Client Work; Card design

A third year games designer asked me to assist him in his final major project. He needed artwork for the card game he was designing and I was more than happy to provide, I love any opportunity to develop character designs. Though nothing was set in stone, we established through verbal communication that he had four decks and so required a lead card for each one. He had briefly mentioned the elements the four decks are tied too as well, fire, air, earth and water. I sketched out a few rough idea simply to try and discern a mental image of what he had in mind and how it could be expanded on.


Aerith the air mage. In this case, I went literal in that interpretation. Commonly seen in fantasy settings, avatars and representatives of the air element are often gentle and aloof in their mannerisms and appearance, I wanted to show this, but also show that it doesn’t mean an element of air is by any means a push-over. But this was quite a way off from what the client had envisioned.


Krona the fire mage was the most fun. Aspects of fire are often depicted as wild, dangerous and passionate. I gave her small pin-prick pupils and a power-hungry grin to lend to her psychotic appearance. Moreover, though it’s not as evident in this sketch, I made her robes more tattered and fraid. One to give more appeal to the female form without being too obvious about it, and two, it makes sense that someone that has spent their life learning fire magic bordering on the obssessive would’ve probably burned themselves and their clothing once or twice, but would’ve refocused their efforts on relearning rather than getting new clothes. Finally, she has bracers around her ankles and arms, I wanted to subtley hint at the possibility that she’s a slave of to the power she wields, trapped in that she cannot escape her own desire for more power.
Cards Cards

The final image was one we both became set on, arms wide and stance that shows the power she wields and that she blatently knows it.

For the element of water, a student jokingly mentioned a shark with a man’s body. So I sketched out something similar just to see the response.
The response was quite positive and the design didn’t face that much of a change. Again, I wanted something that reflected the tempermental nature of the raging sea. Akin to modern day Aquaman. The sharks head and pose gives it something of a barbaric and feral appearance I was aiming for.
Cards   Cards

Finally, the earth element was needed. We both initially envisioned something “Golem-like” in appearance. Slow and methodical. I liked the idea of a gentle giant, sitting peacefully by a mountain village. The concept ultimately changed however to something that could be fit onto the cards a little easier.

These were all initial sketches and concepts made within a day just to give the client an idea for their own cards, as they hadn’t quite established what they themselves wanted either. I left it with them for a week until they e-mailed me a card list, specifying the card list for each element.

It wasn’t long before he sent me a brief:

Brief for “The Four Elements” (Working Title)

“The Four Elements” is my vision for a table top Living Card Game set within a fantasy setting in which the players choose from four decks, each representing an element, with Earth, Air, Fire, and Water being the Elements of choice.

Within each deck there is going to be a Character, long with Familiars, Rituals, and Spells that the players can utilize and summon in order to beat their opponents and become the top player. Visually speaking, the cards are going to be laid out in such a way that information is readily available and easy to understand, whether the player is a new or experienced.

Because the decks are based around a certain element, there is also going to be a colour scheme for each, so that they are properly representing the element, so for example the Fire deck is going to have colours within shades of Red, Orange and Yellow, while the Air deck would have colours of Light Blue, White and Grey. These colours are not only to help the cards present and represent the element that they are based around, but they are going to hold the interest of the player and draw them back to the cards that they are holding when they are playing.

Aesthetically speaking, I am looking for the card game to have a Modern Fantasy theme throughout, with the art work for the Characters and Familiars to have a strictly modernistic feel about them, while still being within the realm of fantasy.

I am looking for:

1. Accurate portrayals of the Characters and the elements that they embody

2. The artwork reflecting the names of the cards within the deck, for example, the card within the Fire deck titled “Firebolt” would have a small fireball within the artwork.

Some examples of work that I like that may be of use to you are:

1) Magic: the Gathering – A set entitled Return to Ravnica has some excellent examples of fantasy artwork with Modern undertones. Another set is Zendikar, an in game world in which the elements are nicely represented by different sections of the plane.

2) The works of Jon Avon, an artist that has commissioned several pieces of art for Magic: the Gathering over the years in addition to several other projects.

3) Android: Netrunner – A Cyberpunk style game that includes characters with their own style and way of representing themselves within the game world and their card variants.

Hope to hear from you soon,

Barrie Briggs

He had already given me a card list for each deck describing the basic card functions, however it was a little unclear what exactly he wanted, example;

Name: Attempted Murder! (3)
Card Type: Ritual
Cost: A2
Place three 1 Attack, 1 Health Crow Familiar tokens onto the battlefield under your control
Attack: N/A
Health: N/A

We discussed this card type , and at a glance, I would’ve made something as simple as a man holding a knife in the foreground, approaching someone with their back turned in the background. In reality, this card is a clever play on words that summons three crows.

I sent a response e-mail specifying what I needed from him to make my job easier;

Hello Barrie.
A few things I need are:
1. Picture dimensions for the cards. Preferably the length and width by pixels.
2. Brief description on character appearance. You already have in idea in your head of how you want them to look. But I cannot discern that from the card name alone.
3. Optional. A few words to sum up a characters personality helps with shot composition and positioning. The posture of someone who is “maniacal and power mad” is going to differ from someone who is “timid and awkward”.
A revised version was soon sent, containing descriptions for the four main characters we had chosen to focus on. With time contraints and my own work to do, there was no way I’d be able to draw up the other card designs he needed;

1) Krona – Krona is an unhinged pyromaniac that commands the power and forces of fire. I’d like to refer you to an early mock-up of the character you drew, with her arms spread wide, her clothes torn and frayed rags, the look of madness on her face and fire surrounding her. This is the kind of stance I envision for Krona when she is working her magic of destruction.

2) Moraan – As the Scion of Poseidon, he rules over the element of water and the seas, commanding the denizens of the sea. His rage is the rage of the sea, and enemies would do well to watch themselves before they find themselves washed away. In terms of visual, I found that I liked the “Shark Man” type character you created within the initial sketch for the water element character, and I think that it would be a great starting point in the finalization of the character as well.

3) Aerith – Patient but persistent, the element of Air bends to the unmovable will of Aerith. Silent but strong, she can weather anything thrown at her before dealing out her own brand of destruction. In terms of visual, I envision a middle age woman wearing flowing robes with her head bowed, and with wisps of air, maybe with leaves, weaving around her.

4) Auron – Auron is quite passive, but the nature of Earth is always in flux, one minute it can be peaceful and complacent, the next it can be utterly destructive and nobody can hide. Auron is the embodiment of this temperament, happy to help but quick to anger. Visually, I have an image of a Rock Golem sat with his head resting on one of his massive hands, a small village settlement around his feet.

He also sent the card designs that he would be placing the images onto, and from them I was able to work out the total size I’d have to work with (732 x 376 pixels). I met with the client to make a finalize the composition and made a few more sketches that I would work from to complete the images;



The client ticked the compositions he was happy with and crossed out the ones he wasn’t. We both agreed to change Auron’s design at the last minute. This was mainly for my convience, I wasn’t feeling confident at creating and compositioning a scene that involved so much scenery. So his character was revised to a singular roaming woodsman. I took these designs home and used them as reference when I created the final pieces in photoshop.
Krona Aerith
Auron moraan
moraan close up

I felt that in the first creation of Moraan, he was somewhat too far away from the viewer, so I moved him closer to make him seem just a bit more intimidating. This was a personal choice however, so I sent both copies to the client so they could have a final say.

The client put them onto the cards and sent them back to me for review, only when I saw them all together did I spot a few problems;

1: Moraan’s colour had changed and looked far more green than blue. This could’ve been caused by saving the image as a JPEG or possibly due to the difference in my computer’s moniter gamma.

2: Auron’s overall image is extremely dark compared to the others and seems to lack a lot of the punch the others do.

I mentioned these mistakes to the client and he addressed them himself using illustrator.
Moraan Scion of Poseidon Krona Pyromaster
Auron the Traveller Print

We were both satisfied with the final outcome and if he wishes to continue creating the cards after the release of his project, I’d be happy to create art for them.

Client Work; Card design

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