Jacqui Davis, Ian O’Toole, and Tania Walker
Back when Stellar was forming in the void from a spinning disc of burning hot creativity, we gave three boardgame artists a mission: to create custom space-and-game-themed poster designs for the very first Stellar Prints.
Designed as a test run to showcase the quality and beauty of Stellar Prints, these designs were included in Launch Tabletop’s ‘Launch Kit’ in an exclusive mini format, complete with customisation options.
We spoke with Stellar artists Jacqui Davis, Ian O’Toole, and Tania Walker about their best-known board game projects, the inspiration behind their Stellar prints, and what they’re working on now to spark their creative fires.
What game do people associate with you?
I think perhaps Ex Libris is still the game I'm best known for. That was for Renegade Games. At the time, it was one of the largest games I'd worked on, and it was a lot of fun. Scott Gaeta and Anita Osburn were fantastic to work with.
In Ex Libris, a strategy game with a 45-minute playtime, players are book collectors in a thriving Gnomish village. When the Mayor starts seeking someone to fill the prestigious role of Grand Librarian, players must compete to build the finest personal library in the village, taking into account not only the rarity and quality of their chosen tomes, but also shelf stability, variety, and alphabetisation - and don’t forget to watch out for banned books!
Any one of Vital Lacerda’s games, I’m not sure which one! Maybe On Mars? The box art for that one really seemed to strike a chord with people. The game itself, like most of Vital’s games, was a quite complex challenge from a graphic design standpoint. The worker placement system is intricate, with lots of information needing to be communicated clearly in order for gameplay to flow well. There were also a lot of wooden pieces involved, all of which needed to be easily distinguishable from each other.
The playtesting stage for the graphic design alone took a considerable amount of time, and was a very analytical and iterative process. Once that was testing well with players, the more intuitive and looser process of building theme through illustration and texture could be completed.
From Eagle-Gryphon Games, On Mars is a strategy game with a 90 to 150-minute playtime, during which players must establish a thriving colony on the red planet while completing a series of missions. Careful juggling of resources like air, water, power, food, and land use - and colonists themselves - is essential to success. To the winner goes the world.
Village Pillage probably reached the most people. Designed by the talented team of Tom Lang and Peter C Hayward, it’s essentially a rock-paper-scissors game with a ton of depth and emergent complexity. It’s simple to play, yet you could spend years mastering it. This all makes it sound serious when it is, in fact, hilarious.
I was art director, illustrator and graphic designer on that and several other Jellybean games, which allowed me to develop a harmonious look and feel for each game, and gave me an incredible amount of creative freedom. I work in a style reminiscent of Disney animation - I used to be a Disney animator, so that’s my comfort zone. Village Pillage let me indulge a deep love for silly character design. The game is themed around dirt-poor medieval peasant villagers at war, so I went to bat for the currency to be wooden turnip tokens. Zero regrets. Those things are adorable.
Village Pillage, a simultaneous-play rock-paper-scissors game with a 20-minute playtime, pits players against the opponents sitting either side of them. Managing a hand of cards from four factions with different abilities, players scheme, steal, battle, and betray their way to a fortune of turnips, and all the power the turnip throne can bestow.
What inspired the print you created for Stellar?
Hah, in terms of composition it was a complete stroke of luck. I have a print in my office of the planets lined up in scale. I saw Saturn and thought an astronaut in the rings would be cool. Since we wanted a board game element, I decided to go with rings of dice instead of ice - now I'm kicking myself for not making the planet itself a d20!
For the initial style of the astronaut's suit, my inspiration was Uhura from the original Star Trek, and pulp sci-fi art. When we decided to make the spacer more modern, I wanted to keep that retro feel with bright, fun colours.
I’ve always been drawn to juxtapositions of hard science fiction design with more natural and organic forms.
Alex Garland’s Annihilation and Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker are two of my favourite films, and they both feature a similar sense of uneasy wonder when depicting an environment that is altered by an inexplicable alien influence. My piece for Stellar is far more optimistic than both of those films, but the visual language is still there.
Stylistically there are also a lot of comic book influences present, such as Katsuhiro Otomo, Taiyō Matsumoto, and Mœbius.
In my other life, I’m a science fiction and fantasy author, and I’m particularly interested in stories about life on other worlds. I think I’d also been reading quite a bit of Kim Stanley Robinson at the time, and a lot of his stories deal with the colonisation of Mars. So when the opportunity arose to create a Stellar Print for Launch Tabletop, those interests smashed together in my head.
Stylistically I didn’t want to go too cartoony this time, so I added a bit of grit and grime to the vibe, as befits the stark Martian landscape. Ultimately I want it to be a hopeful piece: this astronaut has found life in the middle of the desolation, after all. And those plants and flowers should look familiar to tabletop gamers.
What recent or current project stokes your creative fires?
Besides some very fun board games that I can't talk about just yet (wink), I've been working on my side project - Sul - with a friend.
Sul is a series of illustrated books based on a fantasy world my friend and I built together over fifteen years of text-based roleplaying, and we thought it would be fun to share it. We've just wrapped up the Kickstarter for the illustrated edition of the first book. Once that is on its way to backers, we'll release the standard version. At the same time, writing on book two has started. So 2023 will be full of writing and illustrating that! It's super hard not to want to share spoilers with everyone, and we're definitely very excited to see what everyone makes of it.
If anyone wants to have a look at what we've been up to, they can check out the website www.sulbook.com or sign up for the newsletter where we'll be sharing updates and news.
I’ve just completed Voidfall, a complex science fiction game that is the largest project I’ve worked on to date. I’m finishing up Vital Lacerda’s next game, called Inventions, as well as Pampero, a heavy euro game about creating wind energy networks. Fit to Print is also finishing up, which is a smaller game about woodland animals trying to lay out the front page of their newspaper. Being delivered to backers right now is Weather Machine, a game I worked really hard on, with a lot of very intricate illustration and theme building.
I also have a bunch of exciting projects lined up in 2023 that I can’t talk about just yet!
Check out Ian O’Toole’s extensive and glorious portfolio of board game art at www.ianotoole.com.
As mentioned above, I’m also a writer, and over the last few years I’ve gradually stepped away from visual art to focus on words. I now primarily work as a copywriter and art director, writing short fiction and novels on the side as Tania Fordwalker. 2022 was a huge year on that front. I attended the competitive six-week Clarion West Writers’ Workshop in Seattle midyear, and around the end of the year, I started the very intense six-month Odyssey Writers’ Workshop, which I’m still completing. Both workshops are geared towards teaching the craft of speculative fiction. Both have been transformative.
I’m currently neck-deep in my second novel, a YA science fiction adventure about wormholes, alien ships with shapeshifting nanotech, and a bunch of people scrambling to beat each other to a habitable world - a world with a catch. (There’s always a catch.)
I’ve published several short stories in various SFF magazines in recent years, which you can check out on my website, www.fordwalker.com.
Jacqui, Ian, and Tania’s Launch Kit posters are now available as full-sized Stellar Prints. Buy one, or collect the set!