Monday, June 30, 2014

Sketch of Wayne

Since moving to Seattle just over a year ago, I've had the privilege of working in-house several times alongside a virtual who's who of talent. I'm pretty sure that I was more valuable most days as a color commentator than an actual contributor of creative content, but I think I did end up adding some fairly positive things to the mix along the way. While I wish I could talk about some or all of what I was working on, I'm afraid it's going to have to wait. But I think it's safe to share this one little sketch.

On my last day in-house, after running out of steam drawing things that don't exist, I turned my gaze instead to things that do. Sketching away before me were several other artists and I decided to quickly knock out a drawing of the closest one. Honestly, I wish I'd thought to do this earlier as I'd likely have drawn everyone present at the time, and should I get the opportunity again I'll definitely do just that. For now, I'll just have to be happy with this one, incomplete little doodle of Mr. Wayne Reynolds hard at work on his own last drawing.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Avarice Amulet

This one has a bit of a strange story. It was the kind of piece that caused trouble from sketch to finish. Not because the piece itself was difficult, mind you, but because there was a highly specific thing that the Art Director was going for. Much of the conflict stemmed from my initial unwillingness to acquiesce to the AD's needs, and that unwillingness is part of a greater turmoil that I am experiencing across the board on my job. But I shouldn't get too far ahead of myself.

Let's start with the piece in question.

Avarice Amulet started with a phone call. This almost never happens and I'm not entirely sure why it did this time around. Perhaps it was due to the fact that I would need to paint this piece while trying to get settled in my new home of Seattle. Perhaps it was because the AD knew that I'd be illustrating in-house for a couple weeks and wasn't sure if I'd be interested in taking on even more work. Whatever the case, there was a phone call.

During this phone call, I learned that there was something special in store for the Magic 2015 core set. Apparently the fine folks at Wizards asked a wide variety of specific personalities throughout the gaming genre to design Magic cards, and like all Magic cards these would need artwork. I was asked to provide artwork for one of these cards.

I said yes and the assignment was emailed to me.

The job was to illustrate a card designed by the folks at Penny Arcade. More specifically, this was to be an image inspired by a recurring item throughout Penny Arcade's history, the Pac-Man watch — the gag being that the watch in question is highly coveted and has driven the characters in Penny Arcade to murder one another for it. Repeatedly.

Okay so far. Nothing too out of the ordinary. Except for a quickly drawn image done by the Art Director that was attached at the bottom of the email which gave me the exact solution for the assignment. I've thought long and hard about whether to include a recreation of that sketch, but in the end I rejected the idea for reasons to be explained later. Suffice it to say that it had a cracked, gold amulet being held by a bloody hand.

Now, relying on images to complete Magic assignments is nothing new. Each world the game explores comes with a styleguide, which is essentially just a book of reference materials designed to bring a visual unity to each of those worlds. But this little drawing was a pretty rare occurrence. Essentially, this was a "do it like this, but better" scenario. And it took me a while to recognize that.

So, I set that image aside and got to work trying to do my own take on things. Given that I was holed up in temporary housing with nothing better to do, I knocked out a couple sketches for the piece.

©Wizards of the Coast

©Wizards of the Coast

It would probably help to explain that the reason that this amulet doesn't look overtly like Pac-Man is simply because Wizards didn't have the rights to use Pac-Man. The important part was to invoke the idea of Pac-Man — and a watch for that matter. But it obviously needed to be different enough to not cause any legal problems.

So, aside from a vague notion of what the actual amulet looked like, these sketches were not based on the original little drawing provided to me. Sure, they contained all of the required elements of the piece, but I was attempting to make the piece my own. I was groping for that combination of the piece they need and the painting I want to paint.

Neither of these sketches was to be the solution, however. Unfortunately for me, I was pushing the image too far away from the AD's sketch.  It really did need to be a riff on that exact image.

Back to the drawing board.

©Wizards of the coast

If I couldn't change the image, I thought, then perhaps I could mess with the design of the amulet. So, here I have the Pac-Man pointing upward about to consume a power pellet (which I figured would be a pearl) and I thought it'd be cool to include balls in the chain representing the normal dots that seem to comprise much of Pac-Man's diet.

This didn't get by, either. Too much like Pac-Man. I totally understood. No need to get sued. Perhaps I could do something different. But no. The AD really did need the amulet on the sketch.

And so I did this:

©Wizards of the Coast

While this was accepted, there were two requested changes. First, the ghost motif at the 12:00, 3:00, 6:00 and 9:00 positions was too overtly ghosty. Second, the "mouth" of the Pac-Man part was still too open and still felt a little too much like the actual Pac-Man. Okay, makes sense. We're being conservative here. Avoiding a lawsuit would be swell.

With the changes in mind, I painted the thing.

©Wizards of the Coast

The painting is the usual oil on paper on hardboard and measures 14 inches wide by 11 inches tall.

The end result is basically a painted version of the sketch done by the Art Director. So, posting that image at the start of this article would effectively have been redundant. In fact, the only things I added were a maze motif to the edge of the amulet, and the lapus ghosts at the clock's quarters. I also decided that large diamonds would be used to fill out the remaining hours of the "watch" and would represent the power pellets from the Pac-Man game. Missing is the large diamond/power pellet at the 8:00 position where the crack/mouth lies. The gag is that Pac-Man has eaten this power pellet and in keeping with Pac-Man's mechanics, this is why the ghosts are blue.

Yup, the weird video game nerd details that about 1% of the viewers might have noticed is about all I really contributed to the piece creatively. And I guess the smokey texture in the background.


You might correctly have guessed that I have mixed feelings about this piece. On the one hand, given my schedule at the time and the fact that I was busy trying to unpack my life in very new surroundings, I needed the a piece that was pretty simple, and this was anything but a complicated piece to paint. But looking at it, I feel like the least creative person in the world. There is very little in it that I feel is mine.

Truth be told, I should have let it be an easier piece than it was. But I didn't want to settle for that. I wanted to make my version of this image and not just be a pair of hands. If I had my way, I'd have painted the second sketch — the one with lots of hands jostling for ownership. Not a huge change, but one that would have made it a cooler image (at least in my opinion). At the very least, there'd be more of a story to that version (not to mention more for me to sink my teeth into artistically), and in some ways would be more in keeping with the source material.

But getting to make all of the creative decisions isn't always the job. Sometimes, it's about giving the client exactly what they're asking for. Sometimes it's about suppressing your own needs and desires to get the assignment done. And sometimes it's about working on something that you know could be better but needs to be what it needs to be. Not exactly sexy, but that's part of the deal.

Anyway, I leave you with the Avarice Amulet in card form for you to contemplate.