Monday, September 19, 2011

The Grimoire

So, I've been off the radar for a little while due to a variety of issues ranging from the distractions of work to now having to share our household's sole computer with someone trying to build a website for herself in the name of finding a new job.  For the next couple weeks this spotty posting will likely continue, but I do have some interesting tidbits planned — some of which I will unabashedly hint at in this very post.

But I digress.

So, Magic's expansion set of Innistrad has been revealed and along with it a couple new pieces of art.  The one I'm going to talk about to day is the Grimoire of the Dead.  What's a grimoire?  It's a book of magic.  So it's a book of the dead.  A magic book of the dead.  Never heard of that one before, have you?  You have?  Oh.  Well this is one of those.  Here's the art order I received:

Color: None (artifact)
Location: Unimportant
Action: Show a large tome bound in human skin with finger bones along the spine. Show it on a creepy pedestal. Maybe there are demon heads carved into the pedestal.
Focus: The evil book
Mood: Check this book out. Go on, I dare you.

Pretty straightforward stuff for a book of the dead.  Well, standard if you read and watch a lot of horror.  The first thing I did was went through the shelves of books I own.  Several of said books are very old — early 20th Century old.  While not ancient, they have a well-used feel to them and they're leather bound.  It was a good start.

So I start drawing various versions of the book.  I ruled out early on having a clear face on the cover of the book as that's been done with so many previous necronimcons (necronomica?).  Still, I wanted to have a clear bit of humanity in there to drive home that it was bound with human skin.  It needed to be instantly identifiable.  In the end, I though it would be nice to reference the finger bones on the spine of the book and have a clear hand on the cover.  But just the skin of the hand, of course.

I added a clasp for the book carved from a jawbone with the teeth slipping just over the front cover, designed a pedestal, then drew it all up and sent it off.  This was the sketch:

©Wizards of the Coast
As suggested, I put some demon and devil heads into the pedestal design.  In truth, it makes for a pretty bland sketch and if I'm honest, I was worried about the finished piece being equally bland.  Still I had a few tricks up my sleeve: lighting and mood.

So, I shot reference of one of my older books in my creepy basement, then went online to start a search that undoubtedly landed me on some sort of watch list: I began to look for images of human leather.  I was actually kind of happy to find a relative lack of imagery on the subject, but what I did find was... helpful.

Once the collection of reference was complete, I went to paint.  This is the finish:

©Wizards of the Coast
It's 12"x9", oil on hardboard.  And here it is in card form:

©Wizards of the Coast
As you can see, they've cropped in a bit on the image for clarity's sake.  This is something I generally don't care much about.  They have to do what's best for their product and generally make pretty decent choices.

Now, one of the questions that comes up frequently is how I know what things are supposed to look like in these pieces.  For example, how did I know what the devils on the pedestal looked like?  While I should probably have addressed this as a frequently asked question sometime earlier, I'll give you all the short answer I give at appearances now, but I must confess that I had a pretty good idea to begin with.

For each expansion set, a book is created called a style guide.  It's a visual bible for each Magic plane that gives the 80-90 artists working on a given set a baseline example of architecture, fashion, creatures, landscapes, etc., so that they are all clearly illustrating the same world.  Sure, they bring they're own stylistic choices to the table, but there need to be certain design consistencies to keep the artwork feeling connected.  And that's the guide's primary purpose.

But who creates the style guide?  Well, that depends on the set.  There is certainly a consistent cast of characters involved with each guide, but the contributing artists tend to rotate in and out.  For this world, Innistrad, I was fortunate enough to be one of the artists.  And at some point soon, I'll share with you all my experience, the specifics of what I contributed, and maybe if I'm lucky I can get a word out of those who sat beside me, as well.


  1. That jawbone is a lovely and completely grotesque touch. Props.

  2. Great lighting, the hand-skin is totally believable.

  3. They have human leather books at the Mütter Medical Museum in Philly. They say that sometimes back in the day the doctors would have small notebooks made out of their most beloved patients skin after they'd passed away as a memento. Love the painting man! this looks like it was a fun set to work on.

  4. Thanks, everybody!

    Scott Murphy: God, I hope they didn't have any that looked like mine. I'd hate to be COMPLETELY unoriginal! Also, that's a disturbing concept to cut into someone for a keepsake. A little serial killer...ish.

    As for the set, it was fun. If you're into that sort of thing. I ride the fence, myself. It's fun until you realize that either you'll be stuck with most of what you produce or creeped out that you're not.

  5. Thanks for your information, I want to share something about this.

    Book of Magic
    Among the best points a brand new “magician” may it be a young child or even grownup can perform would be to discover the right books which very easily train a few easy methods that may amazing your pals. One of the greatest methods available is actually to locate a great guide along with great methods which shows all of them in a fashion that could be very easily recognized.


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