Friday, July 13, 2012

Revisiting Reprints: Evolving Wilds

Evolving Wilds is a weird landscape that came out of the final set of the Zendikar block of Magic, called "Rise of the Eldrazi." Truth be told, the concept for the piece came straight of the styleguide. Varieties of the landscape were drawn out on a page of the guide, and I was essentially asked to depict these weird pillars of earth in a more finished fashion.

Each pillar represents aspects of all five environments of Magic (forests, plains, swamps, mountains, and islands), and I was free to change it up however I saw fit provided that I managed to keep the feel of the concept drawings. So, I set upon the task of figuring out just how I wanted to stack the layers of the five land types.

I knew early on how I wanted the piece to look, so most of my time was spent trying to figure out details. Mountains, I knew, would be represented by rock. Pretty simple. I could put rock anywhere in the stack, which made it the most versatile. I decided that each pillar would be sitting in water, so instantly they became islands. To kill two birds with one stone, I went with decaying roots as the base of the pillar to insinuate the swamp. Forest, I decided would be best about two thirds up each pillar. Trees were a pretty easy thing to plug in, as well. Plains, I knew would be the hard part.

The problem with plains is that they're generally flat. That kind of meant that they'd need to be on top. The issue with this is that we're once again dealing with a horizontal piece that has vertical subject matter. It was almost certain that the pillars would be running off the top of the piece. One way to get around this would be to depict the pillars from above so that the plains were more obvious. My explorations of this solution quickly proved, however, that the other land types got shortchanged in order to feature the one. So I went back to the concept drawings where I found that this issue had already been addressed. They're solution? Crystal. Crystal represented the white mana of the plains.

I didn't get it, but who am I to complain?

Coincidentally, shortly before this assignment came along, I saw an article about giant crystal caves in National Geographic. It contained about all the photo reference I'd ever need on the subject. Clearly crystals were the way to go. So I drew it up.

©Wizards of the Coast
It's a pretty straightforward sketch which resulted in a very straightforward approval. On to paint I went.

©Wizards of the Coast
The addition of the birds was a last minute one that I think added a lot. Birds are often used for scale purposes in paintings, and my use of them is hardly revolutionary. I thought about making them brightly colored, but in the end I liked how the white just sat nicely within the piece. They were there, but didn't call attention to themselves.

While the birds are nice and all, I think my favorite part of how the piece came out was the atmospheric perspective of the pillars themselves. The fade into washed-out blue is something I'm quite pleased with, as I've not always been satisfied with previous attempts. A good deal of the effect was accomplished by actually painting them as bluer versions of themselves. The rest was done through glazing a Titanium White/Permanent Blue glaze over them to push them back even further. I remember that the pillar in the front was pulled a little forward with a glaze that consisted of Indian Yellow and a touch Alizarin Crimson thrown in for good measure.

Push and pull. Glazes and final details and highlights. Minutia and subtlety. This is what I find most fascinating about what I get to do, and it's my favorite part of painting. It amazes me how a slight shift can change a piece, and elevate it into a higher strata. Dabbling in these changes is still exciting after all these years, and I suspect they'll never get old. At least I hope not!

As I said before, this piece was first published in "Rise of the Eldrazi," back in 2010. It was painted in 2009. It has since been reprinted in one of the Commander decks, in the "Duel Decks: Ajani vs. Nicol Bolas" deck, and most recently the Magic 2013 Core set.


  1. Nice to see the painting in a slightly larger scale then the card since some of the beautiful detail is lost at that size.

    Regarding the glazing with white and blue, I'm sure there is a simple answer but Im curious anyway....if Titanium white is opaque then how is it glazing so softly?

    1. Lots and lots of medium. It's opaque if you use it straight...well, mostly opaque, anyway. I often use white-based glazes to knock things back in space. White with one or two colors mixed in, not solely white as I find that tends to kill something in the piece. Perhaps it's the vibrancy of the colors underneath. Perhaps it's more the chalky after effect that I object to viscerally. Not quite sure. Either way, adding color seems necessary. But like I said, lots of medium is even more necessary.

    2. Good to hear, because I never really considered using white as a glazing color since it's so strong. I guess mixed in with a dab of something else it wouldn't be as harsh though. Thanks. lol


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