As I mentioned yesterday, sometimes a piece of artwork I’m really proud of is lost to obscurity due to being attached to a common card. It doesn’t even have to be a junk common. Sometimes just being a regular common is enough for the artwork to fall off most players’ radars.
One such piece is Lys Alana Huntmaster from the Lorwyn set. Apparently this card was well received among players sporting elf decks of the time but the art never drew any significant interest.
The artists aren’t told the rarity of the cards they’re assigned anymore, but oftentimes – and with a little experience born of writing every Magic card art description for three years – I can make a pretty good guess. Why is this important? Well, if common cards are the red-headed stepchildren of CCGs, then it makes sense to focus your best efforts on the rare cards as that’s the art players will remember.
With that in mind, I try to make the art that’s destined for a rarer card more esoteric, more gnarly, more detailed or just plain more weird. I think if you’ve got two goblin cards and one’s a common and one’s a rare, regardless of the art description, the common goblin shouldn’t be too far from the average goblin depicted in the style guide, while the rare goblin should be a character, a paragon, an eccentric or a movie star, something that stands out from the herd.
Here’s the art description for the assignment:
Color: Green Creature
Location: Lys Alana, a large elvish ‘city’ in the Gilt-Leaf Wood. The Gilt-Leaf Wood is the forest considered most beautiful by the elves. The trees have a sap that elegantly coats the spaces between the bark, and when the sun hits it just right, it seems to be golden and shimmers as if gilded.
Action: Show an elvish noble who’s the city’s ‘master of the hunt.’ He has two striped dogs with him like the one in the styleguide. He’s blowing a ceremonial horn to call other elves to the hunt.
Focus: the elvish huntmaster
Mood: aristocratic, shrewd, elegant
So he’s an elf noble who holds a position of some seniority within this large elvish city? Totally sounds like at least uncommon material to me. If the art description had suggested he was any more important, I would have chosen rare. With that in mind, I start designing an elf who’s very upright and composed, one who has that quiet confidence that assurance of command can bring.
Here’s my first few attempts at the elf’s head;
At first I was thinking of having the Huntmaster looking off into the distance, overseeing whatever task he was set to, but I soon came around to the idea of him making eye-contact with the viewer to drive home the confidence I wanted to convey. If I remember correctly, the Lorwyn elves weren’t the friendliest bunch which is why #2 is sporting a faint cruel smirk. #3 amps that up a bit to outright distaste. You may have noticed I’ve ejected the idea of him actually blowing the horn. Why? Well, the focus & mood entries in the art description are about how imposing this elf is, not about the activity of blowing a horn. You try to look elegant blowing hard on a wind instrument!
I’d nailed down the figure’s stance earlier and now came time to dress the elf. Lorwyn was a world of eternal midsummer so clothing tended to be sparse or open and airy.
Below is an initial sketch, followed by a figure sketch done digitally that would allow me to apply a variety of separate layers of outfits; the modern-day equivalent of a paper doll.
Wow, those elves were thin. Next are a couple of stabs at the outfit. The second option seemed promising so I made several more iterations of the clothed figure…
Looking back at these sketches now, I see that with the final version I pruned the design, removing some visual clutter – such as the knife wrapped around the leg – to aid legibility at final card size. For much the same reason, some of the other details became larger, such as the leaf drapery (shown in black) hanging off the cloak as it crosses his upper torso.
Here’s a closer look at the final drawing of the Huntmaster:
As you can see, his clothing is covered in stylized leaf and vine designs, with the ocasional bladed quality to their shape. Leaves are woven into his hair and form a faux beard too (that was a concept from the style guide I really liked) and even the pommel of his sword is shaped into a leaf design. Twigs are bound into the buttons of his gloves as a small show of ostentation rather than anything symbolic, or so my memory tells me. Finally, the horn is given exaggerated organic curves and bears a passing resemblance to a wyrm.
I’m not sure why I straightened the angle of his head. Perhaps I thought the tilt seemed a little coy and I wanted a more defiant look. Some decisions are pretty subjective and any other day I might have decided differently.
Next time, we’ll get into the actual painting of the gilded forest, and you can see just how easy it is to lose your mind with digital stippling.
To be continued…