Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Wash Out

Just released on November 1st, was a new piece of art I did for a Magic card called Wash Out. The making of the piece turned out to be among the more difficult creative challenges I've had in the past couple years and was the first time in a long time that I really needed help finding a solution. It's possible that the frustration behind it might be more interesting than the end result itself, but I guess that's for you to decide.

Anyway, the issues began with the description:
Design a fantastical city, perhaps with a castle or keep or compound at its center. we see it from the side and maybe it sits on the edge of a shallow cliff. The city itself is vibrantly colored and in bright daylight, but in the center of the image something is happening... the forms distort and bleed and the color leeches away. as if someone took this colorful painting and splashed it with turpentine (that also removes the color). It can literally be an execution of this idea, the gray scale compromised portion of the image dripping and running down.
Honestly, this description looks like it should be a relatively easy thing to accomplish. Despite appearances, however, I had a hard time making the darned thing work — let alone making it interesting.

I knew from the start that I didn't want to take the solution offered me in the art order with turpentine. It felt too dependent on this being a painting rather than a cool image, and personally I'd much rather make (or try to make) a cool image. So, that left me with trying to depict the concept within confines of an actual scene. And that turned out to be less than easy for me.

You see, the main problem I was having with the description was that this kind of image would work best as a movie or a series of images. While that's all well and good, I get only one image to illustrate the idea and make it work. This means that I have to find that precise image — that single frame of film — that best shows what is happening, the progression of what is happening, and indicate the story behind it all (if there is one). While I'm no stranger to doing this kind of thing, this particular go around found me producing more crumpled paper than interesting depictions of the scene that provided any degree of clarity. I spent days and days sketching various iterations and ended up with little to show for it — at least nothing I wanted to actually paint. What made it worse was that I was running out of time.

The deadlines for Magic are a little strange. The artists who work on Magic are given both a sketch deadline and a finish deadline. While the finish deadline is meant to be absolute, there's quite a bit of play in the sketch deadline. One could, in theory, turn in a sketch just days before the finish is due as long as the finish is handed in on time (provided the sketch gets approval, of course). I'm fairly certain that this kind of behavior would be disconcerting to the art directors at Magic, but it's a viable hypothetical that I'm sure has actually played out in reality at least once over the course of Magic's long history.

Despite this flexibility in the sketch deadline, I typically turn my sketches in well before the due date in order to give myself as much time to paint as possible and also to allow for necessary sketch revisions should they be necessary. On this occasion, however, a sketch I liked just didn't come together for me in any timely manner. So, in frustration, I took to the email to ask for help from my close circle of illustration pals. I gave them the above description and discussed the issues I was having. I ended the email with a plea for some help.

Happily, my brothers in brush came through with some excellent suggestions that varied widely in their possible executions. I took theses suggestions into account, pondered them for a while and stole the idea I liked best. Here's the sketch that finally resulted:

©Wizards of the Coast
As you can see, the major differences between the art order and the resulting sketch are that I ended up putting the camera in the city rather than outside it, and I added a figure casting the spell in order to show causality and allow for a clear visual progression from color to gray in a more linear fashion. In the foreground, you can to see the beginnings of the spell's affects, and as you visually retrace the figure's steps, you can see the destruction becoming more pronounced.

I felt that while this was not a direct translation of the art order, it was close enough. As far as I was concerned, it still solved the problem and Wizards seemed to agree. After all, they approved the sketch. Here's how the painting came out:

©Wizards of the Coast
The piece is oil on paper on illustration board and measures 16" wide by 12" tall.

At this point, I'd like to say that I'm cool with the end result, but anyone who has ever read this blog should know that things with me just aren't that easy. Don't get me wrong — I don't hate the piece, but I also don't consider it a portfolio piece. Why? Well, I feel like there's one important way that this piece falls short:

The scale is all wrong.

To me, the figure casting the spell was key to the piece working, and in order to make that figure work at card size, I could make it only so small. In fact, you'll note that I reduced the figure's size between sketch and finish, pushing it about as small as it could reasonably go and still be readable as a figure. For my money, however, the figure should be even smaller and the city more vast in order to increase the scope and drama and to help drive home the devastation wrought by the spell itself.

The obvious solution would have been to change the composition and approach the piece another way, and perhaps I should have. I don't know. What I do know is that this is one occasion where my take on the material and the reproduction size were at odds. In fact, I think this might be the only occasion to this point. Still, I suppose it might have come out a lot worse...

1 comment:

  1. Just wanted to say I thought this piece was wonderful. When I was first browsing through the new Commander cards, I specifically remember this one sticking out as very readable and the concept was instantly understandable. Keep up the awesomeness, Steven!


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