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 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.
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.