Hey Sabrina, thank you for making your time! First up, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hi, and thanks for having me! I'm Sabrina, a French illustrator based in the U.K. I mostly work for board games and video games, and I also do the occasional book illustration. I studied 3D many (many) years ago, but after a few years I decided that I'd rather be drawing and painting, so I started over and tried to teach myself digital illustration.
I noticed on your resume that you had started off as a background artist on an animated TV series. How was that experience and what kind of role did it play in building up your career?
I did! I started as a junior artist with barely any experience in 2D so I had a lot to learn. I trained under an incredible lead background artist and worked there for 5 years. In this kind of setting you learn to be efficient – production time is really short and there are a lot of shots needed for just one episode. I think it helped me focus on the big picture and not to add too many details—a background should help set the mood without being too distracting.
Sounds like that experience really set you up for your next step! So how exactly did you end up transitioning into the board game industry and what was the first board game you had worked on?
By chance really! Some of the work on my online portfolio got seen by a publisher looking for an illustrator for their upcoming project. They liked my style and I agreed to do an art test to see if we could fit it to their game. It worked out, and I ended up illustrating my first game, The Builders: Middle Ages.
What has been your favorite/least favorite part of working on board game art and why?
I don’t think I have a least favorite part, but one of the best things for me is when I receive copies of games I’ve worked on! Having a physical copy of what I’ve contributed to is really different to just seeing the finished product on-screen.
I'm actually very close to experiencing something like that myself, so I can relate! (only held a prototype in my hand so far, though)... Now, for those who might not be aware, what are some other notable games you have worked on? Which was the most memorable and how come?
I’ve worked on several games, including Quadropolis, The Builders series, Photosynthesis, Dice Hospital, and Planet among others! The most memorable for me would be Photosynthesis, thanks to the original visuals and game design.
Photosynthesis is a real beauty of a game and showcases your gift for painting environments! What was the main vision behind the art and how much control did you have over its direction?
Thank you very much! This job was a delight to work on, because they asked me to channel some of the background work I had produced for Wakfu, and from this starting point they gave me full creative control to produce the cover and assets.
Taking Photosynthesis as an example, what does your typical workflow look like? Was the composition and lighting pretty much set from the beginning or were there multiple rounds of different variations and getting feedback from the designer?
Photosynthesis was a pretty typical workflow for me. I begin by discussing everything needed for the project, and start to come up with sketches and ideas. There were a few iterations needed, especially regarding the trees (form & color) but we were on the right track from the start.
An interesting aspect of board game art is in working with a limited canvas size or with unique geometries—so what kind of things did you have to consider in your illustrations while working on the art for the game board on Photosynthesis? Are there any other considerations/problems unique to board games that most people wouldn't realize?
One of the main challenges on Photosynthesis was painting the trees to fit the cutout templates. I wanted to keep the trees feeling very organic and painterly, and I needed to make them completely fill out the shapes with no holes at all. (See attached example)
The other thing that people might not realize is that all assets need to be painted in CMYK (for printing) which is quite different to painting in the usual RGB color mode. I need to be constantly considering how the painting on my screen will translate to the printed version, for example printing on card or paper alone will vastly alter the brightness of my colors.
So how does it feel to have your art displayed on a game played by tens of thousands of people across the world?
Honestly it feels very strange! I’m used to working in the video games industry, where my contributions are much more minor. It feels great to hear that the board game is acclaimed as it is, although I still can’t quite believe it!
What kind of advice would you give to amateur illustrators out there who would love to do what you're doing?
The most important thing I can say is that if you have the passion to pursue something like this, and really love painting and creating games and worlds, then nothing can stop you! But if you don’t have that passion, then everything will conspire to stop you in your tracks. There are so many opportunities out there, waiting for future illustrators like us to fill those roles.
The most practical advice I can give is to practice what you want to do. If you want to work in board games, get together with friends and make your own!
Could you describe for us the exact moment when you felt you had "made it" as an artist? If you feel you're not "there" yet, what would be the next milestone you'd like to achieve?
I don’t feel I’m there yet, and not sure I ever will! The next milestone I have my eyes set on is making a more personal project that I can feel was completely my own.
Lastly, are there any exciting developments in the works you could share with us? What would be your dream project?
I have five upcoming board games (I’ve been very busy!) that I’m excited to see released later this year. My dream project would be working on my own indie video game with my husband. I have some ideas in the works, but don’t want to give anything away just yet!
Thanks Sabrina for making your time for us and sharing your thoughts!
Thank you also to those who read and please comment below with any questions for Sabrina, any of your thoughts about the games mentioned, suggestions for future board game people to interview, or anything!
Check out more of Sabrina's amazing works here:
You can also show appreciation for her art by buying her a coffee!
Below are links to past interviews: