October 1995 saw the release of the Homelands expansion for Magic the Gathering. While the set was unpopular with players, it remains one of my favorites because I was given the opportunity to bring to unlife Magic’s First Family of vampires – the Sengir family, and most importantly, their patriarch Baron Sengir.
To this day, the Baron remains one of my most popular creations. I get more requests for sketches of the Baron that anything else, though Crosis and Survival of the Fittest are nipping at his heels.
Why is he so popular? It’s certainly not the card’s mechanics which will never set the Magic tournament scene alight. It’s a hard and peculiar truth within collectible card games that mediocre art on a good card will likely sell more prints than great art on a bad card. It’s a pity the Baron’s final printed form is a far cry from his initial powerhouse design which earned the label “broken” before the term had become commonplace.
So what has made him so timeless and iconic? Technically, it’s not one of my best paintings, but the Baron just seems to have that certain something – maybe a regal aloofness, maybe a hefty dose of charming villainous arrogance – that has made him one of my most memorable pieces. Just recently and much to my amazement, a friend blushingly admitted to having had a crush on the Baron when she was younger! I guess everyone really does love a bad boy.
Anyway, I had the opportunity to paint the Baron three more times in the 90’s. Once for a Duelist article, another, for the Encyclopedia Dominia and finally for the 1997 Magic calendar. Of these three, only the Duelist piece ever appeared in print. Encyclopedia Dominia was canned several months (and a dozen paintings) into its development. The calendar on the other hand was the scene of the first real shake-up for the old school Magic artists. A lot of the Magic regulars had been assigned slots in the calendar to show off their most popular creations but when the final art arrived about half the pieces were dropped – based on quality issues – and reassigned to the new art director’s cadre of favored artists.
Now, whether this decision was right or wrong is a discussion for another time. I will say that some pieces were unreasonably dropped – Melissa Benson‘s Nightmare comes to mind – but it’s hard to deny that the replacement art was amazing. Yes, that includes mine. My piece was dropped and replaced with a new Baron Sengir piece by the esteemed comic book artist and painter John Bolton. It was a stunning painting and I wish I could find a copy of it to show you. Yes, I had some quibbles, but ultimately it was a vastly superior image to what I had handed in.
That brings us back to my calendar piece, and here it is; –
This is clearly from my lurid period! I’d become very determined to up the saturation of my pieces. This was partially a reaction to how the Homelands cards had printed under-saturated and partially a response to some artists who were sliding into low-saturation works. But I have to admit that these days it makes me wince and I’ve always wanted a do-over.
And that’s what I’m going to do. Over the next few weeks – in between the paying jobs – I’m going to digitally repaint this piece and I’m bringing you along for the ride! Stay tuned.