Ixalan Merfolk

In Magic: the Gathering, token cards are interesting--they are cheap and the opposite of a power card. But unlike a run-of-the-mill common card that may just never see play, since these are proxies for things that happen fairly commonly in-game, they end up seeing a decent amount of use when that token is usable in the current tournament cycle.

So, Merfolk. Along with their Lorwyn set counterparts, these merfolk designs feature heads with fins. The assignment called for a particular kind of merfolk standing astride a river, weapon at the ready, in a sort of guardian pose. Simple enough, and since the card design features larger-than-usual art to be printed, it also allowed me a little more room to add in more detail that might be unwise in an illustration reproduced at a still smaller size.

Using a card border ghosted in Photoshop and printed on sketch paper repeatedly, I did my thumbnails at actual reproduction size. Here are a few:

Pencil and white acrylic on toned paper

Pencil and white acrylic on toned paper

You can see a few that I starred in the upper right. These were among the ones I had to agonize over before picking one for final. The one directly under the one chosen was a very strong contender as well, and a year later I'm not sure why it wasn't chosen. I quite liked the lower-right one too, but the kneeling pose was too reminiscent of an older piece of mine, Sway of the Stars and so I think that was why I decided against it.

From there, a study was done using a combination of acrylic, ink and pencil. I've been utilizing this combo of materials quite a lot with some of my work for Every Day Original, and it's started leaking back into my other work.

8x10" pencil, acrylic and ink on toned paper

8x10" pencil, acrylic and ink on toned paper

From there, a bit of digital additions provided my submission to the art director Dawn Murin, which was accepted outright:


That rounded border is unusual and not a shape I was actually going to paint on, so it was important that I design with it in mind the entire time, of course that also means that the rectangle features extra art not seen on the card! Approval in hand, I enlarged my drawing to 16x20", transferred it to my panel and got to work, starting with a quick acrylic block-in:

Acrylic block-in, AKA "The Ugly Phase"

Acrylic block-in, AKA "The Ugly Phase"

Background in progress in oils

Background in progress in oils

When working on the figure, I've generally adopted the philosophy of nail the face before moving on, so after pushing it around for a bit and feeling satisfied, I was off to the finish.

When working on the figure, I've generally adopted the philosophy of nail the face before moving on, so after pushing it around for a bit and feeling satisfied, I was off to the finish.

This painting didn't present many problems at all, and was a joy to paint, frankly. That's rarely the case, so it's memorable. Most pieces, I can talk about road blocks that were hit and needed to be worked through or solved. The resultant piece therefore came out like this:

"Ixalan Merfolk" 16x20" oil over acrylic on panel Original will be available at IlluXCon 2017

"Ixalan Merfolk" 16x20" oil over acrylic on panel
Original will be available at IlluXCon 2017

The merfolk design includes these fins that come off various parts of the anatomy, including one that kind of projects outward from the elbow. On the left you can see it clearly. In the sketch, I kinda had it tucked behind the arm, in the direction it would've gone, but I decided that at card size that would confuse the shape of the arm, so made the assumption that it was running behind the upper arm, but out of view, to keep things clear. After some discussion with the Art Director I went in digitally and added it as another silhouette shape (you can see the final on my Illustration portfolio page), I also did a couple other small digital tweaks by request, but above is how the painting was completed.

Hearts for Hardware: Intelligent Design

Growing up, I had an Atari 2600 as my first home console (not counting a Radio Shack Pong clone). When the next-gen systems started appearing, I went with ColecoVision. So I never owned an Intellivision, which launched remarkably earlier than I remember. I did know someone who owned one, an adult--a married adult! I was young and games were new--I saw plenty of adults playing at the arcade, but never knew an adult who owned his own console. So when he was talking to my dad about how he had bought an Intellivision, "It stands for Intelligent Television," I heard him say with an air of knowledge, having thoroughly imbibed the advertising slogan, I thought he was the coolest adult around. I think in those years I may have played on an Intellivision exactly once.

"Intelligent Design" 14x18" oil over acrylic and leaf on panel Sold

"Intelligent Design"
14x18" oil over acrylic and leaf on panel

The system also lasted far longer on the market than I remember, undergoing hardware revisions during its ten-year production run.

When commencing the art for this hardware, which was pre-commissioned, I had to think about how to portray it. For all of these consoles, I have painted the controllers are separate pieces from the hardware, often creating compositions that hang together.

The Intellivision however is one of only a couple of systems where the controllers nest into the hardware, and so portraying the console faithfully would seem to include showing the controllers. Having one or both dangling off via cables into other paintings seemed unattractive. So I decided to make the console painting self-contained, and paint a controller separately. I actually painted the controller first, since the console was pre-commissioned and I needed to test the approach a bit first.

"Intelligent Design, P1" 8x10" oil over acrylic on panel

"Intelligent Design, P1"
8x10" oil over acrylic on panel

I have never worked with metal leaf before. It is a material that seems to have had a significant revival in the past decade or so. When used well it makes a lovely effect in original art, but I have also kind of avoided it because it is simultaneously very tempting to let the leaf do the heavy lifting on a work--since it has such wonderful material properties, it seems like an easy way to create ooh-aah factor on its own, apart from any vision the artist might bring.

But as I just said, it can be used well, and I hope this might be one of those times. The system's design includes a sort of fake gold metallic look, to accompany the faux wood. While it would also be quite simple to have just painted it to look realistic, it seemed to me that this was a place where I could use metal leaf directly in those areas, and then paint a bit on top to replicate the sheen. I think it worked well. I also let little slivers of leaf poke through the background--since one of the benefits of leaf is the way it constantly changes appearance depending on the ambient light, I thought this might be an occasion to let a little of the material's natural wow factor to shine through, so to speak.

In the end it was a fun experiment, and is one I might use in future Hardware paintings when metallic surfaces were employed. Additionally, one of the difficulties I've faced with this series is that even though the handling of the paint has generally been much more painterly than my usual works, people often still think they are photographs at first glance! So finding ways to make a painting read more as a painting while still being accurately representational is important to me, going forward.

Lastly, the title here is really meant to be a bit of a joke. While sporting some neat ideas like nested controllers and a side-loading cartridge slot to keep the immediate aesthetic undisturbed, the controllers were among the least-ergonomic ever created. Looked cool, certainly, but ugh. I mentioned I'd only played this maybe once as a kid, but upon getting a system in to paint, I also had some fun with it and confirmed this.

3 Ways to Help, 3 Ways to Hurt an Artist on Facebook

Artists and Illustrators frequently use social media, particularly Facebook to show off new art. This is done for a few reasons:

1.) To advertise their illustration to potential clients (they may be friends with many Art Directors and this is a tried-and-true way of keeping them in touch with new work)

2.) To show off new works to collectors who may purchase the work they see.

3.) To present the world with lovely things.

When you see cool art, DO:

1.) Like it: likes are free still and easy, and posts with lots of activity seem to get shown to more people since it is viewed as valuable content and Facebook likes showing content that is engaging. Just liking a post can help the artist out in spreading the art around.

2.) Share it: ok, this takes more work and if you're an artist also a bit of swallowing your pride, but sharing work obviously multiplies an artist's reach.

3.) Compliment or discuss or share a story in the comments, ask questions (but note the Don't list below).

Note that two of the three purposes artists might share work are business-related. Because of that, there are a number of things that you can innocently do that can mess up the artist's ability to accomplish these tasks. Since the comments section can be a free-flowing peanut gallery, it might not occur to you that you are not helping the artist, but unfortunately, you aren't.

When you see cool art, DON'T:

1.) Criticize the artist publicly in-thread. First, your criticism might be valid, or not. Either way other viewers will read your criticism and it could diminish their enjoyment of the art--and if your criticism is off-base, unfairly so. If you'd like to critique the work, DM the artist. If you don't want to do that (the direct way of reaching the artist) then why exactly did you want to criticize in public?

2.) Make fun of or joke about the art. Most artists don't take themselves that seriously, but when you free-associate something you think is funny about the art and point it out in the thread, you are making it easy for everyone else to make the same association. If this association detracts from the art or lessens its impact, you've hurt the artist a little.

3.) Post your own art in the thread: perhaps the artist painted a cool Star Wars piece they are trying to show off to attract interest from people in the industry, and you did a cool art of the same character, too. Don't post your version in the comments--you are hijacking their thread and views. Or, their art reminds you of something someone else did (maybe even better), don't post that art in the comments. Again, DM is your friend if you want to have that conversation with the artist.

Again, most of the reasons artists are sharing art are business-related: trying to gain work or trying to make sales. Since that is how an artist eats, it's important to them, even if social media reach offers only a small effect in this regard. So when you lessen the impact of the art, or innocently ridicule or overshadow it, you inadvertently hurt the artist's efforts at self-promotion, which most artists find hard enough to do as it is!

Most of these tips also can be ported over to Twitter and Instagram, but at least the comment threads aren't as visible in those formats. Nevertheless, good etiquette helps artists. You want to help artists, don't you?