Wits and Wisdom: The Making of Everdell
The board game Everdell will always hold a special place in my heart. While Everdell happened in the middle of my career as an artist, and it wasn’t the first board game I illustrated, it really was the start of a new career in board games, a pastime I have been passionate about all my life. That’s why I’m also so pleased to hear that Everdell means a lot to others. With that being the case, I thought it would be interesting to share the story of how I got involved with the project.
For a long time, I believed that I got the job for Everdell because of some active marketing on my part. I had started attending GenCon in 2014 in order to get playtesting help for my game Planecrafters. The first year, I was so busy with freelance client work in video games, that I barely went into the exhibition hall. If I wasn’t in the First Exposure Playtest Hall, I was sitting on the floor in some random hall painting on my iPad. When I went back in 2015, I came prepared to find work. Between playtesting sessions, I visited every publisher booth and gave them my card. I remember meeting Dan Yarrington, owner of Tabletop Tycoon/Game Salute, and giving him my card. I wasn’t a complete rookie in the tabletop world, having illustrated Mission: Red Planet and Citadels. But there weren’t any bites. I went back in 2016 and did the same thing. I’m pretty sure I gave Dan Y another card. But again, nothing came of it. Until one day in 2017, when I got an email from Dann May, art director at Game Salute, with a game he needed art for. I assumed he got my card from Dan Y. It wasn’t until years later that I found out that Dan Y had not passed on my card (still love the guy) and Dann M had found me completely on his own. We talked about a project he called Everwood (I believe) and the critter world he was trying to create. Being a big Redwall/Don Bluth fan, I was immediately sold. We talked about timelines and budgets and it was clear that this wasn’t going to be a quick gig, but something much more involved…and I wanted to be a part of it. Badly.
While waiting to hear if they would hire me, I decided to send a subtle message to Dann. I knew he followed me on social media, so I decided to do some sketches of cute critters doing stuff and post them…saying, in my own way, “Hey…I’m going to make these guys whether you like it or not…pretty please, can I have the job?!” I don’t remember if he actually saw the posts. But shortly after, he contacted me to see if I could meet him at GenCon that year and playtest the prototype. We met, I playtested, and they informed me that they wanted me to be the artist of Everwood.
When I started a few months later, the name of the game had changed to Everdell. Dann M had a vision for game theme and some ideas on how to integrate elements of the game design into the art. It might have been worth doing some concept art for the world, but we decided to test the art direction by jumping right into the art of two cards.
The first two finished illustrations for Everdell were the Inn and Innkeeper cards. To this day, I absolutely love the Inn art...and feel pretty meh about the Innkeeper. Sorry...he just doesn’t do it for me 🙂 I feel extra bad, because I know he’s a favorite for many. It was always part of the plan to see the matching critters with their corresponding construction (the innkeeper would be seen in the inn illustration), so tackling these two illustrations were strategic. It was a chance to see how we could implement this game design element into the art. While we clearly settled on a specific pattern in the future cards, we tried something a little different with this first illustration. The badger innkeeper is not, himself, in the inn art. But is represented through the inn signage above the door. I believe this is the only time we did that.
From there, we jumped to the cover illustration. This is still one of my favorite illustrations of all time. And I’m glad it’s resonated with so many others. One interesting thing about this piece is that it is one of the last images I made completely from my desktop computer in Photoshop. Most of my work beyond this point, including all future Everdell covers and cards, has been done on an iPad Pro in the app Procreate. And as part of that change, my process and techniques changed a little too. I think one can see those changes if they really examine this cover and future work, but it’s pretty subtle. Perhaps I’ll go into detail about this in a future blog post. Anyway, Dann and I spent quite a bit of time on this cover illustration and it really helped establish a direction for future features like architecture and smaller items in the world. I think it also helped establish the mood for what the rest of the art would feel like. Calm and serene, but still big and immersive. The process was much like any other cover illustration I’ve created…3-4 sketches, a couple color roughs, and then the final. I still love some of the sketches I did first…maybe someday, I’ll do an alternate cover. Or make an Everdell mat with a new illustration using one of the other sketches. We’ll see.
After creating the cover, I moved straight into card art. And there was a lot of that. Dann had created a fantastic layout for the all the cards, so I knew exactly where my art would be obstructed and where it wouldn’t. With much of the overall direction already established through the first two cards and the cover, the rest of the art was just having fun with cool characters and locations. From this point, I usually only sent a single sketch to Dann for approval. I did a color rough for myself, as part of my process, but I didn’t send any of those to Dann. There were occasional revisions needed in a sketch, but, for the most part, Dann and I were completely in sync. He put a lot of trust in me, which built my confidence (us artists often struggle in this department) and made the experience so much more fun! As I moved forward fairly independently, I tried to focus on using a variety of color palettes, compositions, and perspectives between illustrations and I think this is a significant part of the what makes the world of Everdell feel so fleshed out.
The overall experience of creating Everdell was inspiring, creatively fulfilling, and so much fun. But it also came at a time when I was totally overworking myself. Back then, my day consisted of working, yawning, working, then yawning…repeated for 10-12 hours, with a little extra put in before bed. I probably had 4-5 different client projects going on at the same time. So, sometimes I look back and wish I could have given more time to this illustration or that illustration. But in the end, I love what we (Dann, Brenna, James, Dan, and I) were able to create.
At this point, I've created well over 200 different illustrations for the world of Everdell. And I think there's more to come.
Average time it takes to create an Everdell card from start to finish: about a day…sometimes a little less.
Number of times I’ve played Everdell: 5-ish. It’s low because its hard to get my wife and kids to play, not because I don’t like it.
Number of Everdell expansions I’ve played: 0. See above.
Favorite Critter: Ranger. It’s a no brainer. Everdell or Dunadain, I’m always a ranger 🙂
Favorite Construction: The inn, for sure. I love the castle too.
Favorite Everdell component: Squishy berries.
Favorite Everdell card ability: Miner Mole or Lookout