Some things in life go unnoticed unless they’re awful. That’s often the case with board game illustration. While the box always prominently displays the designer’s name, often the artist is only listed in the the rule book’s credits. Sure, great illustrations can be noticed, but usually they work on a more subconscious level – making sales, attracting players, and immersing them in the game’s theme. More than the aesthetics, though, board game art is also a science. It must be functional and intuitive. Distracting artwork can be just as damaging as bad artwork. It requires a delicate balance. And even when praised, artists rarely receive enough credit. The Artist’s Valley series hopes to shed insight on the world of tabletop illustration and shine light on those who “bring a game to life.”
Illustrator Henning Ludvigsen agreed to “sit down” with iSlaytheDragon to discuss his work and career and the board gaming hobby. As you’ll see, his experience in computer illustration goes way back, and he brings more of a “non-gamer eye” to the hobby which is intriguing…
First off, tell us just a little about yourself.
Hello, my name is Henning Ludvigsen. I’m working full time as the Art Director for Rock Pocket Games, in the computer games industry in Norway. I’ve been doing this since 2002, and from around 2005 I also started working on board and card games on the side for Fantasy Flight Games. Up until today, I believe I’ve been part of more than 70 card and board game projects. So everything I do is somehow very focused around games. Even though I rarely find time to play any.
So, how did your career as an artist develop? What sorts of non-gaming projects or work are typical for you?
I started creating pixel art back in the mid 80’s on the Commodore 64, and then later I was very active in the Amiga demoscene. I took 2 years of traditional art school, and at 18 years of age, I started working in the advertising agency industry as a designer and illustrator. After 10 years, I started working with computer games, and moved to Greece in early 2003 to be part of starting a computer game development Studio. I stayed in Greece for 9 years before returning back home to Norway. It was a result of having a fair amount of spare time when living in Greece which led me to start creating card and board games during evenings, nights, and weekends.
If I’m not making any game related work, it’s often pin-up illustrations. I have no idea how I managed to end up in this genre of art, but it’s a very popular topic and great fun to work with. I’m also pretty sure that 12-year old Henning would approve of my career choices! 😉
Wow, the Commodore 64? That should fire up some of our readers’ nostalgia! So tell us, what’s the greatest takeaway or learning experience from those infant days of video game illustration that you still use today?
I’m really happy being part of the very first generation, being able to create things on computers. Knowing the very basics of computer graphics and then growing alongside with it makes me feel that I’ve somehow understand it well. Techniques have changed a lot since the old days, luckily, so there’s not really anything I’m still directly using, apart from the experience, naturally.
Is there a particular artist’s work/style that has inspired you or informed your own life and work?
I’ve always been active in different art communities. And by interacting with fellow artists, you learn new tricks and get helpful feedback. This has helped me immensely, and is something I couldn’t do without. To me, it’s more about separate art works that inspire me, rather than specific styles or artists.
Well in that case, then, how about is there a particular famous or semi-famous piece of art that you find especially inspiring?
Nothing springs to mind, really. There’s SO much amazing work out there, and I mostly find tons of pieces of art made by fellow artists and friends that I find inspiring. My folder of inspirational art contains thousands and thousands of images, by artists from any walk of life.
On to board games, specifically, what was the first board or card game you did illustrations for and how did you get connected with that project?
My very first game project was illustrating cards for Fantasy Flight Game’s Game of Thrones: The Card Game. Shortly after that, I was offered to create my very first board game, which was Cave Troll. I really enjoyed both projects and have luckily been offered to work on a lot of different card and board games ever since.
You mentioned having worked on over 70 tabletop games. What types and what are maybe some of the most recognizable ones?
I would guess the most recognizable ones include Mansions of Madness, Civilization, A Game of Thrones, Star Wars: Imperial Assault, Descent, and Arkham Horror.
So the bulk of your board game illustrating has been for Fantasy Flight! How did they first “discover” you?
If I remember correctly, my girlfriend Natascha Röösli started illustrating A Game of Thrones cards for FFG, and shortly after I was offered to give it a go as well. During this time we lived in Greece, and had plenty of spare time to work on extra projects like this. The funny thing is this was my first ever meeting with Game of Thrones, and it’s been so much fun seeing characters I’ve painted years ago when watching the TV series. I only knew some fractions of details that I needed to know to be able to illustrate them. Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to read the books… yet…
In what ways does illustrating for FFG games differ from your other work?
It’s a lot more methodical than standard illustration work, but parts are similar to what I do when creating art for computer games. In both genres of work I spend quite a bit of time preparing for the actual tasks ahead. Creating templates and modules to make the actual asset creation process faster.
If I remember correctly, the base game of Descent, 2nd edition, has around 70 room tiles, and all unique. This required quite a bit of planning ahead to make sure I’m not stuck with a workflow that would be counterproductive or limit me in any way, and make sure I didn’t miss my deadline.
Does FFG provide any direction or artistic suggestions? Say, do they have an “art director?” Are there certain hard requirements you must meet, or do you enjoy a little “free license?”
FFG has really friendly and experienced art directors, and we usually bounce a few tile examples back and forth before I roll up my sleeves and start creating all the remaining assets. They usually deliver a really well written explanation on what they’re looking for, but leave a lot of the visual part to me. I’m guessing they know me so well by now that they will send things my way that they believe fits my style.
In regards to your most recent work on FFG’s Imperial Assault, did you have any fears or trepidations about diving into one of the most revered and holy franchises in entertainment history?
Well, not until now, thank you, haha! Well, it’s great fun and at the same time very humbling to study iconic and well known locations from the old Star Wars movies. And even though it’s a challenge to make it look somewhat similar with the restrictions of tile lay-out and such, it’s at the same time so much fun working around that to find the best solution to illustrate it in my own style.
Have you illustrated for any other tabletop companies? If so, what are a couple of differences between them and FFG?
Yes, I’ve done a few other projects. I’ve illustrated a few successful Kickstarter projects like Achtung Cthulhu from Modiphius (UK), and Journey from Marrow Production (China), and a couple of smaller projects. I believe most requests from others arise because of work I’ve done from FFG, so I guess they believe my style might fit their games based on my previous work. I’ve only had positive experiences so far, but because of limited time I like to stick with my steady clients, leaving me having to turn down new inquiries about board game asset creation several times per week.
What project has proven to be your personal favorite?
Board game wise, I enjoy most projects, but if I had to select a few then I would mention that I’ve always had a great time working on Mansions of Madness, both the base game and all expansions. I really love the Lovecraft universe, and being able to create creepy rooms and locations in that setting is just so much fun. I’m also having a great time working on the brand new Star Wars: Imperial Assault board game.
It was also a big moment for me being one of the actual playable characters in Arkham Horror (along with my girlfriend who also used to work for FFG). There are even miniatures made of us, which I think is really awesome.
Computer game wise; I’m currently having a blast working on Shiftlings. A console and PC game being released early March this year. Oops, did that turn into a plug? Sorry! 😛
How about personally – are you a gamer yourself? If so, what are some of your favorites?
I’m unfortunately unable to find enough time to play any kind of games, really. Neither computer games nor board games. I used to play a lot of computer games a few years ago, and also a lot of board games during my stay in Greece. Playing board games is all about convenience, which makes it a bit of a challenge to organize because of where we live today. Every once in a while we do manage to scrape together a few geeky friends and play some games. Still, I keep promising myself that I need to play more games. Being a game developer has kind of “ruined” my computer game experience. Whenever I play a game, I mostly just “walk around,” looking at things to see how things were made. This is why I enjoy watching my girlfriend play games, since she will actually progress and not get stuck in front of a bookshelf in-game, just looking at props.
Are there any other game illustrators you know of whose work you particularly enjoy?
I only know a few others that have some experience doing board game illustrations. I guess it’s a really narrow niche with very few people doing this, at least as far as I know. I guess I should try to reach out and get to know other board game illustrators, but I wouldn’t really know where to start.
They’re out there Henning. This series hopes to showcase illustrators like you! Well, if you could choose one theme or subject for a future game that you have not illustrated before, what would that be?
Good question! Perhaps some kind of more cartoony sci-fi type of visual style would be fun to try out properly, even though I did something that might resemble this in Cosmic Encounter. I do enjoy sci-fi related themes, though, and I had tons of fun working on one of the Battlestar Galactica expansion.
And, finally, what everyone is curious about from all artists, where do you go to for “inspiration?”
Well, I don’t really consider myself an “artist,” but more of an illustrator. So, my aim is to deliver whatever my client is hoping to see. So, my answer for this question is really boring; I basically spend time finding relevant background information and references that help me visualize how to solve the asset creation. I need to feel that I know what I’m currently working on, and that requires some time doing proper research.
However, I have to mention that I’m always listening to music. Music helps me stay focused and on track during the creation process and I’m guessing this could aid me with creative input and inspiration as well.
Examples of your work sure look like art to me! iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Henning for spending some time with us and providing some insight into board game illustration – a fascinating, but often over-looked, aspect to our diverse hobby. Personally, I think he gets the Star Wars vibe just right! If you’d like to get to know Henning a little bit more, or look through his diverse work, please visit the links below: