Friday, August 26, 2011

Here We Go Again...

So, some of you have got to be wondering why the blog has been so spotty of late, or where the heck the daily progress shots are on that personal piece I trumped up.  Others of you have no doubt just assumed the lapses are due to my being too busy, if you were aware of them at all.  Either way, I shall do my best herein to explain.

Truth be told I have been toiling away on several posts of varying subject matter, but I'm having a very difficult time finishing and editing them.  I've found myself fussing over their various arcs and wondering if they're getting the correct point across.  Meanwhile, I've been busy with a bunch of paintings that I can't show at the moment, as well as weird paperwork stuff, the compiling of a list of my available Magic paintings and their prices (which is now up on my website), several weeks of family visits, and... well, fretting.

I'm currently nervous as all get out because Amy has run into a pretty severe snag.  She's lost her job.  I'm not going to get into specifics here, it's neither the time nor the place.  Suffice it to say that a mere 10 months after moving here, our lives have been thrown into utter chaos and Amy is now forced to find another job.  While we are angry and feel a bit betrayed, above all we're worried.

In the past, both Amy and I have spent time unemployed — heck, sometimes simultaneously — but we never really sweated it back then.  Why should we have?  We had nothing to lose.  Now, with an apartment that just isn't selling in New York, a rental place in Massachusetts, a car, and the various expenses that come with these things (not to mention the worst economy that most have ever seen), there's suddenly a reason to take pause.

What's the plan?  Well, Amy's search for a new job has already begun.  While we'd like to stay here in the Boston area, there is a real possibility that we may end up right back where we started in Jackson Heights.  Still, we're going to shoot for the moon and have decided that the search needs to be far wider, so we're looking not only in Boston and New York, but across the nation, as well as internationally.  The way we see it, we don't have any kids or pets so there's really no need to limit ourselves.

Alright, this is nice and all and I've managed to explain the lack of updates and the worried thing, but where's that personal piece I promised?  Simple, we've had an inkling that Amy's place was tenuous at best for a while now.  Rather than take the time off I needed, I decided we could use the income more.  Turns out I was right.  However, I'll be trying to hammer out a personal piece in the coming months running parallel to my regular work so that I have something decent for IlluxCon in November.  Hopefully, it'll come together.

In the meantime, I'll continue to be at least a little worried, and I won't be the only one.  Sitting next to me for the foreseeable future will be Amy.  We have not had the luxury of spending this much time together in almost ten years.  It'll definitely take some getting used to, but I plan to enjoy it as much as possible.

Finally, it's important to note that we're not just worried.  We're also optimistic.  To be honest, in some ways it hasn't exactly been the best 10 months or so.  We love the area and the people here, our marriage has been the best it's ever been, but there have been issues that will soon be behind us.  Perhaps this 10 months and the frustration, anger, and hurt that have come with it will be the small price to pay for the dream job.  Perhaps this was just our first step out of New York.  Whatever the case may be, we're battening down the hatches, tightening our belts, rolling up our sleeves and spouting off clich├ęs.  Where we'll end up is currently a mystery and the anticipation is killing me.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Lunarch

©Wizards of the Coast

What can I say about Mikaeus, The Lunarch?  Well, I'll start by paraphrasing the art description.  Now, normally I'd just give it to you straight, but there are story points in the description that I really don't want to get nailed for spoiling, so I'm playing it safe this time.  Anyway, the description basically says this:

White Legendary Creature.  Shown inside a cathedral.  Guy in his fifties with long flowing robes gesturing dramatically to an off-camera audience and surrounded by dozens upon dozens of silver candles.  He should look important and should reference designs on a certain page of the style guide (something about which I will discuss at a later date).

Pretty straightforward, right?  I decided that this guy was kind of like the Pope and I extrapolated from and cannibalized many designs on the pages of the style guide as requested, all while sprinkling in a good helping of my own sensibilities.  I handed in my sketch and waited to see what happened.

I got a reply back requesting that I push things a little further — you know, make him fancier and such.  Okay, no problem.  I gaudied him up some, then resubmitted.  Another reply, another request for more pieces of flare.  I pushed it further still and finally they were pleased, though looking back on the sketch I don't know why.

©Wizards of the Coast

I can't say I'm exactly proud of the sketch.  It gets the point across, sure, but it's at the expense of any artistic value.  In fact, I can't believe I'm sharing this with you all (though, I guess it's actually worse that I shared it with the Art Director).  Be that as it may, I got approval to move forward.

I painted it up and it came out looking like this:

©Wizards of the Coast

So, it's an oil painting on hardboard and it measures 16" x 12".  Obviously they cropped in a bit for the purposes of readability on the card, something with which I'm perfectly cool.

Given that the description actually requested he be surrounded by candles, I decided that they would be the lighting source.  So, he's lit up from below in all his robe flowing glory.  Of course, since being spoiled yesterday, many of the comments I've seen online question the flammability of his robes as well as his proximity to the flames (and yes I'm aware that the vast majority of these comments are meant to be tongue in cheek).  While I'd agree that these are potential concerns, I always fall back on the fact that the game itself is called "Magic," and is part of a genre full of axes that would be impossible to wield, armor that would never function in real life, spells being cast, creatures that don't exist, and women who make supermodels look ugly and fat.  I think we can all agree that a minor fire hazard which would at worst result in a most excellent YouTube video can be forgiven.  In fact, I'd like to see that YouTube video!  But I digress.

Obviously I never anticipated these comments, and I find it somehow humorous that what I did next would only exacerbate the imagined issue.  Truth be told, this piece could not have been assigned at a worse time for me.  I was moving from New York to Boston and the piece, as well as the means to paint it were packed away in boxes during much of the time that I had to work on it.  A full two weeks of the three, in fact.  Fortunately, the Art Director was sympathetic to my plight and gave me an extension.  Originally due just before Christmas, I ended up working on it over the holidays and it was delivered after the New Year, though even then was handed in only because it was due, not because I felt it was completely finished.

Almost immediately after turning it in, I began to finish the piece off to a level that I found satisfying.  As I was pretty happy with him, the Lunarch's design remained the same.  The changes were primarily to the lighting and the number of candles.  While being lit by candles is cool and all, he was lit far too brightly for the number of candles in the image.  So, I glazed him back a bit and added some more candles.  A lot more, in fact.  Enough to make those so concerned for the Lunarch's well-being shout with mock outrage.  I assure you that outrage is unnecessary.  He's the Lunarch.  Folks like him have magically imbued robes.  Or something.  Besides, even if he didn't he wouldn't be nearly as cool if he was put off by open flames.  Seriously.  Fonzie would never freak out over some scented candles, and while the Lunarch's coolness level may not be on par with Fonzie's, I believe the Lunarch's overall power within his society evens up the score, so clearly the Lunarch wouldn't freak out either.

©Wizards of the Coast

I think this version makes for a better piece, overall.  I like the sea of candles better, and I find the lighting far more believable.  However, it's probably best the this piece was not submitted to Wizards in this final form.  You see, the face ended up becoming darker, murkier, and thus less clear when shrunk down.  Clarity is important for reduction, and so it's best that the events unfolded as they did.  So, while the original version is crisper, this revision makes for a far moodier, and more menacing image.  Plus, given the added candles, there's that extra level of danger!

Finally, for your viewing pleasure, a sweet animation showing the before and after...then the before again...followed by the after.... Or, I suppose it's a video displaying the Lunarch's mighty ability both to summon candles, while also simultaneously diminishing light.

©Wizards of the Coast

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Where do I begin with this?  How do you go about making new art for a card whose illustration has become iconic enough to have a statue made of it?  This is a card that gets a fair amount of play, and is yet another card that I've been asked to re-imagine that hails from an era predating any of my contributions to Magic, and the implementation of my plan to bring it all down from the inside.

But then I've said too much.

Anyway, here's my commission:

color: red legendary goblin
location: not super important. probably Kamigawa mountains.
Action: kiki-jiki is a legendary goblin shaman that can create short lived fire illusions. maybe adorn him a bit more than the ref. more of those leather wrappings like are on his horns. try to make him interesting. you can show him casting a fire illusion or have one in the shot if you want, or just show him looking as cool as you can.

The reference in question was a larger version of the art as depicted here:

©Wizards of the Coast

The fact that the original image was included is a rare occurrence.  Seriously.  Every time in the past that I've been asked to make new art for an existing card, I have not been given the original.  I suspect that the reason for this is that I was being encouraged to not limit myself.  This time, however, it was obvious that this needed to clearly be Kiki-Jiki.  There had to be connective tissue to our friendly, neighborhood goblin shaman.

So, using the image above as a starting point, I began to ponder what to do with him.  Would there be a fire illusion?  Would that illusion also be a dragon?  How would he be posed?  I did a lot of thumbnail drawings on this one, and I kept coming back to a little thumb of Mr. Jiki smack in the center of the image, charging up, surrounded by flames.  I don't know why, but it seemed the obvious way to go for me.  Some might say too obvious.  But, in my defense, I rarely get to paint red Magic cards and this was the first time I really ever got a chance to tackle fire in any substantial way.  I wanted to really go for it and turn it into a bit of an exercise for myself.

Either way, what I'm not going to show you is my miserable attempts at sketching our friend here.  Nor will you be seeing the sketch I handed in.  Trust me, it's for the best.  It's embarrassing beyond belief and would only lower your opinion of me (if that's possible).  Moving on...

After drawing him up and placing him in a box of the appropriate proportions, I decided he needed something else.  Something in the background.  Sure, fire was cool, but it needed to be pushed a bit further.  I went back to the question of the fire illusion.  Then I looked back at the original card.  The solution, once again, became obvious.  The dragon from the original version would be forming in the flames.  His eyes would be most obvious, but his whiskers would be right in there, as well.  In essence, I chose to depict something that takes place just a moment before what is shown in the original art.  I have him creating the illusion, Pete Venters has him ordering that illusion forward.

©Wizards of the Coast

The original is 12" x 9", oil on hardboard.  As instructed, I gave him more wrappings and hopefully managed the "cool" part.  It's impossible to say whether I came close, as one half of the internet will invariably disagree with the other.  And with great venom, I might add.

Here he is in the card frame:

©Wizards of the Coast

As an aside, this is one of those images that just looks terrible under certain monitor settings.  I kinda had to take a shot in the dark with color correcting it because it's just impossible to please the various settings, web browsers, formats, etc.  Hopefully it doesn't look too bad.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Old Board

It measures 13 inches by 16 inches.  It is made of plastic.  It has a half-inch wide channel running all around it like a frame.  And I have been using it since I was in the second or third grade.

It is my drawing board.

Seen in its natural environment.

My drawing board came as a portion of a Christmas gift I received as a kid.  The gift was a drafting kit that included the board in question, various triangles, rulers, templates and french curves, which were all clear, yellow plastic.  Along with these tools, there was a ruler that had a mechanism which would lock the ruler in place anywhere along the channel of the drawing board.  The mechanism consisted of a large green button which you pressed to lock the ruler in place, and a yellow ring around the button which you twisted to release it.  Finally, an instruction booklet was included that gave step-by-step instructions for drafting various cars, trucks, airplanes, etc., all from a profile view.

To be perfectly honest, I was a little confounded by the gift.  Sure it seems like it would be up my alley — what with it being drawing related and all — but in fact I just didn't get the point of it.  Sure learning to create rudimentary technical drawings of cars in profile might be fun once or twice, but then what?

In retrospect, however, it's clear that the gift was an attempt on my parents' part to encourage my love of drawing.  It offered up an alternate outlet and exposed me to something completely foreign.  The gift also allowed for a little male bonding as my father could show me what he knew of drafting, a subject he'd actually taken classes in.

Truth be told, I looked upon the various tools provided with only mild curiosity and a little disdain.  I saw many of them not as opportunities to learn, but as limiting factors.  I saw only the opportunity to draft the things in the instruction booklet and completely failed to realize that the cars and trucks were only a starting point.  Still, I remember my father sitting me down at one point to instruct me on the uses of the various tools and how they might be applied.  This was followed by him starting the a drawing of a tractor trailer, which he then handed over to me to complete.

Battle scarred and ready.

I believe the full set got only one or two more uses from me in the coming years.  I just wasn't that interested, and the act of slavishly putting lines down at just the right angle and choosing just the right circle from the template seemed pointless somehow.  Before long, the instruction booklet became lost in the bottom of my trundle bed which served as my toy box instead of a spare place to sleep.  I couldn't even begin to tell you of its ultimate fate.  The ruler which locked in place I kept until the springs inside it finally gave way and ceased to function properly.  I replaced it with a standard wooden 18 inch ruler that was laying around the house.  That was about the seventh or eighth grade, or so.  The templates and triangles slowly broke, one by one, as the clear plastic grew brittle.  I remember trying to tape a triangle back together in vain, only to become frustrated by the tape's inability to solve the problem.  Slowly but surely the various tools disintegrated, thus ending their time among my belongings.

The only thing that stood up to my abuse was the little drawing board.

Reflecting on my feelings for the gift, I was totally torn.  I was not really interested in drafting but I didn't want to be ungrateful.  I gave it an honest go, but eventually just reappropriated the tools of the trade for my own various uses.  I hated to see the pieces shatter and disappear because I valued the gift itself, but in all reality they rarely got any real use.  Except for that board.  Still, I think it's fair to say that I learned early on that drafting was not what I wanted to do with my life, and I think narrowing the possibilities was quite important.  So, intended or not, this gift from my parents was valuable indeed.

Until I'd received the board, I'd done most of my drawing on our kitchen table.  Once the board came along, however, the possibilities of where I could draw became endless.  I drew in the living room.  I drew in my bedroom.  I drew on the porch outside.  I really put that thing through the ringer!  The board survived high school.  It survived college.  And it has survived the thirteen years since college.  Every sketch I did for all of my early clients was done on the board.  Same with every Dungeons and Dragons sketch.  Every book cover I've done started there too, and every Magic sketch has spent time atop the board at some stage or another of its development.  I have painted on it, too.  Much of my early card art and D&D work was done on Bristol board that I taped to the board's surface.

Look at all the monochrome goodness.

I'm not a superstitious person, but if I were, I suppose the drawing board would be my rabbit's foot.  It has been around so long that I wouldn't even think of using something else.  It's always there at the ready, waiting to support me as I do battle with another sketch.  And most importantly, it remains the most direct tie to the birth of my dream to make art for a living.

Nowadays, the board never sees a ruler.  Even if I wanted to use one, it's become so warped that a ruler would be ineffectual, anyway.  The channel for the old locking mechanism has turned into the repository of pencil shavings and eraser crumbles.  The once crisp, white surface has become marred by marker stains, pencil dust, tape residue and paint, and the very edges are beginning to yellow.  It is clear to me that this drawing board's days are numbered.  Someday, it too will snap, and once again tape will be unable to save it.  On that day, I will have no idea what to lean on.  The physical tether to my childhood drawings will be permanently severed.  Another Christmas gift will be gone.  To be sure, I will be at a loss and there is no replacement that could possibly mean as much to me.