Thursday, February 9, 2012

Hinterland Hermit, Hinterland Scourge

Like many of the other artists who worked on the Innistrad Magic block, I got the opportunity to paint a werewolf.  Also like many of those other artists, I got to do so for a double-sided card, which meant two pieces, a before and an after.  Man and... wolfman.

If I'm honest, I don't really have any insight into how the double-sided cards came about.  I only know that the idea was being batted around by Research and Development while I was at Wizards of the Coast working on the concept art.  Being a former player of the game, I was a little taken aback when I heard the idea mentioned, but I got the feeling that there were smarter people than I working on things and that any kinks would get ironed out.  Still, I was pretty curious to see the things come to fruition, and given that I still haven't gotten my hands on one, my curiosity hasn't been completely sated, but I know it's only a matter of time.

Anyway, on to the art...

For this particular assignment, I got the following descriptions:

ART ID: 139794    title: [Hinterland Scourge]
SIZE: 2 1/16" (52mm) wide X 1 1/2" (38mm) tall  

Color: Red creature
Location: In a mountain hamlet. There's a full moon in the sky.
Action: Show the older man from [Hinterland Hermit] transformed into a gray-furred werewolf. Show him lunging at the camera, bloody fangs bared. He's got torn cloth snagged on his claws and teeth from his previous kill. Maybe show the parish church in the background.
Focus: The werewolf
Mood: A predatory killer with no regrets or human emotion.
Notes: LINK to [Hinterland Hermit]

ART ID: 139796    title: [Hinterland Hermit]
SIZE: 2 1/16" (52mm) wide X 1 1/2" (38mm) tall   

Color: Red creature
Location: On the outskirts of a mountain hamlet at dusk 
Action: Show an older gray-haired man crouched beneath a pine tree watching something in the distance. He's the mountain-man type, a scary loner who avoids civilization. He's dressed in furs and leather with a gray beard and long gray hair. It's a full moon tonight, he knows he's a werewolf, and he's really hungry. See styleguide p. 50B for tone of clothing.
Focus: The man
Mood: An unseen killer waiting for the right moment to strike
Notes: LINK to [Hinterland Scourge]

Now, I had nothing to do with the werewolf designs.  That was all Steve Prescott with contributions from Daarken and Wizards' own Richard Whitters.  But, I had helped a fair bit with the human concepting; their wardrobe, architecture and whatnot.  Given that I had those things more in mind, I addressed the hermit first.

©Wizards of the Coast
In essence, I was going for exactly what the description above indicates: a man who observed civilization, yet avoided it.  I chose a moment where he's been startled while looking down upon the town.  It's a pretty straightforward, moody image and it was an instant sell as far as the folks at Wizards were concerned.  In fact, the only change requested was to partially obscure the moon with clouds.  Simple enough.

The werewolf was a different story altogether.  I really struggled with him.  I suspect that werewolves may not be in my wheelhouse, but I consider it a good thing that I was pushed in a direction that I'm not entirely comfortable with.  After many iterations, I finally settled on this:

©Wizards of the Coast
One of the advantages of having both images be on the same card is that there was no need to go over the top to tie the two images together.  By this I mean, I wasn't forced to basically paint the same piece twice with only the figure being different.  Indeed, I tried to keep the palettes similar and I tried to keep the moon placement about the same (though scale and emphasis did change), but I didn't feel like I had to slavishly reproduce the composition of the hermit piece.  Still, I did attempt to reference one in the other, and hopefully they do feel like they belong together, but I'm kind of okay with them feeling quite separate, as well.  Either way, the fine folks at Wizards seemed to be cool with my instincts as the only complaint was that the thumbs on the hands felt too human.  Steve Prescott had designed a really awesome hand for the werewolves that was more paw-like and I apparently hadn't gotten the memo.  So, the thumbs became more like wolf dewclaws, and I was good to go.

As you can see both sketches were digital.  While they started out in pencil, only the hermit has anything that resembles a decent drawing.  As is typical when I do digitally painted sketches, I turned them into monochrome images in Photoshop (I think they may have been violet), then pasted those images down onto the boards.  After that, I pulled out my brushes and went to town.  Here's how they ended up:

©Wizards of the Coast

©Wizards of the Coast
Both are oil on paper on hardboard and measure 14" x 11".

A story about the hermit piece:  As I painted the hermit's face, I noticed that he began to resemble artist Larry Elmore.  It occurred to me that it might be fun to turn the piece into a portrait of one of my childhood heroes, so I went with it.  The problem was that I found Mr. Elmore's face to be jarringly inconsistent with the vibe I was going for.  It was too soft, too kind.  So, in order to keep the piece pointed in the right direction, I was forced to abandon the idea and push the hermit back in the direction the sketch had indicated.  I wish I'd made it work somehow, but it was out of reach and I didn't want to sink the piece on the basis of a whim.

©Wizards of the Coast
Aside from not being able to make the portrait stick, I'm pretty happy with how the pieces turned out.  However, I oddly prefer the sketches to the finishes somehow.  Perhaps it's their rawness, perhaps it has to do with their mood, and perhaps it's to do with the fact that so many of the horror films I grew up with and dug most as a kid were black and white.  I don't know.  What I do know is that I feel like the paintings lost something that is present in the sketches, and I wish that that something had translated a bit better.

©Wizards of the Coast
That being said, upon revisiting these pieces to write this post, I'm still pleased with the Hinterland Hermit as well as the Hinterland Scourge which, as it turns out, is the one and only werewolf I've ever painted.


  1. I think it's a pretty common thing to like the livliness of a sketch more than a finish. Most pen and ink artists work in that medium precisely for that reason.

    Eitehr way, I agree with you. These are gorgeous finishes.

    ...and what's wrong with slavishly repainting a composition with just the character changed? I do that quite often.

  2. Scott,

    I know you're just giving me crap, but for the record I didn't say there was anything wrong with it. I just said I didn't have to. Besides, you do it as a means to an end. It's actually part of the gag. If it was something I had to do in this case, it would be due to a fear that the audience wouldn't be able to connect the dots.


  3. I don't like the werewolves on this set in general.. I mean.. comon. They look like out of a comic for children.. everything else is pretty sweet.. your hermit.

  4. Ummmm....okay. I'm not going to argue with you about your opinion — you're entitled to it, after all. But I'd argue that perhaps this isn't the best place for it, as I had nothing to do with the werewolf design.

    I also, personally, make it a policy not to rip the work of other artists publicly. I may or may not like something, but illustration is a really hard business that pays poorly, asks a lot of the illustrator, and can be extremely thankless. Add to that that an illustrator's vision is often compromised due to the needs of the client, and that such a compromise can be the very root of why I don't like something, and I just don't see publicly complaining to be particularly fair or productive.

    All that being said, I'll go on the record as saying that I happen to like Steve's werewolves.


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