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
Sold

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?

Back to Magic, Vizier of Remedies

Spoiler alert: This post is mostly about my work on Magic: the Gathering in general, but I've peppered it with process shots of Vizier of Remedies, my latest illustration for it.

"Vizier of Remedies" 14x18" oil on panel Full-sized print available here

"Vizier of Remedies"
14x18" oil on panel
Full-sized print available here

Magic: the Gathering has been a part of my entire career, from my very first year as a freelancer, before I was old enough to drink alcohol. That relationship is one I didn't see coming, but has shaped everything I've done since. It has been a fairly casual relationship, and there have been years I didn't participate in the game. The longest stint was these past three years.

Digital study over pencil/pastel drawing. I submitted this to AD Dawn Murin for approval. Approved, with change requested to hair: she should have a styleguide-approved updo. Check!

Digital study over pencil/pastel drawing. I submitted this to AD Dawn Murin for approval. Approved, with change requested to hair: she should have a styleguide-approved updo. Check!

I have worked with I think every Art Director that has held the seat. Considering that each AD has their specific vision for the art of the game, I'm pretty proud of that. Certainly I worked with some ADs more than others. This is doubly amazing for me because I am not one to really make an effort to send ADs emails when I am not working with them. I send each AD an introduction letter eventually, but that's about it, so if I fall out of sight and out of mind, well then I don't really get asked. There could be a longer blog post on that topic, but it is enough to bring us to the present.

When I turned in my last illustration, Treasonous Ogre, three years prior, I went about my business as usual after. When a set or two passed me by, that was not unusual--I was engaged in my large painting Alieis by then. If you don't know the story, it is the painting that led indirectly to where I am now: my still life series started while working on it, and my Hearts for Hardware art would not have started without first painting squash and tomatoes; and by expanding in those directions and enjoying them, I then expanded again into incorporating more landscape art into my mix, which had just been an occasional side thing up to that point. With an extended hiatus from Magic, I had time in my calendar to engage these other projects, which have become mainstays of my work these days.

After transferring the drawing to my board, I applied a brown wash of color, then began with the final rendering, working mostly background-to-foreground

After transferring the drawing to my board, I applied a brown wash of color, then began with the final rendering, working mostly background-to-foreground

Art Directors changed during that time, with Cynthia Sheppard and Dawn Murin stepping in where Jeremy Jarvis was the commissioning AD last time I worked with them. And clearly I was out of sight, out of mind for both of them. So a year ago I figured I'd drop Cynthia that email saying that I was still interested in working on Magic if that was in line with her vision for the game.

There was one caveat this time, however: I suggested that as much as I was still interested in working on Magic, I was only interested in doing like one painting per wave of commissions, and that I understood that the headache in dealing with a totally separate artist for just one card when there are hundreds to assign might mean it was not worth it, and I was cool with that. Surprisingly, they were cool with that, too. So I've done a piece here or there for them in the past year, and "Vizier of Remedies" is the first to release.

There are two reasons for this limitation: first, it is very tempting to want to take as much work as can be offered because money. But an illustrator has to be aware of their limitations, since this can quickly backfire on them, where they accept more work than they can handle at the expected level of quality. My own work has occasionally suffered on this count over the years, and I realize this sometimes short-changed my client and sabotaged my own career.

Some folks liked the hands on this piece, so here is a close-up of that.

Some folks liked the hands on this piece, so here is a close-up of that.

You'll note the background is a bit glowy-er than the painting. I added a bit more extreme light digitally at the end to improve how the shapes read at card size.

You'll note the background is a bit glowy-er than the painting. I added a bit more extreme light digitally at the end to improve how the shapes read at card size.

The second reason was mentioned earlier: I do a lot more things now, and I really like those things. And now that I've added Magic back to the mix in this limited way, I have another thing I like now back in the mix. It has been the busiest period of my entire career, but creatively the most exciting few years. I don't want any one thing to dominate my work right now. I want to have like 6 cakes and eat them too.

So, for at least the next year you'll see new Magic art from me, and I'm quite happy with all of it. Beyond that? Well, that's ultimately out of my control, but I've always tried to enjoy the ride while it's lasted.