Oct 022013
 

In 1994 I created a set of promo pieces timed for Magic: The Gathering’s first anniversary.

Unless you’re one of about a dozen people, these are all completely new to you. To find out why, check out the prologue to this series.

And so, this unveiling rolls around to its conclusion with probably my favorite color in Magic. It’s time for Black!

5Color-Black

This also happens to be my favorite of the six promo pieces. I think one of the biggest reasons is that the figures are more dynamic than in most of the other images. That’s a little down to my card choices but given that Black is at home in the shadows or under a night sky but is populated by a legion of often pale, sometimes bloody and vivid creatures, the image’s strong contrast was never going to be hard to achieve.

I hope the tour through these images has been fun for you. I’m really glad I finally got to share them. My time working for Magic may have passed but I loved the game, helped build the world (somewhat literally as I designed the globe of Dominaria), and I’ll always be grateful to Magic’s first art director, Jesper Myrfors, for giving me a shot and helping bring my artwork to a worldwide audience.

Thank you all for the comments and compliments. It’s been a blast.

Next time: …who knows? Maybe something created more recently than 19 years ago!

The answers to the cards used in this piece are below, followed by a quick FAQ.

Peer into the abyss of Black answers. Oh, and the FAQ.

Sep 282013
 

Here’s the fifth in a series of promo pieces I did for Magic, waaaay back in 1994. They’ve never been seen in public before but it being M:TG’s 20th anniversary it seemed like a good time to share them with you.

If you’re curious why these were never printed, the full story can be found in this prologue post.

Today, the color circle arrives at Blue –

5Color-Blue

Blue magic in 1994 featured a lot of air and water themed spells. In addition it’s the color of pure arcane knowledge, illusions, counterspells, and control (of creatures and time itself). It also felt like Blue Magic would be the color most used in the creation of artifacts, a position enhanced by the fact that Blue sits opposite the natural fecundity of Green.

It’s seems like a wildly random set of spheres of influence. Perhaps the catch-all for ideas that didn’t fit elsewhere. Or perhaps that’s my prejudices showing as Blue was my least favorite color to paint cards for.

Take a shot at guessing all the cards tucked away in this piece. As usual, the answers are below.

All of Blue’s esoteric knowledge lies within.

Sep 242013
 

Here’s the fourth in a series of promo pieces I did for Magic, waaaay back in 1994. They’ve never been seen in public before but I figured now was a great time – being M:TG’s 20th anniversary – to share them with you.

If you’re curious why these were never printed, the full story can be found in this prologue post.

Today, the color circle turns towards White –

5Color-White

Nowadays, White has a broader concept but White in Alpha was very euro-centric with its knights, paladins, medieval castles, the clergy, and the occasional angelic warrior. That’s very much reflected in this piece.

The great big glowing guy in the front wasn’t really the best choice for front and center but he was a powerhouse White card of early Magic and so he had to be given a significant spot. Still, he looks kinda goofy. His cheery countenance is offset by possibly the surliest lion alive; look at that scowl! I think he even has a 5 o’clock shadow. Maybe he’s hung over. All joking aside, I did overdo the lion’s lower jaw. This is a good reminder of how amazingly useful Google image search is for artist reference. It’s easy to forget how sometimes hunting for reference through magazines and books could really derail a tight deadline back in the day.

So, take a shot at identifying all the cards in the image. Remember, there are no cards from sets later than The Dark. The answers are below.

Did divine inspiration strike? Here’s the answers to White.

Sep 202013
 

The story so far: In 1994 I created a series of promo images for Magic: The Gathering. These pieces were meant for flyers timed for the ’94 con season, and the game’s first anniversary.

Unless you’re one of about a dozen people, you’ve never seen them before. To find out why, check out the prologue to this series.

The project was to be six images, one for artifacts, and one for each color of mana.

Today it’s Green.

5Color-Green

Green, being nature, doesn’t struggle with right and wrong. Much like its opposite number – Blue – its essentially amoral. And while Green is life and its other opposite on the color wheel – Black – is death, Green recognizes that death is part of the cycle of life and Black has a little life in it due to various unpleasant biological systems involved in putrefaction. Yum.

Anyway, the planeswalker here shows a little of Green’s Tranquility while the main image focuses on the amoral side.

Have fun locating all of the cards in the image. The answers are posted below.

Next time, we’re onto White.

Click through for all the answers to your thorny questions.

Sep 162013
 

The story so far: In 1994 I created a series of promotional images for Magic: The Gathering. These pieces were meant for flyers timed for the ’94 con season, and the game’s first anniversary.

Unless you’re one of about a dozen people, you’ve never seen them before. To find out why, check out the prologue to this series.

The project was to be six images, one for artifacts, and one for each color of mana.

This time it’s Red.

5Color-BurningRed

Since Red is – among other things – the color of chaos, it seemed fitting that the creatures would be fighting amongst themselves, and of course firing off highly destructive red spells.

This is only the second time I ever painted goblins, the first time being the binder image shown in the prologue. Goblins, of course, have become a staple of Magic and a feature of my own career in the game. Back in ’94 the logical opposite to the goblins seemed to be dwarves, but by 2013 it’s fair to say that dwarves aren’t really a big component of Red and are thoroughly, exponentially, outnumbered by goblins. If I was creating this today, the dwarves probably would have been replaced with another race.

Red is also the color of fire and flame is especially tricky to paint with non-digital media. Generally, you need to get it right first time because the underlying white of the paper is vital to producing sufficient luminosity in the flame. I hadn’t quite learned that lesson yet but that’s the thing with any creative profession; you’ve got to make the mistakes to improve.

Red is also tied in with war and anger and that’s reflected in the planeswalker’s demeanor. I’d keep your distance, he’s not gotten his quadruple shot semi-skim latte this morning…

So, take a shot at naming all the cards in the image. I’m pretty certain that this one is far easier than the Artifacts piece. The answers to the cards in the red image are behind the cut –

Next time, we’ll continue clockwise around the mana circle to Green…

Burning questions? Okay, I’ll stop now, here’s your answers.

Sep 122013
 

In 1994 I created a series of promotional images for Magic: The Gathering. These pieces were meant for flyers timed for the ’94 con season, and the game’s first anniversary.

Unless you’re one of about a dozen people, you’ve never seen them before. To find out why, check out the prologue to this series.

The project was to be six images, one for each color of mana (the cornerstone of power and flavor in M:TG) and one extra for today’s subject – Artifacts.

5Color-Artifice

This is the general layout of all the pieces in the series; a color-themed planeswalker centrally framed and playing Magic cards, surrounded by creatures (and occasionally spells) of the appropriate mana color (or colorless in the case of Artifacts).

In addition to being given carte blanche with what to include in each image, I was also allowed free rein to extrapolate these creatures beyond what we’d seen previously in the confines of the card image window. Knowing that, don’t think of these as official versions of the creatures, just my take on them. Especially since I added a curved abdomen to the Dragon Engine in the hope of mirroring the curve of its neck but ended up just making it look pot-bellied! Win some, lose some…

An interesting wrinkle to all of this was that in ’94 all of the Magic artists still retained the copyright to their images. I think the working logic for this project was that they were free handouts and so didn’t require any special agreements, but if they’d been on retail products, then they’d have had to pay all the applicable artists a royalty. I think. Hey, it’s 19 years ago! I just know that Jesper would have done right by the artists like he always did.

Anyway, have fun trying to spot all of the cards referenced in this project. All six pieces pulled from cards from Alpha through The Dark. Feel free to post guesses here, on Facebook, Twitter or whatever Magic forum led you here. I’ll be curious to see if I’m able to sneak any by you.

Were you able to name all the cards in the artwork? The answers are below.

The next piece I’ll be debuting will be Red. Those of you that’ve read any interviews I’ve given, probably know that Red and Black are my favorite colors in Magic. So, we’re going to start at Red and work our way around the color wheel until we finish up at Black!

Click here to discover all the cards hidden in the image and a Quick FAQ

Sep 092013
 

Set the waaaay back machine to 1994. Many of you will be horrified to be reminded that was 19 years ago. I know I am.

I’d just finished the artwork for Antiquities, Legends and The Dark and the original art director of Magic – Jesper Myrfors – asked me if I’d like to do the cover illustration for the first official Magic: The Gathering card binder. Of course, I jumped at the chance.

The concept was simple: paint a wizard playing Magic and have him surrounded by creatures from all five colors of mana. Okay, easy enough…

Binder94

I wanted the wizard to have no mana bias so I had him playing an artifact. Bonus: it meant I got to paint the Stuffy Doll!

I remember struggling with the piece at the time. I was still pretty new to painting and making all the different elements work together while meeting the deadline was a tough undertaking. Here’s a little trivia about the piece –

  • This was the first and only time I got to paint an angel on an official WotC product.
  • This was the first time I painted goblins.
  • The card backs were the hardest part because I’m fussy about little details like that.

The piece is a fun bit of history for me but it also shows I was still trying to find my feet with painting. Take a look at the wizard’s hands and arms to see the iffy attempt at blending, let alone whatever’s going on with the Serra Angel’s forehead!

To me, the painting’s greatest significance is as the catalyst for a larger project. I’ll get to that in a moment.

After the binder piece, the next job I did for WotC was 26 (!) paintings for the launch set of the Jyhad CCG (later known as Vampire: The Eternal Struggle, or V:TES). Then came Fallen Empires and I remember when I finished Armor Thrull, I was struck with how much I’d improved since those first few paintings only five months previous.

One day, while on the phone with Jesper, (this was before people commonly used email to conduct business. Hell, it was ’98 before I had the internet in my home!) we got to talking about producing a series of flyers for Magic. These would be handouts for use at the major conventions and there’d be five different designs – one for each color of Magic. That soon became six designs as I pointed out that Artifacts deserved a flyer too.

Jesper was very keen on the idea so I set to work on finding and combining some of the coolest creatures and spells from those first few sets of Magic. I’d flown to Seattle and visited WotC only a month earlier so I was privy to the wondrous imagery in the entire Legends set even though it was still a month or two until it was available in stores.

Balancing a composition filled with a dozen or more disparate creatures only unified by their casting cost was no small task. But I loved it. It was a glorious jigsaw puzzle and it was only the very short deadline for such complex paintings that made the assignment so grueling.

Finally when the paintings were complete, I tried to call Jesper because I still didn’t have a contract, but I had to leave voicemail. Time went by and I heard nothing. Eventually I got to talk to Sandra Everingham who I discovered had become the new art director for Magic. Jesper had quit, and unfortunately in all that chaos, no one had been told what I was working on. No one was expecting the work. There was no contract. Magic was clearly doing so well it didn’t need flyers.

I never did get that contract. And I never got paid the $6,000 I was expecting to receive.

Now, to be clear, I don’t hold any grudges over this. Jesper had bigger things on his mind when he quit Magic and WotC in 1994, and no one else even knew the pieces were being made so why would I be annoyed with them?

But this was a cold hard lesson that I abide by to this day: “Always get a contract“. It sits at #2 right behind “Never work for free. Never work on spec. If you don’t value your work, why would anyone else?

Anyway, these six paintings have only been seen by a handful of people. They’ve NEVER been seen on the internet. Until now. Running twice a week starting this Thursday I’ll be debuting one of these pieces and we’ll be starting with that “Color #6″ – Artifacts.

Stayed tuned. And be prepared for a scavenger hunt to find all the cards referenced in these paintings. It’s quite a few.

Mar 162012
 

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:

Lys-Alana Huntcaller
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;

Huntmaster Head Sketches

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.

Figure round 1

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…

Figure round 2

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:

Final Figure

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.

Lots of dots

To be continued…

Oct 272011
 

… to the second year of the blog – which is finally underway, hey, it was a big deadline! – and to doors which, well you know how it goes; one closes and another one opens.

Or, should you prefer, there’s this toast…

Orcish Settlers.

Orcish Settlers (from 1997’s Weatherlight) was one of those brain-fart ideas for a picture.

Back in ’96 I was leading the team in charge of card-naming and flavortext and I was solely responsible for all the cards’ art descriptions. When this card lost its working title and became ‘Orcish Settlers’ this image jumped fully realized into my brain and I asked if I could be assigned the piece.

Obviously, it’s the goblinoid version of American Gothic by Grant Wood. The orcs’ clothing mirror the original’s and were significantly pushing the envelope on how anachronistic the piece could be within the world of Magic the Gathering. The house was a bigger problem as it would tear that same envelope into confetti.

So, I burnt the house down. And it gave a nice fiery background for a red mana card which was an added bonus. And the card’s power ended up destroying lands, so double bonus!

That just left me with explaining why the house was ablaze. One burnt piece of toast and a guilty look later and I had my punchline.

Still amazed I got away with it, though.

Oct 032011
 

Kiki Jiki, Mirror Breaker (from Champions of Kamigawa) was originally assigned to me as ‘Goblin Illusionist’.

The card seemed a little out of the ordinary given that the art description asked for a capable magic-wielding goblin, as opposed to the multitude of goblins that use magic with the surgical precision of a trebuchet and usually end up getting nailed by their own devices.

The art description called for the goblin to summon a powerful illusory creature to fight at his side. Not wanting to overplay my hand, I chose one of the Kamigawa setting’s ogres which looked like real brutes (that’s a compliment) in the style guide, but fell short of being a genuinely big league monster.

Here’s the initial sketch, featuring Kiki leaping into action and commanding his creature to attack some off-screen enemy. The ogre is outlined in flame which was also a request of the art description, presumably as a hallmark of Kiki Jiki’s magic. However, it’s equally likely that someone was just uptight about the idea of red magic creating illusions and this effect was the compromise.

Kiki Jiki, First Sketch

The feedback on the sketch was somewhat unexpected. They liked the goblin (or Akki as they were known in Kamigawa) but wanted the illusory creature to be bigger. Much bigger. Like a dragon. And when pressed, exactly like a dragon actually.

Clearly, this goblin had just received a promotion.

It’s not every day that the desired change to a Magic card amounts to “MOAR DRAGON”. Given the goblin’s unusual arcane prowess I’d already come to suspect that this card was a Rare, but after the requested revision, I was certain of it. Indeed, it might even be a power card. Yes, even if the art director doesn’t fill you in on the rarity, sometimes the way the art description is written or what elements are included can give you a pretty strong guess at the rarity of your card assignment.

Magic can be pretty tight-lipped about rarity these days. Sure, those rarities can change during the set’s development cycle but an initial idea of the rarity actually helps me make design decisions. But more about that in a later article…

Here’s an overlay, with a faint outline of Kiki which I built the dragon around.

Kiki Jiki, Now with Dragon!

This revision proved to be really beneficial for the image. The looped form of the dragon creates a nice sweep that leads your eye from the vicinity of Kiki Jiki’s trailing feet to the tip of the finger of his pointing hand. This helps with that sensation of movement through the piece and just makes the whole composition stronger. The ogre, whose form necessitated him being placed more to the side of Kiki, would have resulted in a much weaker image.

So, here’s the final painting of one of the most famous goblin cards I’ve done. It’s kind of ironic that the Akki were about the least goblin-like rendition of the goblin creature type in the history of Magic.

Kiki Jiki, Mirror Breaker Final Art

Also, Akki were devilishly difficult to get right as the contours of their head and shoulders were hard to keep track of. They would have benefited from a 3D rendition themselves.

In a way that happened, as Kiki Jiki (plus dragon) was made into a statue that was released around 2005. That makes Kiki one of three of my pieces that have been made into sculptures. The other two were Baron Sengir – an unpainted statue about seven inches high manufactured for the Japanese market around 1995 – and the Demon Token – which was made into an itty-bitty sculpt on top of a life counter.

Still, there’s a certain ‘traditional’ green-skin gobbo digital sculpture that I’m itching to show you more of in the very near future.

Later!