Our latest title, Paint the Roses, is a brand new cooperative puzzle board game headed to Kickstarter on Oct 12th. Set in the world of Alice in Wonderland the game features brand new art and illustrations reimagining its characters.
Today I’m joined by Jacqui Davis the illustrator of Paint the Roses. Jacqui is both a book and board game illustrator and has worked on a wide array of tabletop releases such as Ex Libris, Cubitos and Viticulture.
Hi Jacqui, thanks for joining us. For those unfamiliar with your work could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi! I’m Jacqui, I was born in South Africa and lived there until I was 10 (yes I do miss the sun) and I’m an illustrator living in the UK. When I’m not illustrating my favorite hobby is writing, followed shortly by a good, leafy, amble. My house is filled with plants and many stacks of books that I plan to read, but haven’t gotten round to just yet.
How did you first get started as a professional illustrator?
Originally I hadn’t planned on being a board game illustrator. I went to University for 2D animation in 2009 but learnt quickly that you need a sense of rhythm to be a great animator, something I sadly lack. I can’t dance either, which is sad for my mom who was a ballet dancer.
What I really loved about animation was the character design and pre-vis side of things, so on graduating in 2012 that’s what I thought I’d get into. In the interim there was no harm in taking a few small freelance jobs for some money while I looked for a studio job.
These were Formula-E, Belle of the Ball and a copy artist on Viticulture all in quick succession. After that I found the creative outlet in board games that I loved in animation - designing characters, worlds and styles - all while staying near friends and family that I loved. I didn’t look back.
Are board game mechanics important when deciding on how to illustrate a game world?
Usually for me what’s most important for a game is the theme. I like to know who the game is for, and what sort of vibe the client wants it to give off. Sometimes we’ll have a discussion about the mechanics and I’ll watch a play through or have a look at a prototype. All of it is helpful, not so much for me to know how the game works but it lets me know better what the client has in their mind.
This isn’t the first time you’ve created art based on a pre-existing IP, having worked on games based around famous characters like Peter Pan, Sherlock Holmes and Ghostbusters. Do you approach these projects differently than your usual work?
It depends on the IP. Sometimes with games like Ghostbusters the IP has an art direction and characters established and the client needs you to follow the pre-existing look as closely as possible. I’ve found this a lot in my copy-artist work in children’s publishing too. In cases like these you’ll often get a folder with plenty of references and style guides to look at and in some ways it’s pretty simple, as long as you follow ‘the rules’
In others like 'Purrrlock Holmes' and 'Neverland Rescue' there was a fair bit more leeway for me to put my spin on things. Usually this is with classic stories and fairytales; everyone has an idea who Peter Pan or Sherlock is, and there have been so many prior versions, that the scope tends to be a bit more forgiving.
When working on Paint the Roses, where did you start?
With Paint the Roses we started on the characters. Always my favorite place. The White Rabbit to be exact.
I already had a general idea of the story and characters, I’m pretty sure the same amount most people would have on hearing ‘Alice in Wonderland’. I’d seen the 2D Disney movie as a kid, watched Tim Burton’s version as a teen, read Jabberwocky in secondary school and just picked up bits and bobs through cultural osmosis. When I started this project I found a copy of the book my Nana had given me - though I must admit I hadn’t read it until then.
I used that for looking up some character descriptions when I could. The tricky bit was actually forgetting about the film versions, I didn’t want to accidentally reference them if I could help it. In this case I suppose it’s lucky neither film was ever my favorite growing up.
What are some of the challenges of illustrating distinctive characters like those of Wonderland and what did you focus on to help guide your reimagined versions?
From the start what led to the look of the characters was the desire from the team not to be as uncanny as the Burton version, but not too kiddy either. ‘Whimsy’ was a word I think that was used.
So we started with the White Rabbit, as I mentioned and the Cheshire Cat, once we had these two down we could use them as a basis for all the others to follow. The awesome team over at Quillsilver and I went through several rounds of sketches to get the look of these two right. It’s really fun to work in a team this way, bouncing ideas off of one another. You would not believe how many faces you can give a cat.
In terms of rendering, initially I was tempted to lean more into a brushy, loose look since it was Paint the Roses, but in the end it proved a bit too simple. Then Dominic (NorthStar Founder) sent a portfolio piece of mine to give me an example of the mood they liked. This was night time and quite dark, which I didn’t think quite worked for the game - but I tried to give everything that golden hour, twilight feel from then on when it came to colors.
The characters in Wonderland are larger than life. How do you look to convey that sense of presence and personality within the art?
Oof! This is really tricky for me to answer. I’m sure there are clever answers out there, I’m just not sure what. Don’t pose the character straight on, I suppose? ¾ views are always more lively. Vary shapes. Little on big. Square and round etc. Color can give away personality. An artist I really love once said a character's hands can give them away.
For me though, I tend to give the character a personality in my head before I start, and when I’m sketching I play around until I manage to put some of that down on paper. The technical bits I’ve learnt over the years, and I’m sure the info is kicking around somewhere in my head, but it’s not actively what I’m thinking about when, for example, I’m asked to sketch an old-man rabbit who’s in a hurry.
Finally, what is some advice you would have for someone looking to work on a well known IP, either as an illustrator or as a publisher?
I always ask for this if I can. But I think it’s a good idea to get references and as much of a detailed brief as your client can give. I like to know what work they like (of mine and of the IP) so I can get an idea of what we’re aiming for. It also helps to know what they don’t like, and don’t want to see. Anything really that makes reading minds a little easier. This also goes with any project. Communication and information really make things go a lot smoother.
Paint the Roses, a cooperative game of logic, deduction and discussion launches on Kickstarter Oct 12 sign up before launch to get a free Cheshire Kitten promo.