Designing the Look of Condottiere
An interview with the artist
With the classic Condottiere joining the Z-Man catalog, we were thrilled to have Tomasz Jedruszek return and create new illustrations to update the game. We caught up with him and asked a few questions about his process and the challenge of tackling new illustrations for a familiar project.
Q: Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions Tomasz! Let’s dive in. Were you excited to revisit a project you worked on previously?
Tomasz: Very excited! But it was scary too. I didn’t realize so many years had passed since working on the first one and a lot has changed since then.
Q: It has been quite a while. The Fantasy Flight edition came out in 2007! What was it like working on the game again 11 years later?
Tomasz: To me it was like finding my old Mustang, dust covered and a little rusty, tucked away in the back of the barn. It’s exciting to get it clean and working again and take it for a ride. It’s exciting to work on something familiar and bring new life to it.
Q: Were there any pieces in particular that you were excited to update in this new version?
Tomasz: The whole project was a challenge. I wondered, can I do better? Should I? Maybe I should keep it in the old style but just update with more details? It was a challenge to come back to the project and think of what I could do differently, definitely an exciting but scary prospect. In particular it was great to have the opportunity to work on the cover this time though.
Q: Did you research that time period in Italy before starting the new art?
Tomasz: Yes. One of the fun parts of every historical project is digging into books, movies, or even playing games set in the time period of the project. It’s important to check visual references but also to feel the mood of the time.
Q: What books, movies, and games did you dig into while doing research?
Tomasz: I watched Cromwell (1970), The Deluge (1974), and Alatriste (2006). There are some really nice works depicting historical periods in a comic book series called Vasco. That was a great resource. I also used the Total War engines or chess to plan battle scenes. They always put me in the strategic/commander mood, which is a welcome mood to be in when it comes to working on a historical theme.
Q: What’s your work process like when taking on a new project and creating the illustrations for it?
Tomasz: I start with gathering references. About 20% of my allocated time is consumed with that. I split these references into two categories: art references and mood references. The artistic visual references help me to see what the weaponry, armor, and clothing of that period looked like. I look at history books and am often led to old paintings to see what other artists created for the same time period. Mood references are more about a feeling. I look at pictures of environments at a specific time of day or year to get ideas for lighting and colors when setting the scene.
I think about the scenes as soon as I get the art descriptions from the client. So when I look for references, I already have an idea of what I’m looking for to help with the scene. Those mental pictures will be bouncing around in my head even when I’m out at the zoo with my kids. I’m already working on the illustrations in the back of my mind.
Next comes sketching. Depending on the schedule for the project, I may have to limit myself to just 1 hour of sketching per illustration. Usually I can produce 1-2 sketches in an hour, but sometimes I can struggle for 3-4 hours on just one sketch. Sketches are the most important part of the job though. Bad sketches may lead to lots of fixes and late changes that then consumes much more time than just spending an extra few hours on the initial sketching process. I usually spend around 30-40% of my time sketching. Don’t skip the sketches!
Finishing up the illustration usually goes quickly. I’ll keep my references close by, grab a little something to drink, turn up the right music and just get to work. Usually this is 30% of the overall process. Finally, there are revisions. If the initial sketch was good and the final illustration follows that design, then there are typically very minor changes. Revisions take up the last 10% of the overall process.
Q: Music can definitely be an important part of the creative process. Do you find yourself listening to a certain type of music to get in the zone?
Tomasz: You might be surprised! I can listen to anything that keeps me working in the moment. I go from Slayer to Bach and from Sex Pistols to Chemical Brothers. While working on Condottiere specifically I listened to a lot of ACDC and a bit of Armia, a Polish punk rock band.
Q: How many versions of the art did you go through before settling on a final card design?
Tomasz: Usually it’s a good idea to make at least 3 very different versions. Try to push yourself to explore different layouts. Then make sketches of the best one, making small adjustments to refine the idea.
Q: Do you have a favorite piece you worked on?
Tomasz: I really like the winter and summer cards in both editions of the game. It’s fun to look at both versions and play a “spot the differences” game. I also loved working on the cover for this edition too.
Q: What piece did you spend the most time on?
Tomasz: I spent the most time on the cover, of course. But for the card illustrations the Turncoat was the one that took the longest. It’s one of those cards where you have to show so much in the scene but it’s impossible to show everything. It’s a challenge to decide what part has to be sacrificed to make the overall image work.
Q: Getting the right composition to show what you need at a glance is definitely a challenge but you did a great job with the new illustrations. You mentioned being excited to tackle the cover illustration this time. How many different compositions did you create for that?
Tomasz: I wanted to do more but I limited myself to exploring just 3 composition options. Pretty quickly it was determined that there was one possible setting for the new cover. I had to show the town with a general commanding his army to start the siege. I wanted to show the two sides, the defenders and the attackers. Since we needed to see the commander of the attacking force that made the “camera” angle easy. The camera had to be set on the attacking side and show the defending army in the distance in front of the town.
Because of the compositional angle, it required me to show the commander’s back. I did try to show a little of the commander’s face by angling him on the hill, watching his army in the distance. I kept him in shadow with cold tones then drew attention to some of the details with warm tones, which echo the colors in the distance. Typically in nature the color gets cooler in the distance with more blues, but this is a good old cartoon/comic book trick to put warm colors in the distance. It works great for game covers.
Q: When you work on updating an existing game, how is it different from working on a brand-new game?
Tomasz: It might look easy, but it is a challenge to return to something you did before. Thankfully, I knew what the client wanted, which is not that easy when tackling a new project. Returning to a previous project I knew I must challenge myself to do the new version better. The previous version wasn’t bad but there is always room for improvement.
Q: How did you get your start in illustrating for games?
Tomasz: I worked hard. I don't just mean posting a new sketch on Instagram every day or making a YouTube tutorial once a month. I was working 24/7 using up kilos of paper a day, sending 400-500 emails to publishers, companies, magazines, art contests, etc. It's a lot of work, but once you get printed and everyone sees how good you are you don't have to do the mailing stuff anymore. People will start to come to you. Once I got printed by Mongoose Publishing and White Wolf Publishing, soon after Fantasy Flight Games and others followed. I never had to look for work anymore. The work came to me.
Keep an eye on our website in the coming weeks for more articles covering the gameplay and rules for this classic game.