Monday, October 15, 2012

Gandalf: A Light in the Dark

Gandalf: A Light in the Dark
oil on board, 20" x 24"

"The last thing that Pippin saw, as sleep took him, was a glimpse of the old wizard huddled on the floor, shielding a glowing chip in his gnarled hands between his knees. The flicker for a moment showed a sharp nose, and a puff of smoke."
A Journey in the Dark, The Fellowship of the Ring
J.R.R. Tolkien 

This painting is my offering in a trade with a friend and fellow artist Raoul Vitale. I asked for a painting of Bilbo in front of Bag End. You can see his piece on his blog here. Raoul has sent me a picture of the finish, and it's spectacular.

From me, Raoul requested a painting of Gandalf. I chose a moment during the Fellowship of the Ring's trek through the mines of Moria. Unsure of the way, and weary from the long journey through the dark, they have stopped to rest. The fate of the mission rests on his ability to remember the way and lead them safely through. In his anxiety, and perhaps troubled by a prescience of the challenge he will soon face, Gandalf needs a smoke.

Though the wizard is an immortal spirit of unfathomable power, in Middle Earth he is bound to clad himself in the body of an old man, subject to the pains, the cares and fears, and the weariness of an earthly existence.

On a side note, The passage from Tolkien that begins this post mentions a "glowing chip". The only thing I knew about how those in Middle Earth would light their pipes is that they didn't use zippos. Tinder boxes are sometimes mentioned (maybe that's from my D&D days, I'm not sure).  Either way, I had no idea how they actually work. I found this video on youtube that answered the question for me.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


oil on paper mounted to board, 12" x 16"
©Wizards of the Coast

Dynacharge is the fourth of four cards I illustrated for the Return to Ravnica expansion set. Here we see Izzet guild soldiers protected by surging electricity. I remember using Christmas ornament ballsto determine the color of reflections in the armor. Also, this piece also gave me a chance to use a cool looking visor-ed burgonet helmet I had wanted to use since I saw it in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  

There's no substitute for seeing the real thing

The other thing I remember about this piece is that, ironically, this is what I was working on when my computer was damaged by a surge of bad, or "dirty" electricity as it was described to me. I have my computer positioned next to my easel so I can use it to look at my reference, studies, and all that. I don't print it out anymore. I get up to refresh my ever present cup of coffee, and when I return my computer is off. I try to turn it back on, and nothing. Not another outlet, not after 10 minutes, nothing. Completely dead. To make matters worse, it just so happened to be the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving. I'd have to wait a day, and then trek to the Apple store in the Cherry Hill Mall on what ominously known as "Black Friday". To anybody reading this who might be unaware, it's regarded as the opening day of the Christmas shopping season. The stores are packed. I remember handling it about as well as George Costanza would.
It actually turned out to not be as bad a I feared. I got lucky, it only took me a half hour to find a parking spot, and I had kept the box, so the computer was safe as it was bumped around as I lugged through the crowds.  After about another half hour or so,  it was looked at and it turned out that only some sort of internal battery had to be replaced. The afore mentioned "dirty" power shorted it out, preventing it from turning on. Nothing else was lost or damaged, and everything was still under warranty. 
My wife and I also decided to get back-up batteries (Uninterruptible Power Supplies) for both computers as well. If the power goes out, the computer will stay on, allowing you enough time to power down safely.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Fall of the Gavel

Fall of the Gavel
oil on paper mounted on board, 12" x 16"
©Wizards of the Coast

Initially my idea for this piece was to have the accused, a Golgari elf, in the scene. I liked the idea and felt it worked for the card. Showing the judge banging the gavel should take priority though, and this would be more difficult to emphasize when reduced to card size. 

Or at least that's what I convinced myself.  Concentrating on the judge alone also allowed me to indulge myself in all those cool details of costume. In this case the silken robes, the silver metal and the blue orbs, and runes of legal code that decorate the garb of the Azorius guild. 

Giving the gavel some motion wasn't something I thought to do until the finish. He might have just been holding the gavel, but some blur and a few sparks seemed to do the trick.

Another thing I remember about this piece was being uncertain about vedalken anatomy (the vedalken are a blue skinned race of humanoids that appear in many of the settings in Magic). Some of the concept art had them with very long necks, while others had necks closer of human length.  As it turned out, either one was fine and the only concern for the art director, Jeremy Jarvis, was that the face not look like an alien. So I kept the longer neck. More room for more detail.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Knightly Valor

Knightly Valor
oil on paper on board, 12" x 16"
©Wizards of the Coast

In Knightly Valor, we see the same knight pictured in the token card from the last post. Here he is escorting an elderly woman through a the neighborhood he patrols. She is appreciative of the safety he provides in what is probably a rough neighborhood. Beware Ravnican purse-snatchers!

I rarely do complete character designs for two dimensional images. Rather, the design is tailored to work within the a specific abstract composition.  So it was a little odd to be constrained by making the knight exactly the same, but work in two different compositions.

An early attempt. Notice the conical helmet. This was deemed too medieval looking and changed.

Although this is a depiction of a chivalry, it couldn't come off as too sentimental. I didn't want this guy to look too much like a Boy Scout.  This was is the flaw in the sketch above. 
The sketch

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Knight Token

 Knight of Ravnica
Oil on paper mounted to board, 13" x 14 1/2" 
©Wizards of the Coast

This is the first card to be revealed that I illustrated for the upcoming Magic:The Gathering set, Return to Ravnica. The story with this character is that he is a local knight who protects the inhabitants of his neighborhood. Unaffiliated with any guild, his armor and clothing are unadorned with any device and are of a somewhat utilitarian design.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Chesley Award!

The winners of the 2012 Chesley Awards were announced at Chicago World Con Friday night, and The Cloud Roads was honored with the award for the best paperback cover illustration. The Chesleys, named for renowned artist Chesley Bonestell, are given by the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists for excellence in sci-fi/fantasy art. It's a tremendous honor in this field, given the high quality of the work considered. Thank you to ASFA and all that voted and participated, and Congratulations to all the winners and nominees! Check out this post to see all the nominees and winners.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ajani Sunstriker

 Ajani Sunstriker
oil on paper mounted to MDF, 12" x 16"
©Wizards of the Coast

Ajani Sunstriker is my sole contribution, outside of a reprint of Rootbound Crag, to the new M13 core set. She is the trusted lieutenant of Ajani Goldmane the planeswalker, shown with a cadre of her leonin troops. I wanted to show her allegiance to Ajani in the design of costume. In the sketch below, she wears a pauldron shaped like a lions head. This was, however, to distract from with her head, so I moved Ajani's visage to the pommel of the Sunstriker's mace. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

At the Edge: Art of the Fantastic

 Beauty and the Beast by Thomas Blackshear II
©Thomas Blackshear II

It's a tremendous honor to announce that a painting of mine, The Battle Under the Mountain, will be included in the At the Edge:Art of the Fantastic show at the Allentown Art Museum. The show will be the most comprehensive exhibition of fantasy art ever. Not only will it include present day masterpieces, but work from throughout the 20th and 19th centuries. And in a museum setting, it's great to see that art from this genre is finally getting some of the respect it deserves. A good deal of the credit for this new found respect has to go to the curators of the show, Pat and Jeannie Wilshire.  Can't wait to see the show!!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Saints of the Apocalypse

 Saints of the Apocalypse
oil on panel, 25" x 40" ©SDN Creations

Rounding out the raft of work that came out from under NDA in the past few weeks is this piece I painted last summer. It's called Saints of the Apocalypse, and it's for any upcoming RPG. Thanks to Rian for letting me show it a little early. The zombie looking humanoids are actually demons who are shedding their human forms as the attack the band of good guys in the middle. It's still referred to by my wife and I as "the zombie piece" though. 

I enjoyed working on it because it let me try something not in my high fantasy/Magic: The Gathering comfort zone. Maybe I'll try something Sci-Fi at some point too :) 

And some detail shots...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mana Crypt

I had a request to post this one. It's alternate art for a classic Magic:the Gathering card. It was used for a special promo card. I didn't know it was released until a few months after it was published, which was some time last year. Anyway, here ya go.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Spell Thief #3

 The Spell Thief #3, oil on board, 16" x 24"
© 2012 Idea and Design Works, LLC. Magic: The Gathering TM & © 2012 Wizards of the Coast LLC.

I just finished this not too long ago, and I'm able to show now. It's for The Spell Thief #3 for the Magic:The Gathering comic, featuring the planeswalkers Sorin Markov and Dack Fayden. The issue will be available in July.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Eric Wilkerson's Mech Racer

 Mech Racer, by Eric Wilkerson, 
oil on paper mounted to MDF, 13" x 19"©Eric Wilkerson

 A little while back, my friend and extremely talented artist Eric Wilkerson helped me out on a card illustration called Echo Mage. This lead to an agreement that we trade paintings-He would get Echo Mage, and I would get a portrait he would paint of me. Above is the fantastic result. You can read more about Eric and this piece here on his blog . The painting itself will be on display at Eric's booth the upcoming Spectrum Live show.

Echo Mage, Oil on paper mounted to MDF, 10 3/4" x 16 1/4", ©Wizards of the Coast

Thursday, April 26, 2012


 Aggravate, 12" x 16" oils on paper mounted to MDF

Here's the fourth and final illustration I did for Avacyn Restored. The story here is that a vampire hunter has put a vampires's manor house to the torch in order to flush them out. This is the second card for the Innistrad set where I was asked to paint vampires, the first being Vampiric Fury. The most interesting thing about the vampires for me was their clothing- opulent, decadent, and unusual. A good opportunity for historical research without the constraints of historical accuracy. When I think about it, I could say this about the whole set.

Innistrad has been my favorite set to work on to date. Kudos the guys who worked on the concept design for Innistrad . These are the artists who nail down the general design guidelines of the set before the card illustrations are commissioned. They did a spectacular job of taking a genre like Gothic horror, that has pretty established visual conventions (some of it shopworn and cliched in my opinion) and making it fresh, interesting, and new.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Amass the Components

Amass the Components, oil on paper mounted to MDF, 12" x 16"

Another piece for Avacyn Restored.  Painting someone more or less unhinged was fun. I was worried that she would come of as just happy and not crazy, but I think I got the expression right. I also enjoyed painting the different colors and degrees of viscosity of the liquids in the jars.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Nephalia Smuggler

Nephalia Smuggler, oil on paper mounted to MDF, 12" x 16"

Another piece for Avacyn Restored has been released. The art request for this one, Nephalia Smuggler was to paint " a sneaky-looking human criminal who specializes in smuggling people out of the country". A "mocking, creepy grin" and a "dagger and a nice, coin-purse hanging from his belt" were also suggested. The bit about the dagger and the coin purse made me think of him as somone like a Baron Harkonnen, Don Corleone, or Jabba the Hutt. Hence the heftiness of his physical stature. He doesn't get his hands dirty, at least most of the time. I'm kept thinking of him rebutting "I'm a businessman" as I painted him. He puts forward the image, but the roughness still shows through.

Monday, April 9, 2012


Wingcrafter, oil on paper mounted to MDF, 12" x 16"

Back in Innistrad set of Magic:The Gathering, I illustrated a card called Cobbled Wings. For the upcoming set Avacyn Restored set, I was given a chance to revisit the subject in Wingcrafter. We see the same inventor earlier that same day. It's dusk. He is dragging his ghastly flying contraption to the roof above his workshop. It's folded up on his back and needs some assembly before flight. It's still a couple hours before he takes his leap into the night above the coastal city of Nephalia.

In Magic:the Gathering, there are different types of cards; creatures, spells, artifacts, tokens, and lands. One should be able to tell the type of card from the illustration as much as possible. Spell cards should show the action of that spell. A creature card should focus on that creature, and so on. Cobbled Wings was an "artifact" card, and illustration focused on the flying wings. Wingcrafter is a "creature" card, so the illustration should be about the pilot.

Initially I was going to do a portrait. I love painting people, and not just beautiful people, but real looking people of different ages, types, etc. I wanted to cast what I thought a hermit-genius should look like. I love playing casting director. Above is my first idea.
The art description, however, asked that inventor be shown carrying his wings, "folded, and slung over his shoulder". The thumbnail idea above doesn't show that. In fact it looks like he's carrying a big kite, rather than the flying wings.

More of the wings needed to be seen, slung over his shoulder, folded in some way. When I designed the wings earlier for Cobbled Wings, I thought maybe they could fold up kind of like an accordion, but I didn't get that deeply into the conceptual design of it. I was also more concerned with how they looked spread open then closed up. In order to show the wings folded now, I had to push the idea further. How would they it fold? How would the struts articulate? Were there pieces that had to come off? Also, how would the wings be secured to his back, and how would he drag it along before flight?

Over the course of days, I went through a number of different ways to solve this. I eventually arrived at the idea above. I was happy with the solution of the wings, but the main problem was that it the composition of the sketch above was more about the wings than the pilot now. More appropriate for another artifact card illustration that a creature card. Back to the drawing board, literally and figuratively.

I had to sacrifice some details and move some things around, but I arrived at this version which I felt satisfied all the points I wanted to hit with this piece- the portrait of the man, the ways the wings fold, and some of the location and time of day so that there's a bit of storytelling going on too.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


"..and beside them walked Gimli the dwarf. He had no helm, and about his head was a linen band stained with blood; but his voice was loud and strong.
'Forty-two, Master Legolas!' he cried. 'Alas! My axe is notched: the forty-second had an iron collar on his neck. How is it with you?' "

J.R.R. Tolkien
The Lord of the Rings

Oil on panel, 18" x 24"

Friday, March 30, 2012

Gathering Magic Interview

Recently at Grand Prix Baltimore, I had the chance to be interviewed by Adam Styborski for Gathering Adam also writes the Serious Fun column on the Magic:The Gathering website. Here's the link to the video. Enjoy watching me babble on and on about myself!

Thursday, March 29, 2012


I just saw that this image was released a few weeks ago. It's called Timetwister. It's an alternate take on the art for the classic Magic card of the same name. It will not illustrate an actual card, but, like Force of Will last year, the original painting will be given as a prize. In this case, the winner of this year's Legacy World Championship at GenCon in August.
It's oils on paper mounted to MDF, 13" x 17" if I remember correctly.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Lambholt Elder/Silverpelt Werewolf

Innistrad is a world filled with many characters that are mild manner humans by day and vicious zombies and werewolves at night. Many of these characters appear on double faced cards, something new in this block. On these cards, one side depicts these creature in the light of day, and the other at night. For Innistrad's upcoming second act, Dark Ascension, I was asked to illustrate one. The daytime side is called Lambholt Elder, depicting an elderly, seemingly harmless herbalist in her humble shop.

Lambholt Elder
9" x 12" oil on paper mounted to board

The night version is Silverpelt Werewolf, a powerful silvery white werewolf howling at the moon. For these cards, the two pictures have to have a visual link to show that they are the same being in different incarnations. The link here is the shop. The iron fittings and the carved jamb of the door, the window, and the jars and pots give the viewer a clue that the old lady of the shop and the werewolf are one and the same.

Silverpelt Werewolf
11" x 14", oil on paper mounted to board