Hello again! A lot has changed since I last had an image published in Digital Art Masters (volume 4), but the gratitude I feel when my hard work garners attention is the same. So I would like to begin by thanking 3DTotal for the honor of being chosen to appear in this book and included amongst such talented individuals; it is truly a privilege!
Alright, let's get right down to the nitty-gritty. My nephew is a Marine and at the end of their training they must endure one final test before earning the honor of becoming a Marine.
It is called "The Crucible". For fifty four straight hours, recruits' endurance and teamwork skills are pushed to the limit. Through perseverance and courage they will finish as platoons and earn the title Marine. The image "Planeswalkers Pantheon" was my Crucible. But instead of fifty four hours my trial was six months.
True to the actual test the Marines endure I had a platoon; my wife, kids and Jeremy Jarvis the Art Director for Wizards of the Coast. I simply cannot talk about this work without mentioning their involvement. I watch my kids during the day and work on my contracts at night and on weekends. I simply cannot do what I do without the support of my amazing family and giving this commission everything it deserved meant getting four hours of sleep a day and throwing my wonderful wife to the wolves to fend for herself every night, weekend and holiday. It was exhausting mentally, physically and at times, emotionally. And I'd do it again one thousand times over. Why?
I came out of the other side of this a different illustrator with a deeper insight into my goals and character defects and this kind of self-knowledge is invaluable. I wish I had the luxury of detailing everything I learned working with Jeremy on this, but it's safe to say that he enabled me to push my abilities to the limit and come face to face with some artistic demons. Rocky had Mickey, Luke had Yoda and I had Jeremy.
Getting out of your comfort zone, remaining hungry for constructive criticism and having a willingness to change and sacrifice more of your personal life than you ever imagined is what creating art is all about. Chances are if you're reading this book you are already pursuing art and hunting for hard knowledge on how to improve. Try to bear in mind that there is no express lane to your goals or any program or tutorial that is going to give you the incentive to invest your blood, spirit, flesh and time. That can only come from you. And like you, I too am on the quest to improve.
So, with this in mind, which artistic demons did I mean? I used to hate relying on photo-references and withered at the idea of doing composite paint-overs. To me it never seemed like art; it seemed like cheating. This piece forced me to change my tune on that, at least when it comes to commercial art, where the client isn't paying for your personal artistic dogma, their paying for an engaging representation of their intellectual property. It's not about your voice, it's about their baby. That's a philosophy I've always had, but never fully gave myself to until this work. These, are the Planeswalkers you see. You get out of their way.
The concept for this piece was pure. Illustrate The Planeswalkers Pantheon. Make each character shine on their but also shine together. Needless to say when Jeremy offered me the commission I was completely blown away by the gravity of the assignment. I still am to a degree. Me?! Illustrate the Planeswalkers!?...TOGETHER?! I never thought I would be trusted to illustrate characters so well known, so loved and so iconic; trusted, being the operative word.
Painting the Planeswalkers
The commission was in two stages and was to first feature a full body illustration of Gideon Jura leading a small group of five Planeswalkers (Sorin Markov, Garruk Wildspeaker, Jace Beleren and Chandra Nalaar), who would be surrounded by the remaining nine. As you can see in Fig.01 in my infinite genius and eagerness to get going, I went ahead and started them from the waist up.