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20 year The Gatshoef Magic: ri page 46ng, on


CARD ARTIST Welcome to the world of professional trading card art In this special issue we take an inspiring look at the first 20 years of Magic: The Gathering and catch up with the artists creating characters for Blizzard’s Hearthstone. If you want to break into card art yourself, we have all the training you’ll need starting on page 66, including the art techniques of artists working at Blizzard and Magic: The Gathering. You’ll learn how to paint card art characters and creatures, how to create great compositions, how fundamental art theory can help you create professional card art, and much more.

Ian Dean, editor




Artist showcase


Amazing art, insight and interviews from around the world


20 Games on the move

The art challenges in creating card art for tablets and phones

24 The art of Hearthstone

Lead artist Ben Thompson shares the process behind Blizzard’s card art hit

28 Interview: Laurel Austin

The successful Blizzard artist reveals all about working on WoW and more

34 Pursue your passion

Crooz reveals what it takes to make it as a card artist at the studio

40 Aces in the hole

Admire the art of Japanese trading card game giant Applibot

years of 46 20 Magic: The Gathering The story behind the card game juggernaut’s first 20 years


54 Anthony S. Waters

How surrealism helped this artist break new ground in fantasy art


60 Sinad Jaruartjanapat

How a bright and fresh approach to fantasy art proved successful

28 4 Fantasy Card Artist



March 2016




68 Paint macabre card art 72 Card game creature art 76 Paint a spectral horse 80 Create a D&D character 83 Great compositions 88 A traditional art look 92 Adapting classic art 98 Better weapon designs 104 Capture light and magic 108 Compose a card hero 112 Capturing drama 118 Using translucent light 122 Rework a card character 124 Tell a story with details 128 Tell a story in an image 132 Using perspective Paint like Magic: The Gathering

Create a gruesome card art creature Use reference to create your art Capture the essence of a hero

Tips to give your art instant impact

Techniques to “age” your digital art



138 iPad Pro 140 Affinity Photo 1.4 142 Paintstorm Studio 1.5 142 Pixelmator 2.2 143 Fantasy in the Wild 144 Coverama 145 Heaven’s Hell 145 Guide to Sketching

Is the extra size worth the money? A subscription-free Photoshop rival

Custom brushes for all art styles

A photo editor adapted for artists James Gurney’s latest book is here Mark Simonetti’s collected cover art

A book of fantastic character art

Learn the fundamentals of drawing

Put a fresh spin on classic fantasy art Paint amazing fantasy swords

Evoke a scene of magical drama

Reimagine a hero for Hearthstone

Painting an epic Tolkien scene

Paint cloud, skin and clothing

Mix influences in a card painting Create detailed trading card art

Master the Applibot card art process

How to paint a dramatic scene





Get your free resources, including more than 11 hours of video training, custom brushes, step-by-step art and finished illustrations you can study!

Fantasy Card Artist 5



GALLERY A showcase of inspiring work from artists, illustrators and designers around the world

Vance Kovacs Location: US Web: Media: Photoshop Vance Kovacs is a typical modernday concept artist: he’s worked on feature films (Narnia) and video games (Unreal III) but continues to search for new ways to test his skills. He acknowledges his influences too: “I have a great respect for past artists, artists that I look to for inspiration – Arthur Rackham, NC Wyeth, Howard Pyle – that whole Golden Age of illustration, when the illustrators, as far as entertainment went, were the top guys,” he says. But that’s not to say there’s anything typical about his artwork, which is familiar enough to grab your attention but original enough to take you on new journeys in colour and composition. Vance has also worked on an array of card and tabletop games. He produced hundreds of character portraits for WizKids titles, including the sci-fi title Mechwarrior and Pirates of the Cursed Seas. He’s also done regular work for Wizards of the Coast and Magic: The Gathering over the years, and more recently he’s been doing World of Warcraft cards. “Magic cards are nice because I get to explore things visually. It’s not set in stone,” Vance explains. “They’re a little bit more open with the artists, whereas doing World of Warcraft, they want you to follow certain design guidelines. They have to fit in with the established Blizzard style, which makes sense. I think the game’s been a little bit successful…”

CERTAIN DEATH For this Magic: The Gathering card, Vance got to indulge his own fantasy – painting a dragon.

6 Fantasy Card Artist

Magic: The Gathering Š Wizards Of The Coast

Artist portfolios

Fantasy Card Artist 7

Gallery REALM SEEKERS Mike’s oil paintings are packed with detail but still clearly legible at card size.

Mike Sass Location: Canada Web: Media: Oils Mike spent over a decade at BioWare – he was the Canadian video game developer’s first in-house artist, where he worked on a string of hit RPGs, creating everything from box art and magazine covers to concept art and marketing illustrations. In 2009, Mike left BioWare to pursue his passion for fantasy illustration and oil painting. He’s since done illustrations for such celebrated franchises as Star Wars, World of Warcraft, Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons. “I now work almost exclusively in oils,” Mike says, although he has a substantial body of digital work behind him. “I’m at home combining gaming illustration with my love for the craft of painting.” Mike’s work for Magic: The Gathering includes some pretty off-the-wall concepts. Take Clockwork Golem, for example: it’s a scene of elves battling a robotic menace in a tomb, powered by an undead skeletal torso. Reckless Reveler depicts “a satyr setting fire to a Trojan horse. It was difficult to make that clear, having two elements of different scale, but I’m really happy with how it turned out,” Mike says. Battlefield Thaumaturge was also painted for Magic: The Gathering. “The client initially requested a shot from behind,” Mike reveals, “but I suggested this alternative pose and it was accepted.” Aerie Worshippers was Mike’s first oil painting for Magic: The Gathering. “Because of the classical theme, I chose to paint it quite a bit larger than card paintings are normally done,” says Mike, adding: “This painting was a finalist for the Art Renewal Center salon for imaginative realist painting.”

CLOCKWORK GOLEM Mike says he really enjoys painting multi-character, epic scenes like this one.

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Magic: The Gathering © Wizards Of The Coast

This Magic: The Gathering card painting was used on the event deck packaging for the game.

AERIE WORSHIPPERS Painted in oils on a panel at 18x24 inches, this piece is larger than card art usually is.

Fantasy Card Artist 9


Yap Kun Rong Location: Tokyo Web: Media: Photoshop It can take a brave step to take your art to the next level and find a new spark of life. For the young Singaporean Yap Kun Rong, that vital spark came from his move to Tokyo. The Japanese influence on his art transformed him into an up-and-coming phenomenon in the twin worlds of fantasy and sci-fi art. “Coming to Japan has opened my eyes like never before, in terms of style, technique and subject matter. It is totally different from the Western influences I have. For example, as much as I work meticulously on perspective, the ancient, perspective-free art from Japanese tradition has given me a lot more insight,” says the artist. In the process, it brought him into the realm of game card art. For example, one recent job that Kun Rong thinks has suited his style is a set of digital paintings for the fantasy card game Warlord CCG. His impressionist-like approach works well when the pictures are seen at smaller sizes on the cards themselves. Meanwhile, the medieval theme meant he could paint heroes, beasts and battles, which obviously provides a lot of fun for the young painter, not to mention some particularly welcome income. “I think card art is pretty fun and definitely much less taxing. For Warlords, it’s a medieval world so, yeah, I enjoyed doing the dirty medieval fantasy art,” he says.

ATTACK FORMATION This is one of several fantasy pieces Kun Rong has created for the collectable card game Warlord CCG.

10 Fantasy Card Artist

Artist portfolios

Fantasy Card Artist 11

© Sony Online Entertainment


Kieran Yanner Location: US Web: Media: Photoshop

FIRE SEED A card gaming character brings forth fire in the game Legends of Norrath.

Born and raised in the far northern Australian coastal city of Darwin, Kieran moved to the US at the age of 20 to pursue his dreams as a games and publishing artist. He has certainly turned his hand to a broad range of projects for a variety of clients. Working at Fantasy Flight Games, Paizo Publishing, Wizards of the Coast… the list goes on. Some of his favourite projects were the WARS trading card game and The Lord of the Rings trading card game, both published by Decipher. The former was a sci-fi-based affair, and in his work for the series he developed a style that combined painting and photo montage to great effect. Working on The Lord of the Rings card art, meanwhile, led him to develop his distinctive approach to colour. “I will say the one question I get asked a lot about is how I approach colour. I like strong raw colour. That came from working on the Lord of the Rings for Decipher and having to pump the colours of movie stills for print. Pushing colour for print has stuck with me since,” he says. Kieran’s process and approach changes depending on the project, but his favourite phase is usually developing thumbnails, working out the composition and mood of a piece. If he’s working on figurative artwork, he uses models, costumes and photography to develop his ideas. “I’d have the model come in for a shoot and spend some time explaining the concepts,” he says. “Typically by then I’ve rummaged through my costume selection and have lighting set up. I used to be pretty loose with costuming, but have grown to really like that part of the shoot. It feels a little like a scene from a movie unfolding in front of me.”

COVER STARS When not working on card art, Kieran paints magazine and book covers. Dragons at War was a front cover for Kobold Quarterly, combining detail and action like a master of D&D artwork.

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Artist portfolios BUCCANEERS

© Paizo Publishing

Kieran painted this image for the cover of Pathfinder: Pirates of the Inner Sea.

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Jean Sebastien Rossbach Location: Paris Web: Media: Photoshop, Painter, ArtRage, ZBrush Like many fantasy artists, French artist Jean Sebastien Rossbach often creates card art for RPG companies, including Wizards of the Coast’s Magic: The Gathering series and others by White Wolf. He treats these just like any other assignment. “Working for card games or an RPG or for a book cover is the same to me,” he says. “It’s a good mix of freedom and direction. Sometimes the brief comes with a preconceived concept or just a few guidelines, and sometimes it’s a story to illustrate.” But would he prefer to be able to give his imagination free rein? Does he feel constrained when, as is often the case, the art has to follow strict character guidelines? “I try to stay as close as possible to the information, and the freedom comes from what hasn’t been said. I get joy in filling in the blanks between the lines of the brief.” Of course, card RPG players can often be very particular about their favourite characters, but his work seems to meet with their approval, as JS discovered when he went to his first Magic event in Birmingham in the summer of 2008. “I was a little afraid to meet the players because I know how big fans they are, but in the end they all were absolutely charming with me. It was delightful to meet all these passionate people… I had a great time.”

EDGE OF AUTUMN JS’s first public card for Magic: The Gathering, which was actually created in 2006.

14 Fantasy Card Artist

Magic: The Gathering Š Wizards Of The Coast

Artist portfolios

Fantasy Card Artist 15


Arthur Bozonnet

FEMALE ANGEL Card illustration for Chains of Durandal, 2012. “This was my first work for CoD. At the time we would work from rough sketches from the game’s art director.”

DWARVEN TEMPLAR Card illustration for CoD, 2012. “I based all characters on the same vanishing point for better cohesion.”

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©DeNA C Co. All Rights Reserved.

Looking at some of French artist Arthur Bozonnet’s art, you might think he’s one of the endless ranks who fell in love with fantasy by scrawling Frazetta barbarians on his school books. In fact, Arthur found fantasy art late in life, a year after turning professional. “Prior to that, I was just studying, trying my hand at anything,” he explains. He’s certainly gone to the source since then. “In terms of style, Frank Frazetta is the ultimate Papa, hands down.” Arthur bought the 2003 Frazetta documentary Painting with Fire and watched it on repeat. “It feels like he’s essentially out of my reach, which makes me nuts,” he says. “I collect his works, I copy some of them, I scrutinise his strokes, and I toss and turn in my bed like a fiend over it.” Arthur’s influences are actually more diverse than those of many artists. He lived in Scotland, Peru, and went to study digital illustration in China. He later lived in Thailand for three years, working as an illustrator and concept artist for Studio Hive, Bangkok. “Through my travels and experiences,” he says, “I developed a fantasy style that celebrates the dream world, the irresistible call of inner and outer journey, and the exotic appeal of ancient cultures.” When it comes to China, Arthur found his trinity of digital artists. “My teacher Chen Wei struck me the most, because he was the first digital artist I met, and he’s a pioneer of digital art in China, along with Zhang Min (AKA Benjamin), who’s another idol of mine,” he enthuses, adding that Singapore-based Skan Srisuwan is another major inspiration. “While their styles are different, these three belong to the same first generation of digital artists in Asia. They’re troopers – they made it happen from scratch. It’s a mentality that I look up to.”

©DeNA C Co. All Rights Reserved.

Location: Annecy, France Web: Media: Photoshop, ArtRage

Artist portfolios ZOMBIE GIRL Card illustration, Heroic Battle, 2012. “I tried to make her creepy and sassy. I had fun rendering her ornaments.�

Fantasy Card Artist 17

Back issues Missed an issue of ImagineFX? Don’t panic, here’s how you can order yours today!

Missed out on a recent print edition of ImagineFX? See what’s available at Got an Apple iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch? Get the free ImagineFX app for your iPad or iPhone at, or download us straight from the Newsstand app already on your device. On Android, PC or Mac? Google Play: Zinio: Got some other device? ImagineFX is available for all kinds of devices. Check out all of our partners at the bottom of the opposite page.

Only the most recent editions are available in print



Issue 132 March 2016

Issue 131 February 2016

Issue 130 January 2016

Issue 129 Christmas 2015

We explore the fantasy film genre’s golden age – Andreas Bennwik’s cover homage kicks things off in style. Elsewhere, Min Yum takes on a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Simon Dubuc fills an RPG with unique characters, and James Gurney paints a rogue construction mech.

Alvin Lee’s art of Jinx from League of Legends heralds our manga issue, featuring a fresh take on Katniss Everdeen by Ilya Kuvshinov, advice from Legends of the Cryptids artist Laura Sava, and a sculpture workshop from the mighty Shiflett Brothers.

A host of top-flight artists help us to celebrate turning 10 years old. Ross Tran’s cover art ushers in the likes of Craig Mullins, Syd Mead, Brom, Mélanie Delon, Todd Lockwood and Allen Williams, who all contribute workshops. Plus there’s a free 2016 calendar.

Andrew Theophilopoulos paints Kylo Ren facing off against Rey, in our spectacular Star Wars special issue. Also inside are Aaron McBride, Iain McCaig, Terese Nielsen, Feng Zhu, Brian Sum and Hugh Fleming, all revealing their art from a galaxy far, far away…


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Issue 128 December 2015

Issue 127 November 2015

Issue 126 October 2015

Issue 125 September 2015

Issue 124 August 2015

Issue 123 July 2015

Issue 122 June 2015

Issue 121 May 2015

Issue 120 April 2015

Issue 119 March 2015

Issue 118 February 2015

Issue 117 January 2015

GET YOUR DIGITAL EDITION THROUGH THESE OUTLETS: *Resource files are available from issue 85 onwards.

Fantasy Card Artist 19

TM Middle-earth Ent., Lic. to WB Games


“Fitting everything into that small package� was the challenge facing art director Michael Dashow and his team at Kabam, the studio behind free game The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth.

20 Fantasy Card Artist

Games on the move



Games on the move

The D&D senior art director on moving into the mobile market How has the move to mobile games affected the look and feel of Dungeons & Dragons? Working on mobile and tablets has been liberating for the visual representation of the D&D brand. We get to explore a variety of different visual styles that fall outside the classically illustrated images of the pen-and-paper game. The most enjoyable aspect has been working with some of the most talented and expert partners in mobile and casual games. Whether you’re a hardcore fan or new to D&D, casual and mobile games enable you to experience the game on your own terms.

Talk about upwardly mobile…! With video games on tablets and mobile devices still on the rise, we talk to the studios leading the charge about their new artistic challenges

Kabam’s Dragons of Atlantis: Heirs of the Dragon sees gamers attempt to tame the mythical beast with magical weapons.


t’s the fine art of taking the macro and making it micro. Myriad characters, an intricate plot and the expansive worlds they live in – all painted on a four-inch canvas. This is the challenge facing mobile and tablet video game developers. “Artistically,” Michael Dashow says, “that’s what it’s all about. It’s fitting everything into that small package – both the screen and the game’s download size. It can be a challenge to cram in all of the user interface (UI) elements and make the game fun and easy to play – despite the fact that your finger will be covering up a chunk of the screen in order to play it.”

Were there artistic challenges? Modern video games offer visions more fantastic than the average person can imagine, and this is where the challenge comes in. What the viewer used to fill in on their own now has to be visualised and created, and all the things we never had to think about before are now basic to creating a wholly visual experience. Does a beholder blink? What sound does an orc make? Do goblins walk bow-legged? What does that spell look like when cast?

It’s challenging to cram in the UI elements and make the game fun and easy to play

Kabam’s game The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth is set in a time of “great turmoil”.

TM Middle-earth Ent., Lic. to WB Games

© Kabam

Wizards released its first iPad game, Lords of Waterdeep, in 2013.

What can we expect from future D&D digital releases? We have fans who don’t roleplay but love reading about D&D worlds and lore in books. Our goal is to continue that strong sense of narrative and fantasy. We have a variety of different play experiences available that aren’t strictly roleplaying, and we’re striving to make all of our offerings true to the essence of what we feel D&D is: rich narratives, unique characters and monsters, and that sense of heroic adventure. Daniel is senior art director at Wizards of the Coast, which now offers a range of games for iOS and Android devices.

Fantasy Card Artist 21

Valorware’s 9th Dawn brings an old-school RPG aesthetic to the iPad.

22 Fantasy Card Artist

© Valorware


It’s also important that the overall look, feel and playability of a game isn’t compromised

Avadon 2: The Corruption is part of Spiderweb’s popular RPG series.

According to Ofcom, two-thirds of the UK population – about 43 million people – use a smartphone, and eMarketer estimates that about 33 million use tablets. In 2010, smartphone and tablet games accounted for just five per cent of the total spend on video games. Games research firm Newzoo believes that in 2015, global mobile game revenues eclipsed console game revenues for the first time. The increase is attributed, in part, to gaming on social networks and the rise of the casual gamer. A spike in female gamers has also been recorded. Michael is senior art director at San Francisco based interactive entertainment company Kabam, which came to some

prominence with Facebook strategy game Kingdoms of Camelot. He joined Kabam to help oversee the company’s move into the mobile market. Over a two-decade career, Michael has witnessed sweeping changes within the industry, and he thinks he knows what’s needed to succeed in the new era. “You need to plan for a much smaller screen,” he says. “If you’re playing on a tablet, and especially on a phone, characters and UI need to read clearly. Mobile devices are getting better processors all the time, and we’re focused on bringing consolequality games to tablets and smartphones.” What Michael particularly likes about working on mobile games, compared to console or PC titles, is the opportunity to be part of a smaller, tighter team and the shorter development cycles. Spiderweb Software also prides itself on its “small, friendly” ethos. The Seattle-based developer is behind cult RPG titles Avernum, Geneforge and Blades of Exile. “We tend to the needs of oldschool gamers on Windows, Mac and tablets,” Spiderweb founder Jeff Vogel says. He see his biggest challenge as

remaking the interface, because there’s a marked difference between a mouse or keyboard and touch controls. It’s also important, he says, that the overall look, feel and playability of a game isn’t compromised because of the platform it’s created for. It’s this stage of the process that takes up the most time and care, says Jeff. Charles Cross, owner of US start-up indie games developer Valorware, says the expanding mobile market offers great new opportunities for artists looking to break into the games industry. “One of the biggest benefits of developing for mobile platforms is the lower cost of development and therefore lower barriers to entry into the market.” His message is that, by pairing with those with the technical know-how, the mobile market affords artists the chance to bring their visions to life without the backing of big budgets. “It’s now much easier to have our content published and recognised,” Charles concludes, “even without strong marketing efforts”.

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© Spiderweb Software, Inc

Games on the move


Working on a legend Ben Thompson, art director on Blizzard’s Hearthstone, reveals what it’s like to work on the world’s leading digital collectible card game


ith more than 40 million registered players, there are few collectible card games as big as Blizzard’s Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. In keeping with Blizzard’s video game roots, Hearthstone is a digital card game, but that doesn’t mean the artwork is overlooked. Far from it. As art director Ben Thompson testifies, the art is the cornerstone of the series. “It was helpful that we had a physical trading card game at Blizzard before work began on Hearthstone,” says Ben. “It helped establish the art from early on. It helped set the tone and build on the World of Warcraft IP.” When Hearthstone began, the team was a mere seven staff – a small studio, and particularly small for Blizzard. In fact, Ben was the first artist hired, and the scale of team helped. It meant the team could draw on the resources inside Blizzard and, as Ben says, “you’ll see a lot of recognisable artists creating those early cards, people like Sam Didier and Luke Mancini.” Key to developing the Hearthstone art style was to tap into what artists love, Ben explains: “We never approached game development from a perspective of what would be popular, we always approach games from a perspective of what will we ourselves want to play or spend hours and hours

24 Fantasy Card Artist

creating art for. Hearthstone as it is today is – and we hope will continue to be – the kind of game that the artists have as much fun working on and developing as people do playing it. And as long as decisions are made from that perspective, we’re all going to have fun. We’re grateful for the success it’s had.” So what card art does Ben get excited about? “I’m always going to be interested in cards that provide a visual wow factor,” says the artist. “For players, I think they always get excited when they see something happen, something like Twisting Nether – when it’s played in the virtual space, you get to see pieces of the card get pulled away into this mega void. That’s a very pulseracing moment for players.”

GREAT CARD ART Because it’s a digital card game, the artists on Hearthstone need to think slightly differently about what makes great card art, as these are interactive, animated cards that need to function on different levels. Ben is clear that 75 per cent of the time Hearthstone card art needs to look good in the game space, “whether it’s a character a weapon or whatever, how it looks in the play space is the first and last most important thing because that’s going to affect gameplay. “With that said,” adds Ben, “people are going to get invested in these cards and collect them. They’ll want to put them into their virtual collection

STYLE COUNCIL Hearthstone’s characters were developed by a small team of Blizzard artists, who were familiar with the World of Warcraft style.


“Hearthstone is kind of game the artists have as that fun working onmuch people do playin as – Ben Thompgso it” n

Fantasy Card Artist 25

Feature manager, so you need to make sure that card looks good. It needs to look good as a piece of art when it’s larger.” When talking about creating card art in general, Ben says you should make sure the art is readable at both a small and larger size, present the character properly, and get across their story in the piece – it’s about being economical with the details. “When talking specifically about Hearthstone art of all those things, the most elusive thing that we need artists to grasp is the stylistic differences between World of Warcraft and Hearthstone,” says Ben. “World of Warcraft builds on the epic, it builds on the great, and features over-the-top scale and proportions. For Hearthstone we want to be about 20 degrees off of that. We don’t want to be untrue to the foundations of World of Warcraft, but we want to celebrate it in a unique and different way. We celebrate that charming, that lighthearted appeal that makes World of Warcraft… just a lot of fun for players.”

GET IN THE GAME If you want to get into creating card art, then it’s interesting, and a little surprising, to find out what art directors like Ben look for. The commissioning process, for example, isn’t as rigid as you may think. “I’ve been very conscious of that, having done a lot of card art myself, so I try to figure out a way to create descriptions that are evocative and descriptive to help the artist meet expectations but not too much, as we want the artist to have fun working on this art,” explains Ben. “That said, it does

The most elusive thing that we need artists to grasp is the stylistic differences between World of Warcraft and Hearthstone need to fit into the world of Hearthstone as a whole. It’s an iterative process. Oftentimes we’ll be asking artists to experiment with a style that’s not their own but fits into the World of Warcraft style. There is room to experiment and try new things.” Don’t be put off if your natural style doesn’t fit into the Hearthstone look. Ben actively loves testing new artists to see what they come back with, and readily says they have artists from all sectors creating cards, from concept artists to 3D modellers. And don’t think you need to be a fan of Hearthstone, either: as Ben explains, “The person who hasn’t had a lot of interaction with World of Warcraft is probably the one person who’s most likely to turn in something surprising because they don’t have so many preconceptions. So we’re very careful not to discount that artist who, as you say, doesn’t have that passion or familiarity with World of Warcraft. It can be more fun to see what they come up with and guide them, offer them some feedback that will keep them in line with what players will like.”

Art for cards must be functional but also beautiful. Players must want to own and collect the cards. It’s a knife-edge the Hearthstone team live on.

TRY SOMETHING NEW It began as an ape on a horse, but Hearthstone’s 20-degree slant from World of Warcaft needed something more fun – a hippo replaced the horse!

Get ahead in card art Ben Thompson shares his tips and advice for anyone wanting to break into the industry “I think a lot of what makes great card art is not too dissimilar to what makes great game art: shape readability, colour palette… You need to get across the personality of the art,” explains Ben. “For anyone who wants to specifically get into card illustration, I’d

26 Fantasy Card Artist


recommend they look at what’s out there, once they find a style of art that excites them. Also, do more art in the style you love. I always find the best portfolios to look at are those done in the style the artist loves – if you only ever show apples and then you show oranges, we question your ability to draw oranges [when you’re actually great at apples].” Ben also suggests you tailor your portfolio to the company you want to work for, and always aim to exceed expectations.

“I get countless portfolios that match the standard of the work we produce. The real way to stand out is to show work that exceeds what we’re doing,” says Ben. Finally, contrary to what you might have heard, Ben stresses the need to show your process. Show your value studies, colour balance tests and sketches… “That’s the language we use on a daily basis as artists, that’s how we communicate ideas, and seeing that lets me know how the artist works.”


olios f t r o p s s e l t “I get cotunmatch the tha of the work standardce. The way to we produout is to exceed stand Ben Thompson it” –

Fantasy Card Artist 27

Interview DIABLO III: STORM OF LIGHT Laurel D. Austin’s cover art for the Diablo III: Storm of Light book. Her work also graces the screens of millions of gamers – the Diablo series has sold more than 24.8 million copies worldwide.

Art: Laurel D. Austin



We catch up with the Canadian-born concept artist and illustrator who’s putting the buzz into Blizzard Entertainment’s illustrious gaming output



Laurel’s eye-catching poster art for the StarCraft expansion pack Legacy of the Void, which was released at the end of 2015.

An example of Laurel’s skilful blending of animal attributes and anatomies for which she’s famous.

Game art is a lot less restrictive than other areas. There’s more room to play around and do fun things

ow senior illustrator at Blizzard Entertainment, Laurel D. Austin muses: “I was, perhaps like some of the readers out there, the weird arty kid in my class.” Weird or otherwise, her dynamic, energetic style has served her well, winning her commissions working on big-name trading card series and numerous blockbuster games titles. It has seen her grow from small-town Canadian bedroom artist to becoming one of the leading concept illustrators in the video games industry. “I was definitely an arty kid,” says Lauren. “To the exclusion of a lot else, I think! I was lucky that my parents were very encouraging. I loved drawing, and they always made sure I had reams of paper and buckets of crayons, pencils and markers at my disposal. I was interested in a few subjects from an early age – animals of all sorts, especially dinosaurs, mythical creatures and the worlds they lived in. My parents told me they knew I’d be either an artist or a scientist.” Science’s loss is the concept art world’s gain, though, and after a multidisciplinary art course at NSCAD University in Nova Scotia, Canada, Lauren embarked upon a career in the games industry with the London-based Splash Damage (creators of Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, Dirty Bomb and more). Lauren was eventually let loose on the studio’s first original title, BRINK. Under the stewardship of art director Olivier Leonardi, she flourished: “It was a small team, but full of great talent,” she recalls. “I learned a lot from artists like Georgi Simeonov and Tim Appleby. I was incredibly

Fantasy Card Artist 29


LEARNING FROM THE BEST “Seeing what pro artists were posting online, what careers were possible and what working to a professional standard meant, gave me a clear target to hit and showed me the resources I needed.”

LORDS OF WAR: DUROTAN “The most enjoyable episode for me to work on...” she says. “I love me some wolves.” And she adds: “I can’t help but feel more connected to Durotan as a character after drawing him so much. Funny how that happens, really.”

SIGVARD THE VICTORIOUS A character concept Laurel created for the online Game Artist Academy.

LORDS OF WAR: GROMMARSH One of Laurel’s concept animation pieces of Grommarsh Hellscream, the legendary World of Warcraft character.

HEARTHSTONE The Hearthstone, Heroes of Warcraft expansion is one of Laurel’s favourite games and features many of her character creations.

lucky to have my first few years in the industry at such a unique studio.”

MORE THAN A GAME Video game art seems like a calling to Laurel, and her passion for the broad imagination and creativity required to create whole worlds of believable characters and environments is evident when she talks about the nature of the work. This isn’t an artist who’s simply treading water. Gaming development and art is her lifeblood, it seems. “Since video games are such a young medium, the art surrounding them seems a lot less restrictive than other areas of entertainment,” Laurel explains. “There’s just more room to play around and do things that are fun. “The way I look at it, the art for video games does three basic jobs. The art is certainly not the only aspect that can tell the game’s story, but it’s the medium that does the lion’s share of the job of communicating mood and background to the players. In games like Portal and BioShock, you actually get tableaus in

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the environments that describe events in the game – words scrawled on walls, and bloody trails leading to locked doors, for example – fleshing out the story and hinting that things may not be what they seem. The best examples of this are when the writers and artists work together to make truly engaging stories. Separately, it never works as well. “The second aspect is in enabling the gameplay. Art can have a real impact on how fun a game is to play. It’s frustrating when icons aren’t large or clear enough, or important objects blend into the environment too much, or you just can’t tell where to go next because there’s no environmental cues to guide you along. Like the story, this is achieved best when designers and artists are working very closely together to get the best results.”

THE ARTIST’S JOB “Finally, art sells the game. The first moment anybody sees any media about a game, the thing we’re most likely to respond to is the art style. If we like the art style, we’re more likely to investigate


VITAL STATISTICS The one-stop-shop for info on Laurel Current location Southern California

Sketchbook or canvas? Sketchbook

Favourite artists Too many to count! Some particularly important influences are: James Gurney – Dinotopia was a revelation to me as a kid. Ilya Repin – there’s just so much feeling in every story. Sebastian Krüger – nobody paints a better craggy face.

Favourite food Candy. But as for real food… I’m spoiled by the great vegetarian food in southern California. Irrational fear Reanimated terror birds Best holiday destination Anywhere with a good natural history museum and good local food.

Favourite music Do podcasts count as music?

Cake or pie What kind of monster would make someone choose?!

Brush or pencils? Pencils


Art: Laurel D. Austin

SMAUG SCULPTURE Laurel sees sculpture as an excellent complement to 2D art After stumbling upon a Peter Konig tutorial on an art forum a decade ago, Laurel decided to try sculpting. “He made this fantastic gliding monster and gave a super helpful rundown of all the materials and steps involved,” says Laurel. “I tried it out and loved it. “It’s a nice break from the computer without taking a break from art. There’s something about having an object in front of you that’s extra cool. Plus you get a toy for your desk at the end of it. You can’t lose!” It’s not a main focus for Laurel. She produces a couple of pieces a year at most. But “working in 3D is a nice complement to 2D,” she says. “It helps me understand 2D forms a bit better – composing a sculpture that looks great from all angles is very challenging.”

Giving people warm fuzzes and them saying ‘Holy crap, that is awesome!’ goes a long way

THE DRAGON’S IN THE DETAIL Laurel’s sculptures are highly detailed, as the scales on this model of Smaug show. It was created for Gallery Nucleus’s 2013 Out of the Shire show.

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KNOW THY MUSCLES “Being at an interdisciplinary school helped me improve my figure drawing skills, and the absolutely stellar anatomy classes meant I understood the underlying structures in the human body. I can still name obscure muscle groups as a party trick.”

THE LEAGUE OF EXPLORERS This is an advertising piece created for Hearthstone, Heroes of Warcraft – another area that Laurel oversees at Blizzard.

THE BUZZ AT BLIZZARD Laurel on being the driving force behind Blizzard’s concept art… Blizzard Entertainment has been rocking the world of gaming since 1991, producing hits including The Lost Vikings and the Diablo and StarCraft series. So what’s the best thing about being senior illustrator there? “The great people I work with,” Lauren says. “The entire creative development department are exceptionally skilled artists and storytellers, and working alongside them has made me a better artist. I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to get out of your own head and spend time with other artists you respect. Getting their feedback will help you become a better artist. “At Blizzard I get to work on all of the IPs, which provides a ton of interesting challenges and variety. Most of my work is focused on making supporting story art for the games, and learning more about visual storytelling is one of the biggest perks to being here.”

PLATYBELODON Laurel’s knowledge of animal anatomy is astounding and extends to prehistoric beasts.

DRAGON DEMO A piece that Laurel created for a talk at Gnomon, to demonstrate different material rendering possibilities for creatures.

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Art: Laurel D. Austin

ANTELOPE RIDER A new concept piece from Laurel. Even her rougher painting style captures the drama and movement in the scene.

more. This is true not only with the public, but also internally with the other developers on your team. As artists, it’s our job to inspire our teams with how insanely cool the game we’re making together is going to be. Giving people the warm fuzzes and getting them to say ‘Holy crap, that is awesome!’ goes a long way.” And with Laurel’s art and the games which it drives, there are a heck of a lot of “holy crap…” moments. Take Hearthstone, for example, which on the face of it is an online turn-based card game from Blizzard. Where it differs from most online card games is its depth of characters and classes of hero. Each character is much more than the traditional warlock or warrior, being given fantastical names like Garrosh Hellscream and Magni Bronzebeard, complete with detailed backstories and oddball character traits. These enable Laurel to draw upon each character’s traits and histories, and create figures with far more

There is a ton of decisions to make, but always think about what you want your viewers to feel

depth of character than traditional online games. In terms of artistic style and technique, it’s these fictional personalities that Laurel begins with when working up a new piece. “When I’m starting an illustration the right way – which, being by nature somewhat impatient, I don’t always do – I start by thinking what the point of the painting is. I view illustration as communicating a story of some sort: a big one or a small one, or a little piece that hints at something larger, or the climactic moment of a great epic,” Laurel says.

SEEKING THE STORY And this story is key, she believes: “Whatever it is, you have to decide what your story moment is, and then figure out what’s the best way to communicate it. A lot of considerations go into this, like angle of view, aspect ratio, character pose, lighting, and colour. There is always a ton of decisions to make, but always keep at the front of your mind what you want your viewers to feel. Do they identify with the characters? Which ones? Do they pity them? Do they feel empathic? Are they frightened for them? Frightened by them? And every choice you make, make it in the service of that goal.” Laurel’s creative process has a strong sense of empathy about it. “I tend to start with black-andwhite, working out the basics of the composition.

What’s the feeling, what are the characters doing, what are their faces doing, and only then go into colour,” she reveals. “If I can get it working at the stage, the rest of the process is just expanding upon the idea and making sure to preserve what was nice about the sketch – which doesn’t always happen. Sometimes it may take more than one attempt to capture in a final piece what you liked about a sketch. It can be pretty frustrating when a piece just isn’t working, but sometimes it takes a fresh start to really nail what you liked about a sketch.” Where does she think she’s managed to nail it? Asked what are her own favourite pieces, Laurel replies: “I’ll count as a favourite any piece where I’ve managed to have an effect on a viewer – to tell them a story and make them feel what I hoped they’d feel. That’ll always rank high in my books.” For illustration and concept art Laurel almost always uses Photoshop with a Cintiq. But she uses physical media in her process too. “When I sculpt, I generally use Super Sculpey Firm [modelling clay] and acrylic paint, though I’ve been meaning to try out sculpting wax. I keep a sketchbook with me to do pen drawing, though it never seems like I have enough time to do that much these days – usually just small drawings of animals or dinosaurs I toss on my Instagram. Overall, I much prefer to work digitally. Ctrl-Z is the best thing to happen to art since the brush was invented!”

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Pursue your passion!

HEL The CROOZ art style, particularly for Deity Wars, is a rich and distinctive mix of colour and detail.

SVAROG Even when depicting dark figures, CROOZ’s artists manage to create a beautiful design.

PURSUE YOUR PASSION! CROOZ is an expanding Japanese online games company and it’s on the hunt for great artists, so portfolios at the ready… ith an enviable track record in Japan and ambitions to spread its distinctive brand of artwork-driven social gaming to every corner of the globe, CROOZ is hungry for fresh illustrators. With headquarters in Tokyo, CROOZ has a branch office in San Francisco for marketing activities focused on North America, but of course it makes use of contributing artists based just about anywhere around the world. Since entering the social games market in 2010, the company has rocketed into the top three games developers on Japanese platform Mobage, boasting more than 20 million registered users. But its sights are firmly set on the number one spot, and you could help it achieve that goal. CROOZ’s most popular game is Ragnabreak, which is better known to players outside Japan

W DARK ARTIMA Can you paint characters like those of CROOZ’s art team?

ASTERIA Deity Wars features some striking anime-style character designs.

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Each character is designed to fit a class, such as an archer, priest, wizard, knight or lancer. All the details in the artwork have to contribute to the story.

Deity Wars features an imaginary world with three spaces – Heaven, Earth and Hell – and loads of great characters, like Pharaoh.

as Deity Wars. With more than 3.6 million players across the globe, it’s renowned for the superb quality of its original artwork. The game’s art director Daisuke looks for a broad range of skills to ensure that everything from the emotions on a character’s face to the overall world of the game is just right. And with overseas expansion plans high up CROOZ’s agenda, his selection criteria for new artists include broad global appeal. “Characters such as Succubus and Pharaoh are good examples of characters popular worldwide,” he says. “However,” he continues, “the Japanese anime-style is also very popular, so we’re looking for illustrators that can adopt the good points of Japanese style, too.” In addition to individual art style, Daisuke explains that the fundamental skills of drawing anatomy, realistic clothing and accessories are

all crucial to make it in this field generally, and to catch his eye in particular. Deity Wars is set in the three spaces of Heaven, Hell and Earth – separate dimensions that are colliding. Players collect character cards, discover new powers and battle for supremacy. Where

Players must feel they want to evolve the card to the next stage, so we always create attractive levelledup versions

DAMIEN Japanese anime-style art is popular around the world, so CROOZ is looking for illustrators who can adopt this style into its art process.

some games put considerably more creative energy into a game’s rarer cards, for CROOZ quality and attention to detail is paramount across the board – again putting the onus on a consistently strong roster of talent. Each character has several iterations to be developed. “Cards in Deity Wars evolve by four steps, and have three extra ‘levelled up’ versions in addition to the original one,” says Daisuke. “We must make players feel they want to evolve the card to the next stage, so we always make the effort to create attractive levelled-up versions.”

ARTHURIAN LEGENDS Another illustration-heavy game in CROOZ’s growing catalogue is Knights of Avalon, an original browser-based fantasy RPG based on the classic Arthurian legend. “As one of Arthur’s knights, players fight against the notorious traitor Mordred on the floating continent Avalon,”

ANDROMEDA Illustrator: Mirei Kobayashi An illustrator on CROOZ’s successful Deity Wars social roleplaying game, Mirei Kobayashi shares her card art process… I begin by examining the brief and deciding on what to create. I wanted to draw a female character wearing a beautiful piece of clothing in a sea of stars.


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Now I must plan for how the art will look when it’s a card. So I zoom out a bit so that there’s more space for the character when I fit it into the card frame.


With my idea developing, now is the time when the shapes of the character’s body, hair, costume and all other objects in the illustration are finalised.


Pursue your passion! BACKGROUND ART Great card art needs to tell a story in one image, so a rich background can be just as important as a character’s expression.

Now I begin to make a final pass of the illustration, giving it that polished sheen that’s consistent with the general CROOZ style. I’m looking to enhance the overall feel of the piece, so I add the materials that change the character’s silhouette.


With the composition set I begin to finish the character, giving her a sparkling and glittery look because she’s the Protector Queen of the galaxy.


Fantasy Card Artist 37

Feature VIVIAN Illustrator: Yoshiro Ambe Another member of the CROOZ team, Yoshiro Ambe guides us through the creation of a piece of card art for Deity Wars… I start by sketching my ideas. In this stage I think about the composition and all of the aspects required in the character illustration. I like to create a number of sketches to work through my ideas, before choosing one to take through to the final artwork.


I start drawing based on the most attractive of the sketches shown in the first step. This is the most crucial step because the image I have here directly links to the final art.


SUCCUBUS Characters such as Succubus, shown here, are good examples of characters who are popular worldwide with fans of CROOZ’s Deity Wars.

I look at the balance of the whole illustration. I make sure that the shape of the character’s body looks fine and there’s no unnatural space in the illustration.


HELIOS The Deity Wars art cards have wellbalanced proportions that, says Daisuke, Japanese people would recognise as beautiful and cool cards.

I finish by adding precise details and effects, and making the character blend into the background by adjusting the colour of light and the usage of space.


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When adding decorations and effects, I make sure the character doesn’t become obscured by these visual enhancements. Notice that the broken sword has been repaired.


explains game director Max. Like Deity Wars, the game is available on Mobage. Over a million people subscribed in the first five months, putting Knights of Avalon in the top 10 on the platform. Beautiful fantasy art remains at the core of Knights of Avalon, where players form a team and enjoy real-time battles – and CROOZ has plans to add many more characters and features to the game, so there are plenty of opportunities for talented artists to get involved. A medieval realm of swords, shields and suits of armour brings a different set of challenges compared with Deity Wars. Jun is the art director overseeing the game and, like Daisuke, he stresses the importance of great artwork: “Creating a large variety of characters that attract players’ hearts is our mission,” he smiles. “It’s up to the player whether he or she chooses a brave, courageous looking character or one with a more bewitching look,” adds Jun,

Pursue your passion!

IDEION Cards in Deity Wars evolve and level-up, so each new card level needs to feel special and stunning. Will you be one of the artists to develop CROOZ’s card art?

CROOZ is actively seeking new artists to bring their skills to new games and cards… First prepare a portfolio of four or five of your strongest (not necessarily favourite) pieces of art. This is the optimum number of images to really get the art director’s attention.


Visit and click Recruit in the top bar. Fill in the form that opens, and provide a link to your online gallery. If you don’t have one, then make sure you provide an email address so CROOZ can contact you for your portfolio images, potentially giving you the opportunity to become part of this talented illustration team.


“so it’s exciting to see your character moving within the game, and becoming popular.” When briefing an illustrator for a new character, he allows a healthy amount of creative freedom to ensure that individual style has a chance to shine through. At the same time, of course, it’s still important to maintain unity throughout the game, and consequently artists must be receptive to art direction from CROOZ. “First, we give the illustrator a written direction sheet with a basic plot and characteristics,” begins Jun. “We want them to use their imagination, and so we don’t give detailed restrictions or requirements at this point.”

GUIDANCE AND DIRECTION There are two main feedback stages with the art director: first comes the rough draft, where basic composition and design is discussed, and any changes are requested; and then there’s the colouring stage, where overall details such as the background or effects used are considered.

EXPANDING ART APPEAL CROOZ intends to expand Avalon’s character roster, features and in-game elements and needs new artists to take on the illustrations. Will you be one?

It’s clear that CROOZ nourishes the talent of its illustrators, providing the guidance and art direction required to get exactly the artwork it needs. Its company motto is to create Cool and Fun, which speaks volumes about what it’s like to work as an illustrator on CROOZ’s books. So what kind of illustration talent is Jun looking for, and how do you impress him? First up, you need the skills to wow him instantly: “The illustration must have a strong, high-impact look at first glance,” he explains. “This requires

Creating a large variety of characters that attract players’ hearts is our mission

skills in sketching, designing and decorating, and drawing beautiful faces.” It’s also about style. “Knights of Avalon sits between the thick-layered colouring style and the anime-style often seen in Japanese animations,” says Jun, adding that a balance between realism and fantasy is important, too. So if you think you’re up for the challenge and can bring a can-do attitude and a strong set of illustration skills to games like Deity Wars and Knights of Avalon as they continue to grow their international fan-base, CROOZ would love to hear from you. If you’re successful, you’ll be expected to spend up to a month on each illustration, depending on the level of detail required – although as both Daisuke and Jun make clear, every character counts. First visit the CROOZ website, provide your contact details and a link to your portfolio, and before long you could be part of the talent roster that’s at the heart of everything it does.

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ACES IN THE HOLE Japanese online card game company Applibot has spared no expense in employing the world’s best digital artists for its products. We showcase some of the stunning imagery they’ve produced

or a moment, at the tail end of 2012, it looked like Applibot was taking over the world of online digital art. Every striking fantasy character and sci-fi action scene posted online seemed to bear the mark of Galaxy Saga or Legend of the Cryptids – the two app card games that Applibot offers for free download. There’s more to the Japanese company than a big wallet, though. Art director Shogo Takeda is adamant that art was the company’s starting point, and this bears scrutiny. Download the Legends of the Cryptids, and the opening animation features beautifully crafted pieces of art in lavish gold frames. “Our goal was to create a game with the highest-level artwork, so we got the top artists from around the world,” says Shogo simply. He also knew well enough to trust the talent: “Our briefs were kept simple, rarely more than a name and a one-line description.” Behind this open approach was a simple fact: Applibot’s sudden, blanket commissioning around the world sped up output, helping it in the “race to the then-untapped global market for Japanese-style social card battle games,” says Shogo. The plan worked. It hit number one in Japan’s app store top sellers list, and number two in the US. Since then, Shogo admits, it’s not been easy to sustain the momentum. “Similar services have come out in the meantime that are earning 10 billion yen monthly. The fact that our earnings have not kept pace has been disappointing.” However, with undisclosed plans for new projects, and more art to be released for the existing games, Applibot may yet regain the top spot. Until that’s resolved, we still have all this amazing art to enjoy!

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MICHAEL Remarkably, Crowgod uploaded his first piece of art in December 2011, and by July 2012 he was working on Legend of the Cryptids, creating the characters Lucifer, the Masters of Belial and Michael, shown here.

XU CHENG (CROWGOD) “Maybe it’s because we can’t play online card games like Legends in China, but I think physical card games will always have a strong fan base around the world.”

ODIN Odin, the chief god of Norse mythology, crops up in Legends of the Cryptids, battling the giant wolf Fenrir in Ragnarok. In myth he’s destined to lose, but that’s where the game and mythology diverge.

CLINT CEARLEY “Applibot doesn’t describe a character’s appearance. The first one I did, Lady Paradoxia, was ‘the princess daughter of the Queen of Light and a fallen angel’. Artistically, that’s quite a jumping-off point.”

Aces in the hole

Fantasy Card Artist 41


KERA “Most of the work I get nowadays is for online card games, geared for mobile devices. It’s always a challenge to create something that’ll look great full size and on a 4.5-inch screen.”

HADES This painting of Hades was created for Applibot’s sci-fi adventure card game Galaxy Saga, and offers artist Kera’s unique take on the chthonic character.

X-7 DEADWALKER An upgraded take on the Demon Droid. All Iwo had to work on was that this guy liked to inflict pain. “And that’s plenty,” he says.

IWO WIDULINSKI “I think that in my time we’ll see people more often duelling using their tablets, and tournaments being held on big touch screens.”

LUMINA Lumina is the first piece Daren did for Applibot. “I used my wife as a model – wearing a bed sheet. I made her younger and prettier. She’s lovely, of course, but not quite a space princess!”

DAREN HORLEY “Mobile phones are pretty much compulsory in the developed world, so it makes sense to create games for them. I collected bubble gum cards as a kid. This is the 21st century equivalent.”

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Aces in the hole

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WHITE BELLATOR This is an example of a card that Maxim suggested to Applibot, which was picked up on. “It’s cool when your ideas become alive in a game,” says the artist.

MAXIM VEREHIN “Artistic freedom doesn’t just mean room to move – I’ve also suggested my own characters, and have three sets of my own creations in these games.”

QUIESCENT GREENMAN This is the evolved version of Quiescent Greenman. Here Mike makes the character more dominant and imposing, while still rooted in nature. “Because the brief didn’t specify whether it needed to look human, I went more abstract and elemental.”

DARK QUEEN GUINEVERE Brad worked on Dark Queen Guinevere and designed everything about the characters and her environment – the only caveat being that she was a vampire and a queen and had to be in a forest setting.

BRAD RIGNEY MIKE CORRIERO “The brief was ‘a humanoid being that guarded the forest and its animals’. I had a lot of fun playing around with the elemental look of the original version of this card.”

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“The two versions of a character is my favourite thing about this genre. The idea of a seasoned version of the same individual opens new ways to establish narrative. I totally geek out on stuff like that.”

Aces in the hole

SHENHUA “My take on Shenhua was someone who was capable of altering machines at will. I wanted to merge my influences and make something that feels Japanese by its design but Occidental with its graphic feel.”

SIMON GOINARD THE WHITE KNIGHT LYDIA This is the advanced version of Rupid79’s The White Knight Lydia, Onyx Beast Master, with added black cat support.

“Applibot is trying to get new online cards out there regularly, so the gap between creation and publication is as short as possible, making the art responsive to the present moment.”

LEE JUNG MYUNG (RUPID79) “It seems everything can be downloaded nowadays, temporarily fulfilling our sense of possession. But to have something rare, peculiar and precious! That’s what these cards offer.”

Fantasy Card Artist 45


DEATHPACT ANGEL Jason Chan produced this image for the Gatecrash expansion pack released in 2013. With its landscape size, it’s also been used in posters.

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Magic: The Gathering

In 1993 a new collectible card game was released. No one knew it then, but it would entice generations into a complex fantasy world and inspire the greatest fantasy artists working today… rad Rigney is carefully describing what makes Magic: The Gathering unique. As a life-long fan and player of the collectible card game (CCG), not to mention a phenomenally talented and widely admired digital artist, his passion is palpable. “Magic fans spend a lot of time with the cards in their hands – they get attached to them, they have memories associated with each card in their deck,” Brad says. “They may hate what a card does and dread seeing it played on the battlefield, or love a card and relish the experience of slapping it down and saying ‘Eat it!’ to their opponent.” Mirroring the company’s history, the game’s simple concept – players taking the role of Planeswalkers, moving through the Multiverse, battling other Planeswalkers with cards – becomes as multifaceted as the people that play it. There are thousands of cards to choose from, all with various powers and meaning, so your deck is unique. The game can be played with two people or 2,693, as in 2013’s Pro Tour. “You get a lot of laughs and thrills in Magic games. Cards get flipped over and

All images © Wizards of the Coast LLC


the rush of victory or sting of defeat follows,” says Brad, “and it can be your art that immediately broadcasts that. Players see the art and know what the card does.”

A COLOURFUL PAST It’s been over 20 years, and Magic: The Gathering is still the most popular CCG. It’s morphed and shifted, expanded, embraced digital art, developed huge multi-tiered tournaments, and changed scoring systems. There’s also one other thing that makes it stand out. “Magic was the first CCG to be released and it’s never given up the advantages that head start gave it,” says Peter Venters, an art director who’s been involved with Magic since the beginning. “CCGs survive through a thriving player base. If people can’t find anyone to play a game with, they stop buying the cards and the game dies.” A strong tournament scene has been Magic’s life source, keeping the fans engaged. It also helps, says Pete, that the people behind the scenes know what they’re doing. “One of the secrets to releasing a CCG is that by the time you have a set released, the next set better be on the way to the printers

Cards get flipped over and the rush of victory or sting of defeat follows, and it can be your art that broadcasts that

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SOR RCERER’S APPR RENTICE Sometimes even suspicious parents can’t get in the way of a child’s passion for playing fantasy games… Jason Chan has been a playing fan of Magic: The Gathering since high school, even though the game was unceremoniously banned because “some parents complained that the school was allowing black magic to be practised.” Jason was not put off, and a few years of hard graft later he was creating art for the game. “My first

PACT OF NEGATION Jason Chan’s first card for Magic displays his budding talent – although the artist feels he’s come a long way since then.

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two cards were done simultaneously,” he says. “They were Nimbus Maze and Pact of Negation in the Future Sight expansion in 2007.” The artist was 24 years old. “I definitely think that my work has changed since then,” says Jason. “My working process is completely different, for one. I’m my own worst critic, so I’m always trying to improve my work.”

Popular artist Scott M. Fischer turns completely to digital methods to produce this charming chap.

VAULT SKIRGE Here’s Brad Rigney's first card for the New Phyrexia expansion. A “common” card, it introduced another recognisable talent to the franchise.

and the following set should be at the art assignment stage.”

MAKING MAGIC Creating artwork for Magic is tricky. You’re tasked with conveying a character, a skill, or perhaps an evocative environment. And that art will then be shrunk to cover a fraction of a playing card. Yet people like John Stanko, Donato Giancola and Scott M. Fischer jump at the chance of a Magic commission. What’s the process? “It’s a secret,” says Jason Chan, a Magic player since high school. “A very well-planned secret.” Proceedings are

Magic: The Gathering

VET TERAN PLANESW WALKER Magic: The Gathering’s story is inevitably tied up with various artists’ stories. Artists such as Peter Venters…

MEINS OF WEEPING Anthony Waters: “They wanted an environment full of sadness and morbidity. Yay, my bread and butter!”

British artist Peter Venters was on his first trip to America in 1993, when he met the Wizards of the Coast guys at the Philadelphia Comic Con. A friendly chat ensued, and within a month he was producing card art for the packs Antiquities, Legends and The Dark. “I’ve done over 280 pieces for Magic over 17 years,” he tells us, “in traditional

and digital mediums, and I’ve got my favourites in both mediums. In traditional I’d go for Megatog (good comedy value), while in digital it’d be Lys Alana Huntcaller, because I went to town on the textures for that. I used Corel Painter watercolour layers to create stippling to simulate motes of golden light in a magical forest.”

MEGATOG The Magic art of the 1990s had more room for humour. Below right, Peter proves he’s a digital dab hand.

fittingly clandestine. The artist receives an email with the image description. “This is what a lot of fans don’t seem to know. I don’t know a thing about what a card actually does until I see the finished thing,” he says. In fact, the names of characters usually change before they’re printed. “This prevents me, or anyone snooping through my studio, from getting any real information on the game,” he says. This may sound paranoid, but you have to remember that this is a multi-milliondollar franchise, and Magic – or its parent company Wizards of the Coast – doesn’t want to give the competition an inch.

BURDEN OF GUILT This is the follow-up to John Stanko’s Gruesome Discovery card, where a wife finds her husband dead. Here, years later, she’s unable to move on.

For Brad, a Magic commission is a chance to embody not the card character, but the card player: “I ask myself, who would play this card and why? What is the fantasy? I get into character with it, try to place myself in the gamer’s head and tap into the fantasy. Really the only bridge there – regardless of play style – is the art.”

Magic wouldn’t have been nearly the success it’s become without the art Surprisingly, the importance of art in the game is a topic that splits artist opinion, and changes depending on the era you’re talking about. Anthony S. Waters has worked on Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons & Dragons and Magic since 1997, and he’s clear on the point. “Magic wouldn’t have been nearly the success it’s become without the art, but that said, the mechanics are distinct from the art. You don’t need the art to play the game.”



Terese Nielsen returns to a character, Hanna, that she’s painted before, this time with the aim of making her appealing. Job done!

The game today, like the artwork, has changed fundamentally since 1993. The first winner of a Magic Pro Tour got a trophy and a handshake. Today they’ll

CHANDRA One of the iconic pieces of Magic art! Jason Chan puts his humble debut behind him, displaying a dramatic style that’s all this own.

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SERRA AVENGER Scott M. Fischer’s most popular image is an oil and mixed media piece on canvas, released in 2013 for Time Spiral.

RAMAZ Brad moves on from killer flying insect creatures to crazy-eyed cave men with this fella.

get around $40,000. “The evolution of the game has affected the fan base,” says Anthony. “Magic had greater casual appeal when it first appeared, but it’s been shaped since then to meet the desires of a very competitive audience, and that audience isn’t nearly as interested in the art as in days

The list of great artists who have participated in making the Magic: The Gathering cards is so impressive TREASURED FIND Jason Chan produces silky smooth skin textures and dramatic lighting to bring this card to life.

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past. I’ve found mostly older players like the art and game equally. Younger players are more engaged by the game itself.” Stephan Martinière doesn’t see it like that: “I would say the art is what makes Magic so popular and enduring. The list of great artists who have participated in making the cards is so impressive. The trading market of these cards and the high values on some of them has also added to the popularity of the game.” “Depends on who you talk to,” offers Brad. “There are some gamers who can take or leave the art. Then there are gamers who make decks actually based on it. You can play the game so many ways.” One certainty is that the tiny image of the card translates, whether creating a buzz on an art forum, adorning magazine pages, or being sold for a stack of cash. Christopher Rush’s Black Lotus, one of

CRYPTIC ANNELID Anthony S. Waters’s worm beast is an almost abstract creature, pushing the limits of what’s considered the Magic style.

the most iconic Magic cards, sells for thousands of dollars.

EVOLUTION IN ART In the early days artists worked for relatively small sums. “The art fees for artists were so small,” says Pete, “that Wizards included stock in the company to help entice artists to work on the game!” That has all changed. The art became increasingly sophisticated and an

Magic: The Gathering

CASTING A SPE ELL Terese Nielsen shares the original commission for the Silverskin Armor card art, and how she brought the magic… After pondering the brief description I received from Magic, I do a few very rough thumbnail sketches. I then find and shoot the appropriate reference for my idea, and ask my photographer friend Scott Harben to take some photos of Jamie Reed-Kovac, the model and former American Gladiator. After that I create a rough composite of some of the elements using Photoshop.


Art description VECORDIAN PRIMORDIAL Another card, another style: Stephan Martinière swaps sci-fi landscapes for this hellish fantasy vision.

I then draw on top of this with tracing paper parchment, adding additional design elements. This sketch is then submitted to the art director for approval.


increasing familiarity with the game and how the cards looked when printed helped artists push the boundaries of card-scale compositions. More story-driven card assignments, style-guides and full worldbuilding followed. A more honed product meant more revenue, which resulted in higher art fees, and that enabled artists to work longer on pieces. A cycle of success. Magic’s look therefore evolved at a much faster rate than Dungeons & Dragons,

After the sketch is approved I print it out, wet-stretch it and begin painting. The final size of this piece is 9.75x7 inches. It's painted on Epson Velvet Fine Art paper using acrylic, oil, ink, gold/silver leaf and embossing powders.


Title: Flesh Foil Colour: None (artefa ct) Location: Your choice Action: We see a fem ale bluealigned human (neuro k) in the process of “installing ” her magical armour. The armour consists of form-fitting chrome pieces that extend tendrils of me tal into her flesh that connec t with her bones (bloodlessly). Focus: The chrome arm our with its endoskeleton anc hor points. Mood: Let those filth y Phyrexian try to pry this off me .

Although much of the art for Magic can look great blown up across two magazine pages, their natural habitat is a few inches on a playing card… and they still look great.


Fantasy Card Artist 51

VISIONS OF BEYOND For this 2010 card, Terese Nielsen was given the island location and the man’s thoughts as the main focus, with this note: “Don't show him in the lotus position.”

THRILL-KILL ASSASSIN Tyler Jacobson’s carnival killer is gleefully psychotic, a common trait in many of his Magic pieces.

BOG MAN Anthony S. Waters has produced over 110 cards for Magic since 1993, although his first batch never saw the light of day because the project was shelved.

MA AGIC: THE ART BOOK There was rumour and conjecture about an official Magic art book for years. The original artists couldn’t wait any longer… Amazingly, 20 years of magical artwork did not result in any official Magic: The Gathering art books. Forty-one of the original artists, including Jesper Myrfors and Pete Venters, thought they’d test the waters with Magic fans and started a Kickstarter project. It flew past its $32,000 goal, with 1,500 backers pledging just under $150,000. “The artists who worked on Magic in that first year are kind of a tight-knit group, as we all experienced the same rock stardom of being attached to the hottest game of the ’90s,” says Pete. “Most of the artists have done a new piece for the book, often revisiting one of their classic Magic cards.” The goblin piece by Peter, pictured here, is a mash-up/homage to the artist’s many years of goblin paintings, and his Legends card Hellfire.

52 Fantasy Card Artist

MORROX, DEMON PRINCE OF GOBLINS Pete created this piece of art exclusively for the Magic art book, working in ArtRage.

SENSE OF SCALE Scott M. Fischer’s art gets the Magic card treatment. Even at two-thirds of the card’s surface area, the character still jumps out at the player.

while always existing in the left field of traditional fantasy art. It’s a flavour that has even sustained the massive streamlining of its look and feel in 1997. “We’ve had eight or nine distinct settings for Magic since art director Jeremy Cranford began pushing for every set to represent a standalone world in 1997,” says Anthony. Digital artwork changed things, too. “I’d say that it’s put the art on steroids,” says Brad. Quicker turnarounds meant more commissions, and more money made to pay the increasingly sought-after art superstars.

Magic: The Gathering ANCIENT HELLKITE Jason Chan: “Wizards has released other side products like novels and video games, but the core of the IP is still the card game. That will always hold true. Everything else is icing on the cake.”

Some people – art directors, creative directors and a few higher-ups – were against the use of digital art in Magic However, the 1997 shake-up nearly nipped this digital boost in the bud. “Back then there was a meeting to discuss some finished paintings for Stronghold that had been created digitally,” reveals Pete. “Some people – art directors, creative directors and a few higher-ups – were dead set against the use of digital art in Magic. They felt that the game benefitted from traditional media and that digital works belonged in games like Netrunner. How times have changed!”

DIGITAL UPS AND DOWNS Nowadays, many accuse digital of reducing the diversity of Magic art. Where it initially meant more money for artists, it seems things have gone full circle. “The downside of digital is that everyone thinks that doing digital art is easy, so the pay has gone down, the deadlines have shortened and

the nitpicking has gone way, way up,” says Brian Despain. And the upside? “Digital allowed a new wave of talented artists to emerge,” says Stephan, “to explore different techniques and bring a new richness to the game.” And, as far as the artist who’s so identified with visions of the future can foresee, digital will play a part in the story of Magic for some time to come. “I can imagine the cards becoming more interactive online with 3D, sound and animation added to it,” offers Stephan. “I can also imagine holographic cards a little bit further in the future: the scene would come to life and even interact with the opponent’s card similar to the Star Wars holo-chess… I wonder if the players would need paper cards with that technology?”

CACKLING FIEND “I remember the description calling for a creature whose manic laugh echoes through the pipes of the world,” recalls Brian Despain, for his first Magic card art.

SPITEFUL SHADOWS Artist John Stanko: “This is one of my favourite Magic cards. I enjoy its simplicity while it still touches some complex themes.”

Fantasy Card Artist 53

Interview NIM GROTESQUE “This is the last example of my collaboration with artist Cara Mitten. I’m hoping we’ll get to work together again, since I think we complement each other well,” says Anthony.

Art: Anthony S. Waters


ANTHONY S. WATERS “An image should do more than tell you what a monster looks like. It should forge a gut connection with the subject.” Discover the visceral style of Mr Waters…

F © Hidden City Games LLC.

inding a path to fantasy art takes many forms. Anthony’s was a gradual transition, and probably a route familiar to many. “I remember it being a steady progression from wildlife art to sharks, to dinosaurs, to dragons,” he says. “It’s not such a big leap from dinos to dragons, I suppose, nor sharks to dinos.” It’s almost a logical progression, but the catalyst was fear. “My interest in sharks was kindled by the film Jaws, which traumatised the living daylights out of me,” Anthony explains. Exploring his reaction, Anthony reached for pen and paper, and sharks have been battling this smear on their character

ever since. “Maybe drawing about sharks helped me to chew up some of that fear.” Dungeons & Dragons happened next, introducing Anthony to the work of Errol Morris and Jeff Easley (which, he says, had a particular influence on him) and Frank Frazetta. “Frank led me to Pyle, Wyeth, Wrightson, Parrish and Kaluta. A whole world of possibilities was opened to me.”

ARTISTIC IMAGININGS While the evolution of a fantasy artist can be traced easily enough, Anthony finds the original creative impulse is harder to pin down, and admits that he’s unable to point to any one moment of his life when he decided that he wanted to be an artist. There’s some indication of an early tendency to make use of crayons, but Anthony plays the modesty card by suggesting his artistic talent simply fills a void: “It’s a good thing I’m able to make a living as an artist, since I stink at most other stuff!” The “most other stuff” that people are so often obsessed with is very often what they’ve been conditioned to want. On the other hand fantasy, by definition, requires an exercise of the imagination. As Anthony puts it: “An image should do more than tell the viewer ‘This is what a monster looks like’. It should forge some form of gut connection with the subject.”

BACK AND FORTH SKIN STRIP “Here’s a piece I did for Hidden City Games,” explains Anthony. “I was asked to envision what a spell that stripped you to the bone would look like.”

So Anthony spent most of his childhood learning how to draw, attending the odd class here and there. His family moved around a lot when he was young, so teachers weren’t always easy to come by,

THE ARTIST Conceptual designer for video games and illustrator for WotC’s Magic: the Gathering card games, Anthony Scott Waters is an autograph hunter’s favourite at conventions.

Fantasy Card Artist 55

© Wizards of the Coast, Inc.


PUMP STATION Wizards of the Coast is just one of many well-known companies that can call Anthony a contributor. This is “an image from that series of five environment pieces I did for Wizards of the Coast,” says Anthony.

and the connection was forged directly between artist and medium. “I love drawing with pencil or pen,” says Anthony. “That’s usually the way I start, by noodling around until I get a solid idea and a good composition.” The rough gets scanned, resized and printed, then: “I do a quick trace-off from that rough, and then work up a nice tight underdrawing to work from.” This becomes the basis of a painting. The process is interesting for the way it moves back-and-forth between digital and analog. In a similar way to squinting, or closing one eye repeatedly, it serves to develop a balanced picture of your subject, adding poise to the final image. “Poise is

his art at college. “I had a pair of amazing art teachers, one of whom, Paul Sparks, taught me as much about writing as art, and I grew a great deal during that time.” It wasn’t until later that Anthony began attending art schools: “Looking back on it, I’d recommend searching out a good art college if art’s what you want to make a living from.”

SECRET AMBITIONS When Anthony is not busy providing visual magicianship for the likes of WotC, Lucasfilm and EA, there’s a hint of plans afoot, although he remains pretty cagey: “I try to hold most of my personal goals close

ART IN FOCUS What the surrealists did for us

I try to hold my personal goals close to my chest; if you talk about it too much you often end up not doing it at all one of those qualities you may acquire as you go along,” agrees Anthony, “but it’s a harder thing to seek out as a hallmark.”

EMOTIONAL LEVEL What really counts is storytelling. “It’s a key issue in my approach,” says Anthony. “Artists are visual storytellers.” A painting, he believes, should be more than the sum of its technically accomplished parts. “You should be left wondering what just happened, or what’s about to happen.” To generate this reaction the artist needs narrative skills. “When I’m doing more than straight concept work (for a client or myself) I aim to create an image that engages on some emotional level,” says Anthony. He developed his own narrative skills alongside

56 Fantasy Card Artist

to my chest; if you talk about a thing too much, you often end up not doing it at all.” That’s understandable, although most people find it difficult to hold a poker face for too long. Anthony is adamant, however. “It’s better to set a schedule and start babbling when you have something to show,” he insists. Eventually, though, he relents a little. “I’ll provide a teaser. I’ve got two projects in the works that’ll end up in book form.” Anthony S. Waters – novelist, screenwriter, director? “I’m busy at work on the first two!”

STYLE IN CHECK In the search for narrative, Anthony believes that style cannot be allowed to rule over substance, and he almost has an allergic reaction to the suggestion that he might

“Stalking Vengeance is a spirit made from those whose deaths were unjust – a paranormal juggernaut made of bone and tombstones, bound together with raging souls.” Anthony S. Waters is the man that supplies the magic in Magic cards. Given the limited space on a Magic card, every element of a creature must be carefully conceived. “I used insectine wings to suggest the eventual flight of the soul, once justice has been done,” says Anthony. In developing his approach to painting, Anthony doffs his hat to the great Zdislaw Beksinski. The Polish Surrealist helped him understand that “you don’t need to have obviously human forms to make statements about the human condition.”

So here, a high-key red background generates a foundation for the images, “the rage of the dead, personified.” Built upon that base are staggered multiples of elements associated with the Stalker: “nested pairs of jaws, embedded skulls, bundles of gravestones collecting to form legs,” Anthony reveals darkly. Anthony wants to conjure a reaction in his viewers, not just draw them a picture, and, he says, there’s a slim but crucial difference between pointing your finger in the general direction and “grabbing the viewer’s head to make them see your intent.” That being the case, he continues: “The degree to which your art is successful rests on how little dictation is taking place.”

Art: Anthony S. Waters

ARTIST TIP Big brushes save blushes “I owe this tip to my buddy Todd Lockwood. He once advised me: ‘Always use a brush that seems one size too big for what you’re working on. It’ll keep you from getting too precious with whatever you’re painting.’ He’s spot-on about that. (He’s spot-on about damn near everything.)”


© Wizards of the Coast, Inc.

“I did this several years ago for a now-defunct game company. It was meant to be a promotional piece for its game Universe. A group of peasants watch as a God pours forth his wrath upon some poor bastards,” muses Anthony. “This piece was executed in Painter, before I switched to using Photoshop damn near exclusively,” he adds.

CYTOSPAWN SHAMBLER Here’s one of Anthony’s classic Magic: the Gathering cards. Never one to miss an opportunity for an irreverent take on his art, Anthony explains what it is: “It’s a blobular blobthing made up of lots of blobby blobness. Sorry for all the technical jargon.”

Fantasy Card Artist 57


© Wizards of the Coast, Inc.

“Here’s a Magic piece I did in collaboration with my compadre and fellow artist, Cara Mitten,” reveals Anthony. “She did the sketching and underpainting, I took it to a finish.”

ARTIST TIP Give your mind a workout “This tip is part technical, part artistic process. Always try to push beyond the first thing that comes out of your pen. Sometimes the first notion you have is the best. More often, though, you’ll benefit from cranking through a dozen or so variations (or twodozen, or three). The mind’s an organ, but treat it like a muscle. Work that sucker out.”


Art: Anthony S. Waters

Another classic Magic: the Gathering card from Anthony. “I’m happy with this one,” he beams.


have a “style” of his own. “I honestly don’t think I’ve got a style,” he says. “It’s not something I’ve been crafting consciously. I just see my answer to a given visual problem.” To Anthony, style is something quite separate from art. “Style can even get in the way of your art, by causing you to develop, and come to rely on, visual shortcuts.” It becomes, he adds, a shorthand for laziness. “You stop taking

You’re at the fun part, generating the ideas, and that’s when the meaning of what you’re going for is hanging right in front of you.” But as a particular piece of work progresses, he adds, it’s easy to become distracted. “It’s when you start thinking about colour choices and rendering that you can lose track of that underpinning value: what you’re trying to express.” Anthony believes this to be the last big

Style can get in the way of your art, by causing you to develop, and come to rely on, visual shortcuts the time to figure out how morning light falls on snow, or what a night-time scene in a village should look like.” Instead of getting out there and joining up the gaps in your skills, he goes on, “you start relying on what knowledge you have in your head to make a stab at the challenge, and use style to gloss over the ignorance.” This, he believes, is the enemy of promise. “From that standpoint, style scares me.” That said, Anthony admits that he doesn’t actively avoid having a style, but adds that the creative demands of being a concept artist encourage him to find alternative ways to frame his work. The main thing, he says, is “to try and make sure I don’t get caged.”

HOLD TIGHT Given such potential pitfalls, how can the artist remain focused? Anthony is clear: “The main thing to keep in mind when you’re creating a work of art is, ‘what are you trying to say?’” If you’ve gone to the trouble of devising a story, he believes it only makes sense to let it do the work it was born for – giving your image a purpose, a life. “I try to hold on to that thought from start to finish,” he adds. “At the beginning the connection’s pretty clear.

obstacle an artist has to overcome. “Once you’ve managed to get technique tucked comfortably under your belt, you can get lost in the act of painting,” he says. “You no longer penetrate the surface of your work, you become a technician, and you lose track of what you were trying to say.”

FAVOURITE THEMES So just what is Anthony trying to say? He gives us a cheery selection of the subjects that go towards inspiring him: “Alienation, isolation, anger aimed inward and outward, love, sacrifice and loss. Those things interest me most.” Essentially, these are the ingredients of the human condition, the raw materials of a sweeping novel by the likes of Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. “Sometimes I wonder if I’m actually a Russian,” muses Anthony, somewhat wryly. “Or maybe it’s the Viking blood in me.” In truth there’s not really any need for him to try to explain. These are some of the themes which art has attempted to address since humans first start drawing on the walls of caves. “I’m less interested in blood and thunder than in those things that pull us apart,” explains Anthony. “How much of that is a reflection of my own inner turmoil, I’m not sure.”

© Wizards of the Coast, Inc.

© Wizards of the Coast, Inc.

“This is a Magic: the Gathering card, from the Kamigawa Block which was released some years ago,” says Anthony.


VITAL STATISTICS The one-stop-shop for info on Anthony Place of birth? Omaha, Nebraska. Date of birth? 3 January, 1969. Current location? Washington State. Favourite music? I can’t narrow it down to one specific type. I don’t care for most mainstream music… it’s so overprocessed that listening to it is like eating a candy bar: it temporarily fills the void, but leaves you wanting something truly substantial. Favourite traditional artist? John Singer Sargent. Hands down, full stop. Favourite digital artist? Another hard one. Dave McKean wins out, but there are a host of folks who deserve the title. First memory? Hard to say. I had a weird nightmare that’s stuck with me since it happened, around age eight or so. Any pet hates or phobias? I’m scared of heights if I’m in a building, but I love flying in one- and two-engine planes, especially stunt planes.

Most prized possession? The Buddha figure my friend John gave me means an awful lot. The lion’s tooth I got from my brother means a lot, too. Average time spent on each image? It depends on the subject matter and size of the image. I’ve had some take as little as a few hours. Others, like the big landscapes I did for the Ravnica card set, took 120 hours. Single most important piece of professional advice? Do what you love. Everything else follows on the heels of that. Left- or right-handed? I was born right-handed. My mum and grandmum trained me to be a lefty. If you were an animal, what would you be? Maned wolf! Unless we’re talking mythological creatures, in which case it’d be a dragon. (One of my own design, natch.)

Fantasy Card Artist 59

Interview GODDESS Created for the Devacurse trading card game. “She comes from a myth in Thailand. Her duty is to take care of all plants.�

Art: Sinad Jaruartjanapat


SINAD JARUARTJANAPAT The Thailand-based illustrator’s bright and colourful work is an extension of the artist himself – there’s no room for gloominess in his beautiful pieces


inad Jaruartjanapat is wellknown for his colourful, loosely anime-inspired style of high fantasy. “I like to create work in this style because I feel comfortable doing it, and it’s very much how I imagine it in my head,” says Sinad. “But as we all know, the future is not certain… Who knows, we might see my work become darker!”

Ultimate Fighting System editions) and numerous Thai-based games. The moody, gothic pieces of many European concept artists are not for Sinad. Nor is the typically tortured metal-inspired look that’s a favourite of many a young US illustrator. His images exude enthusiasm and energy, and it’s no surprise to find that this is a reflection of the artist himself. “My main inspirations are the feelings of joy I get from each job, and the challenge

The part I enjoy most is really putting my all into a job. I want everyone who looks at my work to feel good For some time now, Thai illustrator Sinad has quietly been building up his portfolio of fabulously detailed and graceful pieces – both personal works and card game art. Resolutely upbeat, his images often feature beautiful women with elven faces – although if he needs to paint a burly man with a big weapon, he can do. The girls in particular have been a big hit on CGSociety, but you’ve probably encountered his work elsewhere: his art features in books such as Digital Painting 2, and he is also an active member of the prestigious Imaginary Friends Studio network. Meanwhile, his card art has featured in series by Tenacious Games and Sabertooth Games (particularly the

behind it,” he says. “The part I enjoy most is really putting my all into a job. I want everyone who looks at my work to feel good and enjoy it… That’s what I intend for every piece.”

CREATING A WORLD That’s not a particularly fashionable ideal, at least not in Western markets, but Sinad doesn’t seem to care about any concept of being “cool.” As a child, he discovered he enjoyed creating characters and props in particular: “When I designed those, it made me feel like I could create my own little world,” he says. And like many artistic kids, he was later delighted to discover that he could actually do this for a living.

THE GUARDIAN Created for the book d’artiste Digital Painting 2, which was released by Ballistic Publishing in 2008 and features a wealth of artists.

Fantasy Card Artist 61

Gundam is a registered trademark of Sotsu Agency Co. Ltd.


GUNDAM Sinad’s unofficial Wing Gundam fan art, inspired by the Mobile Suit Gundam Wing anime series.

While he was at university, Sinad would often use watercolours as a basis for his work, but these days he has largely abandoned traditional media in favour of a digital workflow – aside from an initial pencil sketch, that is. “I feel more comfortable doing it that way, and I’m used to it now,” he says. “Also, I like to let the line art be a part of the work, and have it work together with the colour and composition.” Sinad says his style and approach have evolved so that working digitally feels more natural. “I feel that doing background and other composition is much easier than before. I think it’s because I can see the whole image by zooming in and out – that way I can see clearly what I’ll add or cut, if something’s not necessary for the image. Also I can

edit throughout the entire process, without making the paper dirty!”

ON THE CARDS Inspiration can come from anywhere, although obviously jobs such as card art require a more specific image – particularly if the game is well known and fans expect a certain style. “Sometimes when I’m first assigned a job, I can imagine it immediately – and sometimes I hardly know where to start,” he explains. “In that case I’ll go and find more information in a magazine, or books, or even on the web, so I can gather ideas.” The important step for him is to get it straight in his head before he even begins drawing. “Then I’ll start with the sketch… This method can help me a lot in cases like this.”

WAREFOX One of the character races Sinad designed for the Thai version of online RPG Perfect World.



VITAL STATISTICS “Myself today, much better than yesterday” Full name Sinad Jaruartjanapat. Date of birth 8/9/80. Current location? Thailand. Website Favourite artists? They include Tatsuya Terada, Ayami Kojima, Tomasz Jedruszek and Bobby Chiu. Favourite music? There’s no specific song. I’d say that I love pop and jazz music equally. What really scares you? When the project

manager says: “Sinad, we need you to fix some things on the (name of work), blah, blah, blah.” What’s the greatest piece of advice that anyone’s ever given you? “Myself today much better than yesterday.” That was advice from the teacher who helped me the most while I was at university. Average time spent on an image? The fastest that I’ve ever done is one day, but mostly I’ll take two to three days. The longest I’ve ever spent on a piece is one month.

HUMAN Another design for the Perfect World RPG. This is Sinad’s Human Male character model.

62 Fantasy Card Artist

Card art takes up much of his time, and as his reputation in that field has grown he has found himself being offered more and more work. Networking helps – the series of card images he produced for Sabertooth Games’ Ultimate Fighting System came about through Imaginary Friends Studios, for instance. “That was really fun work, and I’m very proud of it.” But even for someone as clearly optimistic as Sinad, it’s not always smiles and effortless mouse strokes. “Sometimes it can drive me crazy too!” he laughs. “Mostly it depends on which pieces I’m working on. Occasionally I have a habit of having so much fun while working on something, or getting too ‘serious’ with the details, so I spend far too much time on them.” Is he ever tempted to take on a full-time position at a studio and relinquish the freedom of being a freelancer, then? Sinad is undecided. “Enjoying my freedom is good, but taking on a new challenge by working with studio or company is fine too,” he muses. “It doesn’t really matter what comes along so long as I can still work at the things I enjoy doing.” He does later mention a vague plan to become a full-time employee and stabilise his career somewhat – “but I need to improve my spoken English first!”

So we ask Sinad, do you play the card games yourself? “Actually, to tell the truth, I used to think I’d like to play the card games, but I’m too shy!” he says. Not that he adopts a fire-and-forget approach, moving straight on to the next job once one is out of the way. “I do really need to see my work after it’s been released as a final product. I need to check that the colour is the same as in my work, for instance. Also, sometimes I want to see how the character I’ve designed looks in place.” Artists such as Sinad and fellow Thai Skan Srisuwan (, although he’s now based in Singapore, have done much to raise the profile of Thailand as a country producing vibrant new fantasy artists. That hasn’t always been the case; Sinad points out that even while he was university, some years ago, Rangsit was the only major institution in Thailand that really focused on digital work and multimedia in its art curriculum.

OVERSEAS BIAS The situation, he believes, has improved since then: “Now, we have more companies and studios in this field, which is a good sign for the industry.” Difficulties arise not because the world regards Thai artists as somehow inferior, but that the


Art: Sinad Jaruartjanapat

All the fun of the Japanese fair gave Sinad this cover design Unusually domestic for Sinad, this image was created for LET’S magazine, which bills itself as a “Thai monthly original comic magazine.” Originally, the magazine’s commission had permitted Sinad to produce any image he wanted – a rare treat for any illustrator but, as it turned out, not a very practical one. “That idea had to be scrapped because some readers noticed that the covers weren’t matching with the stories inside,” Sinad explains. “So I’m proud to be the first artist to do a cover image that connects with the scoop inside!” In this case, the cover story was about a Japanese festival or matsuri. “When I was first assigned to this topic, the first things that came in my head were goldfish bowls, fish in those small water-filled plastic bags, takoyaki (octopus balls) and so on,” he continues. “Before I started on the sketch, I decided to create the image adhering to the Japanese illustration style as closely as possible. That style actually gives inspiration to most of my work anyway, so this was a chance to really refine it.”

KEEP YOUR HEAD “Try to concentrate on the work in front of you, and try to get all other problems out of the way so you can really concentrate on the job.”


ANGEL KNIGHT OF THE RUNE The image that marked Sinad’s first step into the pro art realm… Although Sinad created Angel Knight of the Rune many years ago, it’s still one of his favourite pieces, for various reasons. It was one of his first serious attempts at combining three of the elements he likes the most: angels, armour and subtle use of colour. He completed it just after he graduated. Perhaps more importantly, it was the first image he posted on CGSociety way back in 2005, which gave him the worldwide exposure he was looking for. Understandably, then, it represents something of a milestone in his career so far. “This was the first step for me to get this job,” he explains. “While I was working on this piece, I tried not to think about it too much. I just did the best I could at the time.”

USE REFERENCE! “When you’re not sure about how something looks, go and find more information about it. It makes all the difference and it’s so simple.”

Art: Sinad Jaruartjanapat

MYSTIC ALRAUNE “I want to change my habits because I use the Selection tool too much,” says Sinad. “This is the result.”

country’s consumers themselves think this way. “Most people in my country think that products or work that have been produced abroad are much better than things produced in Thailand,” Sinad explains. “So there’s a very serious situation here in that no sponsor wants to invest heavily in this field, because they see it as being too risky. I’m talking about comics, animation and illustration. And since there are no sponsors, there’s little new hiring, or maybe just low wages for work. I hope that things will get better soon.”

FISHING A saucy, unofficial fan art image inspired by the Final Fantasy XI characters and their universe. Final Fantasy is a registered trademark of Square Enix Co, Ltd.

No matter which style you have, everything you create is all your own, and you should be proud of it Given those conditions, Sinad can be doubly proud of what he’s achieved. In his 30s, he feels he’s still too young to be giving other artists advice, but he does admit to some self-directed words of wisdom for when the going gets tough. “I would say, no matter which style you have, everything that you create is all your own, and you should be proud of it. Of course, you shouldn’t forget to make it work as a client wants too, if you’ve been commissioned!” Bold, direct and undeniably truthful – much like Sinad’s work itself.

Fantasy Card Artist 65







68 Paint macabre card art 72 Card game creature art 76 Paint a spectral horse 80 Create a D&D character 83 Great compositions 88 A traditional art look 92 Adapting classic art 98 Better weapon designs 104 Capture light and magic 108 Compose a card hero 112 Capturing drama 118 Using translucent light 122 Rework a card character 124 Tell a story with details 128 Tell a story in an image 132 Using perspective Paint like Magic: The Gathering

Create a gruesome card art creature Use reference to create your art Capture the essence of a hero

Tips to give your art instant impact

Techniques to “age” your digital art

Put a fresh spin on classic fantasy art Paint amazing fantasy swords



Evoke a scene of magical drama

Reimagine a hero for Hearthstone

Painting an epic Tolkien scene

Paint cloud, skin and clothing

Mix influences in a card painting Create detailed trading card art

Master the Applibot card art process

How to paint a dramatic scene

Fantasy Card Artist 67


In Depth Macabre card art

Painter & Photoshop

MACABRE CARD ART Dave Kendall takes you through process of completing a typical Magic: the Gathering brief… he brief for this workshop was to explain the process of producing a Magic card. I took this a little literally and decided to play on the idea of an enchanted deck of cards. I had a dream that I noted in my sketchbook a couple of years ago in which I saw a demon illustrating a deck of playing cards. When I was asked to do this workshop, the idea came back to me. I changed it, however, to muse upon what would happen if these cards were used. A typical Magic: the Gathering brief would be



Dave Kendall COUNTRY: England Dave is an illustrator who started off in comics in the mid ’90s. He worked on Metallica’s comic and Brian Lumley’s Necroscope. Recently he’s produced comics for America, England and France and illustrations for books and trading cards. He produces his work in a mixture of traditional and digital techniques.

GET YOUR RESOURCES See page 146 now!

something along these lines: Show the results of the negative aspects of addiction or power when using an enchanted deck. At the end of their owner’s life the cards have decided to claim the final payment. Emphasis is on the fear and expectation of what’s about to happen. It can be daunting, but is also liberating to have such a blank canvas to work upon. I have decided to base this illustration in a modern-day setting. Although not strictly Magic, for the purposes of this illustration it only reinforces the other-


I can produce countless doodles and ideas before I finally settle on an outline. I tend to work in a couple of sketchbooks: a moleskine for rough concepts and thumbnails, and a larger, heaviergrade sketchbook for the fleshedout idea. This enables me to flip through numerous pages without interfering with the production of the final sketch.


worldliness of the demon kings. Most illustrations, irrespective of client or purpose, start with thumbnails and sketches. In brief, an old man has drawn a diabolical full house. Three sixes and a couple of kings. However, the kings have gone missing from the face of the cards and are looming in reality behind their victim. I chose hearts and clubs as I could see the potential for creating rather scary, violent creatures. Hopefully the illustration is self-explanatory.

The deal

When I’ve nailed the final sketch, I’ll add some colour before sending it to the client. This makes the go-ahead with the final image a much smoother process. With card art you’re looking for clear communication and good contrast between the elements – after all, the art has to be reduced to a small size. Although this illustration is not as restricted by those considerations, it always helps an image to obey these rules.

To seal the deal, Dave adds colour to his final sketch, drawing on his vision of the final illustration in his mind..


Draw out

I enjoy working up a highlyfinished pencil drawing. I try to nail a lot of the design elements and emotions. Somewhere in the future there’s the final image and I’m referring to this picture in my mind as I draw. Always try to have an emotional attachment to your work. It’ll really help create reality in your work and not just physical realism. I believe that this old man is really about to be claimed by Hell.

Fantasy Card Artist 69


Save often Save often and make good use of Painter’s Iterative Save feature. This feature will save consecutive versions of your image. If your computer crashes while saving, chances are your image will be corrupted beyond repair; at least this way you will have an earlier version available.




Early position

After scanning the pencil drawing into Painter I use the Simple Water brush to remove the white background and add a rough colour scheme. I’m thinking of an evening with the sun setting through the window. The sun doesn’t worry these demons. Dusk always seems spookier than any other time of the day or night.

When working digitally, I use the same process as if I was using real-world paints. I work up to highlights and down to shadows from the previously applied midtones. I also work from background to foreground – the room’s environment followed by the kings, with the old man and table last. I create Alpha Channels of these separate elements. You can use the Lasso or Pen tool to achieve this. I find Photoshop has the better selection tools and it may pay to do this before working in Painter. I don’t adhere to these selections religiously as I want to avoid any cut-out feel.

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Chips are down


Two of a kind

I find that my greatest inspiration comes from looking through photography books. I find the work of documentary photographers such as Don McCullin and James Nachtwey to be especially useful. When trying to capture emotion and mood, real life situations carry the greatest gravity and the aforementioned photographers are masters of this craft.

I wanted Clubs to be a hulking figure and Hearts to have the bearing of a surgeon. These creatures are dedicated to their craft. The King of Clubs is dedicated to violence, with his hands forever bound to his weapons. The King of Hearts resembles a very dark onion seller. I also remember a biology lesson where I had to dissect an ox heart. I used this memory to depict the Red King’s face. I found that the artist Holbein was a great source of inspiration for the clothing and decoration. It really helps to have the widest, most diverse influences in your research.


I find myself using quite a limited number of brushes when I work. Mastering just a couple of them enables you to concentrate fully on the task you have in hand, which is simply painting an image without worrying about which brush does what. The brushes that I use most are Simple Water, the customised Scratchpen tool, a couple of Palette Knives and a Spattery Airbrush that acts just like a toothbrush. This last brush is very useful for texture and noise. It acts on a separate layer, so it’s very adjustable according to the effect that you are aiming for.


Hold ’em

Whenever you’re painting, remember that your characters exist in time and space. Feel the surfaces, lighting and textures as you paint. Make photographs and sketches – and look, touch and feel different materials. This should all be feeding into and enhancing the final image. In your painting, make sure you differentiate between metal, fur, cloth, skin, wet and dry. I find it useful to study paintings in galleries and museums to see how other artists solve these problems.

In Depth Macabre card art (Left) Dave reduces the size of the old man’s head to bring it into proportion with the overall image. (Below) It’s important to pay attention to the skin’s texture when building up the facial features.

see you 13 I’ll I took a week’s break while Photographic memory Take real or mental pictures of everything – the light to the dark. Even stuff like road kill can create the most bizarre ideas. Avoid becoming road kill yourself, though, and ignore all the strange looks and dodge the men in white coats.

10 Fossil Next, I concentrate on painting the head. I slightly reduce the size of it. Using my Palette Knife and Scratchboard tool, I build up the structure of the man’s face. Pay careful attention to the feel and texture of the skin, and remember that wrinkles and veins are part of its structure. Too many beginners depict them as separate entities, snaking over the surface. Pay careful attention to areas of high and low blood flow. The ears, cheeks, nose and lips will be warmer and look fleshier than the forehead and bony areas. The area under the eyes will be cooler as veins will be close to the surface. Use the Spattery Airbrush tool to build up noise and texture. Using opaque paint on top will help model the flesh – similar to using glazes in traditional painting.


Marked cards

I decide to use real scanned playing cards. I arrange them face down on the scanner, and remove the images of the kings in keeping with the storytelling. I take my image into Photoshop and, with the cards on a separate layer,

I use Edit > Free Transform to make the cards adhere to the perspective of the table. I then spend some time in Painter adding scratches, folds and stains to the cards so they tie in with the overall image.

producing this image to be able to look at the card art with fresh eyes. I felt I needed to push the old man forward and work a little more on his coat and posture. Personally, I would probably go back and re-tweak large areas of the whole image, but it’s not always realistic in the world of deadlines and commercial pressures. Still, I will take the image back into Painter and address the issues I feel are most critical for me to be happy with the image.

deck 14 Stacked I think about the kings originating from the cards and decide to apply some crumpled paper texture to their base. I then do an observational painting on top of their robes using a luminosity layer. This improves the visual contrast between the kings and their victim.

12 Help To add more atmosphere to the kings, I use a fitting, custom-made texture of some stagnant water that I photographed. Experiment with the blend and transparency options until you achieve the desired effect. I make sure the kings are masked for this process. It doesn’t have to be exact as it can unify an image to have texture seeping into foreground and background. You want the make photographic elements appear subtle so they act on a subconscious level. I’m usually searching for a Goldilocks effect – just enough, not too much or little. This is a gut feeling that you’ll develop, rather than using strictly defined settings. This can be applied to everything you do in art.

15 Showdown I take the image back into Photoshop for the final colour adjustment and add a little separation to the kings. I add a peach-filled layer set to Soft Light to lighten the background. There is a hard opaque mask over the old man and I lessen its strength over the kings to strengthen the contrasts in the piece.

Fantasy Card Artist 71



PAINT A CREATURE FOR A GAME CARD Dave Allsop takes a simple card art description and turns it into a gruesome, demonic painting

Dave Allsop COUNTRY: Scotland Glasgowbased Dave is a fantasy illustrator for Wizards of the Coast, Nightfall Games and White Wolf, among others. He also works in video games.

GET YOUR RESOURCES See page 146 now!

eremy Jarvis, the art director on Magic: The Gathering, wants me to paint a new version of a card illustration I did several years back – Archdemon of Unx. It’s a personal favourite, and it’s great to revisit the design and bring a new dimension to the card concept. When you work on paintings for collectable card games you have to take several things into consideration. The final painted art is going to be shrunk to just a few centimetres in size, so you need to balance your abilities with the image’s



constraints. The painting needs to have exciting character design and plenty of mood and impact, but it can’t be too busy. Creature-based cards like this typically have just one character in them, which makes things a little easier, but you still need to make it visually stimulating in concept or dynamic in pose. Here, I’ll take you through the process of producing a Magic: The Gathering card until we have an illustration ready for submission.

The art commission

The process always starts with the art brief. “Show us an enormous, winged, black demon-lord with a wicked grin on its face. It’s easy to get lazy on this, so channel your inner 14-year-old boy and make it awesome!” By “lazy,” the art director means he isn’t looking for just a traditional view of what a demon looks like. He wants a cool new design that the audience isn’t expecting.


The sketch phase

Because I’m working from a preexisting design, I don’t need to spend time creating a new look for the creature. I dig out my original version and start drawing a different pose. The original art was painted almost entirely in side profile, which is looking a little dull. This time, I turn the demon design into a threequarter-angle portrait so we’ll see more of the creature’s form and body details.

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Going grey Doing a preliminary greyscale version of the image is also good for preparing you for troublesome areas that lie ahead, and helping you to better plan the final colour painting.

In Depth Paint a creature

Fantasy Card Artist 73

Workshops Hide marquee

Ctrl+H (PC) Cm d+H (Mac) Select someth ing with any Marquee tool and then hid e the selection outline to colour in are as without crossing the lines.


Greyscale mock-up

I’m fairly pleased with the sketch, but it’s just a line drawing and there’s no way of telling how well it will reduce to card size, so I do a tonal study in blackand-white. This is really just a mock-up to check that the overall illustration is still legible at 10 per cent of its normal size.


Background time

The picture is beginning to take shape and I’m eager to start shading the demon, but I need to get the background painted first, as the light, shadows and colours of the environment will dictate how the creature is lit and rendered. The most important thing when I come to painting the actual character is that it doesn’t slip into the background. I’m careful not to make the background too dark or too bright, because this may challenge the tonal range of the demon.


Special features

At this point, I want to start picking out important regions of the demon’s body in colour, including the bare skull in pale yellow and the screaming faces in blood red. I go to the appropriate layer, select it with the Marquee tool, and then hide the Marquee outline. I can now use a broad brush type and rough in the new colour details without crossing the lines. The creature is starting to be recognisable as the demon I painted before.

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Sharpen up

All of the early broad stroke and prep work that goes into my painting is now complete, and I commence the longest stage of the illustration process. It involves going closer into the features of the character and sharpening them up. I do this by picking out lighter areas and tightening the form and curves, then deepening the darker regions of the body. It’s during this stage that I can really see the painting coming together.


Build shapes


I start the painting by blocking in the base colours and shapes, making sure I keep all the elements on separate layers. At this stage I don’t concern myself with colours or shading – I just want to define the forms. Every aspect of the painting is treated as a separate, defined element.




Taking shape


Add shadows

I may want to revisit the background later, but there’s now enough information there for me to move on to rendering the actual demon. Right now, I just want to focus on bringing out the form of the creature and avoid getting bogged down in fine details or complex lighting. I pick a dull purple/grey colour and rough in large blocks of shading with a similar approach to before. It looks untidy, but it’ll all tighten up as other layers go on top of it.

The image is lacking depth, so I set about adding some shadows. I create a new layer, pick a deep blue and apply it like an ink wash (switching this layer to 60 per cent Opacity) across the underside of the demon. By applying the shadows like a wash, you can achieve the darkness you need while retaining the detail that was produced in the previous stage.

I don’t really use custom brushes all that much, as most of my work relies on Photoshop’s default brushes. If I need to create something specific, such as clouds, I’ll occasionally switch my brushes to the Scatter preset.

orb 10 Fiery Before I can do more on the demon, I need to finish the external light sources. The distant, gloomy light behind the character’s back is looking fine right now, but I haven’t started the burning orb above its head. I’ll do this in three stages: rendering the heart of the fire with deep reds and orange; adding lighter strands of flame rising up the outside of the orb; and placing a bright Soft Light yellow layer above it, to create a warm glow.

In Depth Paint a creature 11

Add intense light and texture

Now that I’ve established and completed my two main light sources, I can continue with the creature. I’m following a similar approach to Step 9, but this time the highlights I’m adding have colours that correspond with their nearest light sources – warm colours beneath the fiery orb and cool colours towards the ghostly light in the background.

there 16 Almost The painting’s nearly complete now,

eyes 12 Evil Most of the work on the body of the demon is now done, so I focus on one of the most important aspects of the painting – the eyes. When you look at any character portrait, you’ll inevitably be drawn to the eyes, and their colour, lighting and expression convey the entire mood of the scene. Here, the demon’s eyes are sharp, beady and utterly evil.

drool 15 The I want the demon to look gruesome and ravenous, as though it forever hungers for fresh souls. I create the long strings of saliva hanging from its jaws by using the same fine brush as before to paint in the basic shapes in a light yellow hue. Once this is done, I reduce the Layer Opacity down to 5-10 per cent to give it some transparency. I use a finer brush and a paler yellow colour to create a thin, tapering line around the outside of the initial layer, giving the saliva a watery gleam.

details 13 Extra Some areas of the demon’s outline are still looking a bit too simplistic, particularly those beneath the neck and along the lengths of the arms. I choose a fine brush setting and add a few extra details, including strands of hanging flesh, to make these regions appear a little more interesting.

Check readability Remember to zoom in and out of the image throughout the course of the painting and keep checking that it’s readable at print size.

so it’s a matter of making a few tweaks. I like how the background looks, but I’d like to add a little more aggression, so that the environment matches the demon. I add a few forks of lightning across the skyline to help make the monstrous realm a bit more foreboding. I want the demon to stand out from the backdrop without looking stuck on, so I add a few wispy banks of smoke along the base of the image and among the wings and arms of the character. This helps to draw the whole picture together.

the image 17 Revisit Here’s our completed Archdemon of Unx part two! I’m quite pleased with the end result, but I’m still musing on whether there’s anything left to do. At this stage, it’s best to leave the finished art for several hours, or ideally a day. If you take a break and return to the picture afresh, you’ll see the art with a new perspective. I decide the picture is looking a little murky and could do with being lightened up a fraction. I use Levels to brighten the painting slightly – don’t push the slider too much, as this can end up making things look a bit patchy.

fect Inkwash ef(PC)

N Shift+Ctrl+ N (Mac) Shift+Cmd+ er and set lay w ne a Create r cent to pe 60 to y Opacit s with a ea ar er ov t pain . dark colour

throne 14 Screaming I’ve decided I want to make the mound of earth that the demon is perched on a little more interesting. This time, I’m adding screaming faces that correspond with those on the demon’s neck. This new approach gives the overall painting a more infernal mood than the previous version of the card.

Fantasy Card Artist 75


Painter & Photoshop

PAINT A SPECTRAL HORSE AND RIDER Matt Stawicki makes use of several photo references – and a pumpkin – to produce a striking fantasy composition featuring a powerful steed n this workshop I’ll show you my process of creating the characters of a demonic horse and its unearthly rider. I’ll work with photo references for both, and use them as drawing guides for the horse, hopefully creating a dramatic pose that’s based on several pieces of reference material. I’ll use a more direct photo


Matt Stawicki COUNTRY: US Since starting his career in 1992, Matt’s created many images for a range of products and clients, including book covers, video game covers, collectible card images, collectors’ plates and fantasy pocketknives, to name but a few.

GET YOUR RESOURCES See page 146 now!


In the beginning

I take the approved sketch and use Photoshop’s Color Balance, Hue/ Saturation and Brightness/Contrast tools to create a sketch on a tinted ground that’s roughly the colour and value that I want. I then start laying in the basic values using a normal opaque colour and a Multiply layer, producing a translucent tone that doesn’t totally obscure the sketch.

paint-over method for the figure. This is the basic approach that I use on most of my card and cover work. Keep in mind that the methods are interchangeable and can be applied to different elements of a piece, depending on what the goal for that element is. For example, in this piece I don’t want the horse to look like a photo, but to have


a more painted, stylised and iconic pose, rather than a more realistic one such as I might produce through working with one specific piece of reference. For the rider, on the other hand, I want to work with all the information that the photo reference has to offer and edit as needed. I’m keen for the folds of the cloth, overall form and the pose of the figure to have a more life-like quality.

Horse reference

For this horse, one of the first things I do is gather photos or other sources of reference that I think will be helpful. Here’s a look at a selection of different shots I’ll be using as the guide for this. I usually keep my reference files on my second monitor, so that my main screen remains free for the piece itself and the palettes.


Starting the horse


Change of head

I take a simple brush tool with a hard edge and start drawing the horse. The process is a corrective one for me. I’m constantly referring back to my horse reference file, looking at the legs on one, the neck on another, and so forth. I scale the brush size up and down constantly.


Keeping a method to the madness

I like to keep the starting point for a particular session on the Background layer. I duplicate the layer and usually name it “Image”. On top of that, I start another layer named “Detail”, on which I start working over the image. I try to keep the adding of Detail layers to a minimum, and then merge them when I’m happy with the result – even merging them to the Image layer once in a while. When I feel that the piece has progressed enough I’ll resave the document, usually with a letter or number. In this case “Headless Rider a” will become “Headless Rider b”, and so on. This gives me a safetynet copy to refer back to.

76 Fantasy Card Artist

I start a new layer and patch out the head. I want to give it more of a profile view to show off its silhouette. I want to get the iconic look of a chess-set knight, especially as the rider doesn’t have a face.

In Depth Paint a horse & rider

Fantasy Card Artist 77

Workshops Change brush size

Ctrl+} or { (P C) Cmd+{ or { (M ac) Increase/dec rease brush size. This wo rks with many tools.



Once I have a fair amount in place, I move the piece to Painter. I’m looking to take the linear, drawn edge off it and give it a more painterly look. First I simplify the layers by merging as many of them as I can in Photoshop. I start in Painter by creating a new layer on top. I use the Blenders brush set to Just Add Water and about 40 per cent Opacity, and begin smoothing out the image. I think that this helps to knock the obvious look of the Photoshop brushes down into a more “painted” start for the background. Once I get to a point I’m happy with, I take the image back into Photoshop.

First image flip

Now that the horse is basically laid in, I still have a few problems to work out. To see these more clearly, I flip the canvas horizontally. I do this regularly while painting, and I also find this helps to break patterns that I tend to develop.


Smooth and simple

Make the most of digital art

I’m not concerned with the figure at this point – in fact, I’m patching most of it out as I work. My figure reference will dictate his placement later.

78 Fantasy Card Artist

I lasso the figure from the reference and put it on its own layer for now. I erase the negative space and head, leaving only what I need. As before, I duplicate the figure layer and hide it. I start making adjustments to the pose of the figure by lassoing the boot and rotating it until I like it. On a new layer, I draw the rest of the neck and head, and make a few other changes. This is now my basic reference layer for the rider.

a headless model, I need to make some value and colour adjustments. I go into Quick Mask and make a mask for the shirt, using the brush tools. I then take it out of Quick Mask and duplicate the figure layer, before inverting the selection and deleting everything but the shirt. Now I can make value adjustments using Brightness and Contrast as well as colour adjustments using Color Balance. I take the same approach on the trousers. Now, my figure is dressed in dark clothes.

Surrounding colours

Forward thinking

Placing the reference

adjustments 12 Mask Now that I have what looks like

I now start laying in the surrounding colours and start to get more of a feel of how this palette is going to evolve. Another advantage of having the new detail on a separate layer is that I often like what I’ve done but find it just a bit too strong. To counter this, I reduce the opacity of the new Detail layer down to about 60 or 70 per cent before I merge it with the main Detail layer.



Try to keep an open mind as you work. One of the plus points of working digitally is the ability to make bold moves based on how the piece is developing. The other thing I’d recommend is to constantly hit Save. I also back up all my finished files to CD.

figure reference 10 The Now it’s time to get the photo reference for the rider into the piece. I set up the lights so they match the lighting on the horse and note the camera angle/ eye level I want. For this piece, I just need a body in some period costume. After shooting several poses, I select this one because of how I think it will work with the pose of the horse.

In Depth Paint a horse & rider details 18 Figure It’s time to start adding some details. I refer back to figure reference and start adding studs and so on to the horse and riders’ outfits. I also start defining the distant background. At one point, after flattening all of the detail on the Image layer, I duplicate it and set the layer to Color Dodge at an opacity of between 10 and 15 per cent. This heightens the value and brings out the highlights a touch.

drawing 13 Figure I duplicate and reorganise my layers, and start a detail layer to further correct the figure’s edges and costume. I also start to add the saddle detail and the pumpkin. At this point I’ve started a file of various Jack-o’-lanterns. I also want to shroud a cape around the main parts of the figure. I constantly make corrections to the size of the figure and saddle while they’re still on separate layers, and rotate the piece using the Rotate View option.

Further corrections

14 I now want to start working on the anatomy of the horse again. I have some problems with the front legs, so I check my horse reference file and rework them, continuing to add detail. At some points, I lasso and select an area of the horse’s head and apply the Transform tool. Once I’m happy with the lassoed area, I merge it back to the Image layer. I don’t worry about seeing the edges of the cut-out section, as I’ll go on to reshape and smooth these out later.

rim lighting 16 Selective I continue to detail the figure and horse, adding the light from the Jack-o’-lantern as I go. I could have shot the figure reference with this rim light, but I want it to appear only in very specific places. I use a variety of textured brushes, playing around with the settings each time – usually the Scattering and Texture options. I also refine the drawing of the tree in the background.

up 17 Tidying Now that the piece is starting to take shape, I go back into Painter to deal with all the little bits of photography that are left in the figure, as well as to soften the maple leaves and background, again using the Blenders brush. To add details back in at this point, I use the Oil Pastel Brush set to Chunky Pastel, and the Oil brush set to Fine Camel Hair. Once I’m happy, I go back into Photoshop to draw in some more environmental details.

horse head 19 New The head of the horse needs to



Great for straight lines with pen pressure on. Press Shift to connect the line between points. MAIN DRAWING 2

Select colour

Alt (PC & Ma c) Switch betw een a brush or drawing tool and the Eyedropper by holding down Alt.

I’ve set up this brush so that strokes trail off and look more natural with pen pressure turned off.

be more animated. So I find a reference shot that’s closer to the pose and position I want. For this I bring in the photo reference of the new horse head and leave it on its own layer. I adjust the angle by transforming it and begin to redraw the head as well as other figure details. When I’m satisfied, I delete the horse head reference and resave. I then take the image into Painter for some final tweaks.

the light 20 Pushing I want to increase the light effect from the Jack-o’-lantern. On a separate layer I use a Radial Gradient tool to create a circular gradation over the light area, set the layer to Color Dodge and reduce the opacity to about 15 per cent. Then I set a layer to Darken and work out the negative space behind the tree and around the figure’s upper body. Once I’m happy I flatten and add a detail layer for finishing touches. I add a more detail to the horse’s tack and some blowing leaves, which help bring more of the orange colour into the piece and add some more motion.


This is handy for adding a texture and detail without over-rendering certain areas. SCATTERED LEAVES

Adding the background detail

15 This is the point where I start to use a wider assortment of brushes. I use the Maple Leaf brush in a scattering effect to lay in the leaves, and adjust the colour until I’m happy with it. I also set a layer to Color Dodge to add some lighter background values and enhance the glowing effect that I want to achieve in the back.

I’m sure that you can figure out what this arboreal-themed brush is good for!

Fantasy Card Artist 79



CAPTURE THE ESSENCE OF A D&D CHARACTER A strong D&D image is always a crowd-pleaser. Dan Scott takes aim at a classic character class…

Dan Scott COUNTRY: US Dan is a freelance illustrator who produces art for book covers and interiors, trading card games, video games and comics.

GET YOUR RESOURCES See page 146 now!

magineFX contacted me, wanting to know if I’d like to create an image focusing on Dungeons & Dragons imagery. I’m a big fan of the magazine, owning every published issue, so I was excited to work with the team. I was also comfortable with the subject matter, having played my fair share of D&D through the years and painted several interiors and covers for D&D products. The art brief was for a female Elf Ranger in a snowy setting with some sort of red and green colour scheme, because this was for an issue coming out at Christmas. My main goals were to make her beautiful, powerful, confident and hopefully have some connection with the viewer. I also know that a red-green colour scheme could easily look garish or cartoony if handled too harshly. With these aims in mind, I set out to create the best image I could muster.


Gang of four I submit four rough thumbnail sketches. These are just quick, loose sketches, conveying general pose and composition. I’m not too worried about what she’s going to be wearing at this point. I also keep the background pretty sparse, because I want the image to focus on the character.

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Down to two I usually do a tight sketch and add greyscale values before I start working in colour, but the art editor wants to see two of the rough sketches in colour before deciding on which of the images to go with. This image, featuring the Elf Ranger in an action pose, is eventually rejected on the grounds that her body angle would look awkward on the cover. In addition, the snowy background might obscure the text that will eventually be superimposed onto the scene.

In Depth Paint a character How I create…

Light it right The face is the most important part of the image. It’s what sells the character and compels someone browsing the newsstand to pick up the magazine. It’s important to make sure the lighting looks realistic and believable, so I do a lot of research for images with similar lighting.

Feeling of texture I don’t use texture overlays much, but I do use a lot of texture brushes. In this closeup you can see I’ve used different brushes for the fur, the leather, and so on.



Surface tension

I now apply colour to my tight sketch. All the linework can still be seen and the basic colour scheme is all intact. I can’t mess it up too badly at this point, so it’s now time to render out all of the different surfaces and details.


Face the facts

I start defining the face. I spend a lot of time trying to get the lighting and expression just right. Other parts of an image can be less defined if need be, but the face is what’s going to grab the viewer’s attention.

Get a grip Once I have the official go-ahead, I dive into all the fun details that I’ll be cursing myself for adding when I get to the rendering stage. I originally wanted to have my archer with an open grip, just to try something different, but eventually this got changed to the traditional closed grip so it wouldn’t be confusing.


Scaling it up

All the rendering is now done. At this point, I step back, look at the piece as a whole and see what areas need tweaks in values, colour, detail, and so on. I try a version with dragon scales in the background, as if she’s standing in front of an enormous red dragon that she’s just conquered. The art editor likes this version and decides to go with it.

Fantasy Card Artist 81


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Artist insight Great compositions


Dan Dos Santos shows you his favourite tricks for strong compositions that are guaranteed to have instant impact

COUNTRY: US Dan’s work spans a variety of genres including novels, comics and film. He has worked for Disney, Universal Studios, Wizards of the Coast, Dark Horse Comics and DC Comics.

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trong composition is crucial to a successful piece of art. It’s what will attract a viewer’s eye from across the room, and what will hold their attention once they take a closer look. It can mean the difference between an action-packed piece of art and a more contemplative one. But how do we make a composition convey the mood we want, and what is it that makes a composition successful? There are a many long-standing rules about what makes a good composition, such as the Golden Ratio, the Golden


Spiral and the Rule of Thirds. But they aren’t really rules at all. Think of them as suggestions… or better yet, as optional templates. Traditional methods like these are just one answer to a problem which has an infinite number of solutions. Ultimately, their purpose is just to offer a simple method for an artist to use to make a more pleasing image. In this workshop I’ll discuss some of these traditional techniques, but more importantly I’ll explain why they are successful and how you can use that knowledge to make a better image.

To begin, all you really need to know is this: a good composition is nothing more than a pleasing arrangement of shapes, colours and tones. That’s simple enough, really. Chances are, most artists with any experience can produce a good composition with their eyes closed. But we don’t want good compositions, we want great compositions! We want to be masters of composition, bending it to our will, so that we can make the viewer’s eye do exactly what we want it to do. In order to do that, we first need to understand the basic properties of composition.

The basics

The root of all composition lies in relationships. Look at the image above (the two black squares). Although it’s technically a composition, it’s not a very successful one. The viewer doesn’t know where to look, nor is there any sense of flow to the image. By altering one of these squares, even slightly, I’ve created a much more successful composition in the second image below. As simple as the image is, it already has a sense of motion and depth. How? Through relationships. By causing a disparity between the shapes, I’ve given the viewer a means by which they can compare those shapes. “This one is bigger, that one is lighter.” The grey square appears to be moving and receding only when compared to the black square. The process of comparing these shapes requires that the viewer moves their eyes repeatedly around the canvas, and therein lies the true goal of a great composition: controlling that eye movement.


The Golden Ratio

Let’s look at the Golden Ratio. This was devised by the ancient Greeks, in pursuance of the Platonic concept of ideals. This holds that all things, both tangible and intangible, have a perfect state of being that defines them. The Greeks also felt that one should always strive toward achieving this ideal state, be it in mathematics, one’s physique, politics or aesthetics. Greek mathematicians, after repeatedly seeing similar proportions in nature and geometry, developed a mathematical formula for what they considered an ideal rectangle: one whose sides are in the proportions of 1:1.62. They felt that all objects that exhibited these proportions were more pleasing, whether it was a building, a face or a work of art. To this day, the proportions of standard sizes of books and even credit cards still conform to this ideal.

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Workshops 3

Implied lines

These are probably the most important aspect of a composition, because you notice them first. When you’re painting realistically, there’s no actual line around a subject. The illusion of a contour is a result of different values and colours contrasting. But even the impression of a line is strong, and our eyes will go to it and follow its length until it ends or until it meets another line, which we’ll follow again. A great composition makes strong use of this natural attraction to lines. By creating strong lines for the eyes to follow, we can decide what path we want people to take and where we want that path to end. In this painting you can see a strong contour that follows along the cape, down the woman’s arm, to our subject’s face, down her arm, and then back up to the cape. This creates a circular current that keeps the viewers’ eyes flowing around the composition, holding their attention. That current also brings their eyes past every key element of the painting, one at a time. And don’t forget, whether you’re working for print or for websites, the borders of your composition are an implied line, too.


By creating strong lines for the eyes to follow, we can decide what path we want people to take

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Reinforcing those focal points

As well as using implied lines to draw the eye all around a composition, you can use the same method to make someone look immediately at your chosen focal point. In fact, you can do it repeatedly, from multiple directions. This is particularly useful when your image is a portrait or a pin-up, and the character’s face is the most important element. To bring more attention to a particular character, try to make surrounding objects, such as arms, swords and buildings, point to your subject. You can also use implied lines to frame the subject’s face, locking the viewer’s eyes in place.

Artist insight Great compositions Background

Middle-ground Foreground 5

The Rule of Thirds

This principle states that if you divide any composition into thirds, vertically and horizontally, then place the key elements of your image either along these lines or at the junctions of them, you’ll achieve a more pleasing arrangement. But does it work? Let’s look at Edmund Dulac’s painting, “The Little Mermaid: The Prince Asked Who She Was.” Dulac was great at using empty space to his advantage, partly because he tended to abide by the Rule of Thirds. Here Dulac has placed the column and the horizon line perfectly along a line of thirds. But what if he didn’t? With the column and horizon line in the centre of the image (below right), the result is less successful. The column dominates the image, stealing focus away from the figures. The viewer’s eye is now glued to this strong shape that bisects the canvas, instead of wandering around the image like it originally did.



Threes are everywhere


Imbalance of values

Balancing three elements seems to work its way into most aspects of picture making, and value is no exception. When constructing compositions, I tend to think in general arrangements of foreground, middle-ground and background. To heighten the relationship between these three depths, I try to restrict each to a range of value, favouring black, white or grey. For instance, you can let the background predominately be white tones, the middle-ground predominantly greys and the foreground predominantly black tones. Of course, any arrangement of these three values will work. By restricting your values in these areas you reinforce your image’s sense of depth and make the silhouettes very easy to read – and that legibility is important. Muddy values hurt the viewer’s ability to discern shapes, especially at a small scale. That’s why you’ll see this technique used so often in trading card art. When your image is just a few inches tall, high-contrast compositions work especially well. Tripartite value schemes like this are readily apparent in the works of the Old Masters, particularly in the engravings of Gustave Doré. His paintings all show different arrangements of black, white and grey to emphasise the difference between foreground, middle-ground and background.

How the rules work

The Rule of Thirds works because it demands that the artist makes one element more dominant than another. This dominance creates an imbalance, and an imbalance of any sort will always attract the viewer’s eye because it implies dynamism. Bisecting an image perfectly in half creates the least amount of interest, because everything is equally balanced and static. Look back at those black and grey squares on the first page. The first composition is boring because it’s too balanced. Making one area of your composition more dominant creates tension, and therefore adds interest. It also makes your eye move around the canvas more to compare all of these relationships. The fact that a composition is divided into precise thirds is really of minimal significance. You could divide a composition in fourths, fifths or even tenths. So long as there’s some sort of imbalance, the composition will exhibit tension. As you’ll soon see, this concept of imbalance applies to many aspects of composition, including value and colour.

Looking at Doré’s engravings, you can observe that not only has he divided his composition into three obvious layers of depth by using three ranges of value, he also creates an imbalance in the proportions of those values. For instance, he may use a large amount of grey, and a small amount of white, but rarely equal amounts. This reinforces the importance of imbalance to create tension. By letting the composition be dominated by grey, the small accents of white and black garner more attention and draw the viewer’s eye towards the subject.

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THREE DEGREES OF SEPARATION The rule of threes also applies to colour Try breaking your composition down into three distinct temperature ranges: warm, cool and neutral. Just like value, restricting certain areas to a temperature will create a more legible composition and a greater sense of depth. You can arrange these temperatures in any order. Use tripartite schemes for colour temperature and value for maximum effect, ensuring focus and legibility in even the busiest of compositions.


Start off simply

When sketching out a concept, think in terms of the simplest structure possible: background, middle-ground and foreground, then key each depth to a simple value range of either black, white or grey. If you can already tell what’s going on in an image with this little detail, your composition is strong.


Reinforce your idea

Once you’ve decided on the basic value structure, reinforce it with three distinct colour temperatures. In this case, I chose to make the background neutral, the middleground warm and the characters of the foreground cool.


Values and tones

When painting the image, incorporate different values and tones into each of these areas, but be careful to squint at the piece often, making sure the general impression of each area still falls within the chosen temperature/value range.


The benefit of contrast

Black and white are inherently powerful tones. If you use them sparingly, and right next to each other, you can draw the viewer’s attention to a particular spot with ease. When painting, try reserving the purest whites and blacks for your focal point. For instance, if your main character has very pale skin, try placing something extremely dark on them, such as black hair or black clothes. This is one of the easiest and most successful ways of making your subject really “pop”. In my painting Blood Divided, I did just this to make sure the heroine sat apart from the background.

Black and white are inherently powerful tones. Use them sparingly and right next to each other to make your subject really ‘pop’ 86 Fantasy Card Artist

Artist insight Great compositions

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION! What’s your angle? It can change everything Imbalance can not just create a more exciting flow to your composition, but it can also add drama. The next time you feel that your painting isn’t exciting enough, try tipping the camera angle. Even the slightest tip to the horizon line can turn a mundane scene into a cool action shot. Experiment with the psychological impressions that different camera angles create. Straight, the painting below lacks real excitement. The bricks, rain and hair all create simple vertical lines and don’t do much to enhance the drama of the piece. Tipping the image gives it a whole new feel. Suddenly it appears like the woman is being thrust against the wall. There’s also more of a sense of weight to their poses. The slanted eye level adds a sense of action, and helps your eye “slide” through the image.

magic 10 Making Colour is an extremely powerful tool, and can inject a piece of art with mood and light. But it’s also a strong compositional tool. Just like implied lines and contrasting values, colour can be used to draw the viewer’s eye anywhere we want. As mentioned before, disparities draw the viewer’s eye. So, if your painting has a colour scheme in place that’s predominantly red, then any other hue (particularly a complementary green) draws attention to itself. Or you can create a disparity between levels of saturation, such as a mainly grey or muted painting with high saturation in a small area. The greater the disparity, the greater the attention it receives. I often use this method to create the illusion of magic or dramatic lighting. You can make a colour appear intense simply by making the rest of the composition relatively desaturated, and/ or complementary, in comparison. My painting Soulborn is primarily red and purple, yet everything besides the similarly hued “magic” element has been slightly reduced in saturation.

Just like implied lines and contrasting values, colour can be used to draw the viewer’s eye to anywhere we want


Putting it all together

A good composition is one where the artist controls the movement of the viewer’s eye to a beneficial result. We can do this by a number of means, such as reinforcing the focal point with the Rule of Thirds, implied lines, contrast of value and selective colour saturation. Putting all of these tools into action in a single piece, Jean-Léon Gérôme’s Duel After a Masquerade Ball is the perfect example of using all compositional devices to your advantage.

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GET THE LOOK OF TRADITIONAL ART Daren Bader takes us through his bare-bones approach to image making and explains how to “beat up” an illustration so that it looks traditional or this workshop I was asked to do a classic fantasy piece. For me, classic fantasy is pre-digital, pre-Star Wars, around the early to mid-’70s. I grew up on Tarzan and Conan comic books, Ray Harryhausen’s Sinbad movies, Godzilla and King Kong, and of course Frank Frazetta’s paperback and magazine covers. Stories where a giant bat could hold his own as The Monster, as opposed to a parasitic alien who bursts from your chest and grows into a creature unlike any we’d seen before. With this as my


Daren Bader COUNTRY: US Daren is the senior art director for Rockstar San Diego, where he recently finished Red Dead Redemption. At the weekends he keeps himself busy as a freelance illustrator for trading card games and publishing companies.

task, my goal is to paint something that feels wholly traditional while using nontraditional tools. When working digitally, I use a Cintiq pressure-sensitive monitor with Photoshop. I tend to use the same basic tools: the Brush tool in Normal mode (although sometimes I use Overlay mode to intensify colours and contrast, or Lighten or Darken modes), the Dodge/ Burn tool, for quick contrast manipulation, the Eraser and the Scale/Rotate tool. The brushes that I use tend to have heavy texture, which brings an organic

looseness to the overall image. I don’t like a slick digital look, so I try my best to kill it by not using soft or clean-edged brushes. In fact, I enjoy having to beat up my image, to bruise and scar it, eliminating that cold, digital feeling. Ironically, it’s because I’m working digitally that I’m able to do so. The best (and worst) aspect of digital painting is the countless number of directions one can explore so easily and quickly. What’s more, of course, there are no brushes to clean or toxic splatters of turpentine to wipe off the walls. And that’s a good thing!

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This brush (a Tool Preset) is a chunky textured brush that lays down lots of random noise when used lightly, but will become solid with added pressure. Varying the size will give you a wide variety of uses.



Thumbnail sketches

I start with multiple thumbnail sketches exploring various ideas. These are pencil on paper and are about 1.25 x1.75 inches. Because I’m going to be painting this image digitally, I don’t worry too much about the details. I know I can always manipulate the image to my heart’s content. If I were going to do the painting traditionally I would do a lot more reference work for the figure and the bat before committing to canvas.

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Scan the sketch and set up the file

The thumbnail sketch is small, so I scan it at 1,200dpi. I then duplicate the sketch layer and set this new layer’s properties to Multiply. Next I create what I call a “painting layer” and place it below the sketch. This enables the sketch layer’s darks to always be darker than the colours I’ll be applying, while the sketch’s whites don’t affect the colours at all. I also create a quick palette to colour-pick from.

In Depth Get the look

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Workshops Quick navigation

Stylus butto ns Set the stylus button to Move, so you can grab and scroll aro und while working .


Quick colour block-in


Refine colour and value scheme

Even at this high resolution (1,200dpi) the sketch is still relatively small. I like to keep it that way so I can quickly block in colour and value without having to worry about the brushes chugging. This is a fun stage to explore colour and value ideas, and with the Sketch layer set to Multiply, it’s just like a page from a colouring book where no matter how much you colour, you don’t lose the original drawing.

I constantly reduce the image on my screen drastically, which is similar to walking across the room while working traditionally. This makes it possible to stay focused on the image as a whole, instead of getting lost in a single spot – there’s plenty of time for that after the foundation has been laid. Eventually, after trying out various colour and value schemes, I refine it all to something that feels like the right direction.


New layer over good work

When I get to a stage where I like what I’ve done, I collapse my paint layers and just create a new layer on top, but still under the sketch layer. While I work on the new paint layer, I constantly turn it on and off to make sure the new painting I’m doing is better than what I had previously. If it isn’t, I can easily erase the new work to reveal the old, better work below.

Have no fear


Gently intensifying the image

One digital tool that I particularly enjoy using is Dodge and Burn. Although it’s easily abused, I like the way it’ll bring in high chroma and value into the painting, creating new colours and pushing the richness. But as I said, it can be easily overused. To me, what makes digital work cold is super-clean airbrush, too much detail and the Dodge and Burn tool. Use with caution!

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Don’t let intimidation hinder your progress. You have the chance to explore directions and ideas when working digitally, so follow your instincts to see where they may lead, time allowing of course. Just save your image, create a new layer and dive right in. Even if what you learn isn’t applicable to your current piece, you might find something that’ll spark other ideas or be useful for a different image.


Opaque lights

I try to work below the sketch for as long as possible, to retain the looseness and spontaneity of the brushwork without fear of losing the drawing, but eventually it’s time to paint on top of the sketch. I create a new layer over the sketch layer and continue to work opaquely. Occasionally, I’ll also change the sketch layer to sepia or play with its opacity to get rid of the colouring book look as well.

In Depth Get the look the body 10 Refine I continue to use the new brush as I refine the details of the barbarian’s anatomy and belt. The hand in particular needed extra attention, because I hadn’t worked out how he was going to be holding the sword. Yes, this is something that should have been worked out way back in the sketch stage, but working digitally gives me the latitude to rework it.


I have the image reduced to about the size of a postage stamp on my monitor, is that the rock under the bat’s left wing seems a touch too dark, pulling the viewer’s eye to a sort of black hole in the image. I brighten the area with the Brush tool set to Lighten. I also paint out some remaining colouring book lines in the far background with the brush in Lighten mode.

Bat details

Before I begin with the details, I resize the image to its final resolution of 9x12 inches at 350dpi. I begin to refine details, alternating between the bat and the background. Some people love to jump right into their focal point when they begin this stage, but I like to put in more time before I get to the focal point. Hopefully this way I’ll be more in tune with the painting and the focal point will get the best I can offer.


Character details

I’m finally ready to start on the barbarian. I begin with his face and for the first time I zoom into the image, alternating between 66.67 per cent and 100 per cent. I also use a different brush in this area. Although this brush still has a decent amount of organic noise, it has a velvety-smooth feel to the paint application, contrasting nicely from the earlier textured brush. This new brush allows for much more control over the details and colour blending, while maintaining an organic feel.

brightening 13 Minor One of the problems I notice, while

the progress 14 Assess I feel like I’m finally achieving my


View it small Because most of my illustrations are usually viewed from a distance (like a book cover on the store shelf) or printed very small (like an illustration on a gaming card), I constantly view my work at a small size on my screen. It helps to maintain an easily readable image – essential for success with this type of work.

Efficient art

Tablet butto ns Work faster by setting buttons to siz e the brush up and down, th en one as Undo and on e to Color Picker.

New collapsed layer

While I almost exclusively use Normal mode for brushes, I’ll occasionally use Lighten or Darken mode as well. This mode doesn’t work well on layered files because it only considers the values and colours on the layer you’re working on. For this reason, I select the whole image and copy it (Ctrl+Shift+C), then paste as a new layer. Now I have the whole image as a single layer and the Lighten and Darken modes work as expected.

goal: a noisy random looseness mixed with some tight points of detail in the focal areas. The composition and flow are still intact from the original thumbnail sketch. It’s time to consider if this thing is done. I fill the screen with the image on a black background, remove the Photoshop palettes and examine the image.

refinement 12 Further As well as reducing the image on screen regularly to see how things read at a distance, I also turn the current painting layer on and off to make sure I’m making the picture better instead of worse. I begin to refine the shield and the scabbard as well as the barbarian, working out the lighting on the planes of his torso.

15 Monitor compensation After a little more noodling around I add some falling debris and call it done. Now I have one last thing to do. Because I know that my monitor is too dark, making my digital work appear washed-out on other monitors, I have to compensate with an Adjustment layer to tweak the Levels of my image. (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels). Although this makes the image too dark on my monitor, I know it’ll look better on virtually everyone else’s.

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In Depth Define textures using acrylics


ADAPTING A FANTASY ART CLASSIC Tired of the same old approaches to fantasy icons, Kev Crossley breaks out the acrylics to put a fresh and inspired spin on painting a unicorn his is an interesting brief, as it brings together two subjects with very specific fan bases that you might not expect would cross over. When you think of unicorns you’ll no doubt think of a beautiful white stallion with a noble gait and a sparkling golden horn jutting proudly from the forehead. The clichés attached to these mythical creatures are often a bit kitsch or even twee, with soft colour schemes to match. Zombies on the other hand couldn’t be more different: mindless, rotting, putrescent – every new film or TV show seeks to present ever more disgusting make-up and special FX to make their zombies as grim as possible, and zombies have never been more popular than they are right now. So, let’s combine the two, to paint a zombie unicorn… The strong aesthetics attached to each subject are tough to ignore, but I decide right away that I want to do something a little different from what might be expected. To this end I look to the heavy working dray horses of yesteryear as a starting point for my unicorn. These beasts are thick-set and heavily muscled with a sturdy frame as would befit an animal bred for heavy hauling and hard work. Their physique also resembles some of the horses that feature in the classic fantasy paintings of people like Frank Frazetta, and having some stylistic resonance with such great art is a welcome bonus!


Also, rather than going for an action shot, I opt to create a static image, somewhat akin to the old engravings or illustrations of prize animals. I want the unicorn to be the core of the image, and excessive movement or suggestion of narrative would detract from this. A unicorn needs a horn, of course, but there will be no pretty, corkscrew spike for my version. Instead I plan to bestow it with a gruesome, heavily deformed weapon, bristling with spines and scales. I want the horn to look like it’s been used to monstrous effect. When I produce a piece of fantasy art, I try to create something that catches the eye and encourages the viewer to linger a while. To this end I utilise beauty, composition tricks and horror. This painting will rely heavily on the last of these, so I might have loops of innards hanging from the animal. The addition of a few weapons driven into the spinal area will serve an aesthetic purpose too: arranged in a spoke formation they will serve to draw the eye into the focal centre of the image. Now, turn the page and we’ll begin painting! Kev created comic art for 2000 AD and others before writing numerous art books. In 2012 he illustrated Ian Livingstone’s 30th Anniversary Fighting Fantasy title, Blood Of The Zombies, shortly before his second book was published by Ilex: 101 Top Tops From Professional Fantasy Painters.

MATERIALS Paints Winsor & Newton Galeria Range: Phthalo Green, Sap Green, Pale Olive, Cadmium Yellow Medium Hue, Pale Lemon, Naples Yellow, Crimson,

Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber, Burnt Umber, Ivory Black, Mixing White, Acrylic Glazing Medium DalerRowney

Cryla Range: Rich Transparent Red Oxide, Phthalo Turquoise, Vandyke Brown Hue, Prussian Blue Hue, Titanium White

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A 2H is usefu l for fine lines. The HB is great for strengthenin g 2H lines. 2B to 6B are soft, dark grades used for filling in areas.



The sketch


Pencil: finishing touches

I use an orange Col-Erase pencil to draw a rough outline for the unicorn, before using an HB pencil to add detail such as protruding ribs, a skeletal aspect and a broad head that is in part inspired by a pit bull terrier.

I continue refining the posture and exaggerated muscles, using a 2H pencil with the orange to boost the shading and add a sharper edge to some lines. I use an electric eraser as a sculptural tool to carve away areas of pencil with precision.

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Scaling up

The canvas board I use is about 1.5 times larger than the sketch, so for scaling up I use a blue Col-Erase pencil to draw an inch square grid over my sketch, and an orange pencil to draw a 1.5-inch square grid onto the canvas.

3D texture

3D texture sets traditional work apart from digital. “Mixing White� acrylic paint is blobbed around the edges of the art board. A small piece of card is pressed onto the paint, and leaves cool veins and ridges when lifted away.

Keep acrylics wet Use a spray-nozzle bottle of water as needed to keep the acrylic wet on your mixing board.


Using the grid


Tone painting: wash

I use an orange ColErase pencil and an HB pencil to sketch the unicorn onto the canvas art-board, with the grid making it easy to keep the proportions correct. A Prismacolor Jet Black pencil helps enhance the darker tones and add dimensionality to the block shadows.

A tone painting is a greyscale under-painting, which picks out the shadows and light areas. I use Ivory Black acrylic paint mixed into plenty of water to build the shadows up and develop the details. Repeated washes build the tones.

In Depth Define textures using acrylics 7

Tone painting: shading


Background: defining the unicorn

I apply thicker paint in some areas that require darker tones. The 3D textures come into their own too, with dark tones settling between the ridges and veins to create terrific effects. The pencil is then strengthened with black pen, with Titanium White acrylic providing light tones.

The unicorn needs to be defined, so I paint the background first. I apply Van Dyk Brown, Red Ochre, Yellow Ochre, Olive Green and Lemon Yellow over the tone painting, with lighter hues framing the unicorn’s body. Next, I develop the sun and mountains dramatically in the distance.


Colour glaze

I create a thin glaze wash of Raw Sienna, Raw Umber and a touch of Red Oxide. I apply this in the same way as I did the tone wash before, finishing with a bit of toothbrush spatter. This rusty base colour will underpin the finished painting.

moving into 10 Background: the foreground As the background is refined, I begin to enhance a few areas on the unicorn itself, as well as the ground it stands on. The emphasis is on the animal, so I deliberately leave the brushwork loose and underworked on the creatures and the stony ground beneath the unicorn.

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Workshops BRUSH SIZE S

Sizes 3 to 6 ac rylic or watercolour brushes are suitable for th e painting work. Sizes 00 to 0000 are go od for the fine detai l.

11 Colour tips 1 Use Photoshop to paint over your scanned underdrawing to work out what colour schemes to use when you begin painting.

Background: texture detail

And now you can see how that 3D texture I added earlier generates what I call “random prompting”. I allow myself the freedom to work around the ridges and patterns in a completely intuitive way. Without premeditation, I just daub paint wherever it feels right!

the skin 12 Painting For painting the texture on the zombie skin I use Pale Olive, Flesh Tint, Sap Green and Pale Lemon, with Van Dyk Brown and Titanium White for darks and lights. I apply dabs and strokes of colour onto the animal, working around the scarred and veined details.

Unicorn 13 Detail: I use a smaller brush to refine details. I add shadows, blending tones and evolving textures. Lemon Yellow and Titanium White reinforce highlights and lighten the colours across the back and upper haunch, and I give particular attention to the metal discs scattered behind the mane.

2 Light conditions in your studio can affect the way mixed colours turn out, so paint in a bright, well-lit space. 3 Scan traditional painted art into Photoshop to subtly tidy up any mistakes, and then adjust the colour balance and tone quality.

random 14 Detail: noodling The painting feels mostly done by now, but there is always time for a little more “noodling”. So, I have some more fun playing with the background textures, and continue to add bold brush strokes alongside finer details.

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15 Finishing In the final painting, there is a balance between loose brushwork and finely rendered modelling. The reddish under-painting permeates the colours on top of it, holding everything together, while the 3D textures offer shifting patterns of shadows depending on the lighting conditions.

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ENHANCE YOUR WEAPON DESIGNS Dan Scott reveals his thought process and painting techniques for depicting the weapons of his fantasy characters. Draw your swords!

Dan Scott COUNTRY: US Dan has been a freelance artist for several years, creating illustrations for books, magazines, comics, trading card games, packaging and dabbling in concept art.

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’ve had the opportunity to paint plenty of weapons in my day. I still have a lot to learn, but I’ve picked up a few tips over the years that could help you out. In this article I’ll get you thinking about ways to improve your approach to weapon painting in your work.


There are a lot of things to consider when painting a hand-held weapon. What type of weapon is it going to be? Who’s wielding it and how do they use it? How did they acquire the weapon? How was it originally created? What special abilities does it have? How does it fit into the composition and does it help lead the

viewer’s eye to the focal points or create distracting tangents? Is it shown from an interesting and natural-looking angle? Asking yourself some of these questions at the outset can help you in creating a weapon that adds to the story of its owner and makes for a more interesting painting.

1 OFFENSIVE MATERIAL What’s the weapon made of? It’s an important consideration when approaching rendering. A shiny metal weapon should have a high level of contrast and reflect some of the surrounding colours. A leather grip might be duller in contrast and have some frayed edges. A rough-cut weapon may look like it’s made of stone, with many cracks and crevices. Perhaps a weapon has a magical aura or parts of it are partially transparent.



Weapons can be a great compositional tool, leading the viewer’s eye around the painting and calling attention to the focal points. Strong diagonal lines created by weapons can make an image more dynamic, while a curved blade may keep the viewer’s eye on the page. Even something as simple as a whip or lasso can be an effective compositional aid.

The internet is one of the quickest, easiest and most thorough ways to search for references. For example, it could help me design a unique sword hilt or come up with an interesting colour scheme. One tool I use that helps a lot in weapon perspective is SketchUp and Google’s 3D Warehouse ( The basic version of SketchUp is a free program and there are several great designs for free download in the 3D Warehouse. As with any reference, be sure to make it your own and don’t just trace someone else’s hard work.

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Artist insight Weapon design


e e eents elem Ornate sculptural ele p al cann help conveyy how speci and powerful a weapon is.

One of the most fun parts of getting to do concepts for the Warhammer Online game was designing weapons for Chaos. Those familiar with the Warhammer universe will know that Chaos is the epitome of evil, and the only limit when designing Chaos weapons is your imagination. Here I’ve done my best to experiment with different material types, themes and effects. In general my goal was to make them organic, twisted, and just generally demented.

g t wayy to a e a grea uneses are Run add an interestingg desiggn your weappons. elemeentt to yyo he p ggive a They can help mystical feel to them.

Chaos is the epitome of evil and the only limit when designing Chaos weapons is your imagination Fantasy Card Artist 99

Workshops ROUGH ’N’ READY When painting a rough-cut weapon like this I use a more hard-edged brush with a texture applied to it. I also tend to mix in more brown and red tones to indicate dirt, rust, and blood.

5 IT’S A TRAP! Poorly composed weapons can fatally damage your composition. Tangents are an easy trap to get caught in with weapons. A tangent occurs when lines from two different objects appear to touch each other. This can cause confusion and depth problems. Another pitfall is when your weapon is too vertical or horizontal and divides the image in half. There are exceptions to this rule when you’re making an iconic symmetrical composition, but in general it should be avoided.

Always try to add at least a little tilt and foreshortening to your character’s weapon

6 STRIKE A POSE One giveaway of amateur work is when a weapon is shown exactly symmetrical and parallel with the viewer’s perspective. This can make a weapon look static and pasted-in. Always try to add at least a little tilt and foreshortening to your weapons. Rotate them or obscure parts of them for added believability. It’s extra work, but adds a lot to the piece and can help make an image more dynamic.

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7 MASS EFFECT Consider the size of the weapon in relation to the wielder. When doing personal work you’re free to create whatever type of weapon you think works best, but when producing art for clients you always have to be aware of what type of setting the weapon is appearing in. Some properties are more historically accurate, with realistic weapon sizes and designs. In contrast, most fantasy settings go over the top with unbelievable (and sometimes unwieldy) designs and oversized weapons. Always take this into account when working on a piece.

Artist insight Weapon design

t nt in ta m is impoorta Symbolism e gn. It can be weappon desig used tto ggive a weappon a mood and meaning.

ettee iin mind eep silhouett Keep while designningg. These nicallyy techni words are all te sword t g but have amee thin the sam very different shapes.


In contrast to Chaos, the Empire faction is much more orderly, and rife with strong religious overtones

In contrast to Chaos, The Empire faction is much more orderly, and rife with strong religious overtones. The weapon designs are more symmetrical and the symbolism is very different, with crosses, eagles, skulls, fire and laurels dominating the look. Gold and crimson accent the colour scheme. But even though these weapons are much cleaner than the Chaos versions, there are still signs of wear and tear from battle.

Fantasy Card Artist 101



Try to keep in mind how a weapon is used. An ornate magic staff of a high wizard would need to look pristine, with a high level of polish and very few blemishes. A crude hatchet wielded by an orc would probably be terribly grungy. Chunks of missing metal, large scrapes, dirt, rust and blood splatters really help sell the effect. Texture brushes and/or texture overlays can help tremendously when trying to get this kind of look.

For a smooth, shinier weapon I tend to use a brush that simulates a real paintbrush and use less texture. Notice the subtle variations in colour throughout the blade.

Chunks of missing metal, scrapes, dirt, rust and blood splatters help sell the effect 9 HOW CHARMING A good way to make a weapon interesting is to add a magical effect to it. It could be a flaming weapon, shooting some type of spell, or simply be glowing. When adding these effects I work with textured and smooth brushes. Try not to overuse smooth brushes or the image can start to look overly digital. Having magic weapon effects gives you the opportunity to utilise interesting lighting effects. These can be used to help define an edge, pop a focal point or just add some interesting colour contrast to the image.



This is one of my favourite brushes, not just for weapons but for just about anything. It has a nice natural look while still offering plenty of control. LIGHT GRUNGE BRUSH

I can’t remember how I came across this brush, but it’s really good if you want to add a subtle grunge to weapons. COARSE TEXTURE ROUND

Just a good brush for adding random texture without having to visit the Texture checkbox. SQUARE WITH TEXTURE

A good, all-round brush that’s perfect for detail work and has some texture. I use this one quite often when painting jagged weapons.

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11 BACKGROUND INFORMATION Details are an important part of weapon design. An ornate weapon could have a flowery filigree pattern or harsh zig-zagging runes. It may have either tiny detailed gold intricately woven into the design, or big clunky pieces of stone or metal welded to it. Perhaps the weapon’s owner has tied a charm to the hilt, wrapped a favourite bandana around the grip, or used notches crudely carved into the blade to denote each kill. All of these details add flavour and interest to how the weapon is portrayed.

Artist insight Weapon design f tion Sometimes func Havingg follows foform. H f o an for a sculpted wom a hiltt mayy nnott be t ble o ffoforta the most com grip, but it looks cool!

12 SNEAK ATTACK These Dark Elf weapons are yet another visage of evil. The designs have an angular intricacy to them, with patterns that are more geometrically complex. The metal even looks to be forged differently and has a purplish blue hue to it. You can tell from the slender forms that these weapons are designed more for stealth and subterfuge than direct mĂŞlĂŠe combat.

e t with Experiment symmetrical and y metrical asym etimes desiggns. Someti des the best solution is a combination of both.

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CAPTURE LIGHT AND MAGIC Winona Nelson makes the most of a real-life reference model, then demonstrates how the right light can evoke a scene of magical drama

Winona Nelson COUNTRY: US An avid gamer and reader as a child, Winona grew up dreaming of designing game characters and painting fantasy and sci-fi book covers. She freelances in concept art and illustration, and works on Warhammer covers and card art for Magic: the Gathering.

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hen a painter captures light well, it’s magical. It takes a two-dimensional image into the realm of threedimensional space. Good light creates such strong mood and emotion that it takes you away from your thoughts and worries, and grabs your mind for a moment in the world of the illustration. Painting light well enough to really connect with your viewer requires close observation of the real world, but you can’t simply stand in front of a mirror



When shading near dark areas I want to preserve, I set the Brush mode to Darken. This affects only colours lighter than the one you’re painting with. Lighten mode does the opposite and is useful for removing unwanted dark areas such as line work showing in a scan. Color mode is great for making temperature changes without changing value. Note that the Brush modes don’t work on transparent areas.

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lighting scheme as well as you can, is an investment that pays off in a major way. Painting digitally can tempt you to try a lot of fancy effects and tricks. Don’t let it control you. You need to commit, and to make every decision consciously. Experimentation and exploration can help you generate ideas, but at some point you have to nail your piece down and take the time to make everything work together or the light just won’t look right. That’s why I keep my files simple and use effects judiciously.

Initial sketch

The value arrangement in your sketch is what indicates your lighting requirements. I’ve decided to surround my figure with light so that she’ll stand out from the rest of the image, but I want another light source in front of her to place her into the space. In the sketch I’ve imagined this as a glowing cauldron, but I feel it needs more drama to illustrate her power, so I end up changing it to a fire.

Brush modes

and summon a glowing dragon. We illustrators need to be crafty to create and light scenes of magic convincingly. No matter how otherworldly the subject of our paintings, we can use real-life tools to make our work dynamic and powerful. The best weapon in our arsenal is the camera. Getting good reference is the first step in taking a sketch and turning it into a fully realised scene. This doesn’t require anything too fancy, but spending the time and effort to have a friend model for you, and replicating the costume and


Reference shots

I ask a friend to model for me – she’s more than happy to pull faces in front of the camera. With my sketch in hand, I replicate the lighting scheme by having the model stand where she’ll be posing later, and arrange my lights around her. I use a tall lamp for the back light, and a second lamp on the floor for the light of the fire. You want bright light bulbs, especially if your camera isn’t fancy.


Costume elements

Costumes don’t have to be perfect. Most of the time I use a bit of fabric and safety pins. I ask the model to tie her hair back so that her face isn’t obscured. I also take separate shots with her hair down and combine the photos later. The same goes for capes and other costume elements. Don’t attempt to make one perfect shot. Get your elements separately and combine them in Photoshop.


Sense of motion

To introduce a feeling of motion and life in the reference, I usually start out by talking to the model about the character she’s portraying. I use my sketch only as inspiration. I look for things that look good when the model is in front of me. I try posing the model myself, and ask her to feel and remember where her limbs are. I have her relax, and then move quickly into the pose and take the shot in motion.

In Depth Capture light and magic

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Switch foreground and background colours X (P C & Mac) Great for dig ital inks and sketchin g silhouettes.


Time for some improvisation


Assemble a montage of photos

After I’ve got a selection of good shots that are close to my initial idea, I ask my friend to try a lot of different motions. To obtain good facial expressions, I then tell her to go ahead and make noise, because it’s hard to fake an expression without making sounds. You can also take video and use still frames for reference. This way you have a lot of options that you can piece together digitally.

I go through my photos and select one I’m going to start with. I may pick a photo with a head I like and then grab arms from another. I select the areas I want and drag them into the reference image, while being careful to keep everything in proportion. I use the Polygonal Lasso tool and Free Transform a lot at this stage. You can move the pivot point to make Free Transform easier.


Keep it simple

I usually work on a single flat layer. It feels and looks more like traditional mediums this way, and it enables me to paint with my brush in different blending modes. I add layers of flat colour at times and change the blending mode to explore glow effects, but I don’t often separate the layers out to more than a few at a time.



This is my all-purpose brush that’s good for sketching, laying in big areas of colour, and rough rendering. <3 CHALK


It’s face time

With the reference image open I begin rendering. I often start with the face because it gets me excited about the work, and because it usually takes a few passes before I’m happy with it. I want the sorceress to have exaggerated features, so I apply the darks liberally around the eyes to give her the look of dramatic makeup.

I use this in a similar fashion to my <3 brush, but it gives a little more texture. Chalk Dual is the same brush with extra texture, but can be a bit slow. It’s used in the painting’s fabrics.

Introduce texture

I trace some of the lines lightly for placement, print it on watercolour paper and paint on it with acrylics. I go quickly, using bristle brushes and a dry brush effect, and I don’t worry about keeping it neat – messy is good. When I’m done, I photograph it, open it in Photoshop and crop the image to the final dimensions.

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I use simple brushes like a hard-edged Round brush with the Opacity set to Pen Pressure. I keep the light source in mind at all times. In the reference, the light source is a regular light bulb, not fire, so it doesn’t have the hot glow that fire does. This means I’ve got to change the colour of the light as I paint.


This is a hard, fully opaque brush with the Spacing setting under 10 per cent. It’s smoother than the default Hard Round opaque brush. I used it for hard highlights in the eyes and the sequins.


from the fire 10 Light As I render soft areas such as flesh,


This is a soft-edged brush with Flow set to 40 per cent. It comes in useful for blending soft areas and painting light blooms. I use it in the skin and the magic glow.


Temperature changes

For firelight, the brightest areas tend to be hot orange or yellow, with reds in the middle to lower values and the shadows cooler. I keep the values and saturation highest in areas close to the light source, and let them taper off as it gets further away. Especially when I have a brightly coloured light source, I dampen the saturation or change the temperature in some places, so that the painting doesn’t get monochromatic.

In Depth Capture light and magic 12

Think in planes

When rendering form, think about your subject in planes, and the direction that the planes are facing in relation to the light. The planes that are perpendicular are going to be the brightest, with the light falling away as the form turns and as planes become further away from the light source. Once you start to get the form right, it seems to pop into 3D, and then you can push and pull it with value to make the shape look even more solid.


The wiggle

To really check if my forms are turning right, I close one eye and wiggle my head back and forth. It might look crazy, but closing one eye will turn your vision from stereo to mono, and wiggling your head keeps your brain from locking down and getting a handle on what you’re looking at, so it’s easy to trick yourself into converting the screen into a window and your painting into a whole threedimensional space.

add rim light… 16 Finally, I also have a backlight to deal The Window Menu In Window > Workspace, you can save your window configuration and hotkeys. If you’ve ever had Photoshop freeze and reopen in the default window arrangement, this will save you lots of time. Also, check out Window > Arrange > New Window for [filename]. You can have multiple views of your image open at once. I like to keep one I’m working on and one at a smaller view to keep everything organised in the composition, and one on my second monitor to check colour differences.

with – another area where a little goes a long way. The rim light is so much fun to paint that sometimes you want to put it all the way around the figure! You have to be careful and pay attention to your reference. The rim light can tell us a lot about the form in the way it’s sharp in some places and soft in others.


Polygonal Lasso step ba ck

Backspace (P C & Mac) Undo an inacc urate click with the Lasso tool without losing the selection.

…and use it well

Just as with the other light source, the rim light will change in brightness depending on how far the surface is from the light source and on the angles of the planes. At the edge between the shadow and the rim light, a little hot red will really make the flesh look convincing. In some spots, you can make the background just a little darker in value so the rim light pops rather than blending into the background.

it right 14 Get Because I’ve lit my figure from below, it’s a challenge to make the face look both realistic and attractive. Underlighting can make people look otherworldly, which is why I’m using it, but it can also make them look monstrous. In addition, I’ve chosen a rather complicated facial expression. Understand where the biggest challenges in your painting are, and hit them hard! Nailing the tough spots makes your work sing.

marry the 15 Don’t reference shot Some things look fine in a photo but wrong in a painting. So, the shadow on her upper lip is important to the expression, but paint it too dark and she has a moustache! Painting the highlight under her nose too bright makes her nose disappear. I simplify the wrinkles on her cheeks, nose, chin and corners of the eyes, but I retain enough to keep the expression.

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COMPOSE A GAME CARD CHARACTER Craig Elliott reimagines World of Warcraft’s Lady Sylvanas for Blizzard’s card game, explaining his colour and composition choices as he goes ainting trading card images for Blizzard is a challenge similar to the ones I face when I’m designing for a Disney or Blue Sky movie: I need to create a compelling image, that fits with the style already established by the studio, but at the same time has something new and unique about it. Juggling these seemingly contradictory elements is the hidden part of designing for other people and companies. When


Craig Elliott COUNTRY: US Craig is a freelance concept artist, illustrator and character designer for animation, TV, games and films. He’s worked for Disney, DreamWorks and Warner Bros., among others. A book of his art has just been released by Flesk Publications.

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you’re working for yourself these things don’t matter – you can paint whatever you want. This is also one of the big factors that can separate a professional artist from an amateur or non-professional. It’s essential to remember that you’re performing a service, trying to get into the head of the people who are paying you to give them what they want. Sometimes they don’t yet know what they want, and you have to make suggestions until they feel comfortable


Feeling sketchy

The first thing I like to do when painting a figure is create inspirational snippets of hands, facial expressions, composition ideas and suchlike, without worrying about getting a final sketch down on paper. Here I’m really just experimenting with things, gaining a feel for what it’s like to shoot an arrow and trying out possible poses, facial expressions and shapes. I like to pick my favourites and clean them to show them to an art director. I choose a direction I like and begin to flesh it out with darker values, refining the character’s anatomy and pose as I go.

with a direction. Other times they have a clear idea, and you need to tease every bit of that idea out of their head before you start. If you leave scraps of their idea with them and don’t draw it out of them, you’ll be surprised when you show the painting and there’s something important missing which the client wanted! This is the hidden side of concept art. In this article I’ll try to show how this works with the technical part of illustration that we can all see with our eyes.


Adding colour

I finish off the sketch with coloured pencils on brown paper by adding some white to give myself the range of values and an idea of the two main things I want to focus on in the final composition: the arrows and Sylvanas’ upper body. I like to make alterations in Photoshop and try slightly different directions. I’m adding a new background configuration and rock formation, as well as a better cape in this case. Photoshop also enables me to boost the contrast with Dodge and Burn to help get the sketch closer to the final levels of contrast that the painting will have.

Preserve transparency / (fo

rward slash – Mac & PC) Lock transpa rent pixels in the layer you’r e working on, so you aff ect only pixel conten t.

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In Depth Compose a game card

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Workshops 3

Setting up for painting

I tint the initial sketch so I’m working in a colour space that’ll be close to the final painting. I make corrections to the image that the art director asked for, such as having the bow and arrows come at the viewer more, to place arrows in a quiver behind the figure and add the armour to the legs and shoulders.

Don’t sweat the small stuff





I use this brush to block in most things and to give realistic “brush dragging on canvas” effects, seen in the art of some traditional painters.

Decide on the colours

Here I paint out the old arm and bow and sketch in ones that point more at the viewer. I also change the head position to match the new direction of the bow. I’m painting some of the armour, testing and balancing the local colours of the warm purple and white gold armour, as well as the hair. I keep fine-tuning these colours in a few small spots like this until they look like they’re all lit with the same colour and intensity of light. In this case the light is a cool lavender-blue. I choose this colour so her skin, the light itself and the environment are all in harmony. Contrary to popular belief, shadows aren’t always cooler than the light side – especially when the light itself is cool. This is best seen in this painting on the purples in her armour where the cool light is desaturating the purple in the light side, making it greyer.


This is my workhorse brush, used for painting detail all the way up to atmosphere. It has a touch of texture in it that keeps the strokes looking natural. STREAKED BRUSH

I use this brush alongside the others, usually to give a nice brush stroke feel. It’s also great for anything made of fibres, such as hair or grass.

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Focus on the final composition

Always keep an eye on your whole painting as you work – never let yourself get too lost on one section or detail. The ability to zoom in and out makes it easy to step back quickly. But it’s also a trap, because you can zoom in and get lost in a single rivet on your character’s armour for an hour.

It’s important to always keep the whole painting in mind, and what you’re trying to achieve with it. To this end, I go back and make some changes to the composition to work with the new figure pose better, adjusting the overall lighting and focal point to be closer to what the final will be. I also change the cloak to be a bit more energetic and more complementary to the curves of Sylvanas’ figure. I sometimes spend half my time on an illustration just getting these little rough things right, so that when I put my foot on the gas and start making things look real, everything is in the right place, in the right colour and is drawn correctly.


Starting to bring things together

Here I further fine-tune the values in the background so the figure and arrows (not in place yet) will be the two things that stand out most. I also begin to tint the previously monochromatic legs with the colours that her armour will be in the end. I always try to jump around catching things that aren’t matching the level of finish that other parts have. This ensures that I have a pretty good idea of where the painting is going as a whole, and I can make composition changes if I see things drifting off the rails. If I were to focus on just painting the legs, for example, finishing them first, I might find they are totally the wrong colour, or the shape isn’t pleasing compared to the ones I paint later. It would be frustrating and a waste of time. Working up the image as a whole avoids these costly mistakes.


Final colours and shapes

I work up most of the figure, and her arrows, into what I consider a mid-stage block-in. All the local colours, like the purple armour, the maroon cape and hat, black leggings and bluish skin, are finally right. I add highlights and begin to render some parts more finely, like the metal on her top. I block in her face as well, using the colours that work well in her belly area. This is one of the rare times I use layers (other than to separate the figure and background). I find many more layers just slow me down. I might paint, say, a weapon on a separate layer, so I can focus on that. But after I’m done with that element I’ll almost always merge the weapon onto the layer the figure occupies.

In Depth Compose a game card 11

Final touches

I add, mostly very subtle, fixes and refinements all over the painting, finding little things and fixing them. I add more colour variation to parts of Sylvanas, like her cloak, armour and skin, with the same Color or Hue mode brush as I did in step 9. I also add a magical glow around parts of her body that are exposed, so she seems more like the magical being she is.

Realistic art I’m often asked, “How do you paint something that looks so real?” It’s knowing how to draw any basic 3D shape, first in line, then lit from any angle or angles. You merge these shapes until you get something that resembles what you want.

Zoom in and out Alt+-

and Alt+= (P C) Cmd+- and Cm d+= (Mac) This is a grea t way to check that yo ur whole painting is co ming together.

Missing pieces

I paint in the final missing piece: a maddeningly complicated bow. I’m given reference shots from various angles by Blizzard, but the models used in the game are relatively low resolution, so there’s a lot of guesswork and invention with something like this. Thankfully, there’s a vinyl figure of this character with her bow, so I go and buy one. With some plasticine and tape I’m able to set up the vinyl figure next to my monitor and add some light from my lamp illuminating it from the same angle as it is in the painting. I paint each piece over my initial perspective sketch as if I were painting a still life. It doesn’t matter if I’m painting a bowl of apples or a vinyl figure’s bow – it’s the same procedure.


A raft of refinements

Digital brushes have a tendency to create the same level of softness when you use them, so this needs to be countered. Some edges are softened further, and others are sharpened. I spend a good amount of time doing this in the background. This variety adds to the sense of realism in the final background and makes it look more like it’s done with real paint. I also add some colour variation. I do this by changing the mode of my brush to Color or Hue and picking a colour that’s slightly different from the one I’m trying to put variations into. I use the HSB sliders on the Color palette when I work, so I can tweak the Hue or Saturation to achieve this kind of colour variation.

card image 12 Final The final trading card shows how the art directors at Blizzard crop the image to best explain the action described on the card itself. I always like to give them more art than they need so they have the freedom to choose how to crop things. This also enables them to use the bigger image later for a banner, box cover or poster, if they want.

up 10 Softening I soften the bowstring, the overall outline and things like hair and feathers. The softening around the figure avoids that cut-out look and makes the figure look part of the world she’s in. I also add armour and clothing, as well as more hair and bits of detail everywhere. Here again I jump around trying to keep the whole painting at the same level of finish. I also refine the face and expression. Her expression was a little wooden and I want her to have a wry, superior and confident expression while still being sexy. I also add a bit of bounce light from her red eyes, to give her a slightly more evil touch.

© Blizzard Entertainment


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Éowyn © The J.R.R. Tolkien Estate Limited. All Rights Reserved.


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CAPTURE THE DRAMA IN A SCENE The tense showdown between Éowyn the shield-maiden and the evil Witch-king in Tolkien’s Return of the King is visualised by Nacho Molina RR Tolkien’s work is famous for its richness when describing a character’s feelings and the emotion of a scene. His sensitivity for storytelling makes it possible for readers to imagine his heroes, villains and locations in great detail. Whether it’s the majestic eternal clash between good and evil, or a classic home-loving scene from Hobbiton, the author’s work is a never-ending inspirational source that has set a precedent in both fantastic literature and the world of illustration.


Éowyn versus the Witch-king may be one of the most intense and frequently depicted encounters from The Lord of the Rings. In this workshop I’d like to do my own version of that particular scene while explaining my painting process. I’ll cover technical and composition aspects, and touch on techniques related to storytelling. Art is about interpretation, and so it’s always possible to adapt the source material to achieve a better visual result. However, it’s important to respect the

Nacho Molina COUNTRY: England Nacho is a freelance illustrator and concept artist, originally from Spain. He’s created art for movies, video games, card games and book covers for Blizzard Entertainment and London’s Moving Picture Company, among others.

basics of the story, because this in turn will enable the viewer to recall the emotion they felt when they first read Tolkien’s vivid prose. As well as researching armour, swords and aspects of medieval life, I encourage you to read up on the Lady of Rohan and the Witch-king, as well as study the chapter from The Lord of the Rings in which these two characters famously meet. After doing this I’m sure you’ll come up with some cool ideas of your own. Okay, let’s go to work!

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Basic considerations


Initial sketch

These four sketches are simple tonal schemes in which you can see the different relationship between the figure and the background. Because my image is outdoors and Éowyn will be wearing dark clothes, I choose the first one. Notice how the darkest shape on the bottom creates a base for the figure, which pops out of the light background and gives it a cleaner outline. Despite looking basic, it’s a good indication of the direction I intend to take.

I start with a simple line sketch to place the main figure and elements. It doesn’t need to be perfect because it’ll be lost at some point. I look for a cool composition and pose that connect to the story behind the scene. I try to find an engaging silhouette for the main character that combines diagonal elements. I also think about what I’m going to paint in the fore-, mid- and background.


Establish the image’s general tones

During the painting process, bear in mind that the illustration must work as a whole. Avoid concentrating on a particular area before you’ve decided on the general tones, lights and shadows. To create the scene’s dusty mood I paint some blurry colours in neutral brown tones. This helps to get rid of the blank canvas, and gives me a sense of an epic battlefield.

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Workshops 4

Creating masks

I set up some masks that enable me to select different areas of the picture quickly and easily. I then start to add some colour variations in green to pop the main character out. Now I need to think of a cool costume design. For that, I recommend using references to make it more credible. Different materials such as metal, leather and fabrics, in conjunction with skin or hair, will create visual interest.

Try to be organised My illustrations usually end up with more than 100 layers. That’s why I try to separate them into groups, such as “Figure” or “Background”. It will save time and make the painting process easier.



This brush is useful for depicting objects that have little texture. CUSTOM BRUSH 2


Éowyn’s portrait

Every illustration has a focal point that grabs the viewer’s initial attention, such as a bright area or the face of the main character. Get this right and you’ve won half the battle. The general look of the painting seems okay so far, so it’s time to start with the main character. Put yourself in Éowyn’s situation. Facing up to a Nazgûl is anything but fun, so our shield-maiden should look scared, but still beautiful. With this in mind I depict her face with a wide-open mouth, big eyes and slightly raised eyebrows.

Plunging into the battlefield

If you’ve read the Battle of the Pelennor Fields chapter, you’ll know that it’s a horrifying location where the elements play a key role. I decide to paint some smoke and clouds, and having her clothes and hair blowing in the wind achieves a nice visual rhythm. Notice how all these elements lead us to the main focal point: Éowyn. Checking out romantic painters such as Turner may help you here!

I use this brush to paint here and there on top of an existing texture. CUSTOM BRUSH 3

Good for implying dirty textures. I used this brush on the shields. CUSTOM BRUSH 4

One of my regularly used brushes that’s ideal for painting skin and robes.


Environment elements

It’s time to introduce the elements on the ground. Using the Clone Stamp tool, I duplicate some weeds and stones from a real photo, making sure that they match the perspective and light direction. Then I paint some objects in the foreground, for three main reasons. First, it’ll create more sense of depth in the image. Second, because I’m painting them in dark tones it’ll settle down the composition. Third, it gives the viewer more information about the battle’s ferocity.

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In Depth Capture the drama


Visualising the armour

Painting metal is tricky and it usually gives some coolness to an illustration. To achieve a good metallic surface you should remember that it reflects surrounding colours, as well as highlights and shadows. I start by setting up a few tones that match the light scheme. Then I continue painting with a Soft brush to blend the colours, before adding some texture in a medium opacity Soft Light layer. Finally I paint over the armour to make it look more “arty”.


Hide select ion


On to the sword

Painting swords and spears is ideal for creating obvious diagonals that will fit the composition nicely. I introduce a design in the hilt that makes reference to Rohan (the two horses that are facing each other). As for the blade, I select the area and then paint some gradients. Rotating the canvas and using Shift with the Pen tool while painting with the Photoshop blending brushes enables me to easily achieve a decent sword effect.

Rendering the background

The same is true for the background. The atmosphere is made up of air and dust, so an object’s contrast is reduced the further it is from the viewer. Try to be subtle and paint the sense of something rather than the thing itself. For painting distant mountains, scattering and colour dynamics options come in useful because they may provide you with pleasing colour variation effects. Don’t try this approach everywhere, though, and consider the general appearance of your painting.

Ctrl+H (PC) Cmd+H (M ac) Keep pain ting within a selected ar ea without seeing any distracting lines or gu ides.

Witch-king 10 The When painting any kind of beast you should think about real creatures. Nature is the best designer and gives us brilliant references. The Witch-king rides a nasty and slimy flying creature, so I need to understand how animals such as reptiles, birds or even fish look. The rider is the secondary figure in the background, so I avoid detailing him too much and keep his contrast levels down, otherwise he’ll appear too close to the viewer.

textures wisely 12 Use Just as with your colours, hues and saturation, you should find a balance in your textures. A repetitive texture element may lead to a boring image. To counter this, try to combine different finishes. For instance, metal is usually strong and rigid, which implies sharp edges. In contrast, hair or robes are fluffy and delicate, which necessitates painting them using softer brush strokes. Notice what happens with the sky and the ground when I do this.

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Workshops coat of arms 13 Éowyn’s Minor elements such as coat of arms on a suit of armour or a shield can actually tell us more about a character. Because Éowyn’s shield isn’t facing the viewer, the one that’s lying on the ground is an alternative area in which to paint some heraldic elements. So I start designing a simple silhouette that’s reminiscent of a horse. Then I transform and match it with the shield’s perspective. Finally, I select that shape and paint it on a new layer using a custom brush that imparts a dirty, irregular texture.

attention to 14 Pay those details Small details can make the difference between a rather good illustration and a magnificent one. How far to go with them is a personal decision, but remember that sometimes less is more. To depict details and polished surfaces I’d recommend zooming into the image and out of it regularly, checking that your detailing is working up close as well as from a distance. In addition, I use the Lasso and a low opacity brush (between 15 and 20 per cent) to achieve clean shapes with sharp edges. This will give the sense of a more finished illustration.

persevering! 15 Keep Detailing may be the toughest part of the painting process, but if you bite the

Select a layer’s contents Ctrl-click (PC) Cmd-click (Mac) nail Click the layer thumb s to select its content automatically.

bullet it’ll be worth it when you print out your image. I keep working on the chain mail, shoulder pad and hair, trying to make these elements visually richer. This won’t be too difficult because there’s a good base in place. That’s why it’s important for emphasising the general look of the image. It also enables me to find different nuances without losing the sense of unity.

the 16 Enhance atmosphere Finally, I add some small details like blood and dirt to make the scene more believable. I use a Soft Light layer and paint in a dark red colour around the shoulders, chest or cheekbones. I then strengthen the highlights on a new Soft Light layer, but this time using bright yellow. This gives the impression that Éowyn is illuminated by divine golden light, which will contrast with the evil creature in the background.

The Golden Spiral Have you heard about the Golden Spiral? It’s a visual proportion technique that’s been used throughout art history. Try to set up your composition using it and you’ll soon see how your art looks more aesthetically pleasing.

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colour adjustments 17 Final When you’ve been busy working on an image for a lengthy period of time, it’s sometimes difficult to see things that aren’t quite right. I recommend leaving a painting for a couple of days before continuing to play with light and colour adjustments. I use Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Selective Color during the final stages of my painting process. It may reveal a completely different aspect to your image. Try it!

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118 Fantasy Card Artist

In Depth Using light


USE LIGHT AND TRANSLUCENCY Fantasy artist Howard Lyon explores clouds, skin and clothing as he takes you on an artistic journey ’ve worked for quite a few years now as an illustrator and I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great clients, such as Blizzard and Electronic Arts, and on products including Magic: the Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons. The painting I’m sharing today comes from an idea that has been bouncing around in my head for some time. This piece is about the journey we all take as we leave home, taking some knowledge with us while we seek out experience and wisdom of our own. Art is very much like this too. We gain some light and knowledge from our teachers, but it isn’t until we set out and paint our own ideas that the real learning begins. Art is


so fulfilling because as we gain more experience, we can see more that we want to do. It’s a never-ending cycle of learning, challenges and fulfilment. I think you’ll find my approach to digital painting fairly simple. I don’t work on many layers and I use only a few brushes. Instead I focus my energies on direct painting and composition. I approach my digital paintings in nearly the same way that I develop my work with traditional media. That is: first a sketch, then drawing, colour wash and a finishing pass. I’ll focus here on my techniques for rendering tricky, part-translucent and part-reflective surfaces such as clouds and flesh. Time to get painting!

Howard Lyon COUNTRY: US Howard studied illustration at Brigham Young University. After 13 years in the video game industry he now focuses on illustration and fine art.

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Take your time You won’t win any commissions by telling your clients how fast you work if the work isn’t all that great. Most pros I know don’t work particularly fast – they just work with confidence from experience and at a steady pace. Accurate rendering is a cycle of these three steps: observe, record, correct. If something is off artistically, then you probably need to spend more time observing. This will help you make the right corrections!




My paintings start out as small thumbnails. Often they’re of no use whatsoever to anyone but myself. Even my wife, who has seen more of my rough work than anyone, often can’t tell what things are at this stage. In this case, it was a scribble on a sticky note and scanned in, with a little more work done in Painter.


Once my basic composition is resolved, I move on to a more detailed drawing. For this, I gather reference and if there is a figure or figures in the painting, I find the right model and schedule a photo shoot. Nearly all of the artists that I’ve admired from the past either had excellent photography (Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish and Tom Lovell come to mind) or they used live models.



This is a variant of one of Painter’s standard Oil brushes, with Dab Type changed from Camel Hair to Circular. SMEARY ROUND JITTER

The Smeary Round brush is tweaked by introducing jitter and colour variation. These are my two mostused brushes.

A word about reference

I used to think that I should be able to draw anything accurately without any reference. It led to a lot of frustration over the years. When I started to shoot my own reference and learned how to use it (Norman Rockwell: Illustrator is the second best book on illustration I have in my collection), my work really started to move forward. That being said, don’t follow your reference with rigidity. It’s only a guide – you’re the artist making the decisions, not your reference!


Anchor the idea

Back to the drawing. Parts of it are more developed than others. I don’t need to draw every cloud or blade of grass, just enough to solidify my ideas and give me an anchor as I paint.

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Change brush size

[ and ] (PC & Mac) Using these keys to chan ge the brush siz e helps you stay focu sed on the painting .


Colour wash


Painting clouds



The first thing I decide is the colour or temperature of the light in my painting. There are multiple sources, the torch and the sun, and the temperature of the light will be warm on the right-hand side, where the sun is, and then shift towards cooler colours across the landscape. The torch fire will provide a second warm light on the girl in the foreground, providing a colour contrast against the cooler background. The colour at this point is simple, but it’s a key point in any painting. With digital tools it’s easier to make a course correction, but it’s still better to try and start out on the right foot.

Clouds are so versatile. You can paint them almost any colour, dark or light, and just about any shape – they’re a compositional wild card. Clouds can also be tricky to paint, though. You have to keep in mind that they have form. If you struggle with clouds, remember this: they have a light side and dark side. They’re also reflective and translucent at times. As artists, we can use this to great effect when creating motion in our compositions.

My favourite brush in Painter is the Smeary Round, which is found among the Oil brushes. I change the Dab Type from Camel Hair to Circular and that’s about it. I then make a variant of this brush by adding a little jitter and colour variability. I save the variants out as My Smeary Round and Smeary Round Jitter. I use these two brushes to paint 99 per cent of my painting. I’ll use the Airbrush a little, the Glow brush when called for, and sometimes add texture with the Chalk. Beyond that, not many other brushes get used.

In Depth Using light



I don’t have many layers. If I should need to make a new selection and lift something out of the background, it doesn’t take much time. And I find working with the edges much easier when the different elements are on the same layer. Here, on the horizon, once I merged the sky and landscape layers, getting the right blending and mixing of colours is much easier. This usually means I work back to front, and have three layers: background, middle-ground and foreground. I collapse them as I work. By this point I have two layers: the figure in the foreground and the background.

Rotate canv as

R (PC & Mac) Hold down th e R key and drag your sty lus to rotate the canvas qu ickly to any angle conven ient for the moment .


Course correction


Painting flesh


Finishing touches

My approach to skin is much the same as my approach to clouds. Remember the form, observe the opacity, translucency and reflections, and you’re going to be on the right track. The more time you can spend painting from life, the better you’ll understand how to paint flesh. Make slow and studied observations when you do. No human is all one colour. There are many different shifts across the body where there’s more fatty tissue, or thinner skin, or stubble. Be on the lookout for those changes in the temperature of the skin and your figures will be all the better for it.

Once I finish a painting, I like to let it sit for a day if I can. I find I come back to it with fresh eyes and renewed energy. In this case, I see that my colours have been too saturated and are stealing attention away from our protagonist. I also feel her pose could use some adjustments. Small changes and little pockets of detail go a long way towards the finish. A few little flower blossoms, hints of grass blades against the rock, and defining the edges of a few stones here and there go a long way towards convincing the viewer that there’s lots of rich detail. On to the next painting!

Grey is your friend Grey makes colours pop and flesh tones lively and bright. When surrounded by a more saturated colour of a similar value, it’ll take on the properties of the colour’s complement. Grey next to orange looks bluish, by yellow it will appear purple, and with red it’ll look green. Use grey to make skin seem full of colour.

I realise that my sunset is going to steal the show away from my protagonist and her nifty torch. The bright yellow sunset is too strong. So it has to go. While the colours still stay warmer on the right, I knock the sun down with some clouds and change the colours. As the painting progresses, you’ll see how important this change was. It isn’t always easy to make big changes, but if your gut keeps nagging at you, then do it.

fabric 10 Painting Painting cloth is all about patience. Slow and steady observations get me where I want to be. When I start to rush, things get out of hand. You want to be aware of the folds and the form at the same time. When you do this, the wrinkles and creases and folds will help you describe the forms underneath.

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REWORK AN ICONIC CARD CHARACTER Aleksi Briclot mixes fantasy, manga and mech tech to produce an angelic figure who looks equally good scaled up or on the front of a card

Aleksi Briclot COUNTRY: France Aleksi creates concepts and illustrations for video games and comic books. He’s also co-founder of DONTNOD Entertainment, which is behind the sci-fi game Remember Me.

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he chosen subject for this workshop is a female warriorangel character. ImagineFX asked me to produce an iconic standalone picture that looks equally good at card size and at larger dimensions such as a magazine cover. I decided that a straightforward, graphic approach to the composition will work better than an image that has a busy background and distracting perspective. A female angel is an iconic, eyecatching and seductive figure who usually appeals to a large audience. I think of this artwork as if it’s part of a new set of an established card game. The character needs a strong visual design because she’s a huge part of the storyline behind the game, and will be setting the tone of the


new product. I want to combine people’s expectations of traditional angels with a distinctive, refreshing and modern vision. My aim is to develop a mix of popcultural references, dark fantasy elements, manga and mecha. In essence, she needs to appeal to a 16-year-old female who loves fantasy art. For a backstory, I imagine there’s a caste of female heralds who have pale, albinolike skin, and who are each linked to a particular fantasy archetype: the classic armoured warrior, steampunk huntress, fantasy angel, manga icon, and so on. All of them lose one arm when they become a herald, which is replaced by an oversized artificial limb. Okay, this is my starting point – let’s see where it takes me…

Persistence is key Always keep an eye on When people ask me for a piece of artistic advice, I tell them that the key word is perseverance. You also need the ability to look at your work with fresh eyes, and to analyse your creative process and always learn from it.


Sketches and notes

I usually begin in my sketchbook. After reading the client brief, I fill pages with notes and quick doodles. Making connections, keywords, references… this is the fun part for every project. I like developing original ideas at this stage, and in doing so avoid suffering from creative block while sat in front of my computer.

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Identify key elements


Sketch for approval

My goal in this rough sketch is to quickly nail the main elements of my composition – an angel on a neutral background. I want to finalise the look of the wings, the light values, a big mechanical arm and the beginning of the mood. I realise it’ll work better with high key lighting and that a close-up on the character is best.

I send this colour sketch to the ImagineFX team. Because the image has to work as a cover, I keep the magazine’s layout on the top of my layers, so I can check how it’s working as a whole. The final goal isn’t only to produce a full-page illustration but a magazine cover, which has to work with typographic elements. We choose to zoom in, so that the character occupies more space in the frame. The face is now bigger and acts as a focal point.

In Depth Rework a character


Graphic elements

To make the suit of armour more believable I add some graphic elements, such as logos, marks and text. The process is similar to putting small stickers on a model kit to give it a more realistic feel. Curves and round shapes will also help to strengthen the composition.



Concept art

I’ve had to create a new, strong character design for this angel, so I need to spend time blocking in the look and the concept itself, before thinking about lighting and effects. I try to solve the formal aspects of the armour and the suit with a detailed render. As a concept artist, this image is close to what I’d give to a modeller for 3D rendering. I keep a few hard shapes on the metallic feathers, but for the most part I use round and curved shapes on the lighter parts of the armour.

up 9 Finishing The picture is pretty much


Body gestures

I want to depict a strong character, so I make the most of the angel’s front profile. I use three-quarter framing to add more dynamism, and play with some diagonals. To help define the character’s movements, and because the anatomy is hidden behind armoured elements, I paint in some red guidelines to follow.

The face

I spend a lot of time on the face, and it takes time to get a satisfactory look. I should have used photo references… Never mind! On magazine covers people respond better to close-up faces than any other subject. It’s the only instantly identifiable aspect of this image.

complete, but I spend some more time on the final details and rendering. I paint a halo, in the form of magenta graphic lines, to add a hint of complementary colours. I take a risk and add a lens flare to the right of the face. I have to manage the intensity of the two light sources to achieve an effective cover image as well as a realistic piece of fantasy art.



After I’ve blocked in the design of the character, I refine the details and polish the rendering with the light coming in from top left. I add a few cyan values in the shadows. Some warmer tones to the face help to highlight the main focal point and give more humanity to the character.


Traditional skills

TELLING A STORY IN THE DETAILS Volkan Baga explains how he creates narrative compositions in his detailed trading card art he trading card game Magic: the Gathering is based on a sophisticated concept and universe. The design team creates a detailed world for each set with far-reaching background and narrative depth. Each of my paintings refers to this world, shaping it with my ideas into a coherent composition of story and pictures. The players want to dive into Magic‘s atmosphere, they want to feel it, experience it. Therefore, it’s extremely important that each of my paintings is not only beautiful to look at, but also communicates to the viewer. At best, they even have the ability to tell a whole story with just a simple portrait, in which the viewer wants to stay for a while. That adds value to the painting and it shouldn’t be underestimated. A perfect


Volkan Baga COUNTRY: Germany Volkan lives in Würzburg, Germany, and has been nominated for several Chesley and Graf Ludo awards. As well as personal projects, Volkan regularly paints card art for Wizards of the Coast.

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technique by itself doesn‘t make a good artwork. It would remain a soulless image. The viewer can realise this without necessarily being a professional. He sees it, feels bored, puts it away and forgets it. You have to give content and a statement to the painting to make it gain in quality and longevity. So I invest a lot of time in the initial stages of the development of the art piece. I think over the briefing and Magic’s style guide, until I get a good feeling for the current set. As this feeling becomes gradually concrete, I take my sketchbook and start to roughly capture my ideas while I think about the briefing and different ways to translate it into art. Sometimes these are only fragments, such as a hand or head pose, or they can be complex scenes with people interacting with each other. All still very vague, but always with the goal of creating a narrative composition.


Getting that feeling

Now that I’ve thought through the briefing, I start to find ideas. I now know the character to be depicted, and have developed his past, present and future. Next, I look at different photos to assign that character a visual aesthetic. This helps me to see whether he would feel at home in a precious marble interior, for example. When I flick through images I find an easy entry into the visual realisation.

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In Depth Tell a story


Bringing the mental muddle to paper

Meanwhile, my head produces a countless number of vague images. Thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s the moment when I open up my sketchbook and start to sketch. I do this without thinking about it, and just focus on visualising my emotional impulses. The feeling that has been growing needs to be brought unfiltered to paper. In my experience, good narrative artwork touches the viewer directly. I use this technique to capture pure and genuine emotions that are constantly developing in my mind unedited. This sketching process enables me to recognise which of these visual elements will successfully deliver my raw emotions on paper.

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Sketching out each element

After I’ve filled some pages in my sketchbook, I look at the individual sketches, make a selection and do another series based on them. My character is a noble and wealthy Spymaster. Such a person sends secret messages, and homing pigeons are best for that. He’s an inconspicuous loner who may have to defend himself, so he needs a dagger. He carries out assassination jobs, for which he uses a poison ring. He’s also an observer, so he needs binoculars, maps, and other equipment that characterise him. Such details tell parts of his story.

Compiling your portfolio Trading card games show a variety of subjects: humans, monsters, animals, odd creatures, landscapes, items and suchlike. You need to be versatile and show examples of each in your portfolio. And select only the best ones. Quality is more important than quantity.


Adding symbolism

To emphasise the personality of my character, I often like to use symbolism. This is a good and easy way to give the painting depth of content. The main role of the spy is to observe, to have his eyes everywhere. Therefore I choose the eyesymbol that I want to incorporate into his clothes. A good place for this is the belt, because placing the eye on the chest would be too obvious.


Choosing the right background

Now I ask myself what kind of environment would a Spymaster be best presented in? I keep thinking of the narrative value of the scene. His job is to observe, and his influence covers the entire city – possibly even beyond that. Therefore, he has a good view of the events in the city. He sees the harbour and observes the incoming and outgoing traffic, the travellers and businesses. Essentially, he feels the pulse of the city.


Merging the composition

All my individual elements and character ideas are now finalised in my mind. Next, I bring them together in a roughly sketched final composition. The confident posture, the elegant gown and the rest of his clothes suggest that the Spymaster is of noble origin. He’s surrounded by a range of ornate equipment that characterises him and his day-to-day actions. At this point in the creative process I can usually see if the individual ideas work well together and tell a coherent story.

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In Depth Tell a story

Colours are not the same



Collecting reference materials


Drawing in detail

The degree of realism that I strive for in my paintings relies on photo material which I can reference while I’m painting. Meanwhile, I know my Spymaster’s character and his story. The photo serves as a basis for the preliminary drawing, which I refine until it fits my imagination. A Spymaster who doesn’t look like one would ruin the story.

Based on my rough composition sketch and my reference materials I create a detailed preliminary drawing. At this point I make sure that all the narrative details, such as the dagger, the homing pigeons, the message in the hand, the poison-ring, the map and so forth can easily be identified. They need to be obvious to the viewer.

Choosing my colours

Colours have a direct effect on the viewer‘s emotions and instantly develop an association. That’s why I pay a lot of attention to the choice of colour. My Spymaster is a wealthy nobleman and the blue colour symbolises nobility. The use of gold decoration gives the painting the impression of wealth and class. I also opt for a bright, clear light and colour mood. My spy is a master in his field. He doesn’t need to operate in the dark.

I use Schmincke’s oil colours. Each consists of individual pigments and mediums and therefore their painting behaviour differs one from another. Some are more transparent or have other properties. Red is not always red. Try to find benefits from their unique abilities.

and review 10 Painting After I finish the painting, I put it aside for a few days and then have a fresh look at it. I check again whether the expression, ambience and narration are good and consistent. I retouch some areas to optimise them. Then I look at the painting and the character, and I‘m glad to see he begins to tell me his story of the legendary and notorious Edric, Spymaster of Trest…

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128 Fantasy Card Artist

In Depth Tell a story


TELL A STORY WITH AN IMAGE Applibot illustrator Crowgod lays out the process he uses to create artwork for the online card game Legend of the Cryptids ne of the things I’ve learned from working on Applibot’s Legend of the Cryptids line is the importance of being able to tell a story through an illustration. With Applibot’s appetite for success, the art has to appeal to a wide audience who may be unfamiliar with the Cryptids brand, which in turn might be the push they need to try out the game. Therefore, before drawing even a rough sketch, I read the description of the scene carefully and imagine what’s happening to the character. The premise of the scene


Crowgod COUNTRY: Japan Crowgod, aka Xu Cheng, graduated from Central Academy of Fine Arts in Printmaking in Beijing, where he also taught himself digital art techniques. He is now an in-house illustrator at Applibot.

is that a young warrior is desperately seeking out a miracle cure that’s somewhere at the top of a giant tree, in order to heal his sick mother. I want to make the figure as heroiclooking as possible – hopefully he’ll become an iconic card character. To tie in with the tree theme, he’ll wield an axe rather than a sword. Picturing him midway up the giant tree, high above the clouds, will increase the feeling of peril and drama in the scene, which should further engage the viewer. Okay, enough talk – let’s get to work!

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Quick sketch

I draw a quick sketch of a giant tree reaching up into the sky. I consider the diameter of the tree, how it grows and its appearance. It should be a solid structure that can be climbed without using ropes. My character is a young warrior, and I decide to depict him bare-chested after seeing some reference photos of rock climbers. As well as being dangerously high up the tree, there’s added drama from the small dragon that’s attacking him. The scene will be well lit because it takes place high above the clouds.


Monochrome sketch

I draw the character, monster and objects in the background all in blackand-white. Darker colours on the edges of the image and lighter colours towards the centre help to create the focal point, which is where the struggle in the sky is taking place. I use greyish colours on the background because I want to soften the contrast between black and white. As a result, I make this grey area the most eye-catching area in this illustration. I use the strong backlight to help make the atmosphere perspective pop off the page.


Colour process

I create a Multiply layer and choose a base colour by using the Gradient tool. Then I apply this using the Paint Bucket tool. Next, I create an Overlay layer and use a light colour to highlight the differences between the objects.

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Workshops 4

Raising the contrast

I now create an Overlay layer, then add colours to the dark side of objects and bright side of the background because I want to accentuate the contrast between them. Then, on another Overlay layer I add the reflected light on the dark side of objects. I repeat this stage, but this time reduce the Opacity to 36 per cent, to achieve the right amount of contrast between the duelling characters and the background.

Levels Ctrl+L (PC) ) Cmd+L (Mac eful for This tool is us e proportion tweaking th ite of black, wh and grey.

Grand vision


Colour sketch


Colour tweaks

I create a new Multiply layer and choose the Gradient tool and Paint Bucket tool to paint the base colour. Then I create an Overlay and Color Dodge layer to highlight the basic colour of the character and background. Using these layers boosts the base colour, so to control the brightness of this colour I adjust the Opacity using a soft brush.

Building structures in fantasy art are often grand affairs. But when your evil queen’s castle looks more like a drab block of flats, it’s time to take one of these approaches to the composition. First, ensure that the perspective is correct by using grid lines on a separate layer. Then place people or other recognisable objects to give scale to the scene. Finally, add details where appropriate, to help give those objects a palpable sense of volume.

You could also adjust the colour using the options within a Fill or Adjustment layer. I choose Vibrance from the “Create new Fill or Adjustment layer” pop-up to tweak the saturation. I also use the Selective Color menu. I set up my colour palette as HSB sliders – it’s a quick way to adjust the purity of colour and saturation in the image.

130 Fantasy Card Artist


Take your time with colours

It’s not easy to create an image with lots of elements and keep them in balance. I advise being patient and thinking before making your next brush stroke. I always search for reference images for depicting the texture of objects, and then use different light spots to unify all the various elements.


Character accessories

At this point I need to think more about the character’s clothing. I decide to give him some protective gear – the sharpened metal plates around his legs and lower arms – but I’m mindful that he still needs the freedom and flexibility to be able to climb the tree. This is why I choose to clothe him in fabric trousers, with leather belts included for visual interest. Elsewhere in the scene, I pay attention to the gradation of colours on different layers.

In Depth Tell a story 9

Adjust the atmosphere

and volume 12 Depth I add gnarly details to the tree trunk in the mid-ground to show its almost menacing bulk. Then I create more layers and paint a range of different elements such as clouds and the land far below, which enhances the depth between the background and foreground.

I copy the character and the dragon using the Lasso tool onto the new layer. After that I create a new layer based on the original one. This enables me to use the Paint Bucket tool to paint, as well as adjust the overall Opacity. The result is that I enhance the depth of the tree that’s in the mid-ground.

elements 13 Additional I add more details and a pattern to the axe. Then I adjust the edge line of character and foreground to accentuate the volumes and the depth within the painting. Highlighting the edges and painting reflected light also helps to bring out the volume of objects.

design 10 Detailed I always think that a well-thoughtout design aids the storytelling in the scene. Here I’ve indicated the interaction between the young warrior and the dragon, which enhances the feeling of movement. The figure’s pose is offbalance and his muscles are tensed, which shows he’s ready to strike the dragon. The direction he’s facing also adds to the sense of threat in the situation.

Auto Color

Ctrl+Shift+B (PC) Cmd+Shift+B (Mac) Use this tool to quickly adjust the ba lance of colour in your image.


Reading the scene

People are used to reading from left to right, top to bottom and near to far. Therefore, the viewer should be able to see a strong, powerful anti-clockwise curve that’s produced by the twisted giant tree. This curve matches the movement of the axe. The dragon’s facial expression is a clear indication that it knows it’s about to get a lot shorter…

up 14 Finishing I decide that I want to make my warrior look even younger, so I adjust his face accordingly. Finally, I introduce a beam of light that picks out his body, and tweak the highlights in the scene.

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In Depth Create drama


USE PERSPECTIVE TO CREATE DRAMA Sara Forlenza uses beams of light to help portray a cathedral interior, as she paints a scene from history – Thomas Becket’s final moments… he beauty of digital art is that there are many approaches you can take to painting a scene, especially when it comes to enhancing ambience levels and creating atmosphere. The ease with which you’re able to draw perpendicular or parallel lines, just by holding down Shift, makes it possible to create complex perspective scenes relatively easily. This means you can concentrate on developing the feeling of the scene.


Sara Forlenza COUNTRY: Italy Sara is a freelance illustrator living in Italy, working mostly as a book cover artist on digital card and role-playing games.

There are many 3D programs you can use to create locations, but for an illustrator it’s vital to be familiar with the fundamentals of perspective. That said, painting a scene in a cathedral becomes much easier if you apply some tricks. In this workshop I’ll share some of mine. I start by studying the subject. Thomas Becket was the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor, and was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. At this stage in the medieval period, the Gothic

style of architecture was commonplace throughout Europe. In 1174 the cathedral was damaged by fire, and some parts were replaced. For this reason I’ll be using the cathedral only as a general reference source for my environment. There are a lot of medieval miniature models available that depict the murder of Thomas Becket. I like the idea of using those miniatures as references, posing Thomas in front of the altar as he’s about to be attacked from behind.

GET YOUR RESOURCES See page 146 now!

Liquify tool

(PC) Ctrl+Shift+X (Mac) Cmd+Shift+X ct small Quickly corre s with the imperfection Liquify tool.

Sketching a thumbnail Laying down a small sketch with a few touches of colour before starting on the painting itself enables me to think clearly about what kind of image I want to paint, what kind of light and colour combination to use, and how to balance the composition of the whole scene. When I’ve clarified these points, painting the artwork becomes much faster.


Exploring different solutions

I sketch a couple of options. The first one focuses on the characters, their poses and their expressions – there’s just a hint of the environment. The second one opens up the scene. The characters are smaller in the composition and there’s more space to show off the cathedral space. This second approach would enable me to enhance the solemnity of the image.


Sketching perspective

When I working on a complex environment I usually create a large file and work in the central area. I choose a perspective with two vanishing points, and this means I’ll be able to show off the stained glass windows and play with the coloured light they cast. I roughly sketch my characters and architectural elements.

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The best view To choose the most suitable perspective in an illustration we must take account of many factors. In this case I choose a doublevanishing-point perspective, which gives the image a natural look, and more importantly it looks less static. It also gives me the chance to show off the stained glass windows and play with the beams of light shining through them.


Create the line art


Adding texture


Constructing the window

The line art step is very important, because it’s here that I define the characters and their poses. I try to make them as natural-looking as possible, keeping in mind the wonderful medieval miniatures references. For the background architecture I draw the Gothic features: the distinctive high columns and pointed arches that frame the stained glass windows.


Time to colour!


Main and reflected light


Designing stylised figures

I lay down a blue colour that becomes very dark towards the top of the image. This creates the feeling that the columns continue up beyond the frame edges. Another feature of the Gothic style is the darkness from where the impressive stainedglass lighting emanates. To help the viewer take in the characters, I place a red carpet under their feet.



I use this brush mostly for laying down colours in the early stages of my illustrations.

I move on to painting the columns and the floor. To make the cathedral more realistic I add a rough texture, cracks and imperfections that give an idea of its stone nature and aged appearance. For now I just paint the characters with a dark flat colour, and then proceed with the background.

I finish the column’s highlighting blocks, which helps me to emphasise the shape. Then, on a new Color Dodge layer, I paint the windows and the light that’s cast on the floor with a desaturated light blue. This cold light is dominant in the scene: it illuminates the floor and columns, and creates a reflected ambient light that I give a warmer tone to, for contrast.


I paint the knights’ chainmail with this brush on a dark flat colour. PAINTING BRUSH

This is my favourite. I use it to define characters and details. ROUGH BRUSH

I use this brush to add a rough texture to stone and metal, and also for skin and leather.

Now that I have a rough background, I work on the stained glass. I consult some reference sources and then create a new layer. I choose a Hard paint brush and draw a rectangular structure topped by a pointed arch. I divide this structure into several other rectangles and add decorations to the top part. Here is my stained glass frame, ready for colouring.

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Saints and clerics were often depicted in stained glass windows. With the same Hard brush, but at a smaller size, I paint a figure for every vertical sector, based on my reference. I draw the important features of saints: tunics with accentuated folds, halos, and hands posed dramatically. The stained glass window is now ready to be coloured.

In Depth Create drama


Colouring the glass

I create a new layer, place it under the stained glass frame and began to paint. I choose saturated colours because I know I’ll be blurring them later on. At the top of the glass I add simple splashes of colour. I don’t need to pay too much attention to those colours because they’ll be indistinct in the finished image.


Adjust the Opacity and add blur

I do the same thing for the other stained glass windows and the light that’s cast on the floor, always paying attention to perspective lines. If the results are too bright I can soften them in one of two ways: either by darkening the window, or by playing with the Opacity and Fill options in the Layers palette. I also apply a Blur filter to the light on the floor.

colour layers 10 Merge I merge the colour layer with the black line art and I set it to Color Dodge in the Layers palette. Everything that was black becomes transparent and everything that was colourful becomes bright, but also with a hint of the dominant picture colour. Now it’s just a case of editing, transforming, distorting and adapting the frame’s shape to my perspective lines.

Merge layers

Ctrl+E (PC) Cmd+E (Mac ) Merge your working layer with the one below. This makes it easy to use blending mo des.

the main character 12 Tackle Now I move on to the characters. I begin with the doomed Thomas Becket. He’s mostly in the shadow that’s cast by the column, so I paint him with desaturated and darker colours. He’s lit by the ambient light, except for the bright beam that’s projected on to his knees from one of the windows. To accentuate the brightness of the beam, I add some reflected light under Becket’s eyes, and on his nose, hands and tunic.

A perfect floor

knight 13 Medieval I give the knight attacking Becket a simple chain-mail tunic and helmet. He’s placed in the cast shadow too, so he looks darker except for the light reflected from the floor behind him and the blade of the sword that’s in the stained glass light. This makes the knight seem more menacing.

touches 14 Finishing I give a touch of colour to the knight in the background and we’re almost done. I add the beams of light coming from the windows and I stress the luminosity with an additional Color Dodge layer. Finally, I paint small dabs of paint in a very light blue, which simulate the effect of dust hit by the light.

I create a square pattern, taking care to delete the space between tile joints. I lay down the pattern on a new layer of my image. Then I set the layer mode to Overlay and go to Edit > Transform > Distort to make the pattern follow the perspective lines. As a final touch I add a 3D effect to the tile by double-clicking the layer thumbnail and adding Bevel and Emboss from the Layer Style menu.

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Reviews Contents 138





138 iPad Pro 140 Affinity Photo 1.4 142 Paintstorm Studio 1.5 142 Pixelmator 2.2 143 Fantasy in the Wild 144 Coverama 145 Heaven’s Hell 145 Guide to Sketching

Is the extra size worth the money? A subscription-free Photoshop rival


Custom brushes for all art styles

A photo editor adapted for artists James Gurney’s latest book is here Mark Simonetti’s collected cover art

A book of fantastic character art

Learn the fundamentals of drawing

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iPad Pro TURNING PRO Apple’s newest iPad is aimed at digital creatives, but is the extra screen size worth the money? Price From £679 Company Apple Web

hen you first lift an iPad Pro, a couple of things become apparent. First, and in predictable Apple style, it’s a solid-feeling device. It’s not heavy, but feels substantial at three quarters of a kilo – in a reassuring way, rather than cumbersome. Secondly, it’s big. Almost comically so. The effects of its size soon wear off, although the benefit of spending the


The new iPad Pro is designed and marketed as a viable alternative to your laptop – but most artists will want to purchase a stand too.

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extra on a good stand will be evident. Which raises another issue. A device this size, aimed at the pro market, really doesn’t fulfil its brief without the Pencil (£79). And this brings the sub-£700 price closer to a thousand. But even with the extra costs, it’s still decent value compared to other options on the market, such as the Cintiq Companion 2 (£1,200) or Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 (starting at £749).

Art tools Hardware ARTIST INTERVIEW


The new iPad Pro has all the connectivity options and sleekness of design we’ve come to expect from Apple.

The artist reveals why and how he uses Apple’s latest tablet What drove your decision to buy an iPad Pro? I’ve loved finger-painting on the iPad from the very first model, but as I return more to traditional art as well as digital, I’ve found myself craving that feeling of a pen or pencil in my hand. There’s a definite difference in mark-making between using one’s finger and using a stylus. The combination of the larger screen Pro with the promise of the Pencil was irresistible. I knew after watching the introductory presentation for the Pencil I’d be getting the pair.

Artists and designers will probably want to splash out on a Pencil too, but despite the cost the Pro is still decent value compared to other options.

Is there anything else you use the iPad for? I sometimes prop it up and use it to display reference next to my easel when I’m painting traditionally. But I always worry I’m going to smear it with paint. I’ve used it a few times at life-drawing classes, which was fun. Although I prefer a simple sketchpad and pencil there to keep life simple. What apps are you using with it? I use Procreate almost exclusively. The team is so obviously dedicated and is responsive and engaged with the users, which is a huge factor. But the app itself is perfect: robust, elegant and simple. They just keep making it better! Dropbox is also on my iPad, which is really useful for shifting files around.

The extra screen real estate makes a huge difference to the artist from the iPad’s port is ungainly and far too easy to snag, risking damage to either or both devices. It’s a useful option when stationary, though. As a first foray into what could be a new market, the iPad Pro is promising. Existing iPad users may not feel the need to upgrade, instead looking at the mini or Air. But for professional wanting the creative abilities they’re used to from a workstation or desktop OS, it’s an exciting development. The key to the iPad Pro’s success will be when developers have had time to exploit iOS and release new pro tools, enabling creatives to be truly portable, working with tools that are powerful, adaptable and productive. Apple could be the perfect delivery system for the next wave of content creation tools.

Are there any things you would particularly like to see in updates, or standout features you already love? I really feel that the promise of the original iPad as a tool for artists is now being fully realised with the Pro and Pencil pairing, along with the amazing job being done by the Procreate team. These three elements together make a very winning, very portable combination that easily produces industry-standard output, and I’m very pleased with the purchases!

Features Q12.9-inch Retina display Q A9x processor Q Four high-fidelity speakers Q 6.9mm thick Q Up to 10 hour battery life Q 32 or 128GB storage Q Wi-Fi standard; top model Wi-Fi+Cellular QM9 motion coprocessor Q8MP iSight camera Q1080p HD video recording (30 fps)


Painting by Dave Brasgalla

It’s interesting to note that Apple has kept its Pro offering based on iOS. This limits the apps available, but ensures that the options on offer feel slick. This may become a blessing for users, as the development community for iOS apps moves rapidly and responsively. There are existing iOS apps that serve the creative markets, from digital painting to video editing and even 3D sculpting. These feel great in use, with the extra screen real estate making a huge difference, Pencil or not. Procreate and SketchBook both run flawlessly and, when paired with Apple’s keyboard stand and Pencil, feel like a real alternative to a laptop. One design oddity is the charging of the Pencil. Although charging on the go is a good option in theory, having the length of the Pencil protruding

Dave is a Stockholm-based illustrator and designer, as well as a partner and senior designer at The Iconfactory.

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The Affinity Photo interface is similar to that of Photoshop, so it’s easy to pick up.

Affinity Photo 1.4 ADOBE ADVERSARY This subscription-free image editor is being heralded as a Photoshop killer. We find out if such claims are true… Price £40 Company Serif Web

erif has recently mounted a major challenge to Adobe’s dominance of creative software. Its first release, vector tool Affinity Designer, was aimed squarely at pro users of Illustrator. Now its second, raster tool Affinity Photo, is aiming to take on the might of Photoshop. So what does it have to offer digital artists? Well, if you’re a Mac user and Photoshop is part of your workflow, the answer may be: quite a lot. That’s because Affinity Photo doesn’t just ape Photoshop’s interface and features in a way that makes it easy to pick up and run with. In many ways, it offers better performance. Apple named it “Mac App of the Year” in 2015. The most striking difference Affinity Photo offers is speed. In Photoshop, you often have to wait a few seconds


Adjustment Layers include Hue/Saturation, Black and White, Posterize, Channel Mixer, Exposure, Curves, Gradient Maps and more.

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Art tools Software ARTIST INTERVIEW You can work in a range of colour spaces, including RGB, CMYK, LAB and Greyscale.

PAOLO L LIMONCELLI The artist and brush designer on his time with Affinity Photo so far

Daub Brushes has created 12 free blender brushes to download for the software. See

What’s Affinity Photo appeal? Affinity Photo is solid enough for professional work, so I gradually started moving some projects there. I still need Photoshop because it’s the standard. But honestly, licence costs are becoming barely tolerable. How does Affinity Photo fit into your workflow? I use Adobe, Affinity and Celsys apps. Learning new tools and seeking new design strategies help you to stay ahead of the game. What do you like best about Affinity Photo? Flexibility. No matter whether your project is for digital media or print, vector or pixels, you can work directly in 16-bit per channel or CMYK flawlessly, even exporting vectors natively if needed. And what do you like least? Not all of its tools are top-notch yet. Some of them are still young in terms of options. Right now, Affinity Photo is rough and rugged.

It’s a young product, of course, but new features are being added all the time and, for now, updates are free for a changed setting to take effect. But using Affinity Photo on an iMac, every time we made tweaks they appeared instantly. In practice, that means you’re likely to get more “in the zone” as an artist, without having your creative buzz interrupted by spinning wheels, frozen screens and the like. We also love Affinity Photo’s nondestructive scaling, something absent from both Photoshop and cheaper rivals such as Pixelmator. Even if you downsize an image layer, Affinity Photo still stores its full resolution, so you can increase its size again later if you change your mind. This is handy, for example, when adding objects to images in illustrations. There’s also the much-vaunted million per cent zoom, which is breathtaking to see in practice. It’s a young product, of course, and not quite as feature-rich as Photoshop

– it lacks the latter’s animation and 3D printing smarts, for instance. But new features are being added all the time and, for now, updates are free. Panorama stitching, for example, was absent from the first release but has arrived in version 1.4. Affinity Photo uses its own file format, but you can also import and export a range of file formats, such as PSD, PNG, JPG, TIFF, GIF, PDF and so on. As such, it’s more sensible to think of Affinity Photo as a companion to Photoshop than an alternative to it. With a low price and no subscription, it isn’t a big financial burden, and its speed and unique features will save you time and effort with some tasks. A few clients might get nervous about you not using the industry standard, but as long as you choose the right export options, who’s to know?

Features QClone tool Q Dodge and Burn brushes Q Sponge and Smudge brushes Q Blur and Sharpen brushes Q Colour Replacement brush Q Healing brush Q Blemish removal Q Inpainting (similar to Content Aware Fill) Q Frequency Separation editing Q Liquify toolset

System Requirements Mac: OS X 10.7 or later, Core 2 Duo CPU, 2GB RAM, 630MB free disk space


What’s exciting in version 1.4? Custom ramps for brush dynamics: a very specific feature, but one that’s useful for illustrators. The response of jitters available in dynamics is driven by a customisable curve and this helps to produce more usable and expressive brush strokes. You can shape your brush behaviour, cut-off pressure levels, invert or linearise. A great control over pressure/dynamics sensitive devices that Photoshop doesn’t offer yet. Would you recommend artists buy Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer, or just one of them? It depends on your working habits. If you’re doing vector illustration, Affinity Designer is the best choice. But the raster tools in Affinity Photo are far more complete. I’d say get both: no subscription, shared file format and seamless user experience. And Serif’s developers listen to their customers. Paolo is an Italian artist, illustrator and brush designer. He’s probably used every art software ever produced.

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Paintstorm Studio 1.5

Painting is very responsive and it’s easy to use, even when you’re just painting with your finger!

MICRO-MANAGER A dream for artists who want to customise brushes, but are there too many options? Price $19 Company Paintstorm Studio Web

aintstorm’s key selling point is the huge amount of control it gives you over its brushes. There are so many that upon launching the program for the first time your screen will be overwhelmed with panels of options, obscuring the majority of your canvas! Fortunately the panels are customisable, so you can scale down the interface and make them less opaque and more tolerable. Once you’ve got the UI under control, you’ll find the surfeit of customisable options available to you in Paintstorm is a blessing and a curse. It’s an unusual experience to have to organise a workspace in a painting program before you can start painting. It also feels odd that despite the appearance of the tabs, you can’t nest them behind each other as you would in Photoshop. The lack of intuitive controls is problematic when you’re offered as many options as you are here. The absence of tool tips is another small frustration. On the other side of the coin, the ways you can customise your brushes is staggering. Paintstorm gives you



This screenshot doesn’t scratch the surface of the number of customisable options at your disposal.

considerably more options to alter your brush behaviours than Photoshop, and often a category will have numerous subcategories within it, which you can also edit, giving you complete control over the brush engine. With this in mind, we strongly recommend that you view the tutorials from within the program, so that you can make the most of the plethora of tools available. If you’re the kind of artist who loves tinkering with custom brushes to see what fun results you can achieve, then Paintstorm is definitely worth trying out. However, if you prefer to open a program and just start painting, this one probably isn’t for you.

QCustomisable brushes Q Stroke correction Q Customisable dynamic interface Q Close Gaps function ideal for flat colouring Q Customisable panels Q Brushes can bind to perspective Q Seamless brush blending Q Intuitive hotkey assignment

System Requirements PC: Windows Vista, 7 or newer, Core i3 CPU, 2GB RAM, 100MB hard drive space, nVidia GeForce 8800/ Radeon x1900 or higher Mac: OS X 10.7 or newer, Core i3-4150, 2GB RAM, 100MB hard drive space, nVidia GeForce 8800/ Radeon x1900 or higher


You can alter the look, opacity and scale of the UI so that it doesn’t obscure your view while painting.

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Pixelmator 2.2 BRUSHING UP A powerful photo editing app that paints well, too Price £3.99 Company Pixelmator Team Web RATING Pixelmator 2.2 is quite frankly a joy to use. It’s marketed as a powerful photo-editing tool for mobile apps, which it absolutely succeeds as – it includes level and curves adjustments, colour corrections, blurs, cloning, filters and suchlike. But Pixelmator is also a fantastic painting app. It’s a triumph in user interface design. Anyone who’s ever used an iPad will intuitively know where everything is and how to use it. The sign of a great mobile painting app is not how satisfying it is with something fancy like the Apple Pencil (which is fully supported, alongside the iPad Pro, by the way), but how well it works with just your finger. And Pixelmator delivers wonderfully. The pressure sensitivity is great and there’s no noticeable lag. Brushes are gathered up into collections, each one represented by an accurate thumbnail, so despite there being over 100 of them to choose from, it never feels excessive. Pixelmator enables you to import, edit and export Photoshop files, so you can work on your iPhone or iPad and switch back to your Mac or PC whenever you’re ready. At only £3.99 this is an absolute bargain for your iPad.

Art tools Software Everyday excavators provide James with inspiration as he works out how his robot figure should be constructed. In Fantasy In The Wild, James Gurney shows how real-world observation helps him paint fantasy images you can believe in.

Fantasy In The Wild LIVING THE DREAM Artist and illustrator James Gurney shows how the outside world can take your fantasy art in unexpected directions

Understanding how ambient light affects hue means that James is able to make the car feel like it belongs in the sky.

Publisher James Gurney Price $25 (DVD); $15 (download) Web ow do you follow Watercolor In The Wild and Gouache In The Wild, James Gurney’s previous two titles in this series? Coloured Pencils In The Wild, perhaps? James has other ideas: with Fantasy In The Wild, he both stays true to the series concept of creating art outdoors and greatly expands the territory he could cover in future instalments. James presents two projects in which he uses his surroundings as both inspiration and reference, adding fantastic elements to otherwise ordinary scenes. As an exercise, it’s a test of your painting skills, because you have to interpret the light and colours you see and apply them to forms that exist only on your canvas. It’s also a great way to generate new ideas that you probably wouldn’t have devised otherwise. And, above all, James makes it look like a lot of fun. The first project sees James adding a flying vehicle to a suburban street.


Topics covered QGenerating ideas and back stories Q Making a visual grid Q Painting from reference Q Using toys and maquettes Q Merging fantasy and reality

Length 71 minutes


You’ll see how James’s knowledge of perspective enables him to make the floating car look natural in the scene. In the second, more expansive, project, an excavator becomes a robotic digger. There are a few changes of tack along the way, and it’s these changes that are the heart of the video. Imagination mixes with observed reality to send James down unexpected paths, and what started as a smallscale study becomes an epic tableau in which a giant robot inadvertently causes chaos in a small town. The real world has another role to play, too. Being outside gives James the chance to meet people with their own areas of expertise to contribute, lending the scene extra authenticity. Fantasy In The Wild doesn’t offer the depth of technical detail that you might expect if you’ve seen any of James’s previous videos, but it’s full of both practical guidelines and creative inspiration that could see your daily commute firing up your imagination.


JAMES GURNEY James specialises in painting realistic images of scenes that can’t be photographed, from dinosaurs to ancient civilisations. He’s also a plein air painter and sketcher, believing that making studies from observation fuels his imagination. James taught himself to draw by reading books about Norman Rockwell and Howard Pyle. He received a degree in anthropology at the University of California, but chose a career in art. James has written the instruction books Imaginative Realism and Color And Light.

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Coverama: Alternative Worlds WORLDS APART Cover king Marc Simonetti’s collection of stunning and varied art gets the large format showcase that it deserves Author Marc Simonetti Publisher Milady Price ¤39 (£27) Web ans of the sort of art that adorns Terry Pratchett jackets will love Marc Simonetti, a French painter and concept artist who’s illustrated a range of notable fantasy and sci-fi books. And even if you aren’t sure, this incredible collection could very well convert you. As you leaf through this crowdfunded hardback, you’ll discover covers for books you’ll want to own, concept art for video games you’ll want to play, and sketches that will send your head spinning in multiple inspirational directions.


One of many book covers that Marc worked on – this is 2011’s The Gilded Rune, published by Wizards of the Coast.

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It all kicks off with some thrillingly panoramic interpretations of George RR Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice. You’ll be knocked sideways by Marc’s unique (if unfinished) vision of The Iron Throne, which takes the idea of epic to a whole new level, as well as his passionate defence of why he feels this to be the definitive version. This sets the tone nicely for the rest of the 258, large-format pages, most of which are dominated by single, framed images, giving the art free rein to capture our imaginations. We’re taken on a journey through the Discworld universe, where Marc’s inyour-face illustrations capture the innate ridiculousness of Terry Pratchett’s popular imaginings. Then it’s on to the horror and madness of HP Lovecraft, conveyed through grimly evocative scenes of darkness and desperation. The ensuing chapters explore, first, a series of legendary worlds, then a collection of brain-tingling futurescapes. Along with way, you’ll find both published and unused work; clever parodies such as an apocalyptic Gone with the Wind poster and a MiddleEarth version of the Abbey Road album art; plus occasional forays into other genres such as hard sci-fi and 20th century war. But generally this is a book of noble warriors, magical creatures and misty landscapes, all

Marc Simonetti brings to life a motley collection of characters from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books.

executed brilliantly by one of the most accomplished names in the business. The bulk of the book is taken up by art, each chapter introduced by only the briefest of paragraphs. But over the final 24 pages, Marc shares more of his vision and process, in an original and unusual way: reprinting his discussions with clients over how to interpret their work visually. These idea-generating back-and-forths with authors Sam Sykes, Emmanuel Chastellière and Terry Pratchett – accompanied by work-in-progress sketches – add a surprisingly honest and fascinating dimension to a masterful collection.


Inspiration Books

Heaven’s Hell: The Art Of Anthony Jones CHARACTER CREATION Now this is what we call deviant art… Discover the twisted afterlife world of a master artist Author Anthony Jones Publisher Design Studio Press Price $25 Web ackers of this Kickstarter project may have expected just a nice collection of their favourite artist’s work… but they’ve got much more than that. In this deliciously deviant volume, concept artist, illustrator and educator Anthony Jones unleashes his “demented visions of the afterlife” in a stunning series of mainly monochrome paintings. Not quite telling a story, Heaven’s Hell nonetheless introduces a string of horrifying and melancholy characters


One of the sternlooking Sisters of Haliled. Anthony Jones reveals her as someone who finds pleasure in the demise of love.

that get right under your skin. Inspired by “extreme high concept fashion design, black-and-white photography and monsters”, they’re quite unlike anything we’ve seen before. And by giving them full space to breathe, it thrillingly conveys how much emotional power can be elicited by an artist willing to go with their gut instinct. With the lion’s share of the first 77 pages handed to the art itself (while

tossing out pithy backstories for each demonic personality), the remainder of this 130-page softback devotes itself to tutorials. These aren’t full walkthroughs, but they do offer a series of valuable insights into the Photoshop techniques Anthony used to create and finesse his provocative and unsettling creatures, right down to individual brush presets.


Beginner’s Guide To Sketching: Characters, Creatures And Concepts CORE SKILLS You don’t have to be a beginner to learn a lot from this guide to the fundamentals of drawing Editor Jess Serjent-Tipping Publisher 3D Total Price £17 Web ans of 3DTotal’s CG training books have long been asking for one focusing on old-school graphite. Well, now that call has been answered. In this 206-page book, 10 pro artists, including Rovina Cai, Justin Gerard, Nick Harris and Rebeca Puebla, take you through the fundamentals, from gesture drawing and finding simple shapes to mastering line quality and shading. The cover doesn’t make it


Rovina Cai's 14-page article covers how to depict a winged fantasy creature using pencils.

obvious, but the book’s mainly geared towards the creation of concept/ fantasy art – and that’s fine by us! The artists explain how and when to use different sketching materials, share top tips, show you how to draw everything from hands to an alien slave, and set practical exercises. There are also master projects that show how it all gets put together – how to progress from early concepts,

through poses, designs and costume elements, to a completed scene. Despite the title, novices might find much of this too challenging. Yet artists ranging from students right up to advanced level should find much of value here, both in terms of refreshing your core art skills and raising your fantasy concept art to the next level.

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To download your free resources, from how-to video tutorials to useful custom brushes, simply visit

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CARD ARTIST EDITORIAL IAN DEAN EDITOR NICKY GOTOBED ART EDITOR ALEX SUMMERSBY PRODUCTION EDITOR CONTRIBUTIONS Dave Allsop, Daren Bader, Volkan Baga, Aleski Briclot, Kev Crossley, Crowgod, Dan Dos Santos, Craig Elliot, Sara Forlenza, Dave Kendall, Howard Lyon, Nacho Molina, Winona Nelson, Dan Scott, Matt Stawicki ADVERTISING SASHA MCGREGOR advertising manager +44 (0) 1225 687675 CHRIS MITCHELL account executive +44 (0) 1225 687832 IMAGINEFX BEREN NEALE EDITOR DANIEL VINCENT ART EDITOR CLIFFORD HOPE OPERATIONS EDITOR

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Final artwork and custom brushes

PRINT & PRODUCTION VIVIENNE CALVERT production controller MARK CONSTANCE production manager NOLA COKELY ad production manager NATHAN DREWETT ad production co-ordinator MICHELLE ROGERS operational purchasing manager LICENSING REGINA ERAK licensing and syndication director MATT ELLIS senior licensing manager FUTURE PUBLISHING LIMITED RODNEY DIVE group art director MATTHEW PIERCE head of content & marketing, photography, creative & design NIAL FERGUSON director of content & marketing ZILLAH BYNG-THORNE chief executive Printed in the UK by William Gibbons & Sons Ltd Distributed by Seymour Distribution Ltd +44 (0) 207 429 4000 2 East Poultry Avenue, London EC1 9PT

ImagineFX is the registered trademark of Future Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved. CONTACT US PHONE +44 (0)1225 442244 EMAIL ART SUBMISSIONS WEBSITE TWITTER @imaginefx FACEBOOK POST ImagineFX Magazine, Future Publishing Ltd, Quay House, The Ambury, Bath, BA1 1UA, UK


Chief executive Zillah Byng-Thorne Non-executive chairman Peter Allen Chief financial officer Penny Ladkin-Brand Tel +44 (0)20 7042 4000 (London) Tel +44 (0)1225 442244 (Bath) © 2016 Future Publishing Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this magazine


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CREATE AMAZING CREATURES Paint fantastic creatures for card art with our pro artists

“It’s alwayscraeate challenge gto that’ll somethin full siz e look great 4.5-inch and on a – Kera screen”


Craig Elliott reveals how to paint Lady Sylvanas for Hearthstone


Applibot’s Crowgod explains how to tell a story in your card art


Dave Allsop shows you how to paint a monster for Magic: The Gathering

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