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.