Thursday, September 27, 2012

Izzet Chronarch

Izzet Chronarch is a rare piece. It's an assignment that, immediately upon receiving it, I instantly knew what I wanted to do, and whose end result was actually a pretty close approximation of my original vision. It's also rare in that I have quite a vivid recollection of what I was doing when I painted it — down to what I was listening to while I sat in front of the easel toiling away. Given how bad my memory typically is, the clarity with which I can recall this piece is pretty unique, and it's one I oddly have really good feelings about.

Assigned at the very same time as Crimson Muckwader and Tricks of the Trade, Izzet Chronarch predates any of the work I'd eventually do on "Return to Ravnica," but it was very much set in that world. Also, given that it was new art for an old card, I once again had to figure out a way to make it my own.

Two weeks after Amy lost her job, I got the following description:
Color: Blue/red (U/R guild)
Location: some grand Izzet study of your design, a maze of pipes and scrolls and clutter
Action: Show an archmage of the Izzet whose job it is to know every spell that was ever cast. He (or she) should look wild-eyed, scatterbrained, and lost in thought, with the Izzet crest prominent on his/her robes. This is the archetypal Izzet wizard.
Focus: the archmage
Mood: He has all the answers--if he can just remember where they are . . . .
Along with the description, I was also given an image of the original piece that went with the card. Taking the above description and the old image as inspiration, I knocked out this sketch:

©Wizards of the Coast
I submitted the sketch to Wizards with an unwarranted degree of confidence that I'd be able to move forward and paint the heck out of this piece, but it was not to be. Instead of the approval I was expecting, I got a couple notes and a request to resubmit a revised sketch. There were three notes. The first regarded the emblem on the shoulder. That was the symbol of the Izzet guild the first time the game visited the realm of Ravnica. The emblem had since been redesigned. Or would be. They swore I'd get it before I went to paint, but I didn't. I did get it before I got to painting the shoulder, though.

The second requested change was more of an addition, really. In keeping with the Izzet guild, I was asked to include some sort of contraption that had hoses and such sticking out of it either attached to his back or slung over his shoulder. Maybe some blue glowy aspects to this contraption. Simple enough, I guess.

The third issue they had was with the chronarch's face. In the original card art, the chronarch was a white maned man of advanced years. I had a hankering to paint an old man, so I followed suit. And while there are some things in the description that certainly encouraged me down that path, it turns out that that was not what they wanted at all.  They wanted someone who still looked powerful and youthful. They also wanted him to be less befuddled, perhaps. Mildly confused at most.
While it was important to give the client what they wanted, I have to confess that the younger, hipper, more together version is less interesting to me. Nevertheless, I pulled my pencil out and went to work. I made the guy younger, made his expression more mild, and changed the pose of his left hand to be pulling at his goatee in a mighty fist. Surely that would insinuate power, right? 

Fairly satisfied, I turned this second version in.

©Wizards of the Coast
Happily, it got the go ahead.

Now, I knew from the start that I wanted to insinuate a window in the piece just off camera to the right. I knew that filtered golden light would be streaming through that window. And I also knew that if I pulled off what I hoped to, this would likely be my favorite piece in quite a while. I set to work and kept my fingers crossed.

This is how it turned out:

©Wizards of the Coast
The piece measure 12" x 9" and is oil on hardboard.

Now, at the beginning I mentioned that I remember this piece really clearly, and I really do. It was the first job that I worked on where Amy sat shotgun in my studio. I painted away, she built her website and portfolio, updated her resume and began reaching out to people to see where she might find new employment. We had only our one laptop and an iPad, so I'd make sure that what I needed was on the iPad and surrendered the laptop so she could start to figure out how to get back in the saddle. It was pretty awesome, actually. It was the beginning of almost six months of constantly being together, and I have to say I got used to it pretty fast and now miss it terribly.

So what was I listening to? Well, it was about this time that I discovered the joy of listening to podcasts while working. One of the first podcasts I got into was Marc Maron's WTF podcast. Given that I was kind of late to the WTF party, I started going through the back catalog of episodes during the course of painting this piece, as well as those for M13. I can tell you, for example, that while painting the table and the scrolls in the foreground, I was listening to the episode where Mr. Maron interviewed Andrew Dice Clay. The shelving unit with all the scrolls in the background? That was the Richard Lewis episode. The figure itself? Demetri Martin. I listened while I painted. Amy listened while she sorted her future out. It was a good time.

Occasionally Amy would head downstairs, her absence accompanied by the muffled whirring of the stand mixer. Before I knew it, the smell of freshly baked bread would come wafting up to the studio. There was tea, as well. And a surprising amount of laughter for the situation we were in.

Long story short, I really enjoyed painting this one, and I continue to be surprised with just how happy I am with the result. I think it's safe to say that I could stand there to be more like this one. 'Course maybe next time I'll get to paint the old guy version.


  1. Great one man! I really like how you pulled off the window lighting, and also those blue bits of his outfit. They add a nice little cool touch to the otherwise warm image. It is too bad they wouldn't let you do the older version...crazy old wizards are always the best.

    1. Thanks a lot, Scott! I'm still a little bummed about the old man thing. Especially given that today was the first time I'd seen that sketch since first doing it over a year ago. But such is life. The customer is always right. Or something.


  2. Possibly a new favorite, Steve. That is a beaut.

    1. Thanks, Mr. Brundage, sir. I had to go with "Mr. Brundage" in order to stay in keeping with your use of the word "beaut."


  3. Even though they didn't let you go with the old man, I think you still painted a really compelling face. It seems like there's a lot of weighty issues on his mind. And the paper flying in the back is a great touch. This is easily one of my favorites of yours.

  4. Great stuff, this and Search Warrant both. The lighting and color on this one really kills me though.


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