Monday, July 29, 2013

Revisiting Reprints: Tome Scour

It may interest some of you reading this that Tome Scour is old. Really old. In fact, I think it may have been around the 5th or 6th painting I ever did for Magic: the Gathering, which would mean that it was painted in 2006. Despite this fact, the piece did not see the light of day until the Magic 2010 core set which was released in 2009.

Why the delay? My suspicion is that whatever the image was originally commissioned for either got dropped, cancelled or kicked down the road. Perhaps the set the card was originally intended for was no longer necessary. Perhaps the card was set aside in order to preserve mechanical balance within its intended set. Or perhaps the designers just couldn't get the original card's mechanic to function properly. Who knows? Such things happen in the wonderful world of games.

And so it was put into the flat files at Wizards of the Coast where it would sit among all the other images that have never been published for three years. Three years, it turns out, that saw a noticeable degree of artistic growth from yours truly. Enough growth, in fact, to come to the realization that I wasn't quite happy with that piece anymore. Well, I would have been unhappy with it had I remembered it existed in the first place.

Don't worry, fate made sure I was reminded upon the arrival of my artist proofs1 for the M10 Core Set in the summer of 2009. There the image was atop a card called Tome Scour. My heart sank. There the image was, exposed for all to see, and one of many that I would end up wishing I could take back. Indeed, had I known that Wizards intended to use the piece in M10, I would have made the time to paint a new piece or go back into the original version. But it was too late.


So let's take a look at the piece in question. It sports a young wizard gleefully pulling the writing from off the pages of a large mystical book, the words and diagrams once formed of ink consumed by magic as they float away in the air. Sounds potentially cool when I write it. But somehow less so when I painted it. But then I'm kind of blind to any charms the piece might still retain.

©Wizards of the Coast
The finished piece was done on Strathmore illustration board and measured 11" wide by 8" tall.

The painting is one that falls short of being the worst thing I've painted for Magic, but falls far shorter of being the best. What bothered me more than anything is that because it came out with other pieces done more recently that I was actually happy with, it had the appearance of being the ball I'd dropped. There was no way for anyone to tell that it was just an old piece that I'd outgrown.

Sigh. Again.

I wish I could tell you that it got printed and the game moved on — that it was a one-off and didn't see a lot of play. But that wouldn't be accurate. A year later, it was reprinted in the Magic 2011 Core Set. And I grew to dislike it a bit more. Another year had gone by and I'd like to believe I'd progressed a little further. But then time passed, and I saw the card less and less. I became optimistic that I might not see it as often anymore. But alas, it was not to be. The thing has reappeared in the new Magic 2014 Core Set.

Now, reading this, one might get the sense that I'm completely down on this piece. Surprisingly, that's not so. Like I said before, it's not the worst thing I've ever painted for Magic, and it represents a very wonderful thing that I intend to share with you. While I do feel like I've outgrown the image, I can't say I have any true animosity toward it. Instead, I see it as a reminder in some ways of how fortunate I actually am. You see, under most circumstances with gaming art, this piece would have disappeared and passed out of the public consciousness long ago. Why? Because under normal circumstances, the game likely would no longer be in print. Indeed under normal circumstances it might even be considered a miracle if the company that produced the game was still in business.

You see, the nature of the business, I'm sad to say, is that few companies have had any kind of longevity. Of the imprints manufactured by those few companies that have managed to stick around, even fewer games have had anything even resembling a long life. The only reason I even have the opportunity to complain about this less than stellar piece of art still kicking about is that I just happened to have done it for a game that has withstood the test of time and has continued to grow over 20 years — something that is pretty special. If I'm honest, having pieces that I'm not happy with floating out there for all to see is a pretty small price to pay for being a part of the Magic brand and I have to say once again that I'm honored to be a part of the the game and the community that goes along with it.

1 For those not in the know, artist proofs are copies of the artist's cards provided to the artists which have a face — which includes the artwork — but no printed back leaving a white side instead of the usual printed Magic card bacing. These artist proofs are also referred to as "white backs" for this reason, and are considered highly collectible due to the fact that only fifty are made of any given card.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Fun Stresses of Relocation

Moving across a continent, it turns out, is a difficult thing. Though I've not completed the task as yet, I'm at least deep enough into the process that I can safely tell you that I'd do things differently if I had to do it all again in the future. If there is a next time (and there won't be), I'd likely just pile my worldly belongings in the front yard and set it all on fire. Then I'd be free to move with ease and have the ability to start from scratch at our final destination. Fortunately, despite the inherent stresses of this particular move, Amy and I have somehow managed to keep our cool.


The issues we have had were mostly due to timing. First off, while Amy's new job was the stuff of dreams, it carried with it a need to be in Seattle very shortly after accepting the position. As a result, we were left with just enough time to once more sort through our worldly belongings (which after several previous moves had been thoroughly picked through), make several trips to the local donation bins, and for me to get a couple days of painting done on an assignment that I'd already committed to before the job offer even came along.

What we didn't have time for was the little things like getting our stuff packed up and moved out to Seattle. However, even if we had the time to get all that squared away, we'd have had no address to give the movers as we didn't have a new apartment lined up. And so the moving dates got kicked down the road to relatively arbitrary dates which would hopefully result in our stuff arriving in Seattle on or about August 1st. In the meantime, we would temporarily relocate to Seattle with whatever would fit in two suitcases (mine was mostly art supplies), with the mission to find a new place while Amy began her new job.

Having gone through a couple moves in the last three years, we thought we were pretty prepared — in fact, Amy managed to get most of the ducks in a row. And though it seemed as though we were on top of things, it turned out that what we simply were not prepared for was the rental housing market in Seattle. Previous experiences in shopping for a place to live in the Boston and greater New York Metro areas yielded multiple viable options in very short periods of time. This was not to be so in the Emerald City.

Initially, we did what we'd done before: call some realtors. Unlike in previous cases, realtors turned out not to be particularly helpful. Not only did the realtors rarely get back to us, but it turned out they were actually an obstacle to finding a place to live. Why? Simple. Involving them lost precious time in reacting to opportunities. This is extremely important in the current rental climate because apartments and houses are being snatched up within minutes of being listed. Several times we arrived to see properties that had been listed a mere day before only to be presented with stacks of completed applications from other potential renters. Other times we dealt with the gauntlet of open houses for rental properties where dozens of people were crowded into spaces not fit to hold them as they all vied for a chance to live in the place.

The net result of the extreme competition in the current rental market in Seattle is that the easiest places to get to see were the places that most folks would not want to live in. Places that smelled of cat urine or wet dog. Apartments completely devoid of light. Houses with mother-in-law suites where the mother-in-law just might be stuffed into the crawl space or boarded up behind one of the walls. Places completely wrecked by previous tenants or kept by seemingly indifferent landlords. And then there were the many decent dwellings that were in less than optimal neighborhoods.

For the most part, visiting many of these places was like being thrown into a pit to fight it out with other potential renters. While some of property owners were likely just attempting to ferret out bad candidates, I'm certain that many of the tactics involved were attempts to start bidding wars. Either way, we figured that you could tell a lot about potential landlords by how they treated their potential renters. Folks that created situations that encouraged passive aggressive behavior or open hostility between strangers were not the kind of folks we wanted to write checks to every month. It's no surprise, either, that there turned out to be a correlation between the level of class displayed by landlords when dealing with potential renters and the quality of the dwellings themselves.

To say that our first few days searching here were disheartening would be an understatement. While I attempted to stay optimistic about it all (something that is quite out of character), Amy began to have her doubts and I could tell she was starting to get a little stressed. Nevertheless, each morning we got up early and went through the listings, making phone call after phone call,  just hoping for a place to come along that we could snatch up and make our own.

I'm happy to say that after many days of searching, we finally did find a place with promise. Within five minutes of the house being listed, Amy had already sent an email. Not long after, we got a call to come look at the place. A tour was given, an application was filled out, some references were checked, and the place was ours.

There was much rejoicing.

Now, I realize that I've made it sound as though we've done all this ourselves. The truth is that we've had a lot of assistance. Amy's new employer has been incredibly helpful in trying to smooth out the logistics of relocating cross-country. They've answered a lot of questions and have bent over backwards to make the compressed timeline easier to deal with.

Our biggest thanks, however, have to go to Franz and Imelda Vohwinkel who have given generously of their time to help us find a place, advise us on neighborhoods, and send us more listings than we could count. Their aid was key to our finding our new home and I simply cannot thank them enough. A new place to live was easily the biggest variable we had to solve for and was probably the most stressful.

Securing an apartment here in Seattle meant that the remaining big puzzle pieces were finally ready to be put into place, and for the most part we've managed to get everything figured out. Next week, we'll return to New Jersey, pack a few things, close up shop, and supervise the move. Then we'll fly back here and wait for everything to show up. And while waiting in some ways will be the most difficult part of this process, I must confess it'll also somehow be the least stressful. There will be no decisions to make after all, and at least I'll be able to do some prep work at the new place to bide my time.

The end of this journey may not be in sight, but I'm happy to say we've got a pretty good map to help us get there.