Painting a forest for Magic is hardly new to me. In fact, I attribute the opportunities I've had to paint the landscapes for the game to the basic forest I painted in 2008 for Magic's 2010 core set. That piece, at the time, became the Magic art director's favorite forest to that point, and while it may not continue to reign as such (I honestly don't know), I'd suspect it's still something for which he likely still has a soft spot. Given my apparent success with that forest, I figured there might be pretty high expectations on this one as well. No pressure, though.
That being said, there is a huge difference in the aesthetics of the two worlds in which the forests exist. The basic forest I painted five years ago feels very typical of something one might see in the northeast United States. Indeed, that was much of its inspiration. Theros, on the other hand, is anything but. The forests in this plane are more pockets of gigantic trees than expansive woodlands, and these giant trees are more inspired by olive and cypress than oak and maple. Clearly the approach needed to be different.
Compositionally, I built the entire piece around a single, giant olive tree surrounded by lots of cypresses. Well that's what my scribbles sort of indicated, anyway. I clarified that idea when I scanned said scribbles and digitally painted over them producing the sketch below.
|©Wizards of the Coast|
This sketch got the go ahead and I moved to paint.
|©Wizards of the Coast|
Once again, this is oil on paper on hardboard and measures 24" wide by 18" tall.
One of the advantages to loose sketches (like the one seen above) is that there's only so much I need to commit to. A big disadvantage, however, is that there's a lot to make up once I go to paint. When it comes to landscapes, though, that's actually not a huge problem for me. I was happy to let little accidents result in new ideas — which is basically how the waterfall came to pass.
As I painted the piece, one of the more difficult things to decide upon was the shape of the cypresses. In the sketch, they're pretty shaggy, but I found that as I painted them that way they suddenly felt rather small. When I made them a little bit more uniform, they began to feel a bit larger. And so they all ended up being a much "cleaner" shape.
The downside of that more uniform shape is that the trees started to become symbols of trees rather than actual, individual trees. They begin to lose some degree of character. While I tried to deftly walk the line, I wasn't too worried if the trees fell on the side of symbolic shapes rather than individual trees. I had built the whole piece around the large olive tree just right of center and the more generic-feeling cypresses trees with less character help the viewers' eyes dwell there.
Anyway, when I turned this one in, I got a very rare compliment back from the Magic art director. It sounds weird to say that compliments from him are rare, but considering that at any given time the team at Magic is typically juggling around 300 pieces of art from 80-90 artists, it's no wonder that there's little time for pats on the back. Still, the fact that he said anything at all made it clear that of the five lands, he was most happy with this one. Maybe now I have more than one forest in his list of favorites.