Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Fervent Cathar

Here's the first in the new batch of pieces from Magic: the Gathering's most recent expansion set, Avacyn Restored, and the last set of the Innistrad block, which I helped concept for. I'll go ahead and start with the art order:

Color: Red creature
Location: Mountainside under gloomy skies
Action: Show a knight like the one on pg. 145 of the "Roll" styleguide. He rears back on his chestnut warhorse, waving his sword, looking serious, fierce, and heroic. Perhaps a bit of sunlight graces him, breaking through the overcast sky. Other soldiers (male and female) on horseback ride down the mountainside after him.
Focus: The horseback knight
Mood: All would follow him into battle.

There were two things straight away that were potential issues. First, the horse and rider can't both be rearing and riding down the mountainside as the description insinuates. It's got to be one or the other.  I explored both and decided on running. It was more proactive and thus more interesting to me.

Second, a more importantly, there was a horse. I mean at all. Forget what's it's doing, I had to paint a horse, which is something I very rarely get called upon to paint. I have a difficult time drawing horses and this was further complicated, it turns out, by the fact that the horse and rider in question were to be running downhill. Why is this a problem? Simple: racing a horse downhill is generally considered cruel as horses are often injured and can even die as a result. Indeed the only downhill horse race that I'm aware of, the Omak Suicide Race, is constantly protested for this very reason. As such, what little video footage and photography of such activities is usually pretty bad and semi-useless for the purposes of reference. One gets the feeling that there's a conscious effort to keep it off the internet.

So that's really informative and all, but why's it important? Simple: horses running across flat ground don't move the same way as they do when running downhill. The weight distribution is completely different as are the various muscle bulges. Given that I'm not completely comfortable with drawing horses (and I'm not exactly comfortable riding them either since my last experience involved an old nag trying to throw me while on a cliff-side trail which would have resulted in a hundred foot drop), and given that I'm not quite as knowledgeable of horse anatomy as I probably should be, I really could have used solid reference in order to truly sell the downhill charge.

Still, I cobbled together what reference I could, supplemented it with photos of horses running across flat ground, and took a shot at it. Okay, several shots at it. After many discarded attempts, here's what I came up with:

©Wizards of the Coast
Straight away, you'll notice it's a digital sketch. Fully digital. This is due to the fact that I was erasing so much and had had so many false starts, that I got fed up and turned to a medium which allowed for erasing without the threat of tearing paper, and the ability to cut and paste at will. The horse is dodgy at best, but It's still clear what I'm going for and where it's headed. Believe it or not, it was approved as is and I went to the finish.

©Wizards of the Coast
It's oil on paper on hard board and measures 14" x 11", and is called Fervent Cathar.

Much of painting was done on the fly with this one. I was constantly editing and reediting the background, whose landscape you'll note changed quite a bit from the original sketch. Something else that clearly changed was the horse, much of which was repainted no fewer than three times.

This piece was a problem piece. It was commissioned with two others and was the first piece I started and the last one I finished. Unfortunately, the problems were all my own doing. I had failed to nail the drawing up front and spent the entirety of the piece trying to recover from that. I spent the vast majority of the working duration solving problems when I should have been polishing, and were I to do it all over again I'd spend a lot more time up front in order to save myself the later frustration.

Whether or not it's a good piece I can't say. What feelings I have for it are tainted by the difficulties involved in its creation. I'm pretty sure I've done worse, and there are some qualities I actually dig the heck out of. For one, I got to paint something with fairly limited color (which I'm usually discouraged from doing, but enjoy whenever I get the chance). Two, I'm quite pleased with the sense of light and how it reflects off the armor. Lastly, I'm pretty happy with the background players, who manage to insinuate far more than they describe. Beyond that, I see only its faults, a plague which I think all artists are doomed to suffer from.

Still, I wrestled with the piece and managed to finish it. It wasn't a total train wreck, and there were no complaints from the client (at least not publicly). But, the end result of the piece was that it solidified my decision to start showing my circle of artistic confidants sketches rather than finishes. Plus it got me thinking more about the beginning of a piece again, which is never a bad thing. Many pieces are doomed by the lack of effort on the front end, and this one could have been among them.


  1. I appreciate that you not only post your process but you also talk about your difficulties as well. That's some really useful insight that I think most artists would be afraid to talk about. That is one of the main reasons I really enjoy reading your blog. I tend to learn something or read some reassuring piece of information that is really helpful for an emerging artist(and hopefully illustrator).

    So thanks for taking the time to keep up with this blog and give me some insight to the illustration world.


    1. Thanks, Moe. Jabbering on about my shortcomings not only helps you guys but kind of helps me, too. The fact is, not every piece comes together with ease and when I started out, I could have used the knowledge that 11 years on this wouldn't change. It's also helpful to know that I'm not the only one who struggles and stumbles. Hopefully, I can save some of the fine folks reading a little stress over thinking such issues are unique to them.


  2. Very good to know that I'm never gonna stop worrying about my ability to paint. It brings some kind of twisted peace to my mind. lol

    1. Well, other people might, but I never have, though this piece was a lot more about my inability to draw rather than paint. However, given that painting is just an extension of drawing...

      Anyway, to paraphrase a quote I heard, once you finish a painting you've essentially learned to paint THAT painting. I agree with that to a point, but it's clear that you learn things along the way that are applicable to the next piece and indeed your entire body of work.

      Still, I continue to worry. But I've stopped worrying about worrying.

  3. Honestly, im no artist but when i saw this in the mtg card gallery i immediately made it my steam avatar and desktop icon. At the time i was looking for barbarian warrior with tinge of red and this image struck a cord. It intrigues me more that this image gave you problems and difficulties, thanfully you posted a blog post about it. To you i say cheers... from a teenager that was looking for a cool barbarian display picture(i sound stupid)and found yours.
    Thank you

    1. Roman, you sound anything but stupid. I'm glad you dig this piece. Whether or not it's something I'm happy with is fairly irrelevant, but knowing there are folks out there like yourself who like it in spite of any faults I might point out kind of softens my view of the thing.



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