From the Vault, Ertai (1997)

Let us walk back in time, shall we? March of 1997. I'd been working on Magic for a couple of years. I was 22 years old. Still working out of the extra room in my parents' house that was my studio from 1991-1998 in South San Jose, through college and until I got married and moved out. I felt generally in the swing of things, work-wise. I was still painting in Acrylic paint, which I'd started with in high school. I had a CO2 tank and an airbrush at the ready, which I used sometimes more, sometimes less. But I was still finding my way--able at times to produce legitimately decent work, but more often that not rushing through projects. Back then there was a lot of work that could be had across the burgeoning field of Collectible Card Games, and most of it paid poorly. I knew if I slowed down a bit I could produce better work but I also knew if I slowed down too much I wouldn't make very much money. Being 22 and unwise, I often rushed from piece to piece.

 Ertai (1997) 11x14" acrylic on illustration board  Available on auction this week on the MtG Art Market

Ertai (1997)
11x14" acrylic on illustration board
Available on auction this week on the MtG Art Market


Ertai was going to be part of an odd format of oversized cards, each of which would feature a prominent character in the Rath Cycle/Weatherlight story. I was asked to paint Ertai. I think as a result of knowing that it would be printed larger than usual, I slowed down a bit. I also decided to work a bit bigger than usual. To that point, my average Magic paintings were 8x10" or smaller, though I was already making forays into painting larger: Rashida Scalebane (1996) was 16x20", for instance. I think whenever the piece was a bit more character-based and/or seemed iconic in some sense, I'd slow down and stretch out a bit. In both Ertai and Rashida (sold, btw), I also opted for vertical format paintings. I knew of course that large portions of the art would never see print, but I liked the idea of painting a bit larger for me. This kind of decision-making went into pieces that I slowed down for--I just said that there was a "for me" aspect to some pieces more than others. That dichotomy was stronger back then than now, but I think in part because of the rather indiscriminate rate I accepted work I found myself working on projects that weren't aesthetically interesting to me quite often. I often sped through those (again, unwisely), rather than turn them down, which I eventually felt confident enough to do.

  Sharpie sketch, 5.25x5" I scanned this in 2006, but have no idea if I sold it or still have it somewhere in storage. I couldn't find it, anyway.

Sharpie sketch, 5.25x5"
I scanned this in 2006, but have no idea if I sold it or still have it somewhere in storage. I couldn't find it, anyway.

In 1997 I shot reference with a Polaroid camera quite often. This meant that the lighting was often horrible and had to be created from scratch in-paint. I don't have the Polaroid for this one, honest. I probably posed for it myself because in 1997 I had the same haircut Ertai was designed to have. I also sketched for the fax machine. Email was a thing already, but art directors weren't really yet receiving sketches via email. So for about another year, I still had to fax sketches in. You could never be sure how clear the fax would come out on the other end, so it didn't make sense to do tightly rendered pencil drawings or anything. So my sketches back then were all quick and simple sharpie indications. I would end up re-drawing, a bit more carefully, the elements directly onto my illustration board before painting. This means that apart from those fax sketches, there exist very few other drawings for my early work. Very occasionally I'd do something tighter to help me think through a piece and transfer it down. I probably should've done that more. Again, I blame being 22.

Somewhere between sketch and final, I nixed the runes that were apparently planned for appearing on his magic force field or whatever. I don't know if that was based on art director feedback or what. In the end, the Magic looks like it could go either way: the beginning of something he is casting outward, or a repelling of an incoming effect. Maybe I liked that equivocal perspective.

As Magic celebrates its 25th anniversary and as the storyline has returned to this world and these characters (or what are left of them, Ertai didn't fare well in the end), I reached back and had a fresh look at this painting. For the last few years, I decided to vault the remaining Magic originals I still owned. While I'll still make available most of any newer Magic paintings I create, these older paintings and drawings were running low. There are a couple I hope to never sell, but for the rest I just like the idea of letting them age and from time to time bringing one out. I hadn't intended to start releasing any for a fair bit still, but who knows if and when Magic will return to Dominaria again. It seemed as good a time as any to put one out there.

And so, the original art is being made available this week, on auction at the MtG Art Market on Facebook. The auction is being run by Mike Linnemann (thanks!). It will end on Sunday. It's a Closed Group but they'll add anyone in. If you're not on FB and want to place a bid, drop me a line.

It'll be awhile until I crack the vault open again, so enjoy.

Turning Point

"The chief beauty about time is that you cannot waste it in advance. The next year, the next day, the next hour are lying ready for you, as perfect, as unspoiled, as if you had never wasted or misapplied a single moment in all your life. You can turn over a new leaf every hour if you choose." -Arnold Bennett
  "Turning Point" 24x36" oil over acrylic on panel  Available through Haven Gallery, Long Island

"Turning Point"
24x36" oil over acrylic on panel
Available through Haven Gallery, Long Island

August of 2017 I was invited by the Wilshires, whom you may know from their spearheading IX Arts, to participate in a group show at Haven Gallery on Long Island, on the subject of Time. That's it. There was very little guidance beyond that. I was excited to be a part of the show, especially because time is a concept I spend a lot of time thinking about in various ways, and always have.

Over the next month or so I cast about for ideas, things I might want to express relating to the theme. I did have in mind that clocks and memento mori were probably not going to figure into whatever I did. I assumed other artists would have interesting things to say with those visuals, and so I decided to find my solution elsewhere. But it was proving a little difficult.

Time changed that.



October 9, 2017 I awoke and shambled to the kitchen to begin preparing coffee, as usual. My wife had spent the night in Santa Rosa with her mother. As I approached the kitchen I heard my phone ringing in the drawer where I kept it. I answered my wife's call and still half-asleep tried to process the rambling, disjointed and somewhat panicked and frustrated nature of what she was telling me. Fires. That they evacuated at 2AM. That she'd been trying to call me all night but couldn't head north to get me because the freeway was closed due to fires (her mother doesn't live anywhere near the freeway). That there were over a dozen different fires. Various buildings reported destroyed (in geographically distant parts of the region). I was trying to process the rapid-fire information she was relaying to me and finally managed to lift my sleepy gaze out the kitchen window for the first time.

  My studio, as I left it after ransacking most of my art to leave with.

My studio, as I left it after ransacking most of my art to leave with.

When I did, the hillside outside our window had giant plumes of smoke billowing off of it. And this was a good half hour from where she had been overnight.

The Santa Rosa fires--the most destructive in CA history and the most expensive in US history--occupied my life that week as I evacuated my own home, and as I discovered through that morning and the days that followed that multiple friends had lost their homes as I slept.

Upon returning home, thankful that I had one, I began to hear their stories, including my model's here, who lost the home she was living in and a pet rabbit along with all her possessions as she fled. Over the next few weeks I began to understand that in very significant ways this fire was a definitive Turning Point in these friends' lives, and would be one for me as well, even if for different reasons, having escaped loss myself.

  Thumbnail sketch, 4x2.5" pencil and acrylic

Thumbnail sketch, 4x2.5" pencil and acrylic

Ruminating on all that, I began to put together my image. 

I began to think a lot about Turning Points in general after that. About how people decide (or don't decide) to look beyond the wreckage of the past--literal or metaphorical--towards something else, something better. Away from the fallout of bad decisions, injustices, hurts or betrayals, tragedies.

The unbelievable nature of what was damaged or lost is often something we spend a lot of time oriented towards, looking at it, trying to understand and mourning continually. Sometimes Turning Points are forced upon us that sever us from a past that should have been left behind long ago. All of these topics factored into creating my painting. Can we turn away from sorrow and toward something brighter? Can the future be beautiful when all we can see is destruction?

Emphatically, I think the answer is yes.




A few months back, I produced this study for Every Day original:

 "Soar" study 11x14" pencil and acrylic on paper Sold

"Soar" study
11x14" pencil and acrylic on paper

I've been working with GiveMeMana to produce some Custom Magic Tokens, and this was a study for one such. I decided I'd paint it up, and paint it big and bring it with me to IlluXCon in October.

Over the course of summer as I was busy with any number of things, I kept thinking about it. I'd worked up early on a very simple environmental concept for it, but until I sat down to paint, it doubts kept flooding my mind. It's not that I didn't like the concept I was prepared to paint, it's that outside forces were standing against me.

You see, modern fantasy art of this kind has evolved tremendously over the past 20-30 years, and continues to change at a rapid pace. I've been illustrating through it all and have recognized and adopted some aspects, while being a bit resistant to all the changes.

Those changes presented me with all kinds of challenges to this composition: it was too simple, too quiet, too naturalistic. I told myself I should create a very dramatic sky with lots of dark and light and color variation, there should be an ominous or very creative background--jagged cliffs! Huge crumbled statues it's flying between! Tops of towers or battlements, with people on them taking cover or shooting! Raining lava!

There should be multiple wyverns! They should be breathing fire or magic or whatever! The beast should have brightly colored patterns on its wings or scales. All these things, commonplace and almost no-brainer these days, kept crowding my mind.

But I remembered the morning I stood looking out on this very environmental scene, still a bit misty and quiet, and imagined that wyvern flying through it: quiet, it's huge wings the only sound breaking the silence of morning. As if I'd heard it and looked to see this beast pass by, rare and unexpected. Like when you see a wild animal while hiking.

Despite a world of doubts, I committed to painting this scene as I envisioned it. It wasn't for clients, who at any time could request the kinds of scenes I mentioned earlier, all of which would also create great illustrations, and certainly more dramatic ones. This was for itself, to stand in front of and enjoy. I suppose in that sense I was painting this to be a painting first and foremost.

Going with your gut does not always give you the correct answer, but I enjoyed painting this piece as it is.

 "Soar" 24x36" oil over acrylic Original available

24x36" oil over acrylic
Original available

Inspiring Cleric

My second piece for the Ixalan release of Magic: the Gathering is this rather simple image, yet there were a couple of ways for me to make it less-than-simple.

 "Inspiring Cleric" 18x24" oil over acrylic on panel Original sold

"Inspiring Cleric"
18x24" oil over acrylic on panel
Original sold

For starters, as mentioned in my breakdown for Ixalan Merfolk, I usually do the heavy decision-making on which image to present to the Magic Art Director myself, giving them just a single option to thumbs-up or down. For other types of clients, multiple sketches might be required or preferable but with Magic, the overwhelming majority of the time, one is sufficient. If anything I might get a little bit of, "Make sure you focus on this bit," or, "Adjust the [thing] a bit like so, but go ahead." It's pretty rare that I'm sent back to the drawing board entirely. But sometimes, there might be cause to submit more than one image for the Art Director to choose.

The first reason is because I simply can't decide which one to choose, so rather than make that awful choice, I'll leave it up to the Art Director. The other is that while I may prefer one very slightly over another, the other has an aspect that the first doesn't which might be more important as a card or composition.

In this case, it was more the latter. The assignment was fairly simple: show one of the Conquistador-inspired Vampires presenting a sword wrapped with some fabric containing some of the pre-designed and gothic-inspired text used by their culture. The environment in this case was to be the interior of one of their galleons, though that wouldn't necessarily be obvious in a small format. However, it gave me enough to go on, and the darker interiors would play nicely with the pale fabric and skin.

 "Inspiring Cleric' preliminary study 8x10" pencil and acrylic on paper Original sold

"Inspiring Cleric' preliminary study
8x10" pencil and acrylic on paper
Original sold

 Both studies, as submitted to Art Director Dawn Murin. Digital over pencil/acrylic

Both studies, as submitted to Art Director Dawn Murin.
Digital over pencil/acrylic

Compositions like this tend to be a bit more limited in that with the pose being specified, there are reduced opportunities for what to do or show. I liked this sort of at-angle version best from my thumbnails, and worked up the study of it. However I thought the presentation-of-the-weapon aspect was not necessarily as obvious as the version that had the character presenting the viewer with the sword; additionally, by making the figure more straight-on, it was more clear that she was holding a sword. Straight forward and side portrayals tend to emphasize shapes and objects much more than at-angle views.

So, I worked up a second study and submitted them both. I wasn't going to be surprised either way, but they went with the first study, and I was off to the races.

Choosing a size for a painting is a struggle on its own. If you take a figure, say, and enlarge it many times by intervals, you start to get a sense that some of the sizes are good for painting at, and others are bad. And as the figure grows, it's strange, you'll find it's good at a number of growing sizes, then it may hit a streak of enlargements that would be less-than-ideal, and then it suddenly gets to good enlargements again. I think a lot of traditional painters would agree with this, though for any given composition we might differ on where those lines are for each of us. But in this case, I chose an 18x24" panel, for only the second time.

I mentioned back in the run down for Vizier of Remedies that my newest entries in Magic illustration were being done a bit differently. Only taking an occasional commission now, I am more intent on just enjoying them as paintings; this means that I can choose larger sizes more often, which I might've chosen before but which were painted smaller than I really wanted sometimes just because I had more commissions to get done.