Monday, September 15, 2014

Ankle Shanker

For the first time since Innistrad, I had a pretty good idea what was coming with the latest Magic: the Gathering expansion set. However, my knowledge was not due to being a member the Khans of Tarkir concept team. Rather, I was involved a bit later in the process and helped flesh out some things well after the world had been established (something I'll be expounding upon at a later date). As a result, I got to see the Khans style guide before it had been fully completed and gained a pretty intimate understanding of this new world along the way.

My first assignment in Tarkir was for two paintings. The first I'm going to talk about is (as the title suggests) Ankle Shanker.

It's a rare thing that I get asked to paint goblins. I'm not sure whether this is due to a belief that my talents are better served elsewhere or that they are a subject I'm not particularly interested in. Given that I don't have a complete understanding of how the variety of pieces in a given set are actually assigned to the various artists involved, I can't rightly or intelligently comment on the first point. The second point, however, is entirely incorrect. I like goblins and I like painting them even more. So I was pretty excited when I was asked to depict a Tarkir goblin.

Here's the assignment itself:
ART ID: 156597    title: [Ankle Shanker]
Clan: Mardu
Color: Black, red, and white creature
Location: Scrubby steppe
Action: This is a female goblin warrior of the Mardu Horde. She is famed for her speed and ferocity on the battlefield. Show her charging toward us on foot, dripping saliva as she roars, brandishing a sharp-bladed Mardu sword. Perhaps she wears a torn Mardu banner as a scarf/cape.
Focus: The Mardu goblin warrior
Mood: What she lacks in size she makes up for in viciousness. It will probably be a bit funny given her proportions, but she takes battle (and herself) very seriously, so probably best if you play it straight here.
For me, a notable aspect about this assignment was the specific request for a female goblin. I have no idea whether or not this has been asked of anyone before in Magic (I'm sure it has), but this was certainly a first for me. Looking at the style guide, the sex of the goblin designs were not explicitly stated, but I went out on a limb and guessed that they were all male. The issue then became how to feminize the goblin and figure out how far to take that feminization.

Instinctively, I felt that I shouldn't push very far at all. The last thing I wanted to do was add hips and lipstick. Instead, I felt I should start by removing some of the hair and slightly softening some of the features. The eyes got a bit larger and rounder, the lips a bit plumper. And that was about all I did.

The result was this sketch:

©Wizards of the Coast

Fortunately, the folks at Wizards seemed to dig the direction I was headed and gave the go ahead to proceed. Here's how the painting that resulted came out:

©Wizards of the Coast

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

Despite my attempts, I think our little goblin friend still reads as pretty masculine. Not the end of the world, but I think another pass might have helped indicate a slightly more female vibe. But it's still entirely possible that if one were to see this goblin next to her hairier male counterparts perhaps her sex might be a bit more obvious. Or not. Either way, I gave it the old college try.

Aside from the issue of sex, I think maybe I could have shifted the legs to exaggerate the pose more. Action shots are not really my strong suit and I sometimes fall short of really nailing motion. I think that is a bit of an issue in this piece, but I also don't think the pose criminally stiff. The whole thing might have benefited from another pass during the sketch phase to see if I could really make her fly. But that didn't happen and so here we are.

When the card came out, I discovered that my image was used only for the Intro Pack version of the card. Zoltan Boros did the art for the standar card found more commonly in card packs everywhere. I can't say as I have much of an opinion either way on that move by Wizards. The truth is, whenever there are multiple illustrations done for a single card, it always polarizes the audience to a certain extent and one will hear folks preferring one image over another. It's only natural. We like what we like.

A blatant disadvantage of having my art only on the Intro Pack version of the card is that it's likely that the vast majority of folks playing will not associate my art with the card itself. To an extent, this affects how iconic the image ends up being. But, the upside is that my version appears in this cool package and I'll get one or two of those for my collection. So there's that.

Regardless of what I would change and how folks out there will feel about it, I rather like my Ankle Shanker illustration. It was fun to lose myself in painting its angry little face and flowing ginger hair, its busted armor plates and little red cloths. When I tell folks that it's criminally fun to do what I do for a living, this is the stuff I'm talking about. This truly is a dream job at times and I hope I never have to wake up.


  1. Great artwork!
    The intro pack version of the card was spoiled first, so I associate you artwork more with the card than that which is now sold in the booster packs.
    And I think your version is much more scary, which is fitting to this card with its very scary effect.

    1. Interesting. Hadn't considered that the fact that it was spoiled first would make much of an impression, but it stands to reason. Thanks a lot!

  2. This is my favorite KTK card art. Refreshingly serious take on Goblins, amazing work!

  3. Steven, thanks for the insight into the process.

    Your art of this card was actually the one that was spoiled first, and was the one people associated with this card when it was spoiled. Ankle Shanker has a pretty strong and fun ability, too, so your awesome goblin will certainly not be forgotten.

    Personally, I love the art!

    1. Thanks a lot! I'm glad you appreciate the look behind the curtain. It's a lot of fun taking folks like yourself behind the scenes. Glad you dig the piece!

  4. I associate your art with the card because I think of it as the proper rendition of a specific goblin. The Planeswalker's Guide to Tarkir reveals that Ankleshank is the warname of a female goblin warrior named Yasimin.

    1. Thanks a lot for the link. I was completely unaware of most of that and it's quite interesting to know there's more than just a fun name behind it all.


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