Typically, an Art Director will ask you to paint things in line with work you’ve shown. Magic: the Gathering however assigns hundreds of illustrations a year, with visuals that define entire worlds. And that means there will be some things that need illustrating, which might be hard to find in artists’ portfolios. Like old books. It’s also possible you are THE Old Book Artist, with a portfolio of paintings of old, tattered tomes. You’ve been sending it out to art directors the world over but they never had an assignment for you, and if they did it might’ve been years after getting your samples so they forgot to call you.
Sorry ‘bout that.
But, as an artist working in the genre of fantastic art, you have to be ready to paint anything. Key to this piece was a really old heirloom book my wife owns, from Ecuador. Its spine is tattered and torn as seen in this painting, and I would not have been able to make that up without seeing it.
There was the desire on the part of Art Director Cynthia Sheppard that the book not be your standard brown leather, which was fine: this eschewing of standard visuals is typical of Magic.
In preparation for the painting, I worked up a more detailed than usual study in acrylic and pencil. Typically I might only render out the main figure(s) or some environmental detail I want to get right before moving to paint. As you can see in comparison to the final, I didn’t bother with the marbling on the counter/table surface at this stage, but otherwise the piece is all there. Were I a digital artist, this would have been sufficient to start and then digitally color.
The final is a bit smaller than usual, but scaled large enough to let achieve the details I want, without being larger-than-life, which is always tricky to paint and can be awkward to look at in person. I took it with me to my annual painting retreat in Pennsylvania last winter and painted the bulk of it there, alongside other Magic artists such as Dave and Anthony Palumbo, Winona Nelson, and Allen Wiliams (pictured behind me). I began it in acrylic and quite a lot of what shows in the final is acrylic. When I returned home, I switched to oils and rendered out the hand and other details, softening areas and doing more of what is difficult to achieve in acrylic.
Thankfully, this one was printed on a decently playable card, and as such is attracted more attention than usual resulting in the painting and sketch making their way into collections in record time.