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Kyle's story is all too common among artists—juggling multiple hats to make ends meet, the harsh reality of having zero visibility, and what seems like eons to finally "make it." Here's how the winner of the 2018 Golden Geek Best Board Game Artwork got there.
Hey Kyle, thank you for making your time! First up, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Sure! I’m Kyle Ferrin, I’m a board game artist and illustrator working for Leder Games, an independent board game publisher responsible for Root and the Vast series of games. I’ve also done some work for smaller card games like Dungeon Mayhem by Wizards of the Coast. I live in Utah with my wife, Meredith, and our 4 kiddos.
Your artstyle/linework gives me an impression that you've had tons of mileage on doodling in classes. Is this true? And were you always known among your peers/family as the "art guy"?
I’ve always doodled, it’s true. I’m the oldest of 8 kids and even though I loved drawing from a very early age my parents didn’t find that exceptional in any way until I went to kindergarten and my teacher let them know that I spent a lot of time drawing compared to the other kids. I used to draw Garfield from memory and make up superheroes and comic strips. “Art Guy” is a pretty good way to describe my role in a lot of different settings, haha.
Was becoming an artist always the most obvious path in mind? If not, what was the pivotal moment that led you to pursue art as a career? Were there any times you felt the pressure to have other jobs to support yourself?
From May 2006 to May 2008 I served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and during that time I didn’t draw much. It was definitely allowed, I just thought it might be kind of a distraction if I did anything too time consuming. Mostly I doodled in margins for a couple years. Then in 2009 I started attending college with the goal of an English Teaching degree. I wasn’t very passionate about it but I found success in a non-major Graphic Design class. After failing a few literature classes I switched majors and pursued a Visual Communication degree. I now have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in VisComm which I mostly used to get Graphic Design jobs until I had the opportunity to make illustration my main hustle. There were a lot of years of working manual labor and food service jobs before I got graphic design work, and then more years of that before my after hours commissions became a realistic day job.
One of the most frequent questions asked by amateur artists is "how to find my style". First, how would you answer that question? Second, what kind of style are you recognized for?
Your style finds you. You strive to improve your craft and as you develop an artistic taste you begin to settle into what looks like “you” to you. I believe the style of most artists is just the result of leaning into your strengths and embracing your more aesthetically pleasing weaknesses. Todd MacFarlane couldn’t draw anatomy well for a long time, so he drew Spawn with huge capes and that became part of his style.
I’m probably recognized most for my pen and ink sketch-style linework. It’s an aesthetic born from not doing pencil sketches when I doodle most of the time. I like how you just have to commit when you work that way. You don’t get to erase and erase and erase, you just kind of have to live with it, which is one of the reasons I like ink and watercolor. It kind of bakes itself in as you work and if you don’t like it you have to start over.
Who/what were your biggest influences to your style? Who are you inspired by these days?
Quentin Blake is a big influence. Bill Watterson for sure. Both of them have a graphic quality to their work that doesn’t rely on realism but conveys a lot of emotion. These days I love following the work of Jeffrey Alan Love, Kate Beaton, and David Peterson’s work on Mouse Guard. Dustin Harbin and Sam Bosma are wonderful as well. I follow a lot of artists on twitter, it’s a tremendous inspiration for me.
As an artist, I personally experienced a burst of creativity after my wife and I had our son (now 10 months old!). In what ways do you think having kids impacted you as an artist?
I draw a lot of animals for my kids, and I use simple shapes with large areas for them to color if that’s what they’re interested in. It forces me to be fast and emotive and the goal is always about trying to keep someone happy. I think those qualities all translate into my work in some way or another.
So how exactly did you end up transitioning into the board game industry and what was the first board game you had worked on? Could you share how that experience was?
I’ve always loved board games and card games. The first board game I worked on was Vast: The Crystal Caverns, that was called “Trove” at the time. They came to me having seen some of my Dungeons and Dragons commissions and some goblin art I did for the RPG Dungeon World. When Vast ended up being a success, Patrick Leder flew me out to a few conventions. We worked so well together that he hired me full time to be an in-studio illustrator for his company. Board games are a lot of work, with different considerations than making a book or poster, but it’s been fun to create art objects that people interact with and connect with in that different way. I had no idea the hobby was so big until I did my first Gen Con, I’m happy to be a part of it.
How were you first approached by Leder Games? What was the team's main vision behind the art on Root and how do you think your style/experience helped accomplish that vision?
They first reached out to me on twitter with Vast. Root was a group effort that came to being after I was already a full time employee and I got to work on it from the beginning. I helped come up with the theming and setting and worked closely with Cole and Patrick on the feel and aesthetic of the game. The main goal was to make an asymmetric war game without historical baggage, a war game for people who didn’t know they liked war games yet. I think the chance I had to work on it from such an early time in Root’s development helped the whole product become a more holistic experience. I created the meeples and the board as the game was being designed. The game and the art helped inform each other as we went.
What is your typical workflow like? Is everything done digitally?
Most of the work I do is drawn/inked traditionally and then colored digitally. Usually I’ll get a list of card names, for example, and then I interpret them into sketches or sometimes just take them all the way to ink and color if we are tight on time.
What was the most challenging aspect of working on Root? What was your favorite part?
The hardest part was the turnaround. I was drawing cards as cards were being created and that meant having public facing print and play material with as much art in it as possible for our Kickstarter backers. My favorite part is seeing people play Root. I love walking around free play tables at conventions to see people with rulebooks and boxes open.
Which faction do you play as the most and how do you think that reflects your personality?
I sometimes joke that that the Marquise de Cat is kind of like being a parent, because it’s mostly about trying to put out fires, haha. I play the Woodland Alliance a lot because I think they have the steepest learning curve and I am usually teaching new people to play. Maybe that just says that I’m nice? haha
Are all of the factions equally loved by you or was there a particular faction you enjoyed illustrating the most?
I love drawing the birds. The Eyrie was fun to illustrate but especially the bird cards make me happy. I’m glad the Underworld Expansion includes crows so I can revisit my bird friends.
What was your most memorable moment working on Root?
I think when we sold out at Gen Con in 2018 that was the most memorable thing. We made stuffed animals of the Vagabond Raccoon, which was kind of a silly passion project, and we even sold out of those! I think that was the first moment that I realized that people really connected with this game so strongly.
What would you like to say to all of your fans out there?
Thanks for your support! You’re the reason I have a job! You put gas in my minivan and keep the breakfast cereal on the table for my kids. Thank you thank you thank you.
Lastly, are there any exciting developments in the works you could share with us? What would be your dream project?
Most of the things I’m working on are still under wraps. The official release of Vast: The Mysterious Manor is this Summer and I can’t wait for folk to play it. The minis look so good and the gameplay is next level. I feel like I’m already living the dream. I hope to just keep doing this and improve my craft as I go.
Thanks Kyle! Appreciate you making your time for us and we look forward to your continued work in future board games! It's always inspiring to see artists who've kept up their craft all these years and it's a personal reminder for me to be more diligent with my art as well.
Lovely Readers! Please support Kyle by following the links below:
- Kyle's social media: twitter, instagram
- Kyle's Artist Shop: https://kyleferrin.threadless.com/ (check out the awesome Root merch)
Below are my links to past interviews:
- Victoria Ying, artist of Bargain Quest
- Alexandr Elichev, artist of Gloomhaven
- Atha Kanaani, artist of the Pandemic series
- Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier Games
- Victor Pérez Corbella, artist of Champions of Midgard
- Sabrina Miramon, artist of Photosynthesis
- Ruwen Liu, artist of Cake Duel
Plus, you can leave comments below with:
- Suggestions for artists/designers/any other board game people to interview
- Any feedback about the interviews so far
- Comments about the games mentioned
- Ask me anything!
I'm trying to schedule a game night with my co-workers to play Root together. I've assigned a faction to each of them according to their personalities and complexity that I think they can handle. Will be sending out a how-to video so that they're well prepped before we meet up.
The current lineup:
- Me - Woodland Alliance
- Trent - Vagabond
- Co-worker #1 - Cats
- Co-worker #2 - Birds
Does anyone have suggestions on what else I can do to make the night flow smoothly and more fun? (any videos that are especially well made in explaining the rules and strategies? food? anything really). Thanks!
When living in Minnesota, fall, winter and early spring are all prime board gaming times. As the temperature swings wildly up here right now I start to think about what I want to focus on during this most wonderful time.
The Underworld expansion for Root should be delivered to me soonish and it got me thinking that I want to hit that game hard. Play as much as I can with as many factions as I can. Use the new boards. Really get the most out of it.
What are you looking to get the most out of his Board Game Season?
I recently received #Root: The Clockwork Expansion in a math trade. Ironically, I did not own the base game prior to completing this trade. So, as a result, I bought #Root, #Root: The Underworld Expansion, and #Root: The Exiles and Partisans Deck. I had played Root about four times with a friend's copy before owning any of it for myself.
Upon receiving the games, I wasted no time diving into a few solo sessions. In my four plays, I took the role of the Duchy, the Alliance, the Eyrie, and the Vagabond, and faced off against various faction combinations comprised of two or three bots. I must say, I love playing this game solo! The bots are certainly not flawless. There are decisions they make that would be considered sub-optimal or questionable in a person vs. person game. They also suffer a bit when the human player wants to play a more interactive faction, such as the Riverfolk Company or Corvid Conspiracy, as the bots have no allowance for purchasing cards or guessing plot tokens. For the most part, though, they do give a surprisingly similar feel to that of the multiplayer game.
In each game, the bots gave me a good challenge and a tense affair. I decided to opt for the default difficulty. I also didn't include any traits as I wanted to have a baseline to work from. After four games, I have won three and lost one. Even in the games I won, it was a close race. Often, there was at least one bot only a few points behind me. For those that have played a multiplayer game of Root, this should be a familiar scenario.
I also played a game involving two bots and one other human player. It presented some interesting dynamics, but my initial impression is that this is the slightly less ideal way to utilize the expansion. The human player took an almost semi-cooperative approach with me against the bots. I was incentivized to go along with this as the plans they were making would serve to hurt the bots and allow me to get a better foothold. Yet, my friend and I were far from friends within the game. With this, the decisions some of the bots made in that playthrough (following the rules of course) seemed to focus more on my friend as they had more board presence. As a result, they felt a bit hard done by and it left the experience feeling a little limp. I think I prefer just playing solo against the bots.
As for ease of use, I found the Mechanical Marquise the most straightforward faction to control, while the Electric Eyrie was the most "fiddly." Still, I soon grew accustomed to the various priorities the factions had and the natural flow of their actions. There wasn't too much bookkeeping and I was allowed to focus on my turns most of the time. The designer has done an excellent job striking the balance between human likeness and ease of use.
Root is certainly a game that shines when played multiplayer. There is a degree of politics and negotiation that no bot could hope to replace (mostly because bots have no faculties that allow them to hope lolz). Yet, I find that Root: The Clockwork Expansion allows me to have a very similar experience in a fraction of the time. It allows me to engage with the puzzle that Root presents while also sidestepping the very personal feeling of attacking another player. Sometimes, I want that degree of personal hostility. Other times, I want to just sit back and relax while still getting to play a confrontational game. This expansion allows just that.
$15 (price will not increase after early access is over)
Some more info (provided by @philryuh)
- Tutorial mode for each faction
- Solo mode comes with up to 3 AI opponents with adjustable difficulty level (easy, medium, hard)
- Pass and play is available
- Local play has a challenge mode where it will present you with a modified rule or condition for winning the game (e.g. your units can cross rivers, you can only win by taking down the Marquise's keep token, pacificist route, etc)
[Root: The Riverfolk Expansion, Vast: The Mysterious Manor, Root, Root: The Underworld Expansion, Vast: The Crystal Caverns, Vast: The Fearsome Foes Ex...]
[Root: The Exiles and Partisans Deck, Root: The Clockwork Expansion, Root, Root: The Underworld Expansion]