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.

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 Sold

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.