Springbloom Druid

There have been a couple of occasions lately where commissions kind of line up with things going on in my life. In this case, Art Director Cynthia Sheppard reached out to me to illustrate this card, which featured a pretty basic description of a Druid bringing life back into a forest ravaged by fire.

Springbloom Druid 18x24” oil over acrylic on panel  Original art available

Springbloom Druid
18x24” oil over acrylic on panel
Original art available

It just so happens that some half year or so prior to this assignment reaching me, we here in Sonoma County went through the North Bay Fires of October 2017. While we were spared here, we did spend most of a week under advisory evacuation, and during that conflagration we knew too many people who lost their homes. Out of that horrible experience came my painting “Turning Point” as a meditation on hope after loss.

Preliminary study, 8x10” acrylic and pencil on paper Original art sold

Preliminary study, 8x10” acrylic and pencil on paper
Original art sold

I asked if that had been intentional, and Cynthia responded that no, it was not but that it might have been subconscious, since I had posted about my experience on social media at the time. Given the potential for being sensitive to the topic she asked if I wanted to pass on painting this, but no this was exactly up my alley and in line with the message I had communicated in “Turning Point” just a couple of months prior.

Shrunken down to card size, the burnt out trees look almost comical in their lack of branches (compared to a fully rendered unburnt tree as in my painting “Resilience”. And yet, one of the things you learn after a devastating fire is how most of the thinnest branches of a tree simply burn away, or break and fall to the ground where all but the biggest branches are consumed by fire, leaving these anemic sticks were might trees once stood. The completely ashen ground that is leftover until the rains come to wash it away or turn it to mud is another striking feature. And that weird ruddy sunset color that makes up the sky while the air is still choked with smoke.

In the midst of this sits our druid, a riot of plant life emerging before him and beginning to reclaim the barren wastes. Glowing eyes and hands are a common trope of this kind of art, so I enjoyed placing the magical image of a flower in bloom on each glowing palm.

Addressing this topic of hope after ruin twice in just a few months was a good experience for me, and I’m glad to have this part of my story in a sense recorded in the game that has been a part of my story for so many years now.

As an aside, as of this writing, the first of the families who I know whose home was lost has finished rebuilding, and within a month or so from now the second family will get to move back in to their rebuilt home as well. So many yet to go, though.

25 Years On: Spring 1994

25 years ago, I started this journey as a professional artist.

Working on my first commission for “Vampire: the Eternal Struggle” (then known as “Jyhad”). The illustration for “Cloak the Gathering” was complete and is pictured. I am working here on a piece that never saw release.

Working on my first commission for “Vampire: the Eternal Struggle” (then known as “Jyhad”). The illustration for “Cloak the Gathering” was complete and is pictured. I am working here on a piece that never saw release.

One of my final projects, 36x27” acrylic on watercolor board, 1994

One of my final projects, 36x27” acrylic on watercolor board, 1994

I was just finishing up my last semester at the California College of the Arts in Oakland CA. I had studied there since Fall 1991 and, knowing I was not going to finish my degree, was finishing up the coursework I intended to get out of my experience there. My plans were that I would finish my Spring semester, take the summer “off,” painting for myself and working on some new portfolio pieces, then I’d start pursuing work in the Fall.

Late March or early April, my friend called to tell me Magic’s Art Director Jesper Myfors (also an early artist) would be doing a card signing in San Francisco at a game shop. I knew about then-new Magic but hadn’t played yet. But I knew it was growing quickly in popularity. Still being in the middle of coursework, I didn’t have anything like a portfolio, but I gathered up a number of paintings and took them there (possibly also slides and a loupe lens…it was 1994). After his signing, he stopped to look them over and chat and he offered me a gig on their next game, Vampire: the Eternal Struggle (then, “Jyhad”), having missed the schedule to start me on Magic’s “The Dark”.

“Wake With Evening’s Freshness”, 1994 7x8” acrylic on illustration board For Vampire: the Eternal Struggle (formerly Jyhad)  Original art available

“Wake With Evening’s Freshness”, 1994
7x8” acrylic on illustration board
For Vampire: the Eternal Struggle (formerly Jyhad)
Original art available

At the age of 19, still in school, I had received my first professional commission!

The world of White Wolf’s Vampire (on which the game was based) was not my mother tongue of fantasy and sci-fi. So that first job was rough for me, but I learned a ton. The main mistake I made was in not understanding how to work on it while also working on final projects for my classes. I was working around-the-clock that last couple of months, but it was also on the high of working on the project and finishing up with school. Along with the illustrations that were printed, were 3 others that were canned along the way for various production reasons.

16x20” oil on canvas, 1994  Original available

16x20” oil on canvas, 1994
Original available

Finishing my final projects around the same time that the illustrations were due, I celebrated in part with my first trip to Yosemite. That summer, I did two paintings based on reference I shot there, including this Squirrel painting featured here. These were personal pieces, and the Squirrel went 23 years unpublished until I started producing my own tokens for use in Magic—lo and behold there was a Squirrel token, and this piece finally saw the light of day then.

While I worked part-time doing 3d modeling for an independent software developer, I was able to continue with my plan of taking the Summer “off” working on mostly landscape paintings, thinking that my time for painting stuff like that might be coming to an end soon, before dedicating my time to genre illustration starting in the fall. It was an exhilarating start to my career. The world was very different then and everything was still ahead of me, unknown. I could hardly guess how great it would be.

For a limited time, some of this period’s original art is available for purchase.

Resilience

I love big gnarly trees. One unfortunate aspect of liking gnarly trees as a painter is that you then might feel compelled to paint them. Painting gnarly trees is a lot of work. Absent most or all leaves, trees are maddeningly complex, but it’s precisely this complexity that makes them interesting.

“Resilience” 24x30 oil on panel Original art sold

“Resilience” 24x30 oil on panel
Original art sold

Sonoma and Marin county up here in Northern California are home to many great gnarly trees, many but not all various kinds of oaks. Added to the rolling hills, there is lots to paint if I want to paint lots of gnarly trees. But if I do, I will probably age prematurely. As with my earlier landscape entries of vineyards, I enjoy spending a little time on various aspects of the local landscape, then moving on to another, and probably coming back around again in time.

This tree in particular just looks impossible, with that trunk and an overall sweep that looks like it spent its entire life buffeted by strong winds. Nevertheless, there it is, large and amazing. To be honest I’m not sure if it’s actually still alive; I would need to revisit it later in the year to see if it ever put out leaf. There did seem to be a few stubborn past leaves clinging to it which makes me think it had recently been in leaf but perhaps was late to bloom again. But even if it isn’t coming back, that it’s still standing there defiantly was pretty inspiring. So I titled the painting, “Resilience” just since it was such a great visual metaphor for so much about life.

“Resilience” was accepted into the 28th Annual National Juried Exhibition of Traditional Oils, and will be exhibited for the Oil Painters of America at Illume Gallery of Fine Art in Saint George UT this Spring.

Guildpact Informant

guildpact-informant.png

War of the Spark serves as a kind of culmination of a few years of Magic: the Gathering storyline. To be honest, I couldn’t recount most of the story to you: it’s long and involved and I tend to focus on those aspects I’m asked to illustrate; sorry, I’m not super keyed into the constantly evolving world. One thing that is a feature of this sort of climax is an all-in number of Planeswalkers (sort of legendary main characters, for the uninitiated—think recent Avengers films). Apart from them basically all appearing in this set on their own cards, they appear in many other incidental cards. So it is that I was asked to paint the character Jace in one of these incidental cards. The card appears exclusively in the Jace Planeswalker Deck, not in the randomly packed booster packs.

Guildpact Informant 11x14” oil over acrylic on panel

Guildpact Informant
11x14” oil over acrylic on panel

On the one hand I was happy to get an opportunity to portray one of these characters, on the other the card is not about Jace in particular, but on this rather common faerie instead. So it’s an unusual dichotomy between the special and the common.

Guildpact Informant, study 6.25” x 8.5” acrylic and pencil on toned paper

Guildpact Informant, study
6.25” x 8.5” acrylic and pencil on toned paper

In progress, the acrylic underpainting right before beginning to switch to oils.

In progress, the acrylic underpainting right before beginning to switch to oils.

The story of this set also features a day to evening theme, with certain story aspects appearing earlier in the “day” and others, later. In my case, this was supposed to be a “morning” illustration. Bright crisp sunlight without the evening golden tones, is the way I think of it.

In this case, Art Director Dawn Murin and I worked on focusing the piece more on the faerie who is the creature the card depicts. We discussed that the art should crop in more on the faerie, and so Jace should crop out, otherwise he’d take over the image. And this was the correct way to proceed. Since I had already drawn out the fuller composition, I just told her that I’d be painting the fuller art anyway, and then they could crop in for their needs. A win/win.

As mentioned in past entries, I generally only ask for one or at most two illustrations these days when asked to join in on a Magic set. So, this is it for now! At the moment, I am commemorating 25 years since my first illustration work with Wizards of the Coast. It’s been a long road, but it’s a genuine thrill and rather amazing to be showing you new work from my first client, so many years on still.