Illustrating Women: Natalia Rojas and Ana Maria Martinez Jaramillo

Any conversation about Elizabeth Hargrave’s smash hit Wingspan has to include the eye-catching, gorgeous art. Renowned board game artist Beth Sobel contributed the card backs and board, while each of the beautifully detailed bird illustrations was hand drawn by lifelong friends Ana Maria Martinez Jaramillo and Natalia Rojas. The impact of their work has been integral to the game’s appeal not just to gamers, but for bird lovers as well (with some calling it the North American Audubon guide in board game form.) If mechanics and design gave the game wings and flight, the illustration certainly provided the plumage.

How long have you been visual artists?

Ana: Since I was a little girl, I liked drawing a lot. When I was a child I drew Disney characters and as a teenager I drew anime characters. When I finished my high school I decided to study arts in the University of Antioquia in Colombia, that was 14 years ago. Since then, I have being drawing, painting and creating in other artistic forms (especially engraving) non stop.

Natalia: I’ve been drawing since I was a child; I guess I can say I was born an artist but didn’t came to terms with it until 2015. I am a creative person and drawing was something I always did to entertain myself or to take my mind off situations. However, I’ve never considered art as a career. My technique is a combination of different approaches I’ve learnt over the years – I’m self-taught and I prefer to follow my instinct rather than trying to copy someone else’s style.

In 2012 I moved from Costa Rica to Bentonville, Arkansas and found a family within the artistic community there. That’s when I realized that art has always been the one constant thing in my life and took the decision to pursue it professionally.

Whats your favorite medium?

Ana: Like any professional artist, I love diverse forms of art. I like watercolor painting, pencil drawing, scientific illustration, photography, etc. But I think my favorite medium is engraving.

Natalia: Drawing is what I absolutely love. Graphite, colored pencil, pastel, etc… I’ve also done some watercolor, too. I’m always looking for other ways to achieve the same results I get with pencils.

How did you start working in board games?

Natalia: Two years ago, I partnered with my lifelong friend Ana to launch a small online company to sell wild life art for home décor and started showing our work on social media. Soon after, we were contacted by Stonemaier games who gave us the opportunity to work on this amazing project.

Ana: This is my first time as a board game illustrator. That was thanks to Stonemaier that Natalia and myself had the opportunity to work on this great project without having previous experience in the field of board games.

Do you play board games as well?

Ana: Yes, but not as much as I would like. I started playing in the university, but unfortunately in Medellín board games are hard to come by and overpriced. However, I have friends that love board games. They have a good collection and I play with them occasionally.

Natalia: I did not, but after Wingspan I might have found a new obsession.

You mention being a scientific illustrator – can you explain that for our readers?

Natalia: Sure! Scientific illustration focuses on representing aspects of science and particularly the natural world such as animals and plants in a precise and objective manner. You find scientific illustrations in botanical and wildlife books or magazines, microbiology, archaeology, etc.

Ana: The purpose of scientific illustration is to represent the structure and specific details of biological subjects of study (such as animals, plants, etc).

The illustration is usually performed with the biological specimen in order to have as much information as possible (Size, shape, color, texture, etc) and the other environment elements, to find out more information about its habitat and its diet. In this regard skills such as a careful observation and education are necessary.

The role of the biological illustration was extremely important to the development of science and remains a very powerful tool. It contributes to classification and description of the news species as with the Royal Botanical Expedition to New Granada covering present-day Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Venezuela, Peru and northern Brazil and western Guyana, between 1783 and 1816. The project was headed by José Celestino Mutis, a Spanish priest who was also a botanist, mathematician and teacher. Mutis tirelessly led an extraordinary endeavor to collect and illustrate the plants of Colombia. To accomplish this huge project, he recruited and trained several illustrators and botanists, mostly from Colombia.

Biological illustration has traditionally employed techniques such as carbon dust, ink and watercolor because those are easier to handle in the field. Currently those and other techniques as color pencil, stipple pen, lithography and gouache are used, however digital illustration has recently become more important in the field.  In Wingspan, we performed illustration with color pencil from photographs.

What did you enjoy most about working on Wingspan?

Ana: Drawing is one of my passions as an artist.Seeing the reception and appreciation that drawings have on people fills me with great joy. I thank everyone very much for their nice comments on social networks.

 I really like to be an artist. I enjoy so much of my profession and I know that everything I studied and learned has its reward. I would like to thank to my teachers and friends for helping in my artistic formation.

I am a very meticulous and detailed oriented person so I take the necessary time for each drawing. Some birds took me 6 hours, others can take up to 2 days of work.

Natalia: The vast variety of birds made the whole project very interesting as I felt I was not only learning more and more with each drawing in terms of technique and artistic abilities but also about the different species and how they interact with their environment. It took around 5 months to illustrate all the 170 birds.

Have you been surprised by the reception to the game? 

Ana: Uff… In a way that I did not expect. I never really thought that I had so much acceptance and appreciation, besides all the diffusion that the game, in particular the drawings, has had really is surprising. I am very grateful to the experts in the field about the arts criticisms of the game. It’s good to know that people still like handcrafted drawing in this digital contemporaneity.

Natalia: I’m blown away! As I mentioned before, I’ve never been into board games and I had no idea that this community was so big. I knew I was going to get great exposure from this project, but I couldn’t have ever imagined that it would be to this extent. I’m also happily surprised to discover how loyal, passionate and supportive the community is. Thanks to Wingspan I have received great feedback and new projects to keep my art going. 

What’s your favorite subject to draw/paint?

Natalia: I don’t think I have a favorite subject yet as I’m still learning, and I like to challenge myself so if I see an image that draws my attention, I feel the urge to draw it. I guess I could say I like meaningful pieces that have a special story to tell and that’s why I love portraits. I’ve done drawings of my mother’s hands, my daughter’s earrings, her and my shoes standing together, and the city square where I used to live, to name a few.

Ana: I love to draw nature, mainly animals like insects, mammals or birds. In fact, my personal artistic stand is about the transformation of the landscape using engraving art as a central technique.

How do you think art affects players enjoyment of a game?

Ana: The main goal of the game is enjoyment. There are many variables that make the game enjoyable like the strategy, the rules, the cards, the dice, the board and if all those variables achieve their goals the game is much more memorable. The game art is fundamental because it is one more variable in the game design that generates pleasure in the player, an aesthetic pleasure.

Natalia: My first game experience was actually with Wingspan, but I think that the art channels the player’s imagination and, as the game progresses, even helps with devising the strategy; it creates a connection between the ideas and the board and makes the game more exciting and enjoyable.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to move into making game art?

Natalia: Believe in what you do, work hard and show your work as much as possible. Seek exposure and don’t give up.

Ana: I don’t have a lot of experience in board games illustration so I would not know very well what a good advice could be, but as professional artist and scientific illustrator I can say to any illustrator to trust their work and to seek learning new forms of art, to refine their style and make their work known.

Love the Art of Wingspan? Be sure to give the artists a follow – Ana on her Facebook, Instagram, and website and Natalia on her Facebook page, Instagram, and website. And two little birdies told me there’s at least one expansion on the horizon!