Friday, December 30, 2016

Herald of the Fair

As with every Magic expansion, there is a story that goes along with Kaladesh, and that story centers on an inventors' fair. Machines and contraptions of all kinds are on display and the world is abuzz over the new technology on offer. Standing above the throngs of citizens eager to take a gander at the latest and greatest devices on offer stands the the Herald of the Fair. Equal parts salesmen, town crier, and circus ringleader, he directs the masses and keeps them abreast of each day's events. At least, that's my take on him. I'm sure there's a lot more to him. Or not. But for the purposes of the depiction I was asked to make, that's about all I needed to be concerned about.

The vast majority of illustration work I do for Magic requires little in the way of really deep thought or conceptualization. Many of the images I create can simply be boiled down to figuring out what elements need to be included (often times this is made clear in the art description provided by Wizards of the Coast—complete with reference images or styleguide page numbers that lead me to those reference images), figuring out the priority of those elements (this is usually pretty clearly indicated by the aforementioned art descriptions), arranging those elements in a way that I (and hopefully the fine folks at Wizards) find interesting, and finally making the image. Most of the time, all I need to know is in the styleguide. Sure I'll supplement that with additional reference imagery that I dig up or photograph myself, but the vast majority of the design choices are already made by the time I get my assignment.

Herald of the Fair is no different from such cases and thus is as simple as they come. The art description (which again I failed to save), asked for a man standing above a crowd of people beckoning them to enter a large building or arena to see the wonders of the fair. He needed to be speaking into a device that amplifies his voice in some way. Images of how he would be dressed were provided (though I got to make a few minor aesthetic choices), and his location was also made clear (though that ended up being a bit more generalized for the purposes of the piece).

Taking that art order, I looked at the various pieces and assembled them thusly:

©Wizards of the Coast

Despite lacking any kind of detail in the crowd, this piece was approved.

While I don't do this all the time, in this case I printed the sketch out as a monochrome image (I think it was reddish-brown) on watercolor paper. I then take that printed sketch and paste it down onto a piece of hardboard. The printed sketch is then sealed with several layers of matte acrylic medium which I'll sand down when dry to a relatively smooth surface. Then it's ready to be painted on with oils.

Here's how the painting came out.

©Wizards of the Coast

The finished piece measures fourteen inches wide by eleven inches tall.

One will note immediately that there are some obvious differences between sketch and finish. For one, the herald now has a sash. I think he was always meant to, but I'd forgotten to put one on in the sketch and the Art Director somehow missed it. I ended up double-checking with the Art Director in the midst of painting the piece and learned that my suspicions were correct, so I included one. Additionally, there are some minor architecture changes in the background that I felt necessary as I fleshed the piece out (a better way to put this might be that I made the scribbles into architecture). Beyond that, I ended up tweaking the herald's pose a bit to make him a bit (mostly the hands) to push him a bit more toward performer. Pretty nit-picky stuff, but I somehow felt it all necessary at the time.

Anyway, as with much of my work I handed the piece in and sort of forgot about it. The painting sat in my flat files for about a year waiting for the set to be revealed. When Wizards of the Coast began to ramp up promotion for the set, I was surprised and amazed to find that the herald was featured in the set's video trailer. Not only was he featured, but he moved and talked. Pretty weird to see something I've done come alive to that extent. And a little unsettling. But hey, I'll take it.

Friday, December 23, 2016


I've had the distinct pleasure of being a part of several concept teams over the years that have helped build some of Magic's many worlds. The plane of Kaladesh was one such opportunity, and while it wasn't exactly in my wheelhouse aesthetically, I did a niche to explore: the gremlins. The gremlins were something I worked quite hard on and though the finalized versions printed in the Kaladesh styleguide ended up having very minor differences to my original designs in the end, they were still very much mine.

Funny enough, the design itself isn't exactly out of the ordinary—frankly, the gremlins ended up looking a lot like baby aardvarks—but they took a bit of a winding path to get there. Originally, my designs were deemed to goblin-like, which was a problem because the gremlins really needed to be distinctly separate from goblins. What Art Director Jeremy Jarvis wanted to get across with the design was that these things caused damage but did so without any intent or malice. Destruction was just a side effect of their being. That sentiment immediately led me down the path that produced the first drawing of a gremlin:

©Wizards of the Coast

Sure, things evolved from there (I ended up giving them another pair of legs, bigger eyes, different proportions and various color treatments), but this was how they started, and from there I got to explore them quite a bit.

I'll be getting to those explorations in a future post, but for now here are two important things to understand about Kaladesh and its gremlins: first, in the world of Kaladesh all of the machines, vehicles and contraptions runs on this magical element called "aether" that swirls about in the sky and is harvested by great airships. This aether is blue and glowy, and it is the thing upon which gremlins feed. Second, as stated above, gremlins destroy things and do so unintentionally—they're probably not even aware that they're doing it. As the design evolved, it was decided that gremlins secrete an acidic and corrosive oil from their skin and this is what does all the damage. This corrosion is typically indicated by a purple and green crust that forms on metal.

Anyway, after working so hard on the little guys it should be no surprise that when one of the Art Directors inquired as to whether I had any requests for assignments that requested a gremlin. And a gremlin is what I got in Demolish.

For some reason during this period of time I was out of the habit of saving my actual assignment descriptions, but this one I remember fairly well. I was asked to paint a gremlin laying in the remains of a mechanical construct called the Chief of the Foundry. The gremlin, having just fed on the aether running the device, has a telltale glow and sits among the wreckage as the remaining aether dissipates around him.

Pretty simple in concept, honestly. In delivery, however, I knew it would be a bit of a challenge. The primary cause of this challenge is that mechanical constructs really aren't my strong suit. I mean, it's a lot of straight lines, gears, and reflective metal. I knew I could do it, but I also knew it would be a heck of a time investment to really make the image sing. Fortunately, I didn't have to worry about so many specifics in the sketch. I knew pretty quickly what I wanted to do with it and tore through my preliminary quickly in order to give myself as much time as possible on the finished painting.

©Wizards of the Coast
The advantage of getting away with sketches like this is that I get to merely indicate aspects of the mechanical construct rather than fully articulating them. While there are some recognizable shapes in there, the rest is just scribbles. I knew I'd have to reconcile that when the time came to paint the piece, but for the time being I was just hoping the fine folks at Wizards liked where I was headed. Fortunately they were. Unfortunately, I was once again reminded of how not having everything planned can sometimes be a headache.

The thing is, the style guide for a world like this has a wealth of information. It had examples of decorative gears, various types of filigree, and even basic shape language. I knew that in order to keep the construct feeling like the Chief of the Foundry, that I needed to nail a few key components. So, I kept the head and chest plate in as well as a few legs and hip joints. Then I started adding additional parts of the creature's design jumbled together. Beyond that I really didn't know what to do. Deconstructing something like this is pretty beyond me so in order to figure it all out I started asking some serious questions like: do these things need wires? I mean, they don't run on electricity, they run on aether so does that even require wiring of any kind? What about pistons? How do the joints work? Etc., etc., etc.

While there is a degree of importance to making it feel believable, it took a long time to realize that I was probably overthinking things. After all, I'm not an engineer and these questions were just a distraction. Answering them was only tangential to the success of the piece. In the end, my biggest issues would come from how reflective to make the metal and how accurate the reflections needed to be. I discovered the solution to those issues as I painted. Because of the jumbled nature of the construct's remains, I found that the more accurate and reflective the metal became, the more difficult it became to read the piece. It became harder and harder to see the larger shapes among all the reflections. Luckily, the gremlin was always easy to see given how different he is from the metal, but much of the construct's remains became visual noise that I decided I needed to quiet down and simplify.

So, what started as a panic to try and figure out the inner-workings of a fictional, aether/mechanical-driven construct ended up being about paring things down and making things readable. In doing this, I effectively painted much of the piece twice.

©Wizards of the Coast

The finished painting is oil on paper on hardboard and measures sixteen inches wide by twelve inches tall.

One of the saving graces of this painting is that the various elements I was asked to include in the piece had relatively limited palettes. The construct was sort of a brass color with red and blue accents. The gremlin was a pinkish color with purple accents and its corrosion the aforementioned green/purple. The aether was vibrant blue. These few colors in their variations meant that the piece could be accomplished with a relatively limited palette. It also meant that I could utilize things like the red accents on the metal and the purple of the corrosion to move the viewer's eye around the composition. Lastly, the shock of bright blue juxtaposed next to the bright, fleshy pink was really valuable in terms of hammering home a focal point.

In a very real way, this piece probably represents the most effort I've ever put into a Magic painting. There's a lot of stuff in there and the fact that I ended up reworking vast areas of the piece meant it ate up a fair amount of time. That I struggled with it and came away with something I actually like is no small miracle to me. So often I have a difficult time getting past the adversity I experience in the making of a thing and end up with strong negative associations. This one, though, felt like a real win—even at the time.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Tangleclaw Werewolf, Fibrous Entangler

As part of the concepting team that brought world of Innistrad to life back in May of 2010, I did not expect to get a chance to revisit that world beyond in the assignments to come. I figured that upon completing my last piece for that expansion block of Magic, I would be done with that world of gothic horror forever. I was wrong. Magic would return to Innistrad, and while I was not officially on the concept team for this new sojourn, I ended up contributing a few things since I happened to be in the Wizards of the Coast office for something completely unrelated. I also got to paint a few things. Here is a tale of two of those paintings.

One of the new card types Magic introduced in the original Innistrad block were double-faced cards for changeling creatures. On one side would be Dr. Jekyll, on the other, Mr. Hyde. In this case (as in many others), the double-faced card represented a werewolf. In the first go around with Innistrad, I got to do art for one of these (link). This time, however, the art would require something a bit different. The starting point would be the wolf rather than the human, and card's other face would reveal the horror that that wolf would become.

While I could go on about Magic's storyline and the implications for the sets "Shadows Over Innistrad" and "Eldritch Moon," suffice it to say that this return to Innistrad reveals that something has entered that world and has begun to change it. People and creatures are becoming deformed, buildings are changing shape, tentacle-like vines are cropping up everywhere. There is clearly something more horrifying than usual going on. The result being that much of the art done for these bits of story required some pretty weird deviations to the usual Innistrad nightmares.

Anyway, I seem to have lost my art descriptions on these two but as memory serves, in the first piece I was asked to paint a werewolf with some minor, subtle deformities in an alley. Perhaps there might be some people running for their lives. In the second piece, I was asked to depict the horrifying, tentacle-covered creature that that werewolf turned into about to pounce on a villager. This horror needed to be somewhat recognizable as having been a werewolf at some point. Seemed pretty clear to me, and so I went to work.

©Wizards of the Coast

Here's our werewolf with a few elongated fingers and hints of tentacles in his fur.

©Wizards of the Coast

And here's our horror, lunging at a poor villager.

The Art Director approved the werewolf piece, but felt I could push the horror further. It was decided that the creature felt too much like a werewolf, and so I was asked to give it another go.

©Wizards of the Coast
This one, they liked and they gave me the green light.

©Wizards of the Coast

Here's the finished Tangleclaw Werewolf. The painting is oil on paper on hardboard and it measures twelve inches wide by nine inches tall.

©Wizards of the Coast
Here's the finished Fibrous Entangler. The painting is also oil on paper on hardboard and measures twelve inches wide by sixteen inches tall.

Looking at these pieces, I don't have a lot to say. I don't have any distinct memories of working on either one and I remember them being pretty straightforward. The only thing that really sticks out at me on these pieces is how dark I got with both of them. I treated them more graphically from the start and I feel like that's somehow evident even in the finish. Normally it takes me a while to build up to the level of darkness seen in this work, but I remember going for those darks pretty early in the painting process. Maybe it was the gothic horror aspect of it, maybe it was the digital color studies I'd done, or maybe these pieces were just in my comfort zone. Whatever the case, they came pretty easily for me, which is unusual.

In the end, I'm pretty pleased with how both paintings came out. Subject matter-wise, they have a pretty small audience and probably aren't the kind of thing most folks want to hang in their house, but that's hardly the concern of the assignment. Whatever the case, they're done and out there, and I get to move on.