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Matt Burton

Updated: Apr 21, 2019

Today’s Artist Spotlight is on Matt Burton. Matt was the very first artist that I approached for Widget Ridge. I had an artist in mind for both art and graphic design, but she could not commit, and my daughter that lives in the UK suggested her roommate. I rolled my eyes a little (being honest here), clicked on the portfolio link, and was blown away. I’m not going to add that gif of Thorin Oakenshield saying “I have never been so wrong”, but it would be completely appropriate here. Matt’s work on Widget Ridge defined the look and feel of a city that had until that point just existed inside my head. His extrapolations and suggestions were almost always taken, and I owe my oldest daughter a steak dinner for introducing us.


Q: People’s first impression of the game is the logo, and the one for Widget Ridge is simply gorgeous. The only notes I gave you were a vague overview of the world and the city, and a few notes about what kind of thing I was thinking. From that, you sent three suggestions. I obviously fell in love with the volcano, but what was your initial approach to this first task?

I’ve worked on a lot of logo designs in the past but they’ve always been very corporate in nature. Brand identity is at least 70% thought, 30% execution. So, I did a tone of research into Steam Punk as a trend as well as some visual analysis of authentic Victorian inventions to fill my subconscious with the appropriate imagery. From here, I went and stared at a blank wall until I had some interesting ideas; allowing my subconscious to mash all of that visual information together that I’d previously absorbed. At this point in the process, I’m not yet concerning myself with readability; colour, clarity or even if it looks “good”. Once you have the right idea you can begin the technical task of solving problems as you develop the design from there. I was fortunate enough to be mentored by a man of the name Alec Wignall; an old timer who’s worked with multi-million pound businesses such as Heineken – specifically in the TV advertising industry. He’s long since retired now but to quote him from one of the many insightful conversations we’ve had, ‘It’s not good enough to give your clients what they want, it’s just as important to give them what they need.” This is one of the many Wignall commandments I live by. .

Q: The very first piece of art was the Bison picture. I had originally budgeted for just one big piece of art, and it showed the industrial side of Widget Ridge very well, but I realised that I also wanted something that was more fun. So I rather recklessly commissioned a second piece. This was the art direction I gave you:

SCENE: Bright blue skies. Wonderful day for a flight.

Q: The very first piece of art was the Bison picture. I had originally budgeted for just one big piece of art, and it showed the industrial side of Widget Ridge very well, but I realized that I also wanted something that was more fun. So I rather recklessly commissioned a second piece. This was the art direction I gave you: scary part of a rollercoaster. The Velocitron has an ineffective parachute coming out the rear, and a giant clockwork key (or two for balance) coming out of places where those things might come out. The pilot has dark skin, presents as male, and is around 25-30 (we may not make out this level of detail, but it’s there if you need it.) .

Background: We can see the volcano lurking below, but it’s not a present danger. Maybe some city? I’d like the blue sky fairly dominant, to directly contrast the other piece. That one was work. This one is PLAYTIME We could potentially have some sort of fantasy elements in the background. Castle or spire or some such. I haven’t fleshed out this part of the world yet, and I can write around anything you do here. .

When I got your initial sketch, the scene was upside-down! It was a brilliant way to show both sky and volcano, and I laughed with joy for ten minutes. How did you get there?

First of all, I love reading your briefs. They don’t just give me what I need to complete the task at hand but the enthusiasm displayed within them is contagious. Given that I knew the illustration was going to be printed as a playmat, I thought it would be cool to portray two different perspectives of the scene. The player using the playmat will get the perspective of the half-petrified/half-gleeful pilot whilst the person sitting opposite you will peep into the casual “Did you see that?” perspective of the seagulls. I like combining two conflicting energies in my illustrations where possible so in this case – the casual stroll of the birds vs the “Why did I think this was a good idea!?” pilot.

The original sketch. My only note was to drop down to a single parachute. I find it weird that Alistair Gaines isn’t wearing a shirt here, but then again I’m not an artist.

Q: Going in,you had little to no experience with board/card games, so Widget Ridge presented a few challenges for you. What was your process for avoiding panic, impostor syndrome, or anything else that might have stopped another?

10 years ago, my very first project as a freelancer was for a company called Driftwood Games. I created the artwork for their card game, Arctic Scavengers, which found considerable success in the Unites States. Shortly after completing the project, I graduated with a degree in Games Design in 2009 when my country (UK) was still clawing its way out of a recession. I was fascinated by all aspects of design however, and as such I wanted to explore concept art in the games industry, brand identity in the Graphic Design industry and design psychology/philosophy as a whole. 10 years later here I am again with the chance to revisit the booming genre of card games with Widget Ridge. How do I avoid panic? I see illustration like how a mathematician sees an equation; there are problems all over the board to be solved but solving them one at a time is far easier than trying to solve it all at once. That.. and 10 pints of tea a day seems to do the trick.

Library Widget. I asked Matt to draw 6 different widgets, and I would name them as they came in. This is not the usual process, so it was interesting for me.

Q: What are some things that you wish clients understood about “The Care and Feeding of a Graphic Designer”? What kind of things would make your life easier in your client interactions? (Please, no curse words)

#!@$, good question! Every designer is different so I can’t speak on behalf of us all but I’ll splash my thoughts on the matter here. Your designer is there to take your requirement and to facilitate it with their knowledge and experience. It’s okay to make specific demands but if a particular demand impedes the overall design and isn’t important in achieving the end-result, then it’s best to trust your designers decision to reject a request that won’t be beneficial long-term. Believe me, I get it. You might be an author hiring to have a cover designed, a company looking for a logo or a games designer in need of promotional artwork; you’ve poured your heart and soul into building something that’s important to you and so how then can you expect a stranger (in most cases in the industry) to take your jewel and assume near-complete control? I’ll answer that with another question; if you took your car to a garage to have it repaired, would you tell the mechanic that you would prefer it if they replaced the wheels with jam doughnuts when they give you it back? The mechanic will say, “Sorry but that would impede the vehicle’s ability to function”. “But I like jam doughnuts like no other and therefore they are important to me”. You catch my drift. I’m blunt, I know, but from my experience blunt gets things done. .

Q: How does Matt Burton recharge his batteries on the rare occasion he steps away from the computer?

You can recharge Matt Burton with AAA batteries or via USB connection. Matt Burton also makes electronic music, reads gory Warhammer novels and is currently working on his own novel which he plans to illustrate when time is permitting.

Q; Your portfolio (linked below) is amazing, and EVERYBODY SHOULD BE CLICKING ON IT! *ahem* What’s your favourite non-Widget Ridge piece?

My favorite all-time piece of artwork is an oil painting by Albert Bierstadt, who was *ahem* What’s your favorite non-Widget Ridge piece? in the early to mid 1800’s. The particular piece I refer to is titled simply as, ‘Among the Sierra Nevada, California’. Bierstadt had an outstanding ability to look at a scene and amplify its atmosphere and key features to a point where it almost falls into the category of surrealism; a quality and prowess I continue to aspire to. .

Q: That is seriously a gorgeous piece, but I really wanted to know which is your favourite Matt Burton piece.

Rising of the Sun – Matt Burton

This is commissioned artwork for one of my clients, a brilliant author, J.W.Hawkins. I chose this piece because it was a big turning point for me as a painter in developing my technique and tying in years of built-up subconscious theory.

The general story behind the painting is that the animals living there were hit by a devastating storm and made homeless; their lands swamped and many of their friends lost to the chaos but from the storm, comes hope and rejuvenation.

Our small but beautiful tree at the back is our symbol of hope. I wanted its petals to somewhat resemble poppy’s as a means of portraying an underlying respect for the fallen; a flower we use to commemorate those that fought in World War 1 as a part of our Remembrance Day. In the book there are many wars fought amongst the animals and to drift the petals or poppy-themed flowers towards the viewer via a stream provides impact and a sense of loss; as subconscious as that might be.

Despite the temperature being cold in the distance, I wanted to reinforce ‘hope’ by warming up the mid-ground by using plenty of copper browns and desaturated reds. There are some subtle blues worked into the contours to reinforce the fact that although the sun is peering through, the scene is still cold and sombre.

Legio Ultra – Matt Burton

This was a personal piece of mine which I thought I’d show. One reason being that I am a secret Warhammer nerd and although I’ve not played the table-top game in over 15 years (that number depresses me..), the artwork that Games Workshop have produced is one of the reasons I wanted to become an artist in the first place. Opening that third edition rule book and being presented with endless page-after-page of devastatingly attractive illustrations and technically sound design-work had me hooked immediately. So this painting is a homage to the artwork that triggered my reason for being. The other reason I wanted to show this particular painting is because it was the first time in over 8 years I used something other than the industry-standard Adobe Photoshop. For £30 I picked up a copy of Paint Tool SAI; an incredibly simple tool but my god it woke me up and made me realise just how awful Photoshop is for blending. Of course, I will use the 2 tools together, but if you’re a practicing digital painter and want to evolve, try something new. It’s so easy to get stuck in the same routine of using the same methods over and over and over and over that your work starts to look.. well.. procedural. I’ve now started teaching myself Corel Painter to mix it up even more and it’s reigniting my joy of painting once again. I’m not comfortable enough with it yet to use it professionally but when I am, it’s another stepping stone to use to reach my ambitions.

I’d like to thank Matt Burton for talking with me. He is still working with us, and I can’t wait to unveil his latest piece, but even if he stopped tomorrow his contribution to Widget Ridge will always be there.

I strongly encourage you to check out Matt’s portfolio

In the meantime, we will leave you with some more widget pictures.

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