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26 April 2022
Michael Coe

Juegos Con Arte Interviews Niki!

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Nikoletta Vaszi | Interviews with Art

Games with Art Interview No. 88 | Nikoletta Vaszi illustrator of board games, card games, book covers, and concepts


After enjoying the art of the Tiny Epic board game series in each game, we had the obligation to interview Nikoletta Vaszi, one of those responsible for its art, to learn more about her and, in the process, to explain to us how it was created and the experience of working for the publisher Gamelyn Games.

I let you enjoy his art.

ESP | Welcome Nikoletta, for our readers who still don’t know your work, could you tell us a little about yourself and your beginnings in illustration?

Hi, thank you for having me. My name is Niki and I live in the UK with my husband.

My artistic journey started when I was around 10 years old. I loved animations and I wanted to be an animator. Drawing was also an escape mechanism I read on alongside with reading books and writing small stories. My Mum raised two children alone, we never really had much disposable income so my access was very limited to education and material things. I grew up in Hungary and at that time an art career was not really a thing so no one really supported or took seriously my ambitions to become a professional artist.

I moved to England at age 18; I had to start to work and support myself financially. Art at that time was only a hobby. What put me back on my artistic journey was a very bad and long sickness. I was pulling insane hours on regular bases for years as a waitress and that took a toll on my health, causing permanent damage.

We sat down with my husband and decided I have to change my career. We reorganized our life, I bought my first Wacom tablet and I started to learn digital art. I was 25.

I tried to take the “official” route; I completed a foundation year in art and design in London, gained admission to university but there were issues granting the student loan. By the time they approved it I had lost my place and I already put plan B in motion. Plan B was I am gonna do this in my way and take a risk.

I had part-time jobs while I was educating myself. I subscribed to Schoolism, got book books from the library, like Andrew Loomis and James Gurney. Three years in I have started to get commissions, small concept art jobs like creating characters.

Nowadays I mostly work on card and board games, book covers. selling character designs and occasionally taking commissions.

ESP | Welcome Nikoletta, for our readers who still don’t know your work, could you tell us a little about yourself and your beginnings in illustration?

Hello, thanks for the invitation. My name is Niki and I live in the UK with my husband.

My artistic career began when I was about 10 years old. I loved animations and wanted to be an animator. Drawing was also an escape mechanism that I leaned on along with reading books and writing short stories. My mother raised two children alone, we never had much disposable income, so my access to education and material things was very limited. I grew up in Hungary and at that time the artistic career was not very widespread, so no one supported or took seriously my ambitions to become a professional artist.

I moved to England at the age of 18; I had to start working and support myself financially. Art at that time was just a hobby. What made me go back in my artistic path was a very serious and long illness. I had been working long hours for years as a waitress and it took a toll on my health, causing permanent damage. Talking with my husband and we decided that he had to change careers. We rearranged our lives, he bought me my first Wacom tablet and I started learning digital art. He was 25 years old.

I tried to take the “official” route; I did a foundation year in art and design in London, I got admission to the university but there were problems granting the student loan. When they approved it, I had already lost the place and I already started plan B. Plan B was that I was going to do this my way and take my chances.

I had part-time jobs while I was studying. I subscribed to Schoolism, and got books from the library, like Andrew Loomis and James Gurney. At the age of three, I began to receive commissions, small works of conceptual art such as the creation of characters.

Nowadays I mostly work on card and board games, book covers, selling character designs and occasionally taking commissions.

ESP | What artists or references do you think have influenced your style and way of working today?

World of Warcraft definitely had a big impact. My friend had a PC and internet and he let me play on his account of him, so I had been playing pretty much since 2004. However not anymore as I just don’t have the time and energy. Later other games played roles like Divinity 2 from Larian and Witcher 3 from CD Projekt Red.

I have many artists who inspire me in all different ways. Without any order; Marco Djurdjevic, Dave Greco, Mike Azevedo, Trent Kaniuga, Nesskain HKS, Craig Mullins, Marco Bucci, Nathan Fowkes and the list goes on and on. I think it is worth learning from these artists, they all have different and amazing styles but style is more like who you are than what you know professionally and on that level their knowledge is immensely valuable.

ESP | What artists or references do you think have influenced your style and the way you work today?

World of Warcraft certainly had a big impact. My friend had a PC and internet and he would let me play on his account, so I’ve been playing practically since 2004. Not anymore, though, because I don’t have the time or energy. Later, other games played an important role, such as Larian’s Divinity 2 and CD Projekt Red’s Witcher 3.

There are many artists who inspire me in every way. Without any order; Marco Djurdjevic, Dave Greco, Mike Azevedo, Trent Kaniuga, Nesskain HKS, Craig Mullins, Marco Bucci, Nathan Fowkes and the list goes on and on. I think it’s worth learning from these artists, they all have different and amazing styles, but style is more like who you are than what you know professionally and at that level, your knowledge is immensely valuable.

ESP | Now that we know you better, we want to highlight your great work for Gamelyn Games’ Tiny Epic series. What was the first game in the series that you illustrated and what did you learn from that project?

Tiny Epic Tactics, 2018. Michael Coe, CEO of Gamelyn Games has reached out to me with the project. He found my Little Heroes series, he liked them and he was curious if I was interested in creating a series of characters in that particular style. So I did a trial which went well, he was happy with the result and we started to work together.

The deadline was very tight so what I learned is how to work more efficiently but maintain quality. I created a method to handle the workload, make the deadline and give the best quality I could.

ESP | Now that we know you better, we want to highlight your great work for Gamelyn Games’ Tiny Epic series. What was the first game in the series that you illustrated and what did you learn from that project?

Tiny Epic Tactics, 2018. Michael Coe, CEO of Gamelyn Games contacted me about the project. He found my Little Heroes series, liked it, and was curious if he was interested in creating a series of characters in that particular style. So I did a test that went well, he was happy with the result and we started working together.

The deadline was very tight, so what I learned is to work more efficiently while maintaining quality. I created a method to manage the workload, meet the deadline and deliver the best possible quality.

ESP | Of the entire series, in Tiny Epic Dinosaurs you did all the art for the game. Tell us how was your creation process and what challenges do you find in its elaboration?

My creation process usually looks like this: reading the brief several times, doing some research, gathering references, inspiration, studying the requested style, then organizing all these info so I can readily use them while I work. The first couple of artworks are the most challenging as we try to establish the overall look, I try to find the most suitable method to produce the illustrations. One of my trusty methods is working in black and white then after approval colorize them. I regularly send updates and request reviews throughout the project from concept phase to finals. I think good communication between client and artist is essential.

The biggest challenge was drawing dinos; up to that point I only drew a couple of times and now I had a whole project in my hand and they needed to look cute but still dangerous. I did studies and watched some dinosaur documentaries to get a nice grasp on the theme.

ESP | Of the entire series, in Tiny Epic Dinosaurs you did all the art for the game. Tell us how was your creation process and what challenges do you find in its elaboration ?

My creation process usually goes like this: read the brief several times, do some research, gather references, inspiration, study the requested style, and then organize all this information so that it can be easily used as I work. The first works are the most difficult, since it is about establishing the general aspect, and I try to find the most suitable method to produce the illustrations; one of my trusted methods is to work in black and white and, upon approval, color them. I regularly send updates and request reviews throughout the entire project, from concept to final. I believe that good communication between the client and the artist is essential.

The biggest challenge was drawing dinosaurs;Until then I had only drawn a couple of times and now I had a whole project on my hands and they had to look cute but dangerous at the same time. I did studies and watched some documentaries about dinosaurs to understand the subject well.

ESP | We have to confess that we LOVE the Allosaurus you created. What is your favorite dinosaur from Tiny Epic Dinosaurs?

Mosasaurus – I love sea creatures and a little silliness. I had fun painting the shark 🙂Robot tricera, aka Gamelydon is awesome too – I really enjoyed creating him. I love the Fossil T Rex too. Okay I stop…soon I will list all of them for various reasons😀

ESP | We have to confess that we love the Allosaurus you have created. What is your favorite dinosaur from Tiny Epic Dinosaurs?

Mosasaurus – I love sea creatures and kind of goofy. I had fun painting the 🙂 Robot shark tricera aka Gamelydon is awesome too – I really enjoyed creating him. I also love the Fossil T Rex. Okay, I’ll stop… soon I will make a list of all of them for various reasons😀

ESP | In Tiny Epic Tactics we can see a large number of characters. How was the documentation and creation process for all these units? Do they usually give you freedom when creating them?

Yes, 32 in total, plus monsters. I got the brief with the descriptions of the characters – some of them were very specific, I got reference pictures attached as well as they were well-established characters in the Gamelyn universe, like Sir Gamelyn. I usually have creative freedom with some limits. It is not like I do whatever I want, it is more like I start concepting, sketching and this opens up the discussion of what would be the direction. It works as an anchor point. Michael is very open-minded so presenting ideas is never an offense, at the same time he has a very strong vision about his projects – he knows what he wants. I am here to help those visions realize so we communicate every idea.

ESP | En Tiny Epic Tactics podemos ver un gran número de personajes. ¿Cómo fue el proceso de documentación y creación de todas estas unidades? ¿Suelen dar libertad a la hora de crearlos?

Sí, 32 en total, más los monstruos. Recibí el briefing con las descripciones de los personajes -algunos de ellos eran muy específicos, me adjuntaron imágenes de referencia además de que eran personajes bien establecidos en el universo Gamelyn, como Sir Gamelyn. Normalmente tengo libertad creativa con algunos límites. No es que haga lo que quiera, es más bien que empiezo a concebir, a esbozar y esto abre la discusión sobre cuál sería la dirección. Funciona como un punto de anclaje. Michael tiene una mentalidad muy abierta, por lo que presentar ideas nunca es una ofensa, pero al mismo tiempo tiene una visión muy fuerte sobre sus proyectos: sabe lo que quiere. Yo estoy aquí para ayudar a que esas visiones se hagan realidad, así que comunicamos todas las ideas.

ENG | When you illustrate a card, the art and design must be adapted to have good readability, could you give our readers 3 tips that you consider key to illustrating cards for board games?

1) Make sure the illustration reads and works in black and white. You can set up a second window in Photoshop; Window>Arrange>New window for XY, then View>Proof set ups> Custom> Dot grain 20%. Or just pull a new layer on the top of everything, fill it with black and set the layer style in color.

2) Squinting or zooming out regularly. This helps to see if you can still tell what is on the card. If it reads like a big blob of mess, you have to work on the values more. It should look like a chessboard – light on dark and dark on light. It takes a lot of time and practice to get a grip of this and I think I still need to learn a lot about values but this is a good starting point.

3) Good composition. Read the brief and know the purpose, the story. Highest contrast (value, shape, details, color and so on) should be at the focal point but to know where the focal point you need to know the story. Try to avoid over detailing and such as those can derail the whole picture. I am totally guilty to over rendering things and losing focal point; layers and undo button is my way to go back in time 😀 It is okay to make mistakes. What matters is the ability to recognize and correct them.

ESP | Cuando ilustras una carta, el arte y el diseño deben adaptarse para tener una buena legibilidad, ¿podrías dar a nuestros lectores 3 consejos que consideras clave para ilustrar cartas para juegos de mesa?

1) Asegúrate de que la ilustración se lee y funciona en blanco y negro. Puedes configurar una segunda ventana en Photoshop; Ventana>Rango>Nueva ventana para XY, y luego Ver>Configuración de la prueba> Personalizada> Grano de punto 20%. O simplemente tire una nueva capa en la parte superior de todo, llenarlo con negro y establecer el estilo de capa en color.

2) Entrecerrar los ojos o alejar el zoom regularmente. Esto ayuda a ver si todavía puedes leer lo que está en la carta. Si se lee como una gran mancha desordenada, tiene que trabajar más en los valores. Debería parecerse a un tablero de ajedrez: claro sobre oscuro y oscuro sobre claro. Se necesita mucho tiempo y práctica para dominar esto y creo que todavía tengo que aprender mucho sobre los valores, pero este es un buen punto de partida.

3) Buena composición. Leer el briefing y conocer el objetivo, la historia. El mayor contraste (valor, forma, detalles, color, etc.) debe estar en el punto focal, pero para saber dónde está el punto focal hay que conocer la historia. Intenta evitar el exceso de detalles y demás, ya que pueden desbaratar el conjunto de la imagen. Yo soy totalmente culpable de sobredimensionar las cosas y perder el punto focal; las capas y el botón de deshacer son mi forma de volver atrás en el tiempo 😀 Está bien cometer errores. Lo que importa es la capacidad de reconocerlos y corregirlos.

ENG |  For Tiny Epic Pirates we can see a change in their art, being more realistic and adult. Is that the type of (more realistic) art you feel most comfortable with?

Tiny Epic Tactics and Dinosaurs’ style is not everyones cup of tea. There is the bad association that cartoony, stylized art is for kids only. I think this is false, I think it is good to have different types of styles, why so serious all the time? I think the audience got used to realistic styles too much with the advanced technology. Movies, video games become hyper realistic, played out front of green screens, motion capture recording method, everything is 3D. I think the whole purpose of art is expression and diversity.

Now every movie, every game looks the same. I recently just had a chance to watch Arcane, the League of Legends story series and it blew my mind as an artist. Perfect combination of utilizing modern technology but having a unique artistic expression. I think Gamelyn is doing the right thing to allow as many styles as possible and dedicate whole projects for a particular style. Keep in mind art is subjective so I am not saying one style is good or bad, I am saying any style can be fun.

When it comes to my style I am pretty much a chameleon. It is not rare that the first half of my day I work in a stylized style and in the second half in a more realistic or painterly one. I tell you it can be exhausting and the biggest downfall of this is I am jack of all trades but master of none. I got used to this and it pushes me out of my comfort zone, forces me to learn, improve and adapt. I learned to love the creating process, the style at this point is not really a matter.

ESP | En el caso de Tiny Epic Pirates podemos ver un cambio en su estilo, siendo más realista y adulto. ¿Es ese tipo de estilo (más realista) es con el que te sientes más cómoda?

El estilo de Tiny Epic Tactics and Dinosaurs no es del agrado de todos. Existe la mala asociación de que el arte caricaturesco y estilizado es sólo para niños. Creo que esto es falso, creo que es bueno tener diferentes tipos de estilo, ¿por qué tan serio todo el tiempo? Creo que el público se ha acostumbrado demasiado a los estilos realistas con la tecnología avanzada. Las películas y los videojuegos se han vuelto hiperrealistas, se representan delante de pantallas verdes, con el método de grabación de captura de movimiento, todo es 3D. Creo que el objetivo del arte es la expresión y la diversidad.

Ahora todas las películas, todos los juegos parecen iguales. Hace poco tuve la oportunidad de ver Arcane, la serie de historias de League of Legends, y me dejó boquiabierto como artista. Es una combinación perfecta de utilización de la tecnología moderna, pero con una expresión artística única. Creo que Gamelyn está haciendo lo correcto al permitir tantos estilos como sea posible y dedicar proyectos enteros a un estilo particular. Hay que tener en cuenta que el arte es subjetivo, así que no estoy diciendo que un estilo sea bueno o malo, sino que cualquier estilo puede ser divertido.

En lo que respecta a mi estilo, soy bastante camaleónico. No es raro que la primera mitad del día trabaje en un estilo estilizado y en la segunda mitad en uno más realista o pictórico. Te digo que puede ser agotador y que la mayor desventaja de esto es que soy un experto en todo pero a la vez en nada. Me acostumbré a esto y me empuja a salir de mi zona de confort, me obliga a aprender, mejorar y adaptarme. Aprendí a amar el proceso de creación, el estilo en este momento no es realmente una cuestión.

ENG | Tell us about your creation process and what challenges have you encountered in making Tiny Epic Pirates?

My creation process is always tailored to the actual project. Starting in grayscale then colorizing it, or starting with lineart, flat colors then adding the shadows and lights layer by layer, or freestyle – just start to paint under a loose sketch and combination of these.

The biggest challenge was that most of the artwork was already done but Michael needed some extra artworks ASAP. I had to try to mimic Felix Wermke’s style which is a bit different from work in a general artstyle, or work with someone from the beginning, collaborating. Plus my workstation has just died on me. Tight deadline, struggling to adapt that style, and working on a backup laptop with only 8GB ram.

But as they say:


Smooth seas don’t make good sailors.


ESP | ¿Háblenos de su proceso de creación y de los retos que ha encontrado al hacer Tiny Epic Pirates?

Mi proceso de creación siempre se adapta al proyecto en cuestión. Comienzo en escala de grises y luego lo coloreo, o empiezo con lineart, colores planos y luego añado las sombras y las luces capa a capa, o estilo libre -simplemente empiezo a pintar bajo un boceto suelto y una combinación de estos.

El mayor reto era que la mayor parte de las ilustraciones ya estaban hechas, pero Michael necesitaba algunas ilustraciones adicionales cuanto antes. Tuve que intentar imitar el estilo de Felix Wermke, que es un poco diferente de trabajar en un estilo artístico general, o trabajar con alguien desde el principio, colaborando. Además, mi equipo de trabajo acababa de morir. Un plazo ajustado, luchando por adaptar ese estilo y trabajando en un portátil de reserva con sólo 8GB de ram.

Pero como dicen:

Los mares tranquilos no hacen buenos marineros.

ENG | Finally, one of your last works for the series is the Tiny Epic Dungeon, where we can see a wide variety of objects and weapons, what are the challenges to keep these elements interesting and attractive?

Know the story of those objects/subjects and explore it. Ask questions, like what do you associate with panthers? You know they are cats, they have dark colors, nocturnals, they are sneaky, mysterious, dangerous, they have sharp claws but at the same time, they ooze elegance. You know you will use blacks, purples, or blues, and silvery colors, dark tones, also sharp edges but with twists and swirls here and there to add elegance. If you know the story you can tell it.

ESP | Por último, uno de tus últimos trabajos para la serie es el Tiny Epic Dungeon, donde podemos ver una gran variedad de objetos y armas, ¿cuáles son los retos para mantener estos elementos interesantes y atractivos?

Conocer la historia de esos objetos/sujetos y explorarla. Haz preguntas, como ¿qué asocias con las panteras? Sabes que son gatos, que tienen colores oscuros, que son nocturnos, que son escurridizos, misteriosos, peligrosos, que tienen garras afiladas pero que al mismo tiempo rezuman elegancia. Sabes que usarás negros, morados o azules, y colores plateados, tonos oscuros, también bordes afilados pero con giros y remolinos aquí y allá para añadir elegancia. Si conoces la historia puedes contarla.

ENG | Finally, what projects are you currently working on?

On a professional level, it is top secret, but on a personal level I can share some info. Currently, whenever I have an extra hour or so free I learn Blender and develop my IP. The story builds around a druid, Neeko Northwind and is about her and her friends adventures. It is a big world-building project with story, so I am designing characters, environments, society structure, plots and many more. I have a good friend who helps out with story writing as he is an expert in that. This is my play time nowadays.

ESP | Por último, ¿en qué proyectos está trabajando actualmente?

A nivel profesional es alto secreto, pero a nivel personal puedo compartir alguna información. Actualmente, cada vez que tengo una hora libre más o menos, aprendo Blender y desarrollo mi IP. La historia gira en torno a una druida, Neeko Northwind, y trata de sus aventuras y las de sus amigos. Es un gran proyecto de construcción de un mundo con historia, así que estoy diseñando personajes, entornos, estructura de la sociedad, tramas y muchas cosas más. Tengo un buen amigo que me ayuda a escribir la historia, ya que es un experto en ello. Este es mi tiempo de juego hoy en día.

Muchas gracias Niki 😉

(Todas las imágenes cedidas por Nikoletta Vaszi)

No dejes de seguir a Nikoletta Vaszi para ver sus últimos trabajos en el sector de los juegos de mesa:

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