Monday, August 2, 2010

Frequently Asked Question 1

Without a doubt, the single most commonly asked question of me at conventions is some variation of this one:

So, do you they tell you want to paint or do you come up with the idea on your own?

The most concise answer to this question is that my clients do, in fact, tell me what to paint. However, this response is an over simplification, and so I try to expound upon what the client tells me to do versus what I come up with on my own, citing specific examples for clarity, and trying desperately to make it sound interesting. I will now attempt to do just that here.

Illustrations tend to be commissioned to fill a specific need, and the client sums up this need in the art order. An art order can vary from client to client, but they all tend to have some basic information included, like due dates and the size of the space the printed image needs to fit into. What does tend to vary — not only from client to client but job to job — is the art description.

Art descriptions come in many shapes and sizes from a single sentence that merely hints at what is needed, to several, single-spaced pages that detail everything down to color palette and composition. Sometimes the descriptions aren’t descriptions at all, but rather a series of reference pictures attached to an email, which serve the same function.  Despite their many varieties, the type of descriptions I most often get are like the ones below:

ART ID: 96882    TITLE: [Phobian Phantasm] SIZE:      SKETCH DUE: 11/4/2005 12:00:00 AM   ART DUE: 12/6/2005 12:00:00 AM ART DESCRIPTION: Color: Black Location: Ice Age setting Action: Show an evil horrifying eyeless, snake tongued ghost/spirit of your design. It needs to be able to fly/float/drift somehow. Focus: the ghost Mood: Needs to be scary as shit Notes: This is a flying creature. It should be shown in flight.

This is a test of your imagination. Be creative. ===================================================== 

ART ID: 96875    TITLE: [Hibernation's End] SIZE:      SKETCH DUE: 11/4/2005 12:00:00 AM   ART DUE: 12/6/2005 12:00:00 AM ART DESCRIPTION: Color: Green Spell Location: ancient icy forest Action: This spell represents the hibernation season coming to its end and the forest beasts reemerging to feed. One way to show this is polar bears coming out their dim, frozen caves. Focus: emerging beasts Mood: hungry =====================================================

These just happen to be Magic descriptions, but many of my non-Magic clients give about the same amount of information. At first glance, there’s not a lot there; both descriptions are about the same length and contain much of the same information. Upon closer inspection, however, it is clear that what was asked of me in each is very different.

While I was told that I needed to paint a “Phobian Phantasm” in the first art description, it was up to me to define what the Phantasm actually looked like, and so I pretty much got paid to paint something that I came up with. Of course there were a couple constraints listed that hint at a direction, but the blanks were mine to fill in, and it led to this:

Phobian Phantasm     ©Wizards of the Coast
The second description had a more straightforward path that required less invention, but was more about creating the proper mood, a good composition, and a compelling image, resulting in this:

Hibernation's End     ©Wizards of the Coast
This was the first Magic job I ever got and the Art Director, Jeremy Cranford, provided me with two very different problems to solve. While not overly constrictive in this case, there are almost always guidelines to follow and there is often a chance to invent and create within those guidelines. At the end of the day, there is always some invention going on, even with the pieces that have several page long art descriptions. As artists, things are filtered through our minds and hands and transformed, and through that transformation, we can’t help but make a piece our own.


  1. Thanks for sharing your insight. I found it really interesting to see the actual art orders (to see how much is actually given to the artists) and the awesome resulting illustrations.

    I look forward to all your future writings and art!

  2. This was a great read, very insightful. I look forward to your next post!


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