Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Invasive Surgery

In the past couple of years, Magic has revisited a number of its worlds and for the first time, Magic's storyline has returned to a world I helped build: Innistrad. Once again the game would explore the gothic horror genre and while I wasn't deeply involved as a part of the world-building team for the story's expansion, I was pretty excited about getting a chance to dig into the weird and wonderful plane, its brooding atmosphere, and it's varied inhabitants.

Invasive Surgery — the first piece assigned to me — was a great opportunity to dive into the deep end of the horror inherent to Innistrad, and I was ready to roll up my sleeves.
Location: In a mad scientist's lab
Action: Show a close-up of a female human "mad scientist" who is crouched over her test subject -- an exposed brain. (It should be pretty bloodless -- maybe we only see brain matter through a square in a sheet, or maybe the subject's opened head is angled away from us.) She looks like she's about to go taking samples from this brain -- maybe she has a small bowl in one hand and some sort of drill-like scooping tool in the other. She leans in with slightly twitchy glee, eager to take her first scoop.
Focus: The mad scientist
Mood: "This is for SCIENCE!"
Reading the art order and looking at the world guide reference, it seemed pretty obvious to me what the fine folks at Wizards were looking for, and so I went at it. Here's what the sketch ended up looking like:

©Wizards of the Coast

Balancing the needs of the piece was a little tough when pulling this together. I really wanted to show the patient's face and the description clearly was steering me away from that urge. I tried to find a compromise everyone would be happy with. When I got my feedback, the need for bloodlessness in the piece was reiterated and a request was made that lengthen the fabric covering the patient's face to just below the tip of the nose. Simple enough, and still allowing for some degree of showing the patient in some way. After agreeing to the changes, I went to paint.

©Wizards of the Coast

The finished piece is the usual oil on hardboard and measures fourteens inches wide by eleven inches tall.

While there are the usual tweaks I'd make to this piece and things I'd like to fix, I'm pretty happy with the final painting overall. If nothing else, it was a really nice reintroduction to the insanity of Innistrad and a fun chance to touch on parts of the world that I didn't get an opportunity to depict during the last go around. Honestly, for me there's nothing quite like getting to paint a manic lobotomist enjoying herself while plying her trade — even if it does make for another in a long line of creepy images I've created for Magic: the Gathering. This would only be the first from this new Magic set to to add to that pile of work, however...

Friday, March 11, 2016


Here's a random image from a while ago. Not sure how it got past me, but I stumbled upon the painting in my flat files the other day realized I never posted about it.

No real story behind it, really. Like other pieces before it, I took a some gessoed hardboard and started making marks in oil. No sketch, no real goal, just slapped down, random oil marks. Then I started wiping into those marks with a brush and thinner or a rubber blending tool. Then I'd push back with more paint, then back to wiping, etc. Once I started to see something develop, I worked into it to clarify the image until I could start to see a finish in my head. At that point, I finally began working toward the finish.

The nice thing about working this way is that it's immediate, forgiving, and very low stakes. The absolute worst case scenario is that I end up with a half-baked image that can be scraped away or a surface that now has a ton of random marks on it that I can work on top of. Neither of these scenarios particularly bothers me. Plus, because of the small size, we're not talking a lot of wasted materials, either (assuming one would consider exploration of one's medium without usable results a waste—which I actually don't).

©Steven Belledin

The finished painting is five inches wide by seven inches tall and is oil on gessoed hardboard.