Monday, September 24, 2012

Search Warrant

Right alongside Grim Roustabout and Overgrown Tomb was a third piece that was pretty much the dullest of the three to me. It was the least interesting conceptually, least interesting visually, and least interesting to work on. It was a bit of a drudgery throughout, but there were a few upsides.

The third piece in question was this one. Search Warrant. I'll start with the description.
Location: Azorius gate or checkpoint
Action: Show an Azorius soldier (see pp. 34-35 of styleguide) towering over a viashino citizen (like the one on p. 174 of styleguide). The Azorius soldier grabs at the viashino's knapsack, perhaps using the handle of his weapon to snag it. The viashino resists the search.
After reading that art order, I hope that it's easy to see how this piece became known around the house as my "TSA painting." And to some reading this, it might also be clear why this wasn't particularly interesting to me. For the rest of you, I'll clarify. Essentially, what I was being asked to do was arrange two predetermined elements on a page in order to create a scene that is pretty dry, in an environment that's also pretty much predetermined. While I do this kind of thing a lot, I usually have something I feel like I can sink my teeth into — be it a juicy story, an iconic image, or a heavy mood — but this felt like I was going to be painting by number.

Despite all that, and despite my head space at the time, I ended up spending a lot of time arranging, and rearranging the elements. This is primarily why the sketch is almost completely digital. In the end, it was just so much faster to edit, erase, cut and paste. I could lay ideas out fairly thoroughly before they decided to recede back into the gray matter. After much manipulation, what I ended up with was this:

©Wizards of the Coast
For better or worse, the sketch was approved as you see it.

Side note: With sketches like these, is it any wonder to anyone out there that my work is almost never featured on the "Magic Sketches" column over at Magic's webpage? I look at this thing and cringe. Seriously. Yuck.


Did the sketch end up being the most dynamic thing ever? No. I'll cop to that. I'll also cop to the following thing running through my head as I sent the sketch off for approval: "I'll fix it when I go to paint." Yeah... no. This idea works a lot better when I have the luxury of time. Given that I'd decided to dedicate more man hours to Overgrown Tomb than the other two pieces meant that this was the last piece on the docket and the one that had the least chance of getting a fair shake. The deadline was looming and I ended up not having a whole lot of time to muck about.

Still, I did make some changes that I think improved the piece a bit, but I also made a few choices that I think undermined the piece's effectiveness. Here's how it came out:

©Wizards of the Coast
It's the usual oil on paper on hardboard and it measures 12 inches wide by 9 inches tall.

So what changed? Well, between sketch and finish, I shot some reference that allowed for more accurate light mapping and anatomical proportions. As much as I could, I normalized those things in the drawing. Because of remeasured limbs, the relationship between the two figures changed somewhat and I was forced to adjust the poses a bit to keep that all working. I also ended up straightening the viashino's tail as I felt it to be more threatening.

Things I wish I hadn't adjusted include the shape of the soldier's cloak, the angle of the backpack straps, and the lighting on the viashino's sword. That last bit bugs me the most because it's part of the story that gets completely obscured and makes for a lesser piece just from a story-telling perspective. If you can't see the sword, it's kind of hard to make the leap to the idea that the viashino is reaching for it. The change of cloak shape bothers me because I feel my initial instinct made for a more stalwart looking fellow. He feels bigger and it hammers home the scale difference more effectively. The backpack straps? Well, that's just an eye flow thing. The angled version not only indicates more tension, but also helps draw the eye around the piece better. At least I think it does.

One other thing happened in the painting that I think is worth noting that was not intentional, but rather happened quite organically.  A recurring arc appeared throughout the piece. What do I mean? Well, here is a map of the most obvious locations:

©Wizards of the Coast
Are these lines a good thing or a bad thing? Well, I think the line of the tail mirroring the edge of the shadow in the archway above is a good thing. These help to pull the eye around a bit. However, I think the arch as part of the circle on the wall at right distracts a bit from the power of that central mirroring. Outside of that, I can't say as to whether the recurrence does a whole lot. It is possible, though, that it subconsciously keeps the eye moving as it tracks repeating shapes, but I honestly couldn't say for sure.

Now, all that stuff aside, is it a good piece? Well, I think it's better than I expected it to be. If I could redo it, I'd fix the things mentioned above that bother me, I'd fix the perspective issues throughout, and I'd probably push the action further back in space with a couple people in the extreme foreground framing what's going on.

Still, despite the whole thing being a slog and my interest in the piece being pretty low, I'm surprised to find that there are actually aspects I'm really happy with. In fact I think I'm comfortable saying that this isn't the worst piece I've ever done. But that's just one man's opinion.


  1. Confession time: I didn't even notice the viashino's sword until I read this. :X

    I agree with what you mean on the bag straps--in the sketch it looks like the guard is pulling the viashino up with it, which I like. Still, I like the overall composition, and the card works well all together. I think you did well.

    1. Yeah. Like I said, I completely undermined my own storytelling. That I don't hate it is kind of weird. Glad to hear you dig it, as well.



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