Edit: There is also a sibling "AMA" thread on Board Game Geek.
I've been blessed with many amazing opportunities over my years as an artist, and every time it was all about communities, about people. This is one of those stories.
For the past year and a half, I've been working with a small team of truly wonderful people, taking on a tough challenge: re-imagining what is now a classic of the board games scene—Wingspan by Stonemaier Games—and create the art for their new game: Wyrmspan.
Creating a whole new game, while remaining faithful to the foundation laid out by the original one. Being new enough, and familiar enough at the same time.
Jamey (the creator of Stonemaier) summoned a dream team for this: Connie Vogelmann for the game design (who designed Apiary before that) and Elizabeth Hargrave (who designed Wingspan) as a developer.
New, and familiar.
Dragons' Lore... And Then Some.The other challenge was the theme. Dragons.
Few topics have inspired as much imaginary tales and lore as dragons. There is already enough material to fill up a national library (and that's even before mentioning the rock stars: Smaug, Elliot, Haku, Falkor, Mushu, Toothless, or—you know—Dungeons & Dragons...), and yet we had to create some more.
Here again, we needed to stay true to what a dragon is, to the existing lore, and yet keep enough freedom to invent our world.
New, and familiar (you get the idea 😆).
Connie and I each did our own deep dive into Dragon's lore and met at the other end.
With her acute analytical and methodical process, Connie categorised the dragons, extracting the essence of the lore, and I went down a historical and geographical rabbit hole, trying to understand where dragons came from and what made up the core, the common traits, of every, any, dragon.
It was fascinating to realise that dragons appear, in one shape or another, in so many ancient civilisations, in every corner of the world.
From the well-known North, to the infamous Asian, to the Egyptian, the Mayan and more.
Almost always, a reptilian base, mixed with all kinds of other types of animal.
Wings or not ; legs or not ; one or two heads ; feather, scale or fur... All dragons.
As if dragons had understood diversity before we did.
This became the base of my work and it gave us a lot of freedom.
I delved into myths, nature's oddities, and even my dreams, conjuring creatures never seen before.
Imagine a shimmering, butterfly wyrm, its wings reflecting stardust. Or a lumbering rock giant, scales like ancient mountains, moss clinging to its craggy hide. These weren't mere monsters; they were individuals, each with their very own personalities and quirks.
Some sported feathery crests, others sprouted leafy giant wings. Some gilded gracefully, while others lumbered on earthshaking, clawed feet.
That freedom was necessary. You see, creating one dragon is easy. Twenty, with sufficiently different traits, still easy enough. Two hundred? That's significantly harder.With each new one, with each idea you get, the next one is that much harder to come up with.
A style research board
We also got to be more playful. You'll find one inspired by an owl, or a fox, and even one paying homage to Jamey's cats 🐱.
Some hardcore dragon-lore scholars—Dracologists—might be annoyed by the approach and the art, but it's OK. Dragons are about imagination anyway, and we strongly believe that everyone else will be delighted by the variety and subtlety.
I can't emphasise enough how wonderful this team is
This post is about the art and the process/effort behind it, but the amount of work that Connie, Elizabeth and Jamey have put in is nothing short of heroic.
On top of all the new core game mechanics and play-testing (a feat in itself), building a family of 200 dragons, all with a name and traits, then balancing it all and making it cohesive was a very tedious process that Connie somehow managed to make seem easy.
(See a bit more in this post from Connie)
Thank you, Jamey, for this amazing opportunity.
A Note About The Gameplay
This post is about art, and I'm really not the best person to discuss gameplay, but if you’re here, you might be interested.Wyrmspan is not a re-skinned Wingspan.
It's a new game, in the same family, borrowing some of the best features of Wingspan, and introducing a lot of changes (see the Rules & FAQ) for more details).
The cave cards (I love those cards 😍), the hatchlings, the guilds, and so much more.
We play a lot of Wingspan at home, and I can't wait to get my hands on my Wyrmspan set.
The hard part will be having to choose which one we want to play...
(well, I might be biased towards Wyrmspan, don't judge me 🤣)
The Art & The Process
We started with five dragons, going back and forth with Jamey, setting the tone for the rest of the art. The idea was also to get a feel of how much effort (read "time") would be needed, and for me to get comfortable that we could scale from 5 to 200...
Analogue vs Digital
If you know me, you also know that I'm all for real painting and I only use digital tools for research. Wyrmspan was no different, each and every dragon was created with actual paint & ink, on paper.
But while we were working on the first designs, something became very clear: the level of detail and finish we both wanted would have required me spending an average of 2 days per dragon. Times 200, and the game would have taken years to design. So I introduced a 2-step process: an ink & paper one with the full dragon, but without going too deep into the details (i.e. textures), and then augmenting it digitally, adding a bit of sharpness and depth to it.
Inspiration from nature
Before sketching a new dragon, I gather inspiration in different places.
My main source was nature and real animals. The “weird” ones.
Books about dinosaurs, wild animals from the desert, close-ups of insects, or fish from the abyss, are full of fantastical creatures.
Look closely at an ant—boom! you have a pretty scary dragon's head right there.
An old tree bark close-up? Perfect for a legendary beast with rugged skin.
Those creatures from the bottom of the abyss? Their wiggly tentacles, big teeth and strange shape are a nightmare dragon blueprints!
And for the hatchlings? Smiling puffer fish, coloured mini slugs, baby sea worms dancing—instant dragon daycare!
Want wings? Don't even get me started! Camouflage moth's wings with scary Japanese masks drawn on the wings ; dragonflies' close-up wings, butterflies' coloured wings…
I live near the ocean and sometimes, when the wind blows hard, the most beautiful (but venomous) creatures wash—blue dragons. Scale it up a thousand times and you get a pretty unique dragon.
It’s nature's whispers taking shape, forever turning into myths and magic.
And that's just how I like it!
I started with a lot of sketching, trying to free up my mind and my hand, drawing dragons of all shapes and sizes.
Before applying the first touch to the first dragon, I had more than 150 sketches. This was also about gaining confidence that I could tackle what—at the time—seemed like an impossible task.
I then did texture research: scales, feathers, fur, skin, metal… and how to represent them in watercolour
Once I had a precise enough idea of where it would all go, it was all about getting into a routine. I had to produce an average of 8 dragons per week, every week, for more than 6 months. Talk about a marathon 😅.
A few steps along the design process
It may sound daunting, but was actually so much fun. Each day I woke up with the excitement of having to imagine two new dragons, letting my brush dance a whirlwind of scales, teeth and wings.
At that point, I became obsessed. Everything, everywhere looked like a potential dragon. I saw dragons all around me: a stain on the floor, the bark of a tree, the shape of a leaf…
The Other Elements
There is more to the art than the cards. The tokens, the various backgrounds, the cave cards, and of course the mat.
I love how it all came up. The art and the mechanic play together. The mat (the mountain), the grotto's entrance, the cave cards to excavate the mountain, creating a path for your explorer. Like pieces of a puzzle, fitting together in a very satisfying way.
This required a lot of back and forth as the new mechanics were being developed in parallel (plus a lot of patience from Connie, Elizabeth and Jamey as they explained to me the new game mechanics and how each piece was to be used).
I particularly love the Cave cards. There is a vibe from older side-scroller video games. Despite their size, there are a lot of details in them, fueling the imagination of the explorer in each of us.
11.2 meters of cave cards
As always, in my quest to be as analogous as possible, I used the lino printing technique. Carving the designs into a piece of linoleum, and then printing it onto paper. It makes for quite a unique result, forcing one to embrace imperfections.
Back of cards in linoleum print
All in all, it took me close to a year and a half, with almost a year being dedicated to the project. Game, dragons, watercolour... It doesn't get any better than that in my book.
I don't know if there is going to be an expansion, but I sure am ready for it!
I can’t express how grateful I am to Jamey for giving me this unique opportunity, sharing with me the task of creating something he has put so much love into. 🙏
A stack of 200 paintings of Dragons