This took 6 months to complete and the characters you see here are life-sized (i.e. you can match your head size to theirs when viewed at 100%). Because of this it's basically impossible for me to cover each character in-depth, so I'll cover one character in general terms, so you can get a sense of what it took to paint each one.
The character we'll concentrate on is Liliana Vess. She is beautiful, cunning and deadly. In the Magic the Gathering "Multiverse", Liliana Vess is a century-old necromancer who forged a pact with demon lords in order to be restored to her zenith of power and beauty. She raises the fallen to do her bidding, corrupts the living and draws power from death. My kind of gal!
Liliana at heart, is a predator; a man-eater. It was essential to transmit this in her body-language and attitude. When I think of a predator I think of exotic big cats and serpents, of hypnotic eyes following their prey's every move, waiting to strike from the darkness. Garruk Wildspeaker also embodies this, but on a more barbaric, primal level with fur, tusks and muscle! Liliana however is more subtle, more insidious; like a stalking black panther, or a slithering cobra. I mention all of this because I try and immerse myself in who these characters are when I illustrate them.
I think about what it is that attracts the die-hard fan to these personalities. From this point I create a phrase or word that embodies the essence of what the character should project and I try and make them tangible. The hard-numbers and technique is the same for each character. After studying the reference sheets provided by Wizards of the Coast, I illustrate the character in primitive shapes with a large, wet edged brush at around 50-60% opacity and 50% flow attempting to establish their attitude and presence.
Then I begin to wrangle up references to correct mistakes and evolve the character. It can be anything from movie-stills that possess lighting arrangements I like, to perhaps a hand, set of eyes there, or an entire model striking a pose I like although often the appearance of the model is irrelevant; it's the attitude they project or that invisible something you don't see but sense.
After this I start laying in the flesh-tones, armor highlights and garment colors with smaller brushes (some textured, some not) at a lower opacity. The variables on which brushes I use at what time are also too numerous to mention here, this part of the process is very fluid and I simply don't keep track of specifics. I go in with the Smudge tool set at around 80% and sculpt the pixels into place, blending, reworking and refining as I go along. This technique is more akin to sculpting rather than drawing and I've used it for over ten years and it would take another ninety nine pages of this book to describe it accurately. It's something I've taught myself, as I have with all things related to art as I have never been trained.
The result is commonly what you see here in Fig.06 and typically what gets sent in for approval; a murky, unrefined mess that possesses a couple of focal areas of detail so Jeremy can get a sense of the direction I'm heading. This is the point where his eagle-eye starts pointing out the pit-falls that I have been unaware of like misplaced emphasis or loss of focus. After I clean up the trouble spots and get approval I prepare to enter the ring and fight with everything until I feel I have produced my best.
From here I repeat the process; refining and tightening as I go, investing hundreds of hours on each character at 400-500% magnification until they are finished. It is an unbelievably time consuming and punishing process that is guided more by intuition and repeated failure, than tactical deliberation. I do not recommend it, but I do adore it.
After finalizing Liliana (Fig.07) I move backward to Ajani Goldmane, Koth, and then finally Kiora Atua. Fig.08 - 09 shows how I used light fogging to stagger and separate the characters, being careful not to wash them out.