Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Chief Engineer

In great contrast to the restrictions put upon me during Avarice Amulet, the painting of Chief Engineer was surprisingly lacking in guidelines and strife. Chief Engineer also happens to be one of those weird hallmark pieces — not because of anything to do with the piece itself, but rather to do with the goings on around its creation. This piece was the first assignment I accepted after learning that Amy and I would be moving to Seattle from New Jersey, and it would be a rare painting done on the road.

Here's the art order I got in early June of 2013:
title: [Chief Engineer]
SKETCH DUE: 6/24/2013 12:00:00 AM    ART DUE: 7/19/2013 12:00:00 AM

Color: Blue creature
Location: Inside a artificer's assembly line.
Action: Show us a male vedalken artificer who is up on a walkway overseeing a group of laborers below. The vedalken's costuming could have all kinds of unique fittings and attachments that give him a feel of "master mechanic". The laborers are human and they are creating strange machines. [The trick here will be to keep it feeling fantasy and not sci-fi.]
Focus: The vedalken overseer.
Mood: "I demand perfection."
With the description in hand, I set to sketching immediately. I knew that we'd be needing to make the trip to Seattle in only a matter of a few short weeks, but at the time I wasn't exactly sure when. My goal was to have the sketch approved, my surface prepared, the sketch transferred and the underpainting completed before heading out. Of course, that all depended on whether or not I could put together a sketch that earned approval.

It seemed to me that I was given a pretty big gift here. The fact that the piece was not a part of a particular set was awesome, as it allowed me to make a lot of stuff up. Plus, there was a vedalken involved, and it turns out after painting Grand Architect that I rather like painting those lanky blue-skinned folks. This was definitely my kind of piece. The only hiccup, in fact, was waiting an extra day to find out whether this particular vedalken was of the two-armed or four-armed variety (this varies depending on the world we're talking about as they appear in many different iterations). After being assured that we needed just two arms (a bit of a bummer as a four-armed engineer would have been kind of awesome), I knocked out this sketch:

©Wizards of the Coast

Luckily, this sketch was given the go ahead and I managed to do exactly what I hoped. Before getting on a plane to Seattle, I got the piece put together and the underpainting finished. My art supplies were being shipped across country and I'd be good to go once my feet hit on the ground.

Unfortunately, due to the needs of making a smooth transition, this was not a piece I got back to for a couple weeks. Upon our arrival in Seattle, our first priority was to find a place to live, and this is something that took an unexpectedly long time. It was a much longer slog than expected and we began to get dangerously close to Amy's start date at her new job, which would have complicated apartment hunting beyond measure.

Fortunately, only a few short days before that deadline, we found a place to rent and settled our schedule for the remainder of July and the beginning of August (something that required a trip back to New Jersey to settle our affairs and pack our belongings up, a trip back to Seattle, and more temporary housing while we waited for our boxes to arrive at our new flat). With the dust beginning to settle, Amy began her new job on Monday, July 8th. And that was the first day I finally got to work on this guy.

©Wizards of the Coast

This piece is the usual oil on paper on hardboard and measures 12 inches wide by 9 inches tall.

For the most part, this piece was painted in a basement apartment on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle. Aside from my art supplies, I brought some lighting, a tabletop easel, and an old sheet to use as a drop cloth. It was nothing like the space I was accustomed to working in, but it ended up being pretty comfy. And once the painting was finished, I drove it down to Wizards of the Coast and handed it in in person — the first time I'd ever done that in my entire career.

This is another piece that falls under the category of something I'm not unhappy with. There are a few tweaks I might make to fix a thing or two, but overall I'm quite pleased with it. Honestly, I was extremely fortunate that it come together as well as it did under the circumstances. I was surprisingly free of stress throughout, and managed to just buckle down and get everything done.

Still, even if I didn't like the piece, I'd likely still have a soft spot for it. After all, it coincided with a pretty big shift in my life, so I guess it's fair to say that it's pretty special to me.


  1. I love that bit about keeping it fantasy rather than sci-fi. I'm mulling over a dissertation on the distinction between those two genres and the role of the gaming industry in maintaining it, so I'm always interested to see such explicit directions as this. You produced a particularly nice background here, almost like a Renoir. Did you have any thoughts on what they were building, or was it just interesting shapes?

    1. The distinction of the two genres can be a bit messy at times. There are certainly worlds in Magic that ride that line pretty hard and there are individual pieces that come pretty close to crossing it. If memory serves, at one time among the staff at Wizards, Magic's sensibilities were described as "mage punk," which is like some weird offshoot of a subset. Or something. But, it definitely isn't straight fantasy (or "high fantasy" as some folks like to call it). The strange thing is that the visual separation between the genres can sometimes be very difficult to determine. A klingon, for example, looks pretty much like something you might run into in a dungeon despite being an accepted part of a very scifi world. On the other hand, if you pull an Izzet human from Ravnica out of Magic and put them in the right scifi context, they might feel right at home. So, at least within the confines of Magic finding the right aesthetic can be a difficult thing to nail down.

      In this case, the very fact that I was being asked to depict an engineer in a factory setting gave a specific context that could easily have been bent to serve either genre. Given that Magic already rides the genre line to a certain extent, it could have been a real headache. Honestly, though, I don't know exactly what choices I made that kept it feeling more like fantasy than scifi. Truth be told, I was more concerned about making it feel like Magic.

      Anyway, regarding the shapes in the background: in my mind, the factory workers are making a large, mechanical creature. The area we can see is where the machining and assembly the creature's legs is done. What exactly this creature looks like is something I haven't decided. Maybe someday they'll ask me to figure that out.


I welcome all comments, questions, and discussion so long as you keep it civil.