A Tale of Two Kickstarters

 Comments Off on A Tale of Two Kickstarters
Mar 052013
 

Gatekeeper-thinSo, in an effort to be ridonkulously busy, I’m involved in TWO ongoing (and rather successful) Kickstarter projects!

Now, that’s not to say I’m running two Kickstarter projects simultaneously, they have rules against that…

In the first project – The Maze of Games – I’m the sole illustrator. Apart from handing in artwork I have no direct involvement with the Kickstarter page. That is all in the hands of puzzle-maestro, evil-genius and utter lunatic, Mike Selinker, who is the author of the book and all its fiendish puzzles.

Trust me, I’m not kidding about fiendish. The puzzles start off merely tricky but ramp up to ‘brain-spasm difficulty’ pretty quickly. There’s even a hidden puzzle on the Kickstarter page itself and regular puzzles in the updates. See previous statement about “utter lunatic”.

If you need to take your brain out for a bracing puzzle-filled marathon (with requisuite *headdesking*) be sure to check it out as it only has a few days left in its campaign.

The second Kickstarter launched a week ago today. I’m helping run the Kickstarter page and the Facebook page for it, and I’ve done a painting for it too. It’s a very special project to me as it’s for the 20th anniversary of Magic: The Gathering…

CommemorateThe Gathering is an art book featuring new art by over 30+ of the original Magic artists who’ve contributed a new painting for the book, most of them derived from one of their favorite / popular cards.

It’s especially big news because Wizards has never done an art book with a focus on the artists. Crazy, but true!

We debuted four pieces of art at launch and are periodically revealing more. If you know anyone who used to play Magic back in its earliest days, let them know about this book. Especially let friends know if they used to play Magic but have quit, because they may get a big kick out of this book and most of our current channels are probably not reaching them!

Nothing sadder than someone missing out on a Kickstarter that was something they’ve always wanted.

Okay, I’ll catch you after the craziness! Whenever that is.

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…

The Curse of Commonality

 Comments Off on The Curse of Commonality
Mar 152012
 

It’s true in every corner of the commercial art world that if your artwork is attached to a popular product then your art is going to benefit from that association. The popularity rubs off, so to speak.

It’s especially the case in Magic, and probably all collectible card games. If your art graces a hot (and most likely) rare card then you’re going to be able to sell more prints, charge more for the artist proofs and if you’re working in traditional mediums, ask a nice sum for the original art too. It’s all about demand.

In CCGs the opposite is also true. If your art ends up on an unpopular card then you may never sell a single artist proof unless you find a particularly masochistic player with a strange connection to the card. Hey, it’s happened…

But it goes further than that, the perceived value – that is to say the quality – of the painting itself is changed in the minds of the card buying public. I have some early paintings that aren’t remotely close to the quality I produce today, but they’re on popular cards and I sell prints of them at every show. And I have some paintings I’m really proud of that’ll never sell a print because of where they landed, usually a junk common that no one cares about.

And that’s the curse of commonality.

Tomorrow (yes, really, three updates in a week!) I’ll show you one of my favorite paintings that you may never have paid any attention to as it was lost to a junk common.

And as a footnote, even commons have their moment in the spotlight…

Image courtesy of the fiendish Magic Cards with Googly Eyes Tumblr where I have discovered my art is featured with frightening regularity.

Man, I think the eyes totally improved the Necrogen Censer. Just look at it, it’s absolutely cute now… like some raggedy left-for-wet Pokemon.

On the Mat

 Comments Off on On the Mat
Mar 142012
 

So GP Seattle-Tacoma was a lot of fun. REALLY busy, though. There was very little time to just hang out chatting as the line never shrank until the last few hours on Sunday.

As well as the playmats produced for tournament prizes, people requesting sketches on their own mats has become the big thing at recent shows. Playmats have been around for ages so I’m not sure why this has suddenly become so popular but I suspect the new mats with their smooth surface that takes drawings much better has encouraged this. Just a hunch.

I lost count of how many sketches I did. Some were certainly better than others – that’s always the case – but hopefully everyone was happy with their pics. These shows can become a blur and I often worry about getting too punchy and producing crappy scrawls.

One of the most bizarre pieces done was a hodge-podge Phyrexian that came about from an impromptu jam. I had drawn the upper portion of a Phyrexian warrior but had to call it at a certain spot when I had run out of time. Later the mat’s owner brought back the mat to show me that rkpost had added a lower torso and thighs to the creature (apparently he hates to see things unfinished) and then he thought he’d leave the legs for Mark Tedin. Franz Vohwinkel was last to get his hands on the mat and managed to bolt on a rather natty mini gun – with requisite ammo belt – to the Phyrexian’s free arm.

Here’s the crazy jam for you to enjoy –

Jam mat drawing featuring Venters, Post, Tedin and Vohwinkel

After the show, Mark and I were talking about doing this again and seeing what craziness happens. Only time will tell…

Finally, here’s a look at the finished Phyrexian Dreadnought playmat with all the noodly rendering completed.

Phyrexian Dreadnought mat finished

Mar 022012
 

One of the latest things happening at Magic tournaments, especially the new slew of Grand Prix events, is the attending artists producing playmat sketches for tourney prizes.

A lot of times these are done on the day – they are, after all, just a really big sketch – but I decided to have a shot at my mat before getting to the show…

So, if you’re going to Grand Prix Seattle-Tacoma, you could win this Phyrexian Dreadnought playmat:

Phyrexian Dreadnought mat prize for GP Seattle

The Magic card is included for scale! This wide mat also gives me a chance to try out the larger image window on the blog’s new format. Mmm, roomy.

The mat’s about eighty to ninety percent done at this point. I’m sure it’ll be on show with the other artists’ mats during Saturday and possibly a portion of Sunday. Considering rkpost and Mark Tedin are attending, I think it’s fair to say there’ll be some damn nice looking mats to win.

Don’t miss out. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Event Alert: Grand Prix Seattle / Tacoma

 Comments Off on Event Alert: Grand Prix Seattle / Tacoma
Feb 282012
 

I’ll be attending Grand Prix Seattle / Tacoma this coming weekend. I should be there Saturday and Sunday from about noon onwards (I-5 traffic allowing).

Come along for all manner of signing, sketching and shenanigans.

Click this link or the image for event info and location.

Nov 182011
 

I have a longer post about GP San Diego that I’m working on, but in the meantime I thought I’d share with you the two cases I designed for mine and my wife’s phones –

iPhone Case Designs

The images aren’t stickers they’re actually imbedded into the cases and are nice and solid. We got these done at Uncommon and they did a great job.

The one on the left is based off the designs I did for my wife’s site, Gothic Charm School. The one on the right is a tweaked version of my Skirk Marauder image. No, I can’t make the Skirk one available for purchase as it’s copyrighted to WotC, but one for my personal use is just fine.

So, would you be interested in a phone case with some of my fantasy art? I certainly think it’s a cool new way for people to enjoy my art. Let me know.

Event Alert: Grand Prix San Diego

 Comments Off on Event Alert: Grand Prix San Diego
Nov 042011
 

I’ll be attending GP: San Diego next week! You can expect to find me there prepared for all manner of signing and sketches.

My hours (approximately) –
Friday Nov 11th 12:00 – 2:00, 3:00 – 6:00
Saturday Nov 12th 11:00 – 1:30, 2:30 – 6:00
Sunday Nov 13th 11:00 – 1:30, 2:30 – 5:00

Hopefully, I’ll see you there.

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!