Hello fine folk of the internet and good people all around. Many a time have I started an article and found myself lost for time in finishing one due to my busy schedule for, among other things, and you guessed it: Magic: The Gathering!
So what more of a fitting theme for this blog, which will finally go up, on how how I create some of my magic work! I will take you through some of the steps I take and how a brief actually looks like. For this piece I have selected "Icy Manipulator" art directed by none other than the great Kelly Digges whom I've had a great time working with and has unfortunately since moved on from Wizards of the Coast.
When we get commissioned to do work most of the time the client will send us a description of the work they'd like to have, we call this the brief. Magic has a very streamlined system which gives us all the information we need in order to create the image which consists of a brief but also a style guide that comes with it. This style guide, a glorious 300+ page book of concepts made specifically for each magic world, will provide us with design callouts and much more. Normally, cards we receive have code or temporary names but, in the case of reprints we know exactly what it will be. So here is the brief:
Art ID: 405842
Art Title: [Icy Manipulator]
Size: 3334 x 2449 pixels • Sketch Due: 8/11/2017 • Final Due: 8/28/2017
Color: Colorless artifact
Location: Your choice
Intention: This is a brand-new take on a classic card. We're hoping for something that's unique and cool without owing anything to any previous versions.
Action: An Escher-esque impossible shape floats in front of us. (See refs for the shapes we have in mind.) Perhaps it's made of black steel, or maybe it's made entirely of ice. The object's immediate surroundings are unnaturally frozen and coated in ice. Perhaps it's floating in a tropical forest that's now covered in frost, or in front of or above a little fountain that's frozen solid. Things further from it could be normal temperature, but the majority of what we see should be near the thing and frozen.
We know we want an impossible shape and a sense of extreme cold. Other than that, feel free to run with something that contradicts the above if you think it'll make for a singular, striking piece.
Focus: The artifact
Mood: Sinister, impossible, and very, very cold
Notes: This card is a reprint, and its name is final. This concept is an intentional departure from the “springtime” topline of SOUP.
This brief is perfect. It gives enough information to work from but also a nice challenge in designing something unique. As an artist it doesn't get a lot better than this. There was however the small challenge of coming up with an Escher like impossible shape. That my friends, was not easy.
The impossible shape:
Here is the ref I got:
Right. So these look very cool but are tricky to design around. Right from the get go I knew I wanted something that could show the actual icy core. My idea was simple: The impossible shield would be the casing, a mysterious prison, for the super dangerous icy core. So, I got cracking and tried to come up with an impossible shape.
Research plays a huge role in this job, so I found myself browsing forums and other websites trying to find a reliable way of making an Escher like impossible shape. I found some nice resources and tips and started to narrow down my focus using colors to help me identify the impossible connections. Diagonals were my friend.
Ah yes! A lead! Maybe snowflakes would be a good jumping off point. On brand too! Oh, wait, there is a problem with a lot of these shapes. They aren't 3 dimensional enough. Most of the shapes I found were either too flat or too compressed. I needed my goldilocks shape. I needed it to be just right. I was trying to find the right shape to work from, something easy. Something... I looked at my desk:
And there it was, staring at me in plain sight, the glorious dodecahedron, otherwise known as the D12. It has the perfect balance between faces and space. Not too compressed, not too noisy and complicated. So what if I just simply grabbed a D12 and do some tricksy stuff with it.
I briefly mentioned diagonals were my friend and boy were they ever. By simply grabbing the back face, which normally isn't visible, and placing it up front with some impossible connections I could quickly create a truly impossible shape. Having knowledge of perspective helped me wrap my head around the connections and how to make them seem believable, yet, impossible.
Now, you might wonder. Titus, is this all you did before you landed on this design? No, dear reader, it was not! There are tons of slushed sketches but I will give you a peak as to what might've been if I hadn't changed my mind, pushed harder and gone the extra mile:
Now that I have a shape, I need a theme. Backstories help tremendously with making a believable scene, so I had to come up with one for the Icy Manipulator. Dominaria is an incredibly rich world, with many opportunities to come up with something cool, but making an image is more about visual interest than anything else, meaning that the way I look for a backstory is different. In images, contrast rules supreme. Constrast can be anything, light versus dark, hot versus cold, and so on. I knew that the manipulator would be cool, so I needed something warm (this is why I initially went to Shiv) but also, the manipulator freezes so I need to show something easily identifyable as frozen. Like a fountain for example. A fountain however had a bit of an issue for me: it was too boring. Who would place this artifact on top of a fountain? How did it even get there? No, I had to come up with something more compelling. And what better of a fit than a organisation turned death cult lead by the demonlord Belzenlok himself. The warm red banners of the cabal are a perfect opposite (contrast) to the blue of the icy manipulator. Their warm church tones provide a great backdrop for the device but at the same time there is also a narrative overlap, at least in my mind, of a cult that will use every and any device to gain an advantage. A stolen manipulator to further their cause. A Cabal cathedral had to be the backdrop.
From here things moved really fast. I was in familiar territory now. Painting architecture is my jam and the manipulator was sorted. So I started out with a line sketch and to my surprise nailed it on the first go.
So a lot of composition stuff is happening here. If anyone wants to know more, feel free to take one of my classes! I will host one later this year in September via the platform of none other than Noah Bradley himself.
Moving on, painting the thing.
Told you things would move fast from here! For me, the image now is basically done. All I need to do is finish it. Not the most interesting part of the process but a necessary one. This painting was made on 9000px wide so it took a fair bit of time painting in all the details. The benefit of working really big is that details compress down on small sizes and look extra crispy and nice.
A look at the core at almost it's native resolution (had to shrink it a little) show's the impossible shape. Glass like structures moving criss cross, trying to contain the icy core. The power of the core is spilling out and even in small amounts is utterly freezing it's surroundings. Imagine if it every got loose!
There you have it my friends, this is how I create most magic cards. They are all special in their own way and I try to tell stories with each and every one of them. It's good to be back writing these and I hope you enjoyed reading this one. As a bonus, here is something I do with each and every card I do. Testing them on card frames over and over until it works.
If you want to support me:
If you enjoy what you read here I would really appreciate your support! I've made some very sweet mini prints, including the Icy Manipulator, and am selling them for a steal. You can have a look by clicking the image:
Thanks again for all the kind words over the years and being an awesome community. It's you guys that make me go the extra mile on all my work!