Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sensory Deprivation

Up front, I'm going to warn everyone reading this that it contains an image that is easily among the more disturbing that I've ever painted.  Some might find it pretty hard to look at and if you're not into looking at what is essentially torture, then I suppose you might want to skip this post and catch up with me later.  That being said, it's a new image and I thought it worth sharing.

So, this is the last image I have to show for the new Magic: The Gathering, Innistrad expansion set.  It's called Sensory Deprivation, and it began its life with this description:

Color: Blue spell
Location: Unimportant
Action: This is an abstract piece representing the loss of a person's senses. Show an extreme close-up of a man or woman whose eyes and mouth have been replaced by wrought-iron bars like the windows of a prison. His/her mouth is open as if he/she is screaming, but there are bars in front of the dark, toothless mouth. His/her pupils are gone, and bars cover the eyeless sockets.
Focus: The victim
Mood: My senses are dead to me.

There are a lot of images that flashed through my mind upon reading the above, and in a way, it's more than a little disturbing that the wealth of ideas that did come came so freely.  But it's the nature of my personality, my influences, the books I read, the films I watch, and the genre I've been neck deep in for the last decade.  It's also the partially the result of all the horror flicks I've been forced to watch over the years by my wife and friends (I'm personally not a fan).

Here then, are the top three images I tossed the way of Wizards for their consideration.  They are done initially in pencil and then very sloppily added to with digital paint.  While they are among some of the worst sketches I've ever handed in, their frantic nature belied the vibe I was going for, so I went with it.

©Wizards of the Coast
First up we have the literal interpretation of the image described.  I'm not going to lie, this was also my least favorite.  In fact, I felt like I might have seen the image before, but they asked for just such a thing and I thought it wise to give it to them.  Still, I wanted to try to add my own spin, so back to the drawing board it was.  Here's where that exploration took me:

©Wizards of the Coast
Given that we were dealing with more of a metaphorical image to begin with, I thought it might be interesting if the bars weren't just a fixture in the various sockets, but rather a fully realized physical entity that the face had somehow intersected and grown around, much the same way that a tree will begin to grow into a chain link fence only to eventually envelope it.

The main problem I had with this image was that it smacked of Terminator 2, but since the entire set of Innistrad was about horror tropes, the image being familiar wasn't necessarily a problem.  What bothered me was that it fell short of how visceral I wanted the image to be.  There is less room for struggle in it than I wanted.  It somehow needed to be more about struggle and the physicality of that struggle.  So I took it into a new direction with less a metaphorical twist and more a realistic one.

©Wizards of the Coast
Let's face it, sewing a mouth and eyes shut is hardly a new idea.  But, it was the perfect way to get across the struggle and victimization that I wanted to really nail.  This is, after all, something that has been done to someone.  Bars in the eyes and mouth just don't have that same feel.

Now, on a business note I think it worth stating that under normal circumstances, when handing in multiple sketches, more often than not, the client will decide to go with the image the illustrator is least interested in fully realizing.  This has happened to me on many occasion, but somehow didn't happen with this go around.  They saw the third version, and decided that sewing was better than bars.  So off to work I went.

The first thing I did, as usual, was to hunt down reference to bolster the concept as much as possible.  Then, I added to that some rather embarrassing reference photos of me struggling on the floor that my wife took.  Upon seeing these photos, I decided that the opportunity to turn this piece into a self-portrait was too good to pass up.

Once everything was collected, it was all about the paint, and let me tell you this painting went FAST.  It now holds the record for the fastest Magic piece I've ever painted clocking in at a tiny bit over 17 hours.  It's not quite as visceral as I'd like it to be, but it's far looser than I typically work and was a lot more fun than most.  And here it is:

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

©Wizards of the Coast
Curiously, the image being a self-portrait turned out to be kind of prophetic.  In truth, I feel about as bound as that image depicts.  As I write this, I am going through one of the worst bouts of creative block I've ever been through.  Thankfully, my professional work hasn't suffered.  Unfortunately, my personal work has.  I'm completely and totally lost in my attempts to pull together a personal piece or two that I am hoping to show at IlluxCon this year.  I have spent the last week trying to cobble together something that I actually want to paint.  Figure out some though or feeling that I want to convey.  Thus far, I just can't seem to get anything off the ground.  Not with any sort of confidence, anyway.

I have thrown out two ideas that I'd put a fair amount of work into, and the one I like still feels half baked enough for me to set it aside for a while.  I like the image, but I want to do it right and I know that my head space just isn't right for it just yet.  All the cogs have not clicked into place.

The overall problem may be that I have thought about this all too much.  Or perhaps too little.  I have no idea.  What I may try is to go in without any plan at all and see what happens.  It's entirely possible that I'll need to be as blind as this self-portrait to see my way out of things.


  1. You really knocked this one out of the park; the "shudder" factor is really there. I'm a huge horror trope fan and I think you more than did this one justice.

    On a more personal note, I'm sorry to hear about the struggles as of late for you and your wife, and I hope they're short-lived. If you guys ever make it over to Davis Square, I'll buy you a beer.

  2. that is rad and a bit painful to look at. That's what I call an effective painting sir! Hope everything is getting better on your side. Been reading the blogs...sounds like a stressful time. Take care amigo!

  3. Brandon and Scott,

    Thanks a lot! That it's painful in any way is a pretty good sign. At least I think it is. Either way, I appreciate the comments!

    As for the stresses of life and their impact, I'm sure that the pendulum will eventually swing in the other direction. I still have hope that something will solidify in time for IlluxCon.


  4. What direction did you want to take your personal piece? I'm sure it's very different for writing, but I find when I'm struggling for ideas I need to have the key concepts in my head for a while, and rather overtly think about them, let them gestate. Eventually the process gets more active until I find myself overtly thinking about it without deciding to, the overt pulls the subconscious together and its there.

    Best of luck for IlluxCon!

  5. Kade,

    I have a few personal pieces lined up and they're all over the place. Everything from overt fantasy imagery to stuff that's anything but. I've gotten a lot of encouragement from folks on at least two of the three and there's a lot of prep work to be done to really make them sing. In the meantime, however, I've got paid gigs that need attending. If all goes well, I'll have a brand spanking new piece at IlluxCon.

    But, if I don't manage it, I'm not going to beat myself up over it. It's better to do it right than to rush through things and hang something that I'm unhappy with just because it's new.

    The problem I've been having is that I just find myself falling out of love with images really quickly. It's why I don't have any tattoos. Given that I want to work larger and that larger work tends to take more time, I need to have imagery that I'm really sold on. The images have been gestating a long, long while but they've been on the back burner for too long. Like I said, though, I've gotten more than a little encouragement and I think I'm back on track again.



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