Fireball Island has been a beloved family-friendly game in the hobby for many years, from its original life in the 1980s to its 2018 reboot by Restoration Games. Soon, this will also include a series of artistic posters celebrating its storied place in the hobby.
Lyall McCarthy is one of the fantastic artists tapped to bring Fireball Island to life, but this latest project is far from his first. He was the lead artist for Beasts of Balance, a visually-striking and technologically-innovative game that was released in 2016. Before that, he was part of London-based Beatnik Games, an indie digital dev studio. In his most recent project, Lyall expands the world of Fireball Island with his own spin on the danger-laden island as part of the next BoardGameGeek Artist Series. He was generous enough to answer some questions about his art, which we share with you today.
Erin: Let’s start off with the art that everyone is here to see! Your Fireball Island poster is wonderful. It’s whimsical and cute but captures the spirit of the game. I’m so happy that we’re able to debut it here! What was your inspiration?
Thanks Erin! I created the basis of the poster design as part of a cross-promotion piece between Fireball Island and Beasts of Balance’s Kickstarter campaigns (hence the illustration depicting the volcano characters from both games as best of friends!). I thought it’d be a funny image to have Vul-Kar and Alberick bonding over their mutual love of fiery destruction. The characters obviously have things in common, and I wanted to showcase a more jovial side of their personality that isn’t explored in either game; Imagining them meeting each other for the first time and discovering that they share a passion for spitting out lava balls at terrified humans / animals. It’s kind of like a cheesy ‘freeze-frame’ in a buddy movie – at least that’s what I was going for!
Erin: How long did it take to create this poster, and can you describe that process a little?
I completed most of the illustration in a couple of days, and then spent maybe another day or so making small refinements and preparing it for large-format printing in Photoshop. It didn’t take me too long to come up with the idea – I had a pretty strong image in my head within the first hour of thinking about it. I roughed out two or three alternative compositions as thumbnails in my sketchbook before getting started digitally.
I created the image on an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil, using a fantastic drawing / painting app called Procreate. Whilst I’d used Procreate quite a lot for my own sketches and personal projects, I hadn’t previously used it for a commissioned illustration. But it’s incredibly natural and intuitive to use, and I was able to get to something I was happy with relatively quickly. In fact, I ended up experimenting a bit and trying out a different technique to the more traditional digital painting methods I would normally go for. I drew large shapes with the selection/lasso tool and then filled in those shapes with textured brush strokes, building the image up in layers. This created a nice balance between organic, naturalistic brush mark textures, and hard outlines – a bit like if I’d cut up lots of pieces of painted paper and stuck them on top of each other. I had a lot of fun with this technique, and have since used it in my personal work.
Erin: Fireball Island is an existing title, whereas a lot of your previous work has been with games that are still in development. How did the process of creating art for Fireball Island differ from creating for Beasts of Balance? Did the constraints posed by working with an existing property affect your creative process?
From a technical point of view, this poster is quite a departure from my work on Beasts of Balance. For that game, the art style was very much restricted to flat vector shapes and clean color gradients (albeit these were restrictions I put in place myself to keep the visuals cohesive).
I really liked working in this way on BoB, but it was refreshing to do something a bit more freehand and less ‘ordered’ for this piece. Particularly, I enjoyed transposing Alberick (the volcano demon from BoB) and the Toucan from that flat vector style to a completely different style. It was an opportunity to give them both a bit more expressiveness and emotion.
In terms of creating art for Fireball Island, it was interesting working on an illustration based on an existing character design and adding my own take on that character’s personality. Of course there were the constraints of keeping Vul-Kar and the broad appearance of the island recognizable, but even so, there was enough freedom to make it my own.
Erin: More generally, is there any particular type of art, architecture, etc that inspires you?
I find inspiration in lots of different styles and movements. I’m particularly fond of Surrealism, but in general I enjoy images that contain a lot to look at and discover. For example, I love poring over at the paintings of Bruegel and Bosch, as I see something new in them every time. Architecture-wise, I’ve always been fascinated and awestruck by Art Deco. I find the combination of order and symmetry on the one hand, and ornate geometric decoration on the other, really satisfying and beautiful.
Erin: This might overlap with the previous question, but I always like to know anyway. Is there a particular person (artist or not) from history who you consider to be a role model?
Not an artist as such, but in terms of famous figures I admire, Sir David Attenborough would be top of the list. His nature documentaries are unparalleled, and he has done perhaps more than anyone to educate and raise awareness of the evolutionary wonders of this planet and how precious and fragile those wonders are. (Sir David’s documentaries were a key inspiration when we were deciding on the animals that would feature in Beasts of Balance!)
We are facing a climate emergency, and if we as a species don’t act, much of the life we see in these documentaries will be gone forever. Sir David is a masterful storyteller, communicator, and champion for science and the natural world. He is concerned with the facts and isn’t afraid to speak out in the face of political and superstitious ignorance. He’s passionate about the beautiful world we live in and ensuring we do all we can to protect it. That’s something I think we should all aspire to.
Erin: Even in games that aren’t very thematic, art can help set the tone. Can you talk about the role of art in modern games?
Speaking in terms of digital games, the games I’ve always found most artistically interesting are those that don’t strive for cutting-edge photo-realism. Whilst I’m staggered by how far we’ve come in our ability to mimic reality convincingly, I still feel that games that have a distinctive, original style are far more appealing. I think we’re starting to see a shift away from gritty photo-realism towards more stylized approaches, and going in this direction can do a lot to make a game stand out. People tend to remember games with fresh, original artwork, and stylized characters and environments tend to age better too!
Erin: What went through your mind when Restoration Games approached you about doing a poster for Fireball Island?
As mentioned previously, I’d already created the basis of the poster design as part of a cross-promotion piece between our two Kickstarter campaigns, but I was really surprised and delighted when Restoration Games contacted me about turning the image into a poster! I hadn’t imagined when I first drew it that it would eventually be printed and available for people to buy. I had a lot of fun creating it, and if it makes people smile and want to put it up on their wall, then I’m very happy!
Erin: If you could work on a similar project for another game – analog or digital – what would it be?
This is tricky, but I think I’d probably have to say Keymaster Games’ PARKS, which I backed on Kickstarter a while ago. I’ve always been attracted to the distinctive graphical style of mid-20th century travel posters, and I’ve also been fortunate enough to have visited many of the US National Parks and fallen in love with the breathtaking scenery. So I’d have loved to try my hand at a poster for the game!
Erin: If you could jump into any piece of art for a day – gaming or otherwise – which comes to mind?
One of my favorite artists is Australian illustrator Shaun Tan, and whilst I’m a fan of all his work I think his wordless graphic novel “The Arrival” is a masterpiece of visual storytelling.
The book follows a man who travels to a foreign land to find a new home for his family, away from the terror and persecution in their homeland. The panels of the book are gorgeously rendered in pencil, and Tan’s fictional city of hope and opportunity is awe-inspiring in its alien beauty. I’d love to spend a day wandering those streets and taking in the sights!
Thank you to Lyall for taking the time to answer these questions and to Restoration Games for connecting us. If you’d like to buy his poster, they are available on the BGG Store as of Friday, July 26th.