up with the mechanisms and making a game interesting. The publishers get the credit for component quality and finding those quality game designs. However, despite people constantly saying how important art is to a game experience, I think the artists are far less known in the community. So this edition of The Eleven is an attempt to shed some light on some artists I think are worth knowing.
Of course, this list is NOT complrehensive – there are a LOT of great artists out there. I’m limiting it to eleven that I am aware of, and who have enough of a catalog to establish some trends. I’ve created a GeekList at BGG that highlights five games from each artist, and also gives you a link to their artist page. Go check it out, and by all means tell me of some that I missed.
John Ariosa is an American artist best known for his work with Plaid Hat Games. He appeared on the board game scene in 2009 with the release of Summoner Wars, the first release from Plaid Hat. He’s been designing the characters for the different factions ever since. He’s also worked on other Plaid Hat releases like Dungeon Run, Mice and Mystics, City of Remnants, and Bioshock Infinite. Outside of Plaid Hat, he’s worked on Tooth & Nail: Factions, as well as the upcoming games Battle for York and The Valkyrie Incident.
The thing I like the most about Ariosa as an artist is his character work. With a game like Summoner Wars, there are a lot of characters to deal with and they all have to look different. Each faction has to be different than the others, and while people in the faction can look similar, they all need their own character. Ariosa brings this to a lot of the games he works on – I like the monsters in Dungeon Run, the different animals in Tooth & Nail are pretty cool, and he even managed to bring some non-fantasy historical sensibilities to the people in Battle for York. Mice and Mystics is probably his best work to date – not only are the mice and other vermin well designed, but the floorscapes are just wonderful to behold. He used light and dark to great effect on each tile. Good stuff.
John Ariosa’s website is http://www.johnariosa.com/.
Josh Cappel is an American artist that has been doing illustrations for a wide variety of games. His first credited game that I’m pretty sure he did the original art for is 2005’s Conquest of the Fallen Lands. He did some work specifically with Z-Man Games, doing the art for games like 1960: The Making of the President, Pandemic, Campaign Manager 2008, Endeavor, and even his own design, Wasabi! He’s done three games for Tasty Minstrel (Terra Nova, Belfort, and Kings of Air and Steam) and two for Jolly Roger (Founding Fathers and Pirates vs. Dinosaurs), as well as some other freelance projects (like Norenbrec, Garden Dice, and New Amsterdam).
Cappel has a pretty clean style. That’s really the first thing I think about when I look at his drawings. There are no lines out of place, and everything is usually pretty bright and clear. He can also switch pretty easily from cartoony and silly drawings in stuff like Belfort or Pirates vs. Dinosaurs to much more serious fare like Founding Fathers and 1960. He has a good eye for depth, and is able to convey a lot of things going on because of it. And, while I wasn’t really a big fan of the gameplay in Wasabi!, I do think the art and components of the game were amazing.
Josh Cappel’s website is http://www.joshuacappel.com/.
David Cochard is a French artist who is best known for his work with Vlaada Chvátil, and specifically on the games Dungeon Lords and Dungeon Petz. His first credit in the BGG database is a game called King Me! from 1998, and his first collaboration with Chvátil came on 2005’s Merry Men of Sherwood. Since then, he has done the art for other Czech Games, specifically Goblins Inc. and Travel Blog. He also contributed art to Settlers of America, Himalaya, Key Largo, and Khan.
Cochard doesn’t have a huge catalog of games that he’s worked on so far, but he has shown that he has a good eye for detail and creativity of design. In fact, I think I read somewhere that Vlaada Chvátil designed Dungeon Petz specifically to see what Cochard could do with it. If you look at the boards for Dungeon Petz and Dungeon Lords, there are a ton of little details in the background, little touches that could easily be ignored, but which completely add to the atmosphere. As he becomes more well know, I expect we’ll see a lot more David Cochard art going forward.
David Cochard’s website is http://deko.apshram.net/illustraworld/.
Miguel Coimbra is a French artist who has established a name for himself by illustrating some of the most successful games in the hobby. As far as I can tell, he’s been doing art for games since 2005, contributing to Gravediggers, BattleLore, and the Storm of Swords expansion for A Game of Thrones. In 2008, his first big project that really gave people an idea of what he could do was Giants for Matagot. And then came Small World in 2009. And then came 7 Wonders in 2010. He also did art for The Adventurers, Cyclades, Cargo Noir, Cadwallon: City of Thieves, Sky Traders, City of Horror, Sails to Steam, and the upcoming Mythos Tales.
Coimbra is good at the long view. In looking at some of his more “serious” art, as in 7 Wonders and Cyclades, he really thrives at giving a long view. The clouds in Cyclades give a sense of height, and the panoramic views in 7 Wonders give you a sense of scope. He’s also good at less serious stuff, as in Small World and Cargo Noir, which still gives off a kind of epic feel. I look forward to seeing what else is coming from Coimbra in the future.
Miguel Coimbra’s website is http://www.miguelcoimbra.com/.
Julien Delval is yet another French artist, best known for his work with Days of Wonder. He’s been working on game art since the mid-90s, contributing to games like Guildes, Citadels, and Draco & Co. However, beginning in 2002, he began a fruitful collaboration with Days of Wonder, doing art for Fist of Dragonstones, Mystery of the Abbey, Pirates Cove, the Ticket to Ride series, Shadows over Camelot, BattleLore, Cleopatra and the Society of Architects, Colosseum, Mystery Express, and the upcoming Relic Runners. He’s also worked with other companies like alea (contributing to Witch’s Brew, Macao, The Castles of Burgundy, and Saint Malo), Matagot (Felinia), Rio Grande (one of many artists for Dominion), and Funforge (Illusio).
One thing that strikes me about Delval’s work is how good he is at late 19th century/early 20th century characterizations. If you want someone to illustrate your game set in that time period, I’d say he’s your guy. Games like Ticket to Ride, Illusio, and Mystery Express show this off. However, he’s also shown himself to be good at fantasy, as with Felinia and Shadows over Camelot. There’s some nice dragon work on his website as well if you go check it out.
Julien Delval’s website is http://www.juliendelval.blogspot.com/.
Xavier Gueniffey Durin (aka Naiade) is another French artist who really exploded onto the scene in 2012 with some gorgeous art for Seasons and Tokaido. He had been doing some board game art before that, primarily with kid’s game like Monster auf der Flucht and Bugs & Co. He contributed art to Bruno Faidutti’s 2010 game Isla Dorada, but it was really the releases of Seasons and Tokaido that brought him attention. Upcoming, The Phantom Society also has art by Naiade.
Naiade is still a relatively new artist on the scene, but I think he’s definitely one that is going to be huge in the industry. I know I was first attracted to Seasons solely due to the art. It’s a great game, but that art is phenomenal. And the art in Tokaido is lush and beautiful – he definitely captured the Zen mood of the game. He’s very good at the lush landscapes, but at the same time, can be very imaginative in his characters. I’m definitely eager to see what’s coming from Naiade in the future.
Naiade’s website is http://naiiiade.blogspot.com/.
Mathieu Leyssenne is…yes, you guessed it, a French artist. He has a fairly limited game catalog, but has made an impact with the work he has done. His first game credits are Les Fils de Samarande and Animalia, both in 2005. In 2007, he got a lot of notice with the beautiful artwork for Jamaica. He illustrated the Ystari game Metropolys in 2008, the second edition of Chinatown (also 2008), Bonbons in 2011, and Spice Merchant in 2012. He also contributed some art to the 2009 game Kuhandel Master. But that’s all.
Leyssenne may not have a huge body of work, but what he’s done shows some great promise. Jamaica is a very simple game, but the art probably landed it on more shelves than the gameplay. The board looks great, but I’m also pretty amazed by the cards – here’s a link to all twelve player cards laid end to end to form a panorama. The only other game he’s illustrated that I’ve played is Metropolys. I know there have been some complaints about the muddy colors, but it works very well for me. From the looks, his other work also stands out, so I think he’s another to watch.
Mathieu Leyssenne’s website is http://www.aniii.com/.
Doris Matthaus is a German (not French) artist well known for her contributions to the art for a number of classic Eurogames, including El Grande (1995), Bohnanza (1997), Tigris & Euphrates (1997), Elfenland (1998), Aladdin’s Dragons (2000), Carcassonne (2000), Saint Petersburg (2004). She and her husband Frank own a design studio (called, appropriately, Doris & Frank) where she’s co-designed and produced art for a number of games like Igel Ägern (1990), Mü & More (1995), Primordial Soup (1997), Frank’s Zoo (1999), and Ark (2006). Additionally, she’s done the art for the Zoch Chicken series (Gloria Picktoria, Chicken Cha Cha Cha, Pick Picknic, Pickomino, Sushizock im Gockelwo, and Zicke Zacke, among others) and has contributed art to the Dominion series.
While not as flashy as most of the artists on this list, Matthaus has nonetheless made a name for herself illustrating Euros and family games. She can switch between silly art and serious art pretty well. She’s also going to forever be known for her art in Carcassonne – it’s quite iconic. I haven’t played any of the Doris & Frank games, but I’ve definitely been able to spot her art in a bunch of other games. She’s also a female in a male dominated business, and has been doing quite well for herself, so she’s definitely an artist you should know.
Doris Matthaus’ website is http://doris-frank.de/doris.html.
Michael Menzel is probably the most recognized of the artists on this list. Before his Kennerspiel des Jahres win this year for designing his first game, Legends of Andor, he was creating some of the most beautiful art in all of board games. He began work in the game industry in 2004, doing the art for games like Razzia! and Jambo. As he started to gain more notice, he started doing the art for other high profile games like Aqua Romana, Hacienda, Roma, Arkadia, Thurn and Taxis, and The Pillars of the Earth. I think it was Pillars that really launched his career into the stratosphere, leading to art jobs on games like Thebes, Cuba, A Castle for All Seasons (my favorite of his boards), Stone Age, Cable Car, Atlantis, World Without End, Dragonheart, The Speicherstadt, Santa Cruz, Riff Raff, Waka Waka, and Bruges. Among others.
If you ask a gamer who their favorite board game artist is, they’re probably going say Michael Menzel. His art is unmatched in the game industry. It is simply gorgeous. If ever I were to frame some game art, his would be top of the list. The amount of detail that goes into each picture is pretty amazing, and it’s all quite stunning. He’s also, by all accounts, a pretty good game designer as well – only one game so far, and it won the Kennerspiel des Jahres.
Michael Menzel’s website is http://www.atelier-krapplack.de/.
If Michael Menzel is the favorite artist for board games, Pierô is probably running in a close second. Pierô is a French artist who has a wide range of styles that is nonetheless fairly recognizable. He started doing art for games in 2005 with Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc’s Double Agent. He followed that up in 2006 with Mr. Jack, agains from Cathala/Maublanc, and then really made his mark in 2008 with Antoine Bauza’s Ghost Stories. After that, he moved on to Dice Town (2009), Lost Temple (2011), Yggdrasil (2011), Völuspá (2012), and the upcoming Rampage. He also took over art for the Dixit series with Dixit Odyssey.
Pierô is another guy who seems equally at home with the lush, beautiful, evocative artwork of Ghost Stories and Yggdrasil, and the more cartoony style of things like Dice Town. Dice Town is the first game of his where I noticed his name. It’s one of the signs that you’ve made it when you can just go by your first name and everyone knows who you’re talking about. He’s done a lot of great art, and more is on the way.
Piero’s website is http://pierosurlalune.blogspot.fr/.
Franz Vohwinkel is a German artist who is very associated with Eurogames. His first game was the 1991 SdJ winning Drünter und Druber. Since then, he has done art in some capacity for a lot of classic Euros: Samurai (1998), Lost Cities (1999), Ra (1999), Tikal (1999), Union Pacific (1999), The Princes of Florence (2000), Taj Mahal (2000), Puerto Rico (2002), Amun-Re (2003), Domaine (2003), and others. He hasn’t slowed down, either – he’s done art for Dominion, Egizia, Finca, The Palaces of Carrara, Star Trek Catan, Targi, Valdora…the list goes on and on.
Vohwinkel has a style that lends itself well to Eurogames. Some of his games look kind of bland, but he’s also very skilled at evoking what little theme there is in some of the games. He makes good use of color, and all of his art is very well laid out. It’s aesthetically pleasing, even in games with themes that are dry as dirt. And that helps. He’s been working as a game artist for 20 years, and is still pumping out quality art, so he closes out our list of artists you should know.
Franz Vohwinkel’s website is http://www.franz-vohwinkel.com/home.phtml.
That’s it. Hope you enjoyed the list – again, let me know which artists I missed. Thanks for reading!
Miguel Coimbra is definitely my favourite board game artist. I love his diversity, whether its the classical work on 7 Wonders or the goofy, cartoony stuff in Small World.
I also have a great appreciation for Menzel’s work on that fabulous Stone Age board.
This is a great subject I will touch back on another time.