Marco Bucci is a freelance artist and his experience includes books, film, animation, and advertising. He has worked for Walt Disney Publishing Worldwide, LEGO, LucasArts, Mattel Toys, Fisher-Price, Hasbro, among many others. He is also a passionate teacher and currently teaches “The Art Of Color & Light” at CGMA.
“Hello everybody, my name is Marco Bucci and, right away, if you hear sounds of rattling in the background, that’s my daughter playing. I’m recording this with her right behind me but I am thrilled to be here and thank you, Oliver, for having me on your blog.
“I’ve been a board game artist since… well let’s see. I got my first board game job which was on Karmaka. I would say that was 2014, let’s say. I actually don’t know exactly but in the range of 2013 to 2015, that’s when I began on board games, but I’m a freelance artist so I do a lot of projects most of which are actually not board games, but I got my first start in board games with Karmaka, yeah, around 2014.
“So I became a board game artist because, well, I guess I didn’t really become exclusively a board game artist. Like I said I do all kinds of projects, but I have always been a gamer and not a video gamer, specifically like a tabletop gamer stuff like that. I’ve always liked the physical tactile stuff. Board games, card games, D&D, you know that kind of thing and my friends group has always been into that kind of thing as well. So you know for many years I’ve kind of been chomping at the bit to sort of find the right project or maybe hope that the right project would find me, which is exactly what happened with Karmaka.
“The art style I’m best known for is… let’s call it painterly. When it comes to art you can… especially with digital art… you can be very mechanical with digital tools and kind of make art that looks, let’s say, photographic or somehow like really airbrushy – or you can use digital media to go the other way and kind of mimic oil paint or acrylic or watercolour paint and I actually began my art training with those physical mediums mostly oil and then I moved into watercolour and like guache from there and then when I picked up digital, I just wanted digital to mimic the training I already had.
“So I, you know, I developed my own workflow that allowed me to use digital media in just the same way I would use traditional media and, you know, it’s very brushwork oriented painterly meaning like you can see the artist’s paint stroke, the brushstrokes. They’re not hidden or disguised in any way. There’s a lot of texture to it, you know. Sometimes you move the brush very quickly and scribbly and other times it’s very precise and you kind of leave that all on the surface of the painting so to speak and I guess I’m would be mostly known for that kind of style in my work.
“The first board game I was an artist for was Karmaka, as I mentioned earlier. That was just the first project where all the pieces, no pun intended, were in the right place. I knew the creators, was personal friends with one and just, you know, through that person I knew his partner and they had already made a hit game. This is Hemisphere Games, by the way. They had made a hit game called Osmos and this, Karmaka, was their follow up. Osmos was a digital game like it was for iPad and this was their follow up game, a physical card game and I had a lot of faith in them.
“I knew they were kind of perfectionists and that’s a good thing when it comes to designing board games, trust me. They would do a lot of play testing and things like that and I also knew that they would allow me to kind of do what I wanted with the art, as the two creators of Karmaka were not artists themselves. So I’m I’m really proud of the work I did on Karmaka. I wouldn’t… I don’t know if it’s the most proud I am of the work. Maybe in a way it is, because I was able to really, I would say, like spearhead the vision for the art. The creators really let me do my thing and Karmaka has a cohesive look as a result.
“You know, it’s just, it was just me… well that’s not… it wasn’t just me. They did hire an artist to do, to do one of the pieces of the game, but that artist, Laine Brown is his name, Laine was only hired after the game was well under production because I actually wasn’t available to do the leaderboard, the scoreboard that Karmaka uses, but all the cards were completed, the box cover was completed and I did all that. So the the vision was just very unified, kind of, by default because I was the only one doing it and I am proud of that.
“I’m also proud of some of the larger, well let’s say, like more mainstream stuff I’ve done. I’m doing work for Wizards of the Coast on, you know, Magic: The Gathering which of course a lot of people know about. It’s a heavily popular product and I’m proud that I’m also able to bring my own artistic voice to those projects as well and that’s again the cool thing about working for games is, it seems like they really foster someone’s unique identity as an artist whereas I’ve also done work for say like animation studios on television shows and with that, you really have to blend in. You got to be a cog in the wheel. They don’t want you to call attention to yourself visually. Whereas with games, it’s the total opposite. So there’s a lot of, there’s a lot to be proud of when you work in this industry.
“I’d say that I like creating artwork that evokes a mood really and what that mood is can be totally variable. It could be something as simple as just like happiness or maybe even sadness. Something simple like basic emotion like that or maybe something that recalls childhood. That’s a big theme of mine. Just remembering back to what I imagined the world to be as a kid and like, you know, embodying that with characters, like monster characters or children characters or, you know, pets or whatever. It is like the things that you thought the world was like when you were a kid. Things are, you know, bigger and in some ways better or more promising and I like trying to capture that. You can even do it with like lighting, in colour. So I like creating artwork that captures that kind of thing, you know, that kind of mood.
“I get my inspiration from real life really. I love to paint outdoors in a sketchbook. That’s where the raw information is, is from nature. So you know, I’ll stop at the side of the road and paint a barn that just has some nice light hitting it. For me it’s always about the light because the light creates the color and creates the mood. I’m not drawn to any particular subject over another subject. I mean, I’ve literally painted garbage cans on the curb if the light is hitting it just right. So really I carry my sketchbook around with me a lot because you never know when you’re gonna catch a scene like that.
“So the most important part about making artwork for board games, like the most important, like as facet of that process, is the… really the communication with the designers. This is assuming of course that you as the artist are not the designer of the game. Really just talking to the designers, seeing what the intent of that piece of the game is, you know, but whether it be a card or a token or a board, you know, the underlying board. What is it that that piece of game play does mechanically, like what is it that it does mechanically and then your art needs to plug into that.
“So, you know, sometimes you want the art to be almost not even noticeable, like if you’re playing a… if your game has like a backing board, maybe it’s less important for the art to really… no that’s a bad example. Let’s say like, let’s say you’re doing a token, like a gold token. Probably the artwork doesn’t really have to call attention to itself for a gold token, but if you’re doing like a card that’s a character you want that art to really pop forward. So, you know, talking to the game designers, making sure that you’re aligned on that kind of thing, is I’d say the most important part.
“The most challenging part of making artwork for board games is probably the sheer amount of time it takes and because there’s, you know, the amount of items you’re doing artwork for are vast. Unlike say an illustration for a magazine, where it’s just like you’re doing one piece of art, it’s an illustration. For a board game, like for Karmaka – I mean how many work cards were there? There was, I think, there was in the 30s and that’s on the low end. Like, if you’re doing a game, like a board game, you might have like 50 cards and ten different tokens and a board and like pieces of the board that detach. There’s like the manual, the game manual. There’s so many items on doing artwork for a board game and to me, that is easily the most challenging part and that dovetails into the next question.
“The longest I ever worked on art for a board game was for Karmaka. I was on that project for, I think, three years. Now it’s not three years of full-time but, you know, for three years of constant time we were going back and forth and, you know, I would do a batch of art and they would playtest with that art and then they would get back to me with revisions and, you know, some cards got scrapped, some cards got redesigned altogether and of course, if a card gets redesigned probably the art needs to be redone as well, right or they invent new cards or like the colour coding scheme changed a bit, you know and stuff like that. Like they invented, you know, multicoloured cards. Kind of like in Magic: The Gathering where you have, like, colour themes. Karmaka has that sort of thing to it. Red, blue and green cards and the way that we handled that changed a little bit during the process. So that all, you know… all in all was I was on the project for about three years.
“So, in my opinion, more boardgame artwork should, well… I’m not… I don’t want to level a sort of general criticism at board game art because honestly I don’t really have one to begin with. I think what board game art should do in general though is be part of the world-building. So for Karmaka we wanted it to have a unique identity, for it to feel like its own game. Maybe if I had a sort of general criticism of like the art community in, you know, in general today is that a lot of people are using the same reference images and, you know, inspired by the same styles and as a result, it’s easy to get art that feels overly homogenized. Like different artists feel like the same artist.
“So in art in general and certainly for board games too, is just try and capture the unique flavour of the project that you’re on as an artist and bring a flavour that nothing else has and again that’s what we really tried hard to do on Karmaka and it really boils down to just being yourself because, yeah, it’s cliché but you’re the only you out there and if you have an art style that is based on who you are you can bring that to your projects and it will feel unique just by default.
“The artist whose style I admire the most is probably a painter who lived in the late 1800s, early 1900s by the name of John Singer Sargent. This is a very common answer that painters will give. He, Sargent, has inspired countless thousands of artists. Sargent was a portrait painter primarily but he also did like outdoor watercolours and like guache paintings and sketches. He just really observed the world well. Like undeniably well and was able to translate that into such simple brushstrokes. You know when you see a Sargent painting he doesn’t hide the brushstrokes like he’ll do… he’ll paint someone’s arm in like three strokes and it just it’s brilliant the way he chooses to move his brush and it’s generally called a bravura style, that’s like I think a Latin term. It’s like, you know, a bold brave style where the marks of the artist are, you know, happily left on the canvas and yeah… so Sargent.
“And there are people like of his ilk, like a Anders Zorn or Sirois as another one. These are all people that… Boldini… these are all artists who lived, you know, a century ago that… whose, you know… their style influences countless artists today.
“My favourite colour is… You know, it’s… I don’t have an answer to that. Well, turquoise, but it’s a funny story there. I don’t really know colour names very well which seems so weird, cuz that’s what I do professionally. I’m like, not only am I a painter but I specialize in colour. My wife always laughs at me because I’ll be like: “Hey look at that purple carpet.” She’ll be like: “That’s pink.” And I’m like: “Oh yeah.”
“I guess it is pink and I don’t know colour names very well. I’m not colourblind either. Like I just don’t know my colour names. Like, you know, sometimes my wife be like: “Oh that’s a nice shade of teal.” And I’m like: “What the heck is teal?” It’s just a funny thing.
“Painters don’t think in those terms by the way. We think about things in like relative degrees of colour. Like something is warmer or cooler than something, not like: “Oh, that’s orange, that’s red.” So it’s a bit of a funny story there, but yeah, if I had a default colour that I liked, yeah, I like turquoise.
“What very few people know about me is, well, artistically anyway, I actually didn’t start out wanting to be a painter at all and I started out being terrified of colour. I just assumed that colour was one of those things that you just needed like a natural predilection for or like a general eye for and I did not have that and I thought that, hey, you know, leave colour for the people who are naturally good at it. I actually wanted to be an animator / VFX artist. I was really interested in 3D and visual effects because not only could I not paint and let alone knew anything about colour, but I couldn’t draw either.
“This was back when I was a teenager and I really wanted to get into the art industry but I couldn’t draw or paint. So I’m like: “Well, let’s get into 3D.” And this was back around 1995 when Toy Story had just come out. Also, the video game Mist, and Mist is one of my favourite games of all time, and its sequel Riven is my favourite game of all time, and those all were done with 3D, you know. That and like Pixar films and I’m like… oh, this is naive and an incorrect of me to think, but I’m like: “Hey if you’re doing art on the computer you don’t need to know how to draw. ” Which, that is true but it’s, I think, better if you do know how to draw.
“So what a lot of people don’t know about me, just if you looked at my portfolio, is I actually started off wanting just to do like computer art and visual effects. That switched for me when I learned that you could learn how to draw and paint and that’s what led me to discover a love for drawing and then that led me to discover a love for painting and once I got the taste of painting and the fact that I could learn to do it it was all game over. From there I was gonna be a painter.
“So if you wanted to become a board game artist yourself I would tell you to, well, work, obviously, work on your portfolio. Make sure your art is at a place where you know it is professional or at the very least competent and then reach out to video game or, sorry, board game creators because, hey, so many people out there are kickstarting or just, you know, doing a little project with their friend and designing a board game.
“Like I know a couple different people right now who are trying to come up with board game ideas and, hey, those people will all need artists assuming they’re not artists themselves but generally speaking a lot of people out there are board game creators that are not artists and they need artists. So reach out, you know, put a little advertisement up on Reddit maybe or go on Reddit or Kickstarter and see who’s out there and just send them an email. Say: “Hey, I’m so-and-so and here’s my website and I’m looking for experience and work in the game, you know, board game industry and I hear you’re designing a game. What do you think of my art? I think it’s a good fit. If so let’s talk.”
“And then, you know, you can… I’m not saying you should do it for free, although maybe you do want to do it for free… that gets into a whole different discussion… but see what they’re up to and if the project feels right for you then I think kind of taking it upon yourself to put your name out there is the way to go, if you want to be a board game artist.
“Yeah, so I just wanted to thank Oliver for having me on his blog. It means a lot that you reached out to me and I hope listeners out there are enjoying this little podcast.
“If you want to get in touch with me you can… well… first of all, you can find me on my website at www.marcobucci.com, that’s M-A-R-C-O B-U-C-C-I dot com. If you’re interested in learning about art, I have a YouTube channel full of lots of, you know, many hours of free lessons on there. That’s at youtube.com slash Marco Bucci and then if you like that and you want to learn even more and dive deeper with art lessons, I have some premium lessons available on my store and that’s at marcobucciartstore.com. So you can find me at those three places and you can… my email address is [email protected], if you want to send me a little note – and that’s how you can reach me.
“So, yeah, thanks again for having me Oliver and thank you out there for listening. I wish you all the best with your work.”