A magical career in board game and puzzle design
Nathanael Mortensen is passionate about bringing families and friends together with his creations.
As a child, Nathanael loved building puzzles and often lingered at the table long after the others had left, trying to find that one piece no one else could find. Little did he know that one day, he’d create one of the top-selling puzzles on Amazon, for German puzzle-giant, Ravensburger.
The jigsawsolver's [Fabien Proztrm] review of the Magical Potions puzzle
“When Ravensburger saw my portfolio of potion illustrations and asked me if I wanted to work with them, I was thrilled!” said Nathanael. “I was determined to make my first puzzle illustration the most beautiful painting I was capable of creating.
The Ravensburger team worked with me to fill each of the twelve segments of the Magical Potions puzzle with details that clarified and highlighted the story of each potion.
Falling in love with color and abstraction
“When I was a boy, I only drew with a mechanical pencil. I enjoyed the thin lead because it allowed me to create precise details. It wasn’t until I went to college that I branched out and started using color. At first, I struggled with all the different mediums. I remember it being challenging to get the details I wanted. Eventually, I let go and started painting abstractly. That’s when I fell in love with working with color. I remember painting an entire canvas every class period. Each class, I would bring a larger canvas than the class before until the canvas was taller than myself.”
Five years ago, Nathanael began to learn digital painting so he could illustrate the his own board games. He found that illustrating gave him the freedom to create his own unique vision and bring his games to life.
“I began by simply illustrating a rock each day. At first, my rocks looked like floating gray blobs. With a few weeks of practice, I observed a significant improvement. Before long, my rocks had realistic cracks in them, a strong light source, and variations in texture and shadows that grounded them in the scene. I then moved on to painting landscapes with trees and rivers.”
“Before long, I discovered that my favorite subject to paint was potion bottles. From that point on, whenever I felt like painting but didn’t know what to paint, I’d start working on a new potion. The goal was to master painting glass. Glass is both transparent and reflective, and this presents an intriguing artistic challenge. I was drawn to the beautiful translucent colors, fun shapes, and magical qualities of painting potions. I had no idea that one day Ravensburger would take notice of my portfolio and would publish a best-selling puzzle featuring twelve of my potion bottle illustrations.”
Painting with a pencil
As a student, I remember daydreaming of what it might be like to paint with a pencil. I found myself wishing that my two favorite mediums could come together. Wacom made all my dreams come true by creating a magical pencil I could paint with! In my last year of college, I bought myself a Wacom Intous 3 tablet to illustrate a card game I was working on.
After a few weeks of teaching myself digital painting, I decided to expedite the process and hire an artist. Long story short, I hired Jonas Åkerlund from Sweden. He created the most incredible illustrations for my game, Dragon’s Hoard, which was later published by a large publisher and nominated for best artwork of the year in Germany. When I asked him what device he used to illustrate my game, he explained that he used a Wacom Intuos 3 tablet—the same tablet I bought for myself a year earlier! He inspired me to pick back up my Intuos tablet and start painting again, hoping to one day illustrate like him.
During the process of painting Magical Potions, Nathanael learned a lot about what makes a great puzzle and got a lot of support from his contact at Ravensburger, Rachel. Rachel’s expertise helped him refine each potion concept, maximizing the overall interest and beauty of the composition.
“Rachel knew exactly how to help me illustrate not only a beautiful illustration, but also create a fun puzzling experience. I learned that many puzzlers enjoy sorting the pieces before they start building. We aimed to create an image with many strong, saturated colors to make the sorting process easier. It was important to fill the entire illustration with different colors and fun details that would help make the puzzle enjoyable. Puzzlers love discovering the puzzle as they build it. It was important to create a story within each potion. I tried to incorporate elements into each section to suggest what magical powers the potion might have.”
Making the switch from pen tablet to pen display
Several years ago, Nathan upgraded his Intuos 3 to a Wacom Cintiq 16. “Switching over to the Wacom Cintiq 16 , I instantly noticed my productivity increase. I was able to work faster and longer because my hand was more comfortable on the larger screen. Creating details was never easier, because on the Wacom Cintiq 16 I had more control working directly on the screen. I would highly recommend this tablet to any artist who is serious about illustrating. This tablet gave me wings! I felt set free with this new device, and my artwork reflected this. I want to thank Wacom for creating the perfect medium to help me bring my game ideas and puzzles to life. I’m grateful that these tools exist to inspire generations of artists around the world.”
Learn more about Nathanael
Nathanael Mortensen had a strong love of drawing from an early age. After studying graphic design at Southern Oregon University, he became a successful board game designer. Determined to illustrate his own games, he began to learn digital painting in 2015. Today, Nathanael uses a variety of Wacom tablets and displays to illustrate magical board games and puzzles for all to enjoy.
Nathanael is currently finishing his second puzzle that is scheduled for publication early next year. On the board game front, Nathanael is working with a publisher who’s interested in his newest game, Ark of Atlantis. Later this year, Nathanael will start developing two new board games together with his wife that they hope to publish.