Friday, October 1, 2010

Evolution of the Aether-Lich

During the Shards of Alara block of Magic: The Gathering, I was assigned a piece called "Scornful Aether-lich."  Essentially, it's a painting of a guy who has replaced the entirety of his body with metallic filigree.  I figured I'd show you how the piece came together.  Well, not the actual painting, but rather the legwork that was done before the painting was even started.

Like most of my work, this piece started out with thumbnail drawings followed by a finished sketch.  In this piece's case, the thumbnails are unfortunately lost, but they resulted in two different sketches.  I'm going to deal with the sketch that actually got finished and handed in.  Anyway, thumbnails, then sketch, followed by: Photoshop.

Given that virtually every illustration I've ever done professionally had to have sketches delivered digitally, I've always had this extra step of scanning and cleaning up my sketches in Photoshop.  For me, given how messy my drawings can be, it's a necessary thing to get rid of eraser rubble, pencil smears, and random, searching line work.  But, I rarely stop there.  For me, Photoshop provides another opportunity to edit and alter a sketch.  Sometimes these explorations vastly improve the end result, other times they just reinforce the decisions I'd made in the first place.  In this case, I ended up changing the composition a bit.

Here is the scanned sketch with some rudimentary digital value thrown on top of it.  As you can tell by the edges of the paper, the drawing has been rotated significantly, and the whole composition was moved left.

©Wizards of the Coast
Given that the sketch looks a little less than professional at this point — what with the pencil smudges and paper edge visible — I decided to go into it with some digital paint and clean it up further for my Art Director, but also to establish the value structure for my own use during the painting.  On this piece I got a little carried away.  The result was this:

©Wizards of the Coast
This is how the sketch got handed in.  It was approved, and I was off to the races...or was I?

Not yet.

I am constantly tinkering with my process.  For me, the joy of painting is more in the process itself, not as much in the end result.  So, I will change the type of paper I'm using, or I'll try a new color on my palette.

Up until this point, I had been transferring my sketches onto the painting surfaces by printing out a copy of the sketch, rubbing graphite all over the back of it, and tracing over the sketch — a simple graphite transfer.  While that technique worked well, it was more time consuming than I liked it to be, so I decided to give painting on top of a printed sketch try.  Given that I had done this value painting already, I decided that I would go ahead and paint on top of it instead of just the line drawing.  So, I turned it into a duo-tone image in Photoshop, picked a nice pink for one color and a nice deep blue for the other then ran with it.  This is what it looked like:

©Wizards of the Coast
I printed it out and  pasted it down to some Strathmore illustration board (which was what I painted on at the time), using acrylic matte medium then painted on top of it.  The finished piece looks like this:

©Wizards of the Coast
Like I said, I'm constantly tinkering with my process, and while I do continue to paint on top of printed sketches, I do not use the value study versions.  Fact is, painting on the value study didn't save any time and used more printer ink, so in the end it just cost me money.  I haven't stopped actually making the value studies, however, I just find that drawing on top of line drawings to be a bit more liberating.  They may not always be this involved, but they do tend to get the job done.


  1. It's cool to see professionals still tinkering with their process. As someone just entering the field I've been a bit fearful that I don't have my process down yet, this alleviates some of that fear :)

  2. You know, I had that same fear up until about a year or so ago. That's nine years into my full-time professional career! My tinkering then was due to insecurity, but now it's more about fun. I like to try new things and set new challenges for myself. For me, the fun in the work is in the process more than the finished product. If I were completely formulaic in my approach, I'd get bored pretty fast (but that's just my personality).

  3. That's really interesting to hear! I understand why you'd want to work that way, I'll probably wind up doing the same as I get further into my career. Experimenting is half the fun. Sure there's a chance things might not go well, but it's extremely rewarding when they DO go well.


I welcome all comments, questions, and discussion so long as you keep it civil.