Interview with Justin Hillgrove | Imps and Monsters

Hey readers! I am really excited about this interview today because this happens to be an artist I have admired for quite a few years. I ran across his art at one of the many neighborhood fairs that occur in the Seattle area. I was drawn in by his parody work, and I just said a simple hello and walked away. Years later I would connect with a local game designer in the area (David Gerrard) whom I interviewed not too long ago HERE. David is a great guy who offers help to those who ask. I admired the art he was using in the games he had been releasing and I found out that the same artist years ago that I briefly met was the genius behind the art being used in these games. I got the chance to get to know Justin Hillgrove just a little better when I interviewed him not just about The Crows Kickstarter, but about him and his work.

Chris Michelotti: First off, how long have you been creating? When did you notice your "style" start to emerge? What drew you to imps and monsters as your focal point?

Justin Hillgrove: I have been creating as long as I can remember. When we were kids, my siblings and I would try to design our own pen and paper role-playing games and I would spend a long time fleshing out characters and weapons. I’d also draw countless pages of character designs for video games I had dreamt up. I drew constantly, though mostly RPG characters and fantasy scenes. I also spent endless hours painting miniatures for tabletop war games, like Warhammer 40K and the like.


As a young adult, I was involved in character design for several video games and card games, all of which helped me improve as an artist, but that failed for one reason or another. All the game stuff were projects done in my free time though and my day job as a graphic designer kept my family and me fed. After a while, I stopped taking freelance jobs and began painting in oils and acrylics just for fun whenever I had the chance. My wife encouraged me to show my art and I did, initially with mixed results but eventually having a lot of success selling and exhibiting - to the point where 5 years later I had quit my job and was doing art in my studio full-time.

I focused on monsters because that is what I enjoy painting - simple enough, right? My style has evolved over the years but I feel like I really “found it” after my first kid was born. I had been painting a lot of dark fantasy and the like, but I wanted our baby to enjoy the art I was doing as well. So I took those same elements and made them more approachable and fun.

CM: When working on a project, do you have a routine process of creation?

My advice for artists would be to seek out indie game designers and show them what you can do.

JH: When I start working on a game, the first thing I want is to discuss the world and characters with my team and then start sketching. Lots of loose ideas come out of my head and onto the page so I can share my ideas with the team and get input. It’s hard not to just jump in and start working on final art since the game may change and those changes can affect what art is needed and the dimensions, contents, etc. of said art.

Once we are ready for final art, I take the sketches to the next step, either inking and scanning to paint digitally, or in the case of “Tyler Sigman’s Crows” transferring my drawings to wood panels to paint them using acrylic paints all traditional-like. All the games I currently work on are with Junk Spirit Games - a smallish indie game company that consists of myself and a few friends: David Gerrard (Game Designer) and Travis Torgerson (Graphic Designer). With additional support from Zachary Vail (Artist) and Marcus Young (Videographer).

CM: In working with games, you have done a lot of work with David Gerrard, how were you able to create the world he saw in his head?

JH: We’ve actually done most of the world-building together, talking through ideas, sketching down thoughts and showing them to see if we are in sync. Good communication is vital when setting the scene of a game. We spend lots of time just talking about the worlds and characters and figuring out the world’s role in making the game better.

CM: There is a lot of history within Tessandor, going further into that world, what strategies did you take in visualizing a game that already existed (CROWS) and then putting it into the world?


JH: Crows was a game that Tyler Sigman (Red Hook Studios / Darkest Dungeon) had designed some years back and was only briefly available. David had discussed re-releasing the game with Tyler but we wanted to give it a different look and feel. We played the original game a few times and chatted about changes and style as we played. All of the changes were made with the goal of making it more strategic and engaging, not just different for the sake of making changes.We decided to place the game in the same world as our previous board game, “By Order Of The Queen.” Stylistically though, we thought a limited color palette - primarily black, white and red - would give it an interesting and unique feel that fit nicely with a crow-themed game while also making it stand out.

CM: Do you have any words of wisdom for artists young and old that are hoping to see their creations more in the hands of others and not just in a notebook?

JH: My advice for artists would be to seek out indie game designers and show them what you can do. There are a lot of designers out there that just need artists. In truth, the hard part isn’t really getting your art in front of a game designer. The hard part is actually getting paid.

Spend the time necessary getting your art skills honed to where they need to be, then seek out indie game designers working on games that you can get excited about. That way if the project fails, at least it was interesting.

Or I suppose you could apply for a job with a big game company - is that a thing? It probably is. Sorry, I don’t think I’m very good at giving advice

CM: No I think that is very sound advice, albeit I am biased as an indie game designer. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat! 

Well, readers, I do hope you take a second to look over Justin's work over at his site Imps and Monsters. Have you spotted Justin in the open before? What are some of your favorite pieces of him? Are there other artists that you would be interested in getting to know? Let me know in the comments below!

Stay Foolish!