Introducing: Mats Minnhagen
October 19, 2023
Aside from the main crew at Iron Gate, Valheim also benefits from the contribution of some talented freelancers. We want to give them a chance to introduce themselves and their work, and for you to get to know them a bit better!
First out is Mats Minnhagen, the artist responsible for the key art you will have seen on our social media and on this very website!
Who are you? What’s your background?
"My name is Mats Minnhagen, I live in Sweden. I've been a freelance illustrator for some 15 years. My main focus has been book illustration, but I've also worked on and off in the game industry."
How did you get into making art?
"I've always been drawing, and as a kid I wanted to become an illustrator. Then somehow I got distracted, and became an archaeologist instead. However, I gradually gravitated back towards illustration. My academic detour wasn't wasted time though, since I often find myself doing historical scenes."
Do you play a lot of Valheim yourself to get inspiration? Do you have other things that inspire you?
"I play Valheim myself, though in all honesty I'm a lousy gamer. I spend most of my time looking at the beautiful landscape, like a tourist. Fortunately there are plenty of youtubers out there eager to teach me how to play the game properly.
As for other sources of inspiration, I often look at 19th century paintings, particularly historical scenes. I love the sense of storytelling in them, and even though my own paintings are more stylized, I try to borrow something of that into my Valheim illustrations."
Could you tell us a bit about your creative process? What does it look like from the idea stage to the finished work?
"The first step is the idea. I try to avoid choosing scenes straight out of the game, instead trying to come up with some little story you won't see ingame but which has a plausible feel to it. The game looks good already - I have to add something new.
That decided, I do several thumbnail sketches to establish a composition. I think in terms of what should be in focus, how to lead the eye there using values and shapes, creating balance and so on.
Once I'm satisfied, I work out the anatomy of the characters and architectural elements. Aided by the thumbnail, I sketchily paint clothes, gear, background and anything else on top of the anatomy and architectural lines using broad brushes. I add light and shadows and work it out until the values look good and the scene is easily read. Once it looks good in greyscale, I add color. This will be my sketch. I prefer to send a sketch without lineart, as it's a closer approximation to the final painting.
Once the sketch is approved, I trace it with lines, refining it along the way. Aided by the tracing, I then mask out every single object and shape on separate layers. Locking those layers, I can easily paint within them using large brushes. Sometimes I just color pick from the sketch, at other times I paint flat colors first and build up shadows and light on separate layers. In the final stages, I flatten the multitude of layers into just a few main components and paint on top of those."
What piece that you have made for Valheim (so far) are you most proud of?
"The Yule painting is my favourite so far. I think it has a nice atmosphere. It also has lots of characters in it, which is always fun to do. For some reason scenes with five or more characters usually turn out best. Perhaps there's just more stuff happening."
Is there anything you specifically like about working with Valheim? Is there anything that’s particularly challenging?
"Valheim is a very inspiring game. The beautiful landscape, the seemingly infinite number of things you can do, the mythological Norse setting - it all lends itself well to the sort of storytelling illustrations I like to do. The fact that it has a large and dedicated player base also gives me an extra push.
The greatest challenge from my perspective is probably that Valheim isn't a character-driven game. Who are the characters? They could be anyone. I have to invent them, find a way to make them interesting. This is by no means a fault of the game, it's just how it works. But in that regard illustrating Valheim differs a lot from, for example, illustrating a book, and it can be a bit tricky."
If you were a viking, what would be your role in a village?
"I'd like to think I would be off exploring unknown lands somewhere far away, but it's more likely I would have been a craftsman of some kind. Perhaps carving intricate dragon designs on a wooden door or something of the sort."