Fell the Pheasant

A pheasant hunt is a typical enough scene in art history, so to be assigned one for Magic: the Gathering’s Throne of Eldrane, which remixes fairy tales and classical fantasy tropes, wasn’t too unexpected.

One issue right off the bat was that the description called for a few riders returning from a hunt, including their hunting dogs. Now, perhaps that whole aspect of things is distasteful to some. For me, it was more a compositional issue: Magic cards are small, and though the print quality is usually really good, and has improved significantly over the years, squeezing that stuff into a small art box is a challenge. I considered cropping in, which is a fairly standard solution to increase the legibility of figures. But I also liked the idea of showing the scene as such, rather than have it be a character-based illustration.

Pencil study, 8x10”

Pencil study, 8x10”

In deciding to pull the camera back some, I knew I’d be having to solve some of these compositional problems. By using a low horizon, I could minimize the size of other members of the party as they come over the hill more easily. By using a simple palette, I could avoid some of the visual confusion that too many colors could introduce. I mentioned last time that I had chosen a Zorn palette for this set to evoke that classic art feel in these pieces, and that suited me well here. My primary inspiration for this particular piece was the work of Arthur and Lucia Matthews, California painters from the turn of the 20c., who did a lot of wonderful landscapes and some fanciful pieces as well, associated with the Arts and Crafts movement. I noticed that they too used a palette which if it wasn’t Zorn’s, was very much like it and could be mostly reproduced using it. The other thing I appreciated in studying their work anew (their originals can be seen at the Oakland museum as they lived in the SF Bay Area, and the monograph of their work is really good) was their simplification of form within their landscapes. I felt that approach would be good to help me with my goal of simplifying a composition that was going to risk being too busy and small for a card.

Tiny details, even at 18x24” overall size

Tiny details, even at 18x24” overall size

In this case, I may have modified the palette a tiny bit; I may have pushed the yellow with some Cadmium Yellow Dark through glazes, and I think I did add a touch of blue to my black to push the gamut just a tad wider, to get those golden tones a little richer.

Overall, it was an interesting challenge to work in that method with regards to the landscape. If you know my landscape work, it can be very detailed while also being quite brushy in places. Rendering the trees in their style as masses was very much against my grain, and since I was painting the background before the figures, I had to trust that the simple shapes I was painting back there would read well when the more detailed figures came in.

I think it did work out however. At the end, when I got the digital file of the painting, and shrunk it down tiny, I was still concerned that the point of the piece—that a pheasant was hunted—was getting a bit lost still at small size. So I did overlay some digital light in the upper right, the point of which in the painting was to emphasize the main figure holding out the pheasants. But the art below is just the painting before that was added.

Fell the Pheasant 18x24” oil over acrylic on panel

Fell the Pheasant
18x24” oil over acrylic on panel

A thanks to my friend who lent me her pupper Petri as a model. She trains service dogs, and has her own dog too. I was happy to let Petri feature in my painting, in fact she got to pose for both dogs!