Friday, July 22, 2011

Cheese Platter 8

•There are a pair of red-tailed hawks that live near me.  I've seen them several times in the tall pine tree in my neighbor's yard.  Most mornings, I see one of the hawks soaring in the updrafts and eddies seemingly enjoying profusely the very ability to fly.  It doesn't seem to be hunting or going anywhere, just hanging out with wings outstretched, following the currents higher and higher.  While I find this rather fun to watch, the local crows seem to find it rather annoying.  As a result, almost without fail, a crow will fly up to challenge the hawk and ruin its joyride.  The confrontation can be rather entertaining as it's not unlike a World War 2 dogfight.  While I'm sure the crows are acting in defense of a nest or perhaps on behalf of their entire murder, I'm always a little disappointed that before long the hawk, chafed and offended, moves along like some loiterer who's had enough of the beat cop crow's harassment.  All the while, I root for the hawk, and hope to one day see it remind the crow of it's place in the order of things.

•Around my town, there are many crosswalks that are not located at intersections.  As such, there are no walk/don't walk signs and therefore no dedicated times for pedestrians to safely cross.  Instead, the idea is that if someone is trying to cross the street, drivers are obliged to stop and let them do so.  After only eight months of living here, I have found that there are certain factors that can help one determine whether or not an oncoming car will stop.  First off, older drivers are far more likely to stop than younger drivers.  Second, those with more expensive cars are far less likely to give way to those on foot.  Third, utility workers (NSTAR Electric and National Grid, for example), will almost always let pedestrians go, as will the Police, Firefighters, and those behind the wheel of a bus.  The group of people, however, who will absolutely not stop for pedestrians are those on bicycles.  Around here they come in packs of three or more and have a sense of entitlement that trumps even a 17 year old behind the wheel of a Mercedes.

•In the past thirteen years, Amy and I have lived in four different apartments only one of which had air conditioning.  At that apartment electricity was included so we used the device sparingly (only turning the A/C on when it got above 90° F) in order to minimize the chances that our landlord would raise the rent as we really couldn't afford for that to happen.  So, aside from the five years we lived there, we have sweated through each summer with only a pair of fans to circulate the often stifling air.  Curiously, up until this summer, I have been able to sit under the hot lights of my studio painting away with the heat index at 100° Fahrenheit without feeling too greatly affected, and without so much as a minor repercussion the next day or beyond.  Quite suddenly, however, that has changed.  Yesterday, after a few 90° plus days, the heat index (or "feels like" temperature, if you will) reached 106° and I was exhausted by 6:00 in the evening.  So, Amy and I broke down and finally bought a couple of air conditioners knowing that the next couple of days would be even worse and would likely not be the last such days in our current place.  What's weird is that the shift in my ability to withstand the heat happened so suddenly.  I assume that this shift is largely due to my getting older, but up until now I had also assumed that such changes would happen more gradually.  Is this really how everything happens?  You just wake up one day not being able to do what you did yesterday?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Revisiting Reprints: Rampant Growth

Rampant Growth is among the more re-illustrated cards in all of Magic.  Sure, it's not alone in having been illustrated more than once — in fact many cards have alternate art and come in various promo versions — but there are usually just one or two other variants.  Rampant Growth has seen at least five iterations that I'm aware of, and mine isn't even the most recent.

Some might wonder whether there is any added pressure or a difference in approach when it comes to illustrating a card that has been illustrated before.  For me, the answer is no.  As I see it, the previous versions, loved or hated, already exist.  No one can take that away from the players.  I'm just adding another aesthetic option to the mix.  That's it.  Some will love what I've done, others will hate it, and there will be various reasons for both feelings.  As far as I'm concerned, there's room for both opinions, as well as every opinion in between.

So how did this piece come together?  Let's take a look at the sketch, shall we?

©Wizards of the Coast

 Again, simple pencil on typing paper.  It was approved as is and I went to paint.

©Wizards of the Coast

Once again it's an oil painting measuring 11" x 8" on a piece of Strathmore illustration board measuring 13" x 10".  It was painted in 2006 and didn't see the light of day until Tenth Edition, which was released in 2007.  It has subsequently been reprinted in the Magic 2010 and Magic 2012 core sets, as well as in Planechase and Duel of the Planeswalkers.

As I recall, in the art order, I was asked to do depict a wave of vegetation rolling over a barren landscape.  There are any number of ways that I could have depicted this, but I ended up choosing to rip someone else off.


I mean, I went the route of creating an homage.  Now, I had a professor — I can't remember which one — who told me that if I was going to rip someone off, rip off the best.  So that's exactly what I did.  I referenced one of the most celebrated Japanese wood cut prints ever created.  I stole from Hokusai's Great Wave.

Now, why did I choose to do that?  Simple, I'd never done it before.  If ever there was an image that made sense to reference in this situation, it was clearly that one.  I can think of no other image of a wave that is so instantly recognizable, and I wanted my Rampant Growth to be less specific (as so many of the versions are) and more iconic.  In effect, I stole from one iconic image to create (hopefully) another.

There are probably a lot of folks who will say that this is horribly unimaginative, not to mention overdone.  I think both are fair points, but I also think there's something to be said for context.  First off, I can say that if there had been a reference to Hokusai within the game of Magic to that point, I was not aware of it (though in retrospect there are probably dozens of them in the Kamigawa expansion block, which I've never really looked through).  So, in my mind I was doing something new within the confines of the game's aesthetics.  Second, I borrowed Hokusai's composition only.  The concept came from Wizards and the translation and handling of the final image was all my own.  After all, I could not simply turn Hokusai's wave green, eliminate Mt. Fuji and the boats and hand it in.  It needed to feel like my own work and it needed to fit into the world of Magic.

Anyway, I ended up submitting this piece to the Society of Illustrators Annual Exhibition and it got in.  I don't normally like to brag about such things, but it was pretty cool to see the rare Magic piece up on the Society's walls, and if I recall correctly it wasn't the only piece referencing Hokusai in some capacity in the show that year.  Since this piece, I've worked other homages into other paintings, though far more subtly.  I've stolen a pose here or a palette there from many of my film, art, and illustration heroes — not all the time, but on the rare occasions where it fit organically within the assignment.  The practice usually makes for a fun piece and one from which I learn a great deal as I study closely what I'm attempting to homage.  Fun, too, is spotting the references in the work of others, as they do the same.

If I were to get the same art order today, five years later, it's pretty likely I'd go the same route I did back then.  The only difference, I think, is that I might paint it a bit bigger now.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Revisiting Reprints: Deathmark

Deathmark is one of those pieces I figured I'd own for the rest of my life.  It's a really unsettling image that I predicted might have its fans, but just wasn't the kind of thing anyone would ever want to put on their wall.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  I've had more inquiries from people interested in buying that piece than any other.  Weird how things turn out.

The image is a pretty simple one.  I was asked to paint a closeup of someone's eye and use the black mana symbol for its pupil.

Crud.  Now I need to explain mana.

Okay, so as I explained in the the post about the Forest painting (link), there are five colors in Magic that draw their power from lands.  The power itself is called mana.  At least that's how I understand it.  Each of the various colors have symbols which represent them and their mana.  They're nice little graphic icons that let you know instantly (aside from the color itself) what color you're dealing with.  Green uses a little tree.  Red a little flame.  Blue a drop of water.  White a sun.  And black uses a little skull graphic.

So, I was asked to turn the pupil of the eye into that skull graphic.  It was a simple request, really.  But I turned it on its head (literally), and elaborated a bit.  Here's the sketch:

©Wizards of the Coast

It's a pretty simple sketch and is one of my typical pencil on typing paper jobs.

I kind of felt that the pupil being the mana symbol wasn't quite creepy enough.  So, I decided to have the skull/pupil melting or emitting some kind of black ichor.  That seemed to significantly up the creep factor to a level with which I was satisfied.  To boot, I thought it would be interesting to turn the eye upside down.  This was for two reasons.  First, I wanted the image to be slightly disorienting, thus adding to its unsettling nature.  Second, I thought about the final image's use as a card and the fact that when the card is being played it sits flat on the table.  The eye in the image would be upside down to the player, but would be right side up to their opponent.  Add the fact that the eye is looking in that direction, and it's kind of like giving your opponent the evil eye.  At least, that's what I hoped.

Anyway, Wizards seemed satisfied with my version of things and gave me the green light to proceed.

©Wizards of the Coast

Once again, it's an oil painting measuring 11" x 8" on a piece of Strathmore Illustration board measuring 13" x 10".  It was painted in the fall of 2008 and premiered in Magic 2010, which was released in July of 2009.  It has since been reprinted in Magic 2011 and most recently in Magic 2012.

To accomplish the finish, I used photo reference of my own eye taken by my wife.  The blue/green cloudiness that helps create the details of the skull icon were inspired by images of cataracts I managed to dig up on the internet.  The bloodshot nature of the eye was partially present in the reference, but I exaggerated it for affect.  I also added the veins in the skin to give the feel of the subject being dead.

Of all my Magic paintings, this is among the most asked about.  I suppose it's due to how iconographic the image is, as well as it's brutal simplicity.  There's definitely something about the piece that upsets many folks on some level or another, and none of them have ever been shy about expressing that fact.  Needless to say, this is news that I'm always happy to hear.  It's supposed to upset you, and it's only one of just a few times where I've managed to solicit that kind of reaction from people.  Well, with my art, anyway.

At the end of the day, this is one of those great opportunities where I was given the chance to one up the art order.  Sure, what I was originally asked to do was a nice idea, but I felt it to be the seed for a better one.  I tried to take it to a place that was more satisfying to me and would be more satisfying to my Art Director, which is something I strive to do as much as possible.  That being said, going that route can be a gamble as it doesn't always work out.  Sometimes the AD really is just looking for exactly what they originally asked for.  Happily, this didn't happen to be one of those occasions.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Revisiting Reprints: Stampeding Rhino

Fortunately, this piece requires very little explanation from me.  There are no Magic codewords involved, no odd game rules to explain.  It's a picture of a rhino.  A stampeding rhino, in fact.  Well, that's not entirely accurate, is it?  I mean, it's not quite like any rhinoceros we have here in reality.  Being Magic, things need to be a little augmented, a little off.  So, what did I do and what was my approach?

Let's take a look at the sketch:

©Wizards of the Coast

The first thing you may notice is that this is a digital sketch.  Well, mostly digital sketch, anyway.  I started with the usual pencil on typing paper, got it to a certain point then scanned it in.  I felt the need to flesh it out a bit and needed to do that quickly — I had three other pieces to paint on top of this one, after all (this piece, Deathmark, Forest, and Duress were all commissioned at the same time).  So, I turned to the computer to help me clarify the sketch a bit.

The end result is quite crude but it's still more than enough to see where I was headed.  But where exactly was that?  Well, the key to this piece was its working title, "Plated Rhino."  Essentially I was being asked to toughen up and bolster an already formidable creature.  My solution was to bring in some elements of tortoise shells and add that to the mix.  This seemed to be a direction the folks at Wizards of the Coast liked and I was given the green light.

©Wizards of the Coast

The finished painting was a 11" x 8" oil painting on a piece of Strathmore illustration board measuring 13" x 10".  It was painted in the fall of 2008 and was initially printed in Magic 2010, which was released in summer of 2009, and has just been reprinted as part of Magic 2012.

Stampeding Rhino is a piece that I pretty much never get asked about.  Everyone takes it at face value and moves on.  I actually have no problem with this, but I do want to take the opportunity to talk a little about what went into the piece.

Never having been to the parts of Africa or Asia that have them, I have never seen a real, live rhinoceros except in a zoo.  Though I don't recall it, I likely saw one in the Philadelphia Zoo as a child, and I likely saw one again at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.  The problem is that I don't have any memory of seeing one, and even if I did I wouldn't have strong enough recall to draw from.  Even so, I would likely not have seen them running about let alone stampeding.  Truth be told, the only living rhino I recall seeing is the one at the Bronx Zoo, which was only six or seven years ago, and I regret to tell you that I didn't take copious notes.  So where did this guy come from?

Well, surely I went to the Museum of Natural History in New York and drew from the stuffed specimens there, right?  Nope.  Should have done, but didn't.  Then obviously I took a trip back to the Bronx Zoo to check the one there out, right?  Again, no.  Way to use the resources at my fingertips, right?  Yeah, I'll totally cop to failing a bit on that one.  So what resources did I use?

Books and the internet (but mostly the internet), of course!  Youtube to check out videos of rhinos running, Google Images and the National Geographic stock photography site for good, quality photos, and Eliot Goldfinger's Animal Anatomy For Artists, which has a really nice breakdown of rhino musculature.  After collecting enough reference, I went about picking and choosing qualities from the various rhinoceros species that I wanted to include in the Plated Rhino.  Add the bit of tortoise in there and voila: Plated Rhino (later to be renamed Stampeding Rhino)!

Unlike forest there is little in this piece that is inspired by my life.  There are elements I threw in there for fun, like the birds, but all in all, it was a simple journey from assignment, to sketch, to finish, and finally to card.

Except the journey didn't end there.  A year later, I found myself revisiting the rhino for the Magic 2011 set.  Only this time, he wasn't alone.

©Wizards of the Coast

With a few elements redesigned, the rhino returned in Overwhelming Stampede.

©Wizards of the Coast

This piece is 14" x 11" oil on hardboard and has thus far not been reprinted.

While I prefer the design of the Plated Rhino, 2.0 as seen here, I much prefer the Stampeding Rhino painting overall.  Perhaps its the lack of birds in this one, I don't know.  Either way, this remains the only time I've been asked to revisit something in the world of Magic, and likely will remain the sole example for a long time to come.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Revisiting Reprints: Forest

Given that Magic 2012 has been spoiled, I wanted to take the time to look back at some of the pieces I've done in the past that have been reprinted in this most recent core set.  All of these cards have been included in at least one set previously and all of them precede this blog by at least a year.

Today, I'm going to take a look at the only basic land image I've ever done, Forest.  For the uninitiated, let me try to explain the whole "basic land" concept.  In the game of Magic, there are five colors (Red, White, Green, Blue and Black (and yes, I know that black is not a color)), each of which derive their power from the land specific to that color.  So, Black magic gains power from swamps.  Red magic gets its power from mountains.  Blue from islands.  White from plains.  And Green from forests.

With me so far?

So, since power is derived from land, there are cards in the game that simply have pictures of these various land types.  The only one of these I've ever painted is a forest.

I think that covers things.

Anyway, of all the Magic paintings I've ever done, this was one of the fastest to ever come together for me.  It was assigned alongside two other paintings that I will talk about in the coming days, Deathmark and Stampeding Rhino, and the whole job really seemed to click for me.

Let's look at some art, shall we?  First the sketch:

©Wizards of the Coast

This is one of the most straightforward sketches I've ever done.  Simple graphite of a piece of typing paper.  It's 11x8.5 inches, and went on to become this:

©Wizards of the Coast

The image measures 11" x 8" on a piece of illustration board that is 13" x 9", it's done in oils and was painted in 2008.  It debuted in Magic 2010 (which premiered in 2009), and has since been reprinted in Magic 2011, Magic 2012, the Commander set, as well as the Duel Decks: Garruk vs. Liliana set.

Over the 27 years or so that Magic has been around, there have been a lot of forests painted.  Some have been highly stylized, others quite realistic.  Some have chosen to do helicopter shots of vast forested expanses, while others have gone the route I did by putting the viewer amidst the trees as though they were actually right there.

The key to me for this piece was mood.  I wanted it to be a straightforward forest that people the world over can identify with, but at the same time I wanted it to be a little brooding, and a little fay.  To me, a forest in the game of Magic needed to feel... well, magical.  Whether or not I achieved that is, of course, debatable, but I think I did manage to make the forest feel pretty special.

In regards to this piece I have often been asked where I got my inspiration.  Was there an actual forest I was looking at?  A specific photograph?  The answer is simple.  I was looking at a lot of photographs, and drawing (no pun intended) from my memories of forests I'd been in throughout my life.  I took into account my memories of the forested patches of my Grandmother's farm (where, as a boy I saw a wild rabbit for the first time as it scurried away from me after I'd startled it), the Gettysburg battlefield (a place that I have visited several times and a location I steal from all the time), the forest around Lake George in northern New York state (where my wife and I have spent time together), the forested sections of Neshaminy State Park (where my Father and I used to walk until our feet were sore), the Ramble in New York's Central Park (the only place in Manhattan that you can forget you're in Manhattan), and the list goes on.  Suffice it to say that I tried to conjure the feel of all those places and cram that feeling into a painting.

Oddly, this is the most personal painting I've done for Magic, and I guess it's no coincidence that it's a painting of something that has a real-life counterpart.  To be honest, I don't really identify with tall blue guys with four arms delivering inspiring speeches or decrepit metallic creatures standing about ominously.  I have to fake identifying with those things as an actor must fake being a lawyer or a doctor.  Sure, you can identify with the mood or any thematic elements, but the literal characters involved aren't necessarily ones in whose shoes I can easily imagine myself.  Forest, on the other hand, is something I can absolutely identify with and has thus far been the easiest piece to inject a little bit of myself into without having to manipulate or dilute it first.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

New Work: Benalish Veteran

Pretty straightforward, this piece.  I was asked to paint a seasoned warrior wearing the gold accented armor and blue garb of one of the Benalish.  Or something.  I was asked to include the braid, and the ogres or whatever they are.  Anyway here's what it looked like when I was done with it:

©Wizards of the Coast

12"x 9", oil on masonite.

If I'm honest, I could have done a bit more legwork in the beginning.  I might have wanted to explore my options more thoroughly early on.  Still, I kind of dig the pose.  I almost dig the composition.  But most of all, I dig the color scheme.

Now, at this point, you might be wondering, what color is he talking about?  There's hardly any in it.

And you wouldn't be the only one who pondered such a thing.  The art director did, too.  I was asked to key things up a bit and bring in some more color.  So, I took it into Photoshop and tweaked the file.  Here's how it came out:

©Wizards of the Coast

Originally, I had used things like the television series Band of Brothers for color inspiration.  Of course, that lead to a seriously limited palette, which is something I generally like.  In fact, left to my own devices, I might limit my palette to just 5 or 6 colors and mix mud all day.  While this might be fun for me to do for myself, it wasn't necessarily the right move for the piece or the client.  Such is life, I guess.

At the end of the day, I'm not unhappy with the version that got printed.  In fact, I find it to be an interesting exercise.  I ended up altering the color of the background only, which in turn affected the figure's color, as well.  While I knew it would (thanks to my handy, dandy Light, Color and Design class in college), I wasn't sure to what extent the veteran, himself, would end up looking changed.  It turns out, the answer was simply, just enough.

The piece was approved the second go around, and it's now out in the new Magic: The Gathering core set, M12.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Guy Riding A Deer

One of the few down sides to working for many of my clients is that the work I display isn't current.  Due to contracts and non-disclosure agreements, I have to keep things under wraps until they've been officially spoiled.  A side effect of that is that I have to keep the stories of how the work came together under wraps, as well.  At least I have to keep specifics under wraps. 

I can't, for example, come out and just say that I am painting a giant fairy (which I'm not).  And I can't talk about how this giant fairy came together (or didn't) while everything is still fresh in my head (which it isn't because I didn't paint one).

To counteract this, I have three options.  Up until now, I have been relying on the first option, which is to try and recollect as much as possible when premiering the image on this blog.  The problem with this option is that my memory is absolute garbage, and my thought processes aren't always clear when I look back at the piece and try and deconstruct it in my head.  Add to that the fact that things get lost in translation between my brain and my fingers as I type, and the result is a pretty watered down version of the sequence of events that birthed a given painting.

The second option is to actually keep a log of the work as it happens and then regurgitate it when I am finally permitted to show it to everyone.  While this seems like a good option, it requires about the same amount of effort and forethought as taking consistent process photos, which is something I've repeatedly failed to do.  Besides, keeping a log of any given piece is a gamble.  The creation of each piece is not equally interesting and I may end up wasting valuable painting time while writing about something that is monumentally boring.

My third option is to go ahead and commit to talking about random pieces in generalities when it's pertinent, which is what I'm going to try today.  Then, I guess, when I'm finally able to put the piece up for public consumption I can link back to this article to add additional context.  Or something.  Hopefully it makes sense and is interesting.  I guess we'll see.

So, I've got this piece.  I can say that there is a man in it and that that man is riding a beast of some sort.  This beast has a real-life counterpart that I can utilize for reference.  For the sake of ease, we'll say that this man is riding a deer (which he is not, but like I said, it'll help me keep things clear, so you'll just have to accept that it's a deer).  I suppose I could have said elephant, but that's a longer word to type.  So, yeah.  Definitely a guy on a deer.

Wait.  Let me backtrack.

The commission as a whole included this deer rider, as well as two other pieces, and it arrived when I was only about a week out from my trip to Japan.  Despite the fact that I was desperately trying to finish up another commission and get it handed in before I flew off, I decided it prudent to try and knock out the sketches before leaving in order to synchronize my time away with the time I'd be waiting for feedback.

The sketches for the other two pieces were a synch and were my standard pencil on typing paper affairs.  They were a bit tighter than many of my sketches tend to be, and I was really happy with them.  The deer rider, on the other hand, was a nightmare from the start.  Despite the collection of reference I'd amassed, things just weren't coming together.  Not in pencil, anyway.  Contributing factors to my difficulties were that I have a hard time drawing deer to begin with, that my deer reference really wasn't spot on (despite extensive searches, I assure you), and that I have absolutely no experience drawing people riding deer, nor real-life experience of riding them, myself, from which to draw.  The result was a series of false starts that were more horrid eraser streaks than actual drawing.  So, I scanned my initial thumbnail in and started a digital sketch.

My digital sketches are pretty rudimentary at best and typically only involve three values slapped down as necessary in a fairly opaque fashion.  The main reason I tend to go digital in my sketches from time to time is that I can search for shapes faster and more easily.  Revisions are quick and efficient and I can always go back to an earlier version.

Before I knew it, I had a submittable deer rider sketch.  There was only one problem: it was kind of lackluster.  Nevertheless, with an "I'll fix it in post" attitude, I emailed it to the client with a note promising a second version if I had the time.

I initially planned to just walk away, finish packing for Japan and be done with it.  But, that sketch really bugged me.  It kind of sucked.  And I began to regret turning it in.  Given that I'd opened the door for a second version, I decided it was the thing to do. 

I took the original sketch and cut it apart in Photoshop, rearranging, resizing and refitting the disparate pieces.  There was no new thumb nailing, no forethought, no preparation.  It was just me moving shapes around a digital canvas, reacting to this or that.  Just my brain trying to find some means of hammering out a better solution.  After getting the basic pieces in place, I began to stitch them together with more digital paint.  It wasn't pretty, nor was it seamless, but it came together with more than enough clarity to get my point across.

The only notable thing about the end result was that I'd used no reference.  Everything was from the gut.  Whether or not this was a mistake was irrelevant to me.  I had managed to get a second version done that I liked better (and knew the client would, too), and once again, the idea of fixing it in post surfaced as a means to let my brain detach for a week in Japan and not fret over the coming job.

Cut to the point where I'd returned from Japan, had my various pieces approved, and prepared my surfaces.  For clarity's sake I will point out that my suspicion was correct and that the client liked the second deer rider sketch better.  I started to work, as I often do, on two of the three pieces.  One of these was the deer rider.  Very quickly, I became dissatisfied with the sketch.  The figure felt out of proportion, his size relation to the deer felt all wrong, and there were some major drawing flaws that needed fixing.

I went about reworking the deer rider a little each day, while simultaneously working on the other two paintings.  Each change I made to the deer rider felt fine until the next morning when I'd decide that the revisions weren't working either.  So, I'd end up scraping the piece and revising it again, searching for the right line, the correct angle, etc.  Every morning the process repeated itself, and the deer rider remained at a point where it was always changing but never closer to completion.

Before long, the other two pieces were finished, and it was time to really start working up this third piece.  Hard decisions needed to be made.  This is where I found myself yesterday morning.

Now, normally I wouldn't sweat this situation.  I still had plenty of time to get the piece done.  But there are two factors that made me rather nervous.  The first is that I ended up being REALLY happy with the other two pieces, and it kind of raises the bar for the deer rider.  I don't want to turn in two good pieces and one that no one will ever talk about again.  Second, I have a convention to attend this weekend, and I won't be getting any work done on the piece.  As it's due next Friday, I really needed to make serious progress lest I spend each night of the convention painting in my hotel room.

As I saw it, yesterday was a make or break day for the painting.  It needed to start coming together.  And so, I scraped it down once again, sanded it a bit, and started repainting the piece from scratch.

I went into it this time a bit more prepared, having found more reference to help me.  I blocked in the guy and deer virtually from scratch and began to do the same for the rest of the piece.  Happily, for the first time in its existence, I began to feel like the painting was coming together.  The guy riding a deer just might be at least semi-successful.  There was just one test: would I still feel the same this morning?

Surprisingly, yes.

Now, this is all sounding pretty standard.  Not a whole lot of meat here other than "Man Perseveres In the Face of Adversity."  Or perhaps "Man Tackles Guy Riding Deer."  But, there is something a little strange going on here.  Looking at the newly blocked in painting, it is clear that while I spent the last two weeks moving away from the original sketch, I have spent the last 24 hours working back towards it, and I am happy with the results.

Sure, there are some minor differences between the sketch and the painting.  Necessary proportion adjustments.  Corrections to the perspective on the deer's antlers.  That kind of stuff.  But the heart of the piece is clearly back in the same place it was as I frantically sat there slapping together a second sketch with mere hours to go before I needed to leave for the airport.  Now, for the second time during this piece's creation, I am relying more on my gut than anything else.

Will it end up being a good piece?  I really can't say.  There have been plenty of paintings that have surprised me in either direction.  There are sure to be flaws in the end, and just how fatal those flaws may be remains to be seen.  One thing, however, is certain: this piece is clearly telling me to let my instincts run the show.  For now, I'm going to let that guide me.  It'll be interesting to see where I end up.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Gifts From Japan

One thing I didn't consider when I went to Japan was that I might be bringing home more than I took with me.  In fact, I was rather hoping that my load would be lighter and that I'd be returning with fewer prints, artist proofs, and originals.  Somehow I managed to do both.  My load was lighter, but I ended up with more stuff.  Sure Amy and I bought a few trinkets to remember the trip by, but the thing I just didn't see coming was the gifts.

More than anything I was gifted with food.  I got deserts from Japan and tasty things from several other far-off lands.  I also was presented with a Japanese fan as well as bookmarks from Mexico.  All really cool.  But, what ended up taking up the most room in my bags on the way home were four framed pieces of art, each presented to me over the course of my signing by the artists themselves.  These were the shadow box versions of four of the cards I've contributed art to over the years.

As I understand it, the shadow boxes are constructed using anywhere between 5 and 7 copies of the same card layered on top of one another with bits cut out in each layer so as to create a three dimensional version of the card.  While I understand how it's done conceptually, I doubt I could ever create one, myself as it takes a kind of thinking that somehow feels beyond me.  Either way, each of these creations are amazing and the displays many of the gentlemen listed below had at the Pro-Tour in Nagoya were truly jaw-dropping.

The first one is by the gentleman who started it all, Seishirou Ohkubo (bio here), who began making these objets d'art in order to combat his ever-growing collection of common Magic cards (they vary in rarity from common, to uncommon, to rare, to mythic rare).  Why he decided to go the labor intensive route of making shadow boxes is well beyond me, but the net result is pretty incredible.  Anyway, here's what he gave me.  It's of the card, Shield of the Oversoul.

No idea how many layers are involved on this one, but what I did find out with all of them is that they are insanely difficult to photograph in a way that preserves their 3-dimensionality while keeping them well lit enough to see consistent detail.  I clearly failed on several of them and even after a couple hours of fiddling with my lights, changing shooting angle, and swapping out lenses, fell severely short of anything that does them justice.  Trust me when I say that they are WAY cooler than my photos would otherwise indicate.

The second one is a pretty tricked out version of Loxodon Wayfarer, by Yuusuke Yamamoto (not to be confused with the Japanese actor of the same name).

Again, no idea how many layers are involved, but what is interesting is that the cloak is bent and folded, as well as embossed in places to add to the 3-D effect.  This folding and embossing seems to be present in all four of the images I was given and it's the kind of thing that requires a steadier hand than I seem to have.

The third image is of Etherium Sculptor and was done by Masanobu Kondou.

Finally, we have Rally the Forces, by Junji Tsukamoto.

Gonna have to excuse the glare on this last one.  It's the best I could do.  All the dark ink made taking a photo of this one any kind of justice pretty much impossible.  So, I took it out of its frame and shot a couple pictures of it at odd angles to give you all an idea of just what's entailed and how these things are actually constructed.

Hopefully these images show what I've thus far been unable to describe.  Again, my photos fall really short of depicting just how cool these things are, and I can assure you that they'll be just about the only things I actually show off to any visitors to my studio.

At the end of the day, I honestly didn't see these things coming.  I had seen the shadow boxes at some of my fellow artists' studios and I remember thinking how cool it would be to one day have one of my own.  I had no idea that I'd end up with four.

I want to take one final opportunity to thank all the fans and especially those who came bearing gifts.  I really do appreciate everything, and I hope to see you all again sometime soon.