Oct 102013
 

You’re probably all too aware by now that this year is Magic’s 20th anniversary. Well, today is my own little Magic-related 20th anniversary:

On Oct 10th, 1993, at Philadelphia Comicfest, I first met Magic art director Jesper Myrfors. I’d actually been trying to catch up with Richard Thomas, art director of White Wolf Games, and when I finally tracked him down he was with Jesper and both of them were happy to take a look through my portfolio.

It’s fair to say that little piece of happenstance was the biggest career-changing event in my life… thus far. Both of the art directors liked my art but it was Jesper who followed through with work. Two weeks later I was painting my first Magic card, by April 94 I was making my second-ever trip to the U.S. to visit Wizards of the Coast. In June 95 I moved to Seattle and worked full time at Wizards on the Magic backstory and met a great deal of new friends (many of whom I still know today), and my lovely Jilli who became my wife in Oct 97.

And all because of my timing at Comicfest 93.

Ah, it all makes me a bit melancholy thinking back on those crazy early days of Magic. There was that crazy rush of something new and unprecedented. Magic tournaments are still fun to attend but the electric buzz of those first few years can’t be beat.

I’ll leave you for now with a look at a couple of the sketch cards I produced for The Gathering Kickstarter.

Sketches20th

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…

On the Mat

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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.

Jan 302012
 

Man, it’s been two and a half months since I posted here? What’s that, twenty years in internet time?

So, I’m still around, still working the freelancing gig, still keeping an eye out for new work (who isn’t?). The last few months have been filled with seasonal holiday shenanigans, training in ZBrush, swearing at Painter, occasionally dealing with a flooding basement, and trying to deal with a backlog of card signing requests. Y’know, the usual.

So, here’s a quick sketch I did one evening after returning from the upstairs room I call my studio to find my wife watching one of her perennial comfort movies, Beetlejuice…

And when I say quick sketch, I really mean quick. This took four minutes.

Beetlejuice 4 minute sketch

Those of you who’ve seen me sketching at shows, are probably not surprised by that. Attendees who want a free sketch get what I call my “thirty second goblin” which is a goblin head-shot that takes 30 seconds when I’m really in the zone, 50 the rest of the time.

Anyway, I decided I needed to do a better bio-exorcist pic, so here’s a color version I whipped up as a warm-up one lunchtime…

Beetlejuice color sketch

Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice! Wait, damn, does that mean I should have done a third sketch? Hmm…

Aug 172011
 

Sage from Antiquities

Continuing the previous theme of cards from Antiquities, let me tell you about the Sage of Lat-Nam…

The Sage was the first human I got to paint for Magic and his card was my first taste of the off-beat groups of gamers growing up around the game: It was at the Essen toy fair in 94 or 95 where I met a young French guy who not only collected dozens of the Sage of Lat-Nam, but the card had become the official mascot of his gaming group who had named themselves “The School of Lat-Nam”. He was delighted at the opportunity to get a boatload of Sages signed.

I’ve no idea what became of that group but I did think about them when I was working as story lead on Alliances, where I reintroduced Lat Nam. Hopefully it gave them all a big grin.

Anyway, jumping to 2005, I did a private commission of the Sage and this time I got him up out of that seat. I figured he’d be grateful after being stuck in it for twelve years. This piece was done entirely in pencil. Scanning and making the image look good for the web makes the pencil work look darker than on the original piece.

Sage of Lat-Nam Sketch

Here’s a nice close up of his face. I think that facial expression tells you all you need to know about the wisdom of pestering the Sage while he’s reading… several books… simultaneously.

Sage of Lat-Nam Close Up

Aug 122011
 

In what time I can grab, I’m trying to learn the amazing 3D app ZBrush. Just follow that link if you want to have your mind blown.

When I can, I’m digging through the tools and the (intimidating) interface via a book called Introducing ZBrush 4 by Eric Keller and kudos to Eric because the very first tutorial is making a dragon head!

So, here’s my first ever ZBrush sculpture, a dragon head. It’s probably 50% done; it’s lacking real detail and textures. I won’t be going any further with this version as I ran ahead of myself and made some errors which, frankly, it’s easier to start over than to fix. But hey, it looks cool.

3D Dragon Turnaround

I really like the way that he looks like he’s smiling until he’s looking straight at you then he looks really pissed off!

3D Dragon Turnaround

One more thought. 3D printing is getter better and better. Hmm…

Jul 292011
 

CCG Artist proofs are special version of the cards that have a blank white back. Each artist receives roughly fifty of these for each card he has published. Usually they’re sold at shows as a collectible.

Occasionally people pay extra to get a sketch put on the back.

And every now and then, someone wants something completely crazy…

Phyrexian Dreadnought on four A.P.s

This was a special commission and the Phyrexian Dreadnought shown here stretches across four Dreadnought APs.

These days, I recommend if someone wants something this crazy, they let me just put it on a piece of art board because I can do a better job on a surface that isn’t four cards trying to shift out of place as I’m drawing on them. Still, if that’s what they want…

The person who commissioned this was also going to buy the Dreadnought original but had to back out. His loss as there was someone else eagerly waiting to nab it.

I Dream in Scribbles

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Jul 082011
 

… or scribble dreams. That’s certainly the case this time.

While trying to rein in the horror that is my computer’s desktop, I found this little doodle I did of Morpheus of the Endless from Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman.

The Lord Shaper

I vaguely remember doing this to try out some of the new brushes in the latest iteration of Artrage, which if you’re interested in digital painting, I strongly recommend you take a look at. It’s a budget price for an excellent piece of software.

May 302011
 

Also known as Joe Dredd, and Old Stoney Face.

I’ve read comics regularly since I was three or four, and as much as I love the DC Comics characters I grew up with, my weekly thrill power hit came from 2000 AD and nothing was more eagerly awaited than the latest half dozen pages of Judge Dredd.

I was one of those kids that trudged down to the newsagent in Feb 1977 and picked up issue one. I never stopped after that. Though living in Seattle these days has certainly made it harder to get hold of new issues. I could buy them in a digital format but I’m not so sure I want to say goodbye to the physical artifact (though my groaning bookshelves would certainly thank me).

I actually did a couple of episodes of Judge Dredd for the Judge Dredd Megazine way back in 1993 and I bought my first ticket to the U.S. with those earnings and that’s where I met WotC. So I owe the old fascist curmudgeon big time.

And occasionally I like to sketch him and think idly about asking the guys at Rebellion if I could do another Dredd episode…

Judge Dredd pencil sketch

Such a grumpy old bastard! And such fun to draw.

P.S. My favorite story was Block Mania and the subsequent Sov Apocalypse. I always thought Block Wars were the coolest damn idea (Narratively. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to see one in real life).

P.P.S. Brian Bolland is the Man.

P.P.P.S. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the new Dredd movie starring Karl Urban. I try not to think of the Stallone version which was a squandered opportunity.