When I’m not playing/designing games, I’m a comic artist (shameless plug: my comic Kickstarter is going on until May 16). Which means people love to ask me:

Can you illustrate my game?

I’m happy to help when I think I’m a good fit, but sometimes I’m not. So I’ve been looking at portfolios of all my art friends a little more closely, trying to find illustrators to hire or recommend to board game designers in need. There are a lot of diverse styles for board game illustration, but there’s definitely a trend in what I tend to look for.

Here are the top 5 things that will make me INSTANTLY want to recommend an illustrator for a board game project:

1. Character portraits

illustrationportfoio_people

(Featured above: middle: left: Erin Fusco, middle: Erebus right:Beth Sobel)

Portraits are almost always great; especially if you can show more than just flawless-looking folks in street clothes. Historically, occupationally, and culturally diverse portraits are ideal. If you have a lot of stylistically distinct pieces (cute and cartoonish, comic book, historical portrait, caricature, etc.) show it for sure. And sci-fi or fantasy flavor is useful here, too.

2. Random Objects

illustrationportfoio_objects

(Featured above: left: Eric J. Carter, middle: Erin Fusco, right: Erebus)

Objects! Not exciting, I know. But even if all you have in your portfolio are drawings of 8 various weapons, 8 fictional coins, and 8 random objects (trumpet, shoe, soda bottle, carrot, bicycle, etc.), it helps a lot for game designers to envision illustrations for the various components of their cards/tiles/tokens. Bonus points if they shrink down to icon size particularly well.

3. Landscapes and Maps

illustrationportfoio_landscapes

(Featured above: top: Jeff Brown, left: Erebus, right: Nicoleta Stavarache)

Going from place to place comes up a lot in board games, either as a map on the board or location cards in a deck. If you’re looking to build up this part of your portfolio, try rendering postcard-like images of different cities, alien planets, farmlands, or tourist attractions. And maps. Maps in your style are absolutely wonderful.

4. Strong Composition

illustrationportfoio_composition

(Featured above: left: Eric J. Carter, right: Beth Sobel)

We need engaging art with strong composition to put on the front of our boxes, on our cards, and in our Kickstarter campaigns. A good composition will guide the eye with characters and elements of environment, and be able to convey the tone and theme in a single image.

5. Your email address

I don’t want to use a form, I don’t want to send you a message on DeviantArt or Etsy or Tumblr, and I certainly don’t want to try to tell you about my game in 140 characters. An email string lets me review how many people I’ve approached and what I’ve told them, because chances are, I’m reaching out to more illustrators than just you.

If you’re concerned about spambots farming it from your portfolio site, run it through an obfuscator, and/or get a separate Gmail address just for your portfolio that forwards everything to your main inbox. But this one’s really crucial, because even if your art is amazing, I can’t hire you if I can’t talk to you.

Have you hired illustrators for your game?

How do you hire illustrators, and what do you want to see in their portfolio/sample work? And if you’re an illustrator looking for board game work, feel free to link up to your portfolio below!

A special thanks to our featured artists! Keep them in mind if you’re looking for illustrations for your next game!
Beth Sobel Jeff Brown Erebus Nicoleta Stavarache Eric J. Carter Erin Fusco


Christina Major

Artist/Designer at Whirling Derby

Christina does freelance graphic design for board game publishers with her husband Mark Major, is the wig-wearing half of Whirling Derby, and draws/authors a webcomic over at sombulus.com

14 Readers Commented

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  1. Norv Brooks on April 27, 2015

    Christina, great & useful post. I’m curious. You’ve listed 4 distinct categories of art; do good artists tend excel in all 4 categories? Or would you also recommend an artist that only does well in 1 category?

    • Christina on April 27, 2015

      Great question! There are some VERY versatile artists out there that specialize in lots of different styles and subjects, but the general answer is that you shouldn’t expect that. A good artist’s portfolio will show you the scope of what they want to do for clients.

      If you want to work with an artist (because they’ve done awesome historical weapon illustrations, let’s say) but you don’t see a style/category you’re looking for, it never hurts to email and ask them if they’ve ever done other historical work, particularly landscapes or portraits. Artists are busy folks, and might not have everything they’ve done in their portfolio yet. But don’t be afraid to work with multiple artists to get the illustrations your game needs; many games do this.

  2. Peter Vaughan on April 27, 2015

    Great post! As an indie publisher getting out there and making games, finding artists for games, marketing images, etc is currently my biggest challenge. I was very fortunate on my first two projects to find just amazing, talented people to work with, so I wanted to share their blog sites here:

    Mackenzie Schubert – illustrator for Letter Tycoon & Penny Press – fantastic to work with and took on objects, typography, box, cover, instructions – everything!
    http://mackenzieschubert.tumblr.com

    Sebastien Duclos – illustrator for What the Food?! – brought our characters to life, over 200 drawings for this game. He doesn’t actively seek outside gigs often from his Disney work, and he’s not even posting a lot here, but I owe mentioning him forever!
    http://johnduke01.blogspot.com

  3. Peter Vaughan on April 27, 2015

    To any and all artists with portfolios reading this, please post your sites here. Many self publishing designers will need that great art in their next game!

  4. Erin Fusco on April 27, 2015

    This is awesome, so honored to have some of my work from Farmageddon: Livestocked & Loaded and Jungle Ascent featured here! If you’re curious about more of my work or would like to hire me for your game, please visit my portfolio at http://www.erinfusco.com

    Thanks again Christina!

  5. Erebus on April 27, 2015

    Thanks for featuring some of my pieces Christina!
    Just to answer Norv up here, I’m a very versatile artist, because I do all kind of illustrations AND the graphic design for games (and also some 3D modelling for playing pieces :D). I do whole games from the illustrations to the boards, cards and rules layouts, packaging, advertising, etc.
    But most artists specialize, and that’s not bad per se. You can go both routes, depending on the complexity of your project and deadlines.
    While I can do a whole game, if I have to create 60 different cards illustrations, boards, layouts, etc, it will take time since I work mostly alone. Thus if you have a complex project and thight timeline, usually is better to split the job among different artists.
    On the other hand, if you have a simpler project or a long deadline, a single artists can be simpler to manage and communicate with, and you will keep a coherent style thorough the project.
    Not all illustrators are also good graphic designers though, so just beware that if you hire one that has no experience in packaging, layouts and cutboards, you also have to hire a graphic designer (or have enough experience yourself).
    Of course bigger publishers don’t have that problem since they employ a lot of different people on a single project.

    Cheers.
    Giorgio / Erebus (http://erebus-art.deviantart.com/gallery/)

  6. Eric J. Carter on April 30, 2015

    I’m very flattered to be included in this article. Thank you, Christina! My work can be seen at http://www.ericjcarter.com

  7. Steve Jones on May 7, 2015

    We use artists primarily based on what we see or on recommendation. Example, the artist for Norv’s game Aloha was recommended to us. We used her art for that game and a few others, as well as dice towers and piecepacks. If she had more time for use, we’d probably use her on just about every project, especially those that require human or close to human figures.

    That being said, sometimes there is a specific feel you want for a game. Example: Meeples to the Mohership. This game literally screamed out for the “Chuck Jones style” – in fact the first question asked of potential artists for that game was “Do you know Duck Dodgers in the 24th 1/2 Century? The first one that recited lines from the cartoon got the job. This artist also ended up being recommended to us.

    As a publisher, we’re now in the age where art sells the game – whether you think that is a good or a bad thing – it is what it is.

    And for those artists with enough wit and sophistication to be reading this website, I could use someone who can do lots of objects in the Art Deco style (think Poirot public television opening sequence) as well as Chuck Jones inspired art for a scifi (think Aliens – the good movies in that series) project coming up.

    And if you like doing “wraparound” art like 360 degree dice towers, also give us a shout.

    Steve Jones
    Blue Panther LLC

  8. Kristen Pauline on January 14, 2016

    Comissioning a sample character from an artist can also be a good way to figure out if they’re a good fit for you and your game if you have the time and budget.

    I’m an illustrator with a storybookish style and a graphic design background. My work lives at http://kristenpauline.com

  9. Rocky on March 3, 2016

    I have a board game that I am interested in publishing independently and I’m looking for an illustrator. I’m curious how you go about arranging the business deal. What is a typical contact between the creator and the illustrator?

    • Kristen on March 30, 2016

      Rocky, a contract can vary depending on the client and illustrators needs but generally it should outline usage rights (copyright), timeline, fee amount, revisions, what happens if the project fails or is cancelled, payment schedule, and credit.

  10. Roland the Illustrator on April 29, 2016

    Wow thanks for this post CHRISTINA. I am trying to get more board game work as I really enjoy it. I do a lot of computer game work but am trying to make new contacts in board games as I love them and print is always so satisfying. It is often hard to find out who is in charge of art in a company. I went to Essen Spiel last year and got a few appointment and have a couple of good jobs. Any tips on how to reach the ‘art directors would be greatly appreciated.

    My portfolio is here http://www.rolandtheillustrator.com/
    and a wider range of styles here – https://www.behance.net/PaperSails

    thanks again

  11. Rastislav Le on March 8, 2017

    Great post, I found a little late though!
    I would never think about the “random objects” tip, I should incorporate it in my portfolio too.
    Anyways, Im an artist, quite experienced.
    I love card games and thats what I do mostly.
    https://lerastislav.artstation.com/
    lerastislav@gmail.com

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