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.


  1. amazing what you did from this simple description + I love ichor.

  2. This is actually one of my favorite paintings from you. It is awesome! Maybe it is just because I am evil...

  3. No, I think it's because you have good taste. It would probably be in my top ten if I had one. At the very least, I think it's arresting. Like I said, probably not the thing most would want on their wall, but it's still something that grabs you. At least that's what I've been told.



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