Top Board Game Illustrator Mihajlo Dimitrievski on Style (Raiders of the North Sea)
Mihajlo (a.k.a. The Mico) is one of the top board game illustrators in the industry who created a niche around his striking art style. If you want your board game to make a bold statement among a sea of board games, he's the right person for the job.
Hey Mihajlo, thank you for making your time! First up, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Mihajlo Dimitrievski and I'm an illustrator from Bitola—which is a city in Macedonia—which is a country on Balkans. The Mico is my nickname (signature) and it is pronounced The MiCHo (CH like in CHEchnya or CHe Guevara or something like that) :)
Drawing is what I do for living. I'm happily married and I have two children that share my interest in drawing and toys. And I'm hoping to have some time in the future to play all the games I draw, read all the books I have, and play on Playstation (because I buy those games too). I should live like 400 years with all these things to do :)
Have you always pictured yourself doing art for board games? What other career paths have you considered in the past?
I started as a comic book artist in middle school for one of the oldest and coolest papers for college students which was called “Studentski Zbor”—I'm counting it as my start because I got payed significant amount of money for a 17 years old kid. After that I began to illustrate a lot and I got into tablets and digital stuff so the process started to be faster. I worked (and still work) on lots of books, school books and stuff like that.
Later, there was a 3D animated series in development that got my interest so I sent my stuff. They accepted me. But I had actually sent my portfolio to an advertising company instead of the animation studio (mixed the names) so I ended up doing (and still do) stuff connected to advertising (storyboards and illustrations). After that I started working for children's magazines for a long period too. This was all out of my city in Macedonian capitol—Skopje. Luckily, broadband internet was starting in that period (yes I'm old) and I had an opportunity—having met and becoming friends with millions of people—to return to my hometown to work from there. And one day, I started to work on board games :)
I didn’t know that board games actually existed even a few year ago. Naturally I knew some of them because I love artwork and illustrations and I love Warhammer, Blizzard, MtG, and Monopoly but I really hadn't had the slightest idea about the whole community. Was and I'm still surprised with the whole thing, that I'm deeply involved in a million projects now. Actually I have always imagined myself as an illustrator—maybe as a comic book artist, but mostly as someone who draws things, and I can say that I'm one of the lucky ones who can really live from it—don’t have expensive cars or pools—but I do have couple false edge swords :) SO I'm really having a hobby for a job, and job for a hobby. If I don’t draw I'll possibly be a physical worker. Because drawing is only thing that I can probably do :)
You know, I guess mix-ups like that aren't that uncommon. Atha Kananni (artist on Pandemic series) also had a story to tell about a mix-up that ended up really well :)
Anyhow, why do your fans refer to you as The Mico? How does it feel to have fans who regularly support your work?
Well as previously answered that’s my nickname—or my signature.
Except... They call me The Miko—but what can I say—I don’t have problem with that :)
About fans, it's really cool. I really don't consider myself a star nor I can be one. But people really do sometimes make me feel like that (this is coming from dude working in studio basement 12 hours a day). Really people, thank you. Part of my job is to bring happiness and smiles to people, so yeah it feels good. Every nice word is great support for me—I'm cool guy—but everybody likes to PM sometimes saying thank you you makes us happy and stuff. Of course games are done by lots of people and everybody has a part of the product, but individual recognition feels nice.
Ways of showing support? They buy stuff that I draw. Don't think that there is a bigger support from people. If I don’t draw for people—I wouldn’t draw at all. SO thank you :). This goes for my coworkers too, game designers, publishers, family, friends, and even to those couple of people who really don't like me :)
You have a distinct style that allows the board games you work on to stand out among the crowd. Who/what were your biggest influences and what attracted you to them?
As you can see, I don’t stand well with anatomy so I'm using every cartooning trick that I can think of to do more enjoyable and funny stuff. I draw what I would like to see or buy. I do read a lot of comics, I do watch a lot of movies and cartoons. I'm super influenced by Frank Miller, Simon Bisley, Genaddy Tartakowsky, Craig McCracken, Don Rosa, John Howe, Alan Lee, Frank Frazetta, Hogarth, Hugo Pratt, and Moebius, to name a few :). I do enjoy 2D animation—a lot of old school cartoon network like Samurai Jack, Powerpuff Girls, Dexter's Laboratory, SpongeBob, Asterix, etc. So I'm trying to make my drawings as abstract and as original with character as I can.
What would be your advice for amateur artists who want to get into this industry?
We as humans learn during our entire life, and every new day is a new thing learned—new song, new movie, new person, new brush in Photoshop, new bill to pay. So my advice for every artist or other profession there is—work. And don’t be an asshole. We are all people. If it doesn’t work, we don’t work. If it works for everybody, great. Work, learn, be kind. And try to sleep, and live healthy life (that doesn’t usually go well with this type of professions).
Style is a stamp, something to be known for, a face—so I'm more than happy that people recognize more of my stuff. I think I can manage to work in couple of styles and techniques but I'm mostly called for my style that you're all used to, and I really try to expand it in my own borders. There are million better artists who can draw way better than me—but this is me. As I work on comics and animation, I really think I can do more stuff, but illustrations and games, that’s me :). I'm happy that now and in the future you'll probably see more 3D stuff from me—in forms of minies and figurines and toys. SO that is next level :)
I see, so while artists should have an arsenal of different styles and techniques, it's good to have one distinct style that others will continually hire you for.
So how exactly do you go about finding your style?
Man, draw as much as you can and like, try to be different as much as you can. If they compare you with a good artist, you are well on your way. The important part is for you to feel happy and to enjoy what you do. Sure sometimes you'll have to redraw stuff back and forth, but that’s the part of a profession. I personally enjoy drawing every day. Style can change in time. Purpose of drawing can change in time—storyboards, editorial art, children's illustration, concept art, character design… different stuff to draw, but what you draw when you have some spare time and makes you happy—that’s your style. In time people will probably know you by that. Again I'm more than happy that I'm recognized :)
Hmm... you touched up on something very valuable. As an artist myself, it's easy to get focused on drawing for others that I forget to have fun!
Okay, so let's move onto talking about one of your signature works, the North Sea series. Could you share with us the story behind how you joined up with Shem Phillips for the start of the series? How has the game's success impacted your career?
Got mail from Shem—do I want to draw characters for something called board game—I said yes. Evidently the game is awesome, people really liked it and I got unusually more mails than I used to. As I said I used to be a comic book artist but I literally have done everything connected with drawing—so yeah this last thing with board games really brought me closer to people which by itself (being close to more and more people from around the world) is a reward. It has a great impact on my career. I get to draw different themes whole day. I'm art directing animated movie, animated show, etc, so I do a lot of different stuff. But board gaming does, at least for me, bring people closer. Because there are less people involved in production and a lot people playing the stuff. So yeah, I'm happy—for the job I have, and people I met and will be meeting in future, whether in person or online.
You've worked on a string of successful games since Raiders of the North Sea. What were some adjustments you had made based on lessons learned/mistakes from Raiders? What were some approaches you kept the same based on positive reactions from fans?
I really don’t think that there were any mistakes there. Or at least not that I know of :) Maybe only problem as for everyone working with deadlines is time. And I'm late with some stuff—but I'm trying to do everything on time. So yeah only problem or a mistake is that I'm really trying to do everything on time and things don’t always go as planned. Luckily for me (evidently I'm very lucky) I do work with awesome people. So again… I don’t think I recall of any problem working in board game industry… hm… that’s a thing to think about actually :). And every positive reaction I get (and there are a lot) is one more happy brush stroke from me on the art. Feedback is nice and it does help a lot. Even if you don’t have good day, when you want to rest, when you don’t want to work, when you want to play on PS… nice word can really get you up and working.
What is your formula for a great character design? How detailed of a brief do you get for each character and how do you approach making that character come to life?
Try to make it cool. Parrot with a helmet, fish with an umbrella, bottle with a sword… whatever makes that character to be cool and nice do it. I try to draw as much different people as I can. Big noses, small noses, ugly noses... whatever to make them different. As a kid I used to sit on a balcony and draw people passing by my street. Every human is different so I try to draw them different. Make it recognizable (unless is otherwise noted) on a first glance, or try in a best way I can. Surprise people.
Mostly I like short briefs so I can use my imagination to draw some stuff. But that depends on publishers and designers—I usually get free pass for everything I do, unless it has to be something specific, person or an animal or a creature. Drawing for games is a job, and even if it is art, it is a job with rules. So I work with stuff I get. Technical things are a must—dimensions, bleeds, deadlines, etc. So I can know how much space I have—where the bleed is, how big is the card, what will you see, what will you not see, positioning of the icons, etc.
What are the toughest challenges you face while working on board game art? Is it always about the art or are there other unexpected challenges as well?
There are a lot of challenges, but they are not all connected with drawing. Drawing is actually the easiest thing to do. But having the time (most precious element) to do them is essential. Keeping the normal life with tight deadlines is challenging. Kids go to school. You get sick. So yeah everyday problems can really be setback for a day or two. If by chance you don’t have internet for a day, that’s a problem :). As I mentioned, this is a profession that’s done with lot of sitting and eating a lot of unhealthy stuff (pizza) so that can be a problem sometimes. But again If you try to find balance I think and I know it is manageable. My biggest problem perhaps is that I do work a lot and I don’t really have a lot of time to spend with my family. But I try to balance that with vacations and not missing taking my kids to bed every day (when I'm home).
What is your most memorable/fun moment working on the Raiders series?
Getting mail from Shem :). Actually I'm hoping for that moment to happen some time in the future (hopefully soon) when I meet Shem and other beautiful people I know live and we sit and we drink all the coffees I have promised. So cheers to fun moments we have to live yet :)
Could you describe for us the exact moment when you felt you had "made it" as an artist?
When I feel it I will describe it to you :). It is every day man. And I'm happy for it :)
Lastly, are there any exciting developments in the works you could share with us? What would be your dream project?
I don’t share things the publishers don’t share first :). I'm trying to be as professional as I can :). I can promise a lot of games, cartoons, movies, comics and a lot of photos of my toys and comics collection—and hopefully in the future a lot of photos with all of you wonderful people that give me support every day and I can't wait to meet you in person. Thank you all and see you ASAP :)
Thank you The Mico for making your time! It was well worth pursuing you for the past 4 months xD Love the work you do and I look forward to seeing your illustrations on other awesome titles in the future.
Thanks for the read and you can also find more of my interviews below. It's a random selection of 3-4 of my past interviews. Now if you really want to binge on all of my past interviews, feel free to do so by sifting through my past posts here.
- How Former Disney Artist Victoria Ying Illustrated a Fantasy World For All (Bargain Quest)
- Behind the Scenes of "What's Eric Playing?" with Board Game Reviewer Eric Yurko
- Board Game Meets Wildlife—How Catherine Hamilton Illustrated the Evolution Series
- Atha Kanaani's Journey From Rejection to Illustrating One of the Top Selling Board Game Series (Pandemic)
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