In the beginning of designing Nut Stash I knew I was going to need an artist. I grew up taking every art class I could and dreaming of being a comic book artist. But I had become rusty in my adult life. Through working two jobs and wanting a social life I hardly find time to draw beyond a sketch for work. I’m a trained graphic designer by trade and mainly use the computer over a pen or pencil now. Since I grew up loving cartoons and comics, I wanted Nut Stash to have a Saturday morning cartoon vibe. A vibe I was too rusty to make.
I made one of many designer’s first mistakes and I coordinated with some friends from college and high school to get the artwork done. Quickly, I learned to pay for a professional over using a friend. One friend after another eventually told me they were too busy or unmotivated to complete the 16 card faces I would need for my game. Going back, I wish they would have just told me they didn’t have the time rather then wasting months I could have used to find a new artist and complete my game.
This is when I decided to vent to my friend Ryan, a long-time game lover and designer. He had many similar tales of artists dropping his projects even when they had been paid to do them. Years ago, he had worked on a series of children’s books with a friend named Alan Cooper. He sent me Al’s website and DeviantArt profile. As an artist, make sure to keep up on your website! Al’s site wasn’t what I was looking for. But Ryan urged me to look at his DeviantArt page saying he could do the Saturday morning cartoon style I was looking for.
Today, I am grateful for Ryan’s push of pairing of me and Al together. Ryan sent an introductory e-mail which lead to a great partnership. Al was quick to respond, fast to edit and fair as far as his pricing. Since he lived in Canada all of our communications where through e-mail. The only issue we had was my Gmail spam filter hated his e-mail address. Even when I told it to add him to my contacts some of the larger e-mails went to spam.
When it came to ordering the art I had my card dimensions already set as a poker card size with a bleed. I had worked in print, so sizing wasn’t an issue for me. With every new card I needed I wrote the descriptions, provided examples and would even sketch designs. In many ways this helped us move faster in the design process. I contacted Al in the end of September 2018 and he had all 14 original card designs finished by the beginning of November. Just in time for me to have them printed for PAX Unplugged in Philly. Through play testing at the convention I added 2 new card designs to the deck. These cards took longer because Coyotes turned out to be harder to illustrate then either of us thought. Color seemed to be the main issue when finalizing art. Quickly, I learned I needed to include examples of the colors I was talking about. Sometimes I’d attach a reference image and other times I would take the image into Photoshop and play with the color myself.
My take-aways from this experience is don’t use friends. This can cause a strain on your relationship even if they do complete the project. There are so many ways to find artists these days thanks to the internet. Don’t settle for an ok artist just because they’re local. E-mails and Skype can solve most of those long-distance communication issues. Reference pictures, color samples and rough sketches are great ways to communicate what you’re saying. A picture is worth a thousand words after all. When you don’t personally know the artist keep it professional. Do not stiff them on the bill. Decide before they do any art how pricing will work. For us there was a set price on each card and a larger price for the cover. Edits where included in the per card price even though I did throw in a little extra in as a thank you. We decided this price off of how long he thought each illustration would take then rounded up since edits were included. On my side it’s better to negotiate a set price versus hourly. The reason for this is you have no clue how fast or slow this artist might be. When I do freelance work I typically ask what the person prefers as far as payment. Al and I agreed that he would give me the art files after I paid. He had sent jpegs of the card designs for me to comment on, but I wanted the original files. Every 3 or 4 cards that were completed I paid for and received the art files.
Since I do graphic design and use to illustrate I thought I would have a hard time working with a different artist. I won’t lie, I had Al edit a lot of things. But most of it was color and not his design. He did a great job of taking my rough sketch and adding his own flare. He’d draw the image first for me to approve before inking and coloring. There were very few sketches I didn’t approve of. The extra details to the cards he put in just added to the game. I only had to tweak things like spacing and the nut and chest symbols for printing purposes once I had the art files.
When I first premiered Nut Stash everyone’s first comment was about the art. I have yet to meet someone that didn’t appreciate the comical, light heartedness of these woodland creatures. I decided the Nut cards would be based on places you find nuts like a Nut Crackers mouth or a baseball game. While the Stash cards are places real squirrels and chipmunks hide their nuts for winter. Through play testing and social media, I have stood out compared to the average first time designer because of Al’s hard work in making my game a reality.
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