Magic Art Matters – Onslaught’s Walking Desecration

As far as Magic art goes, there is no museum dedicated to it – at least not yet. But wouldn’t that be a nice idea? Imagine a finely crafted building, situated right there on the Wizards campus in Renton, perhaps designed in the style of the Tolarian Academy, or any one of a number of Magically-significant structures. Its sole purpose would be to house the finest art of Magic. And Daren Bader would have his own wing.

As far as Magic art goes, there is no museum dedicated to it – at least not yet. But wouldn’t that be a nice idea? Imagine a finely crafted building, situated right there on the Wizards campus in Renton, perhaps designed in the style of the Tolarian Academy, or any one of a number of Magically*-significant structures. Its sole purpose would be to house the finest art of Magic.

Remember, if it ever becomes a reality, you heard it here first.

It’s not like it would be unprecedented, though. Fact is for quite some time now Disneyland has maintained its own Disney Gallery, right above the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Of course the Gallery, true to Disney form, is first and foremost a place of commerce. Prints of popular Disney artwork are on display and available for purchase. This includes animation art as well as other stylized Disney art, which is focused largely on their popular stable of characters. In addition to all this are periodic themed exhibits, which run for a time and then are replaced by a new exhibit. These shows tend to be more formal and focused; frequently, they feature original conceptual art used to visualize the possibilities for upcoming rides or attractions.

So applying that model to the newly-coined Magic Museum of Art, I envision there might be prints and originals available for sale. In addition, there would be themed exhibits – and of course there would be full exhibits dedicated to the work of featured artists. Imagine exhibits such as The Markets of Mercadia, The Man Lands of Magic, The Art of Kev Walker, and The Lands of John Avon.

I’d go to such a museum – wouldn’t you?

In light of the fact that no such museum exists currently, the next best thing we can experience is typically available at the many Pro Tour and Grand Prix events – the artist signings.

That was just one of many enjoyable aspects of my Grand Prix: Los Angeles experience last week. In attendance at the signing** booth at various times throughout the weekend were perennial crowd favorites such as Therese Nielson and Ben Thompson, but this year also presented one of my personal favorite artists, Daren Bader.

With much of the display space at the artist booth effectively used to show actual size prints, stopping by to chat with an artist is a great way to experience their art on a larger scale. With many pieces displayed side-by-side it is also a refreshing change from our typical limitation of staring at a small two-inch by two-inch square rendition, one card at a time.

A further benefit is it gives us a chance to see the art as the artist intended it to be on its respective card. What the artist intended is not always what gets printed.

Such is the case with Daren Bader’s Walking Desecration, which will be the subject of today’s critique.

Having only participated in a handful of Onslaught Sealed to date, and not having bought a booster box yet, I was not previously familiar with it. However at the GPLA Trial on Friday night, I did open one and it immediately caught my eye. As good a first impression as it made, I did have to wonder: Why would Darren have cut off the left-side foot of the main character? This is usually a red flag that indicates a problem introduced by production cropping decisions, as Daren is normally expert in properly framing his compositions.

First off, let’s immediately address the composition. While visiting Daren’s booth, the original art for this card was on display – and as I suspected, a production decision for cropping significantly changed the piece. In the original, the left-side foot is fully shown along the bottom of the frame. In addition, much more of the secondary character is shown on the lower right hand side of the original. This fact alone probably makes the original art more successful from a storytelling perspective. I am guessing that the art director made the choice in order to emphasize the Zombie character. Unfortunately, in doing so the foot was cut off. I can’t think of a single case where the losing of a foot helped a painting; it doesn’t help here, either.

In addition, a near tangent was created where the secondary character’s left arm runs flush along the bottom edge of the frame. The effect is to flatten the painting by artificially putting that arm in the same plane as the frame. Fortunately, all other elements of the painting convey exceptional form and dimensionality, so the tangent does no actual harm.

One final casualty of the botched crop job is the date where Bader must have signed the piece in the upper right corner. Notice the small ’20’? A companion ’02’ has been lopped off along with Daren’s signature itself, which is usually clearly evident on his cards.

Aside from the cropping, everything else about this composition is exquisite. The main Zombie nicely occupies its space and it is posed in a strong, dynamic, and therefore, interesting pose. A way to double-check this is to imagine the character in silhouette. If the silhouette”reads” well, meaning that it is clear and unambiguous, then the pose is probably good.

Just for comparison, look at the card Void, from Invasion. While I truly like this art, for the most part I think it would read better in silhouette if the creature’s left arm were pointed off more emphatically to the right side of the card. As it is, the detail of that arm is somewhat lost amidst the rest of the body. It would just be better if the arm were de-conflicted from the body. This technique is very important in the art of animation. When the lead animator is setting up the action of a scene, the key poses of the character must read well in silhouette. Otherwise, the final action will likely be weaker as a result of the failure to clarify each important pose.

Another interesting aspect of this painting is its many instances of tension. Within the pose of the Zombie character itself much tension is evident. Look at how the character is arched backwards, with arms flayed dramatically backwards. The arch puts the back of the Zombie in compression, and the front in tension. This element is reinforced by the way the abdominal muscles are taut and drawn to convey strength. Notice how the arch of the back is balanced by the forward thrust of the head and the hips. Just imagine how boring this piece would be if it were posed simply with the Zombie standing straight upright with arms raised straight overhead to form a V-shape; how boring that would have been? Fortunately for us, Bader is no rookie, and we get a nice strong pose from his Zombie.

Another example of visual tension is the contrast between the arms, which trail backwards in unison with the head feathers, all of which are expertly balanced by the animal-skin cloak as it sweeps forward. That push-pull tension is extremely nice.

Finally there is a dramatic tension between the characters themselves. The Zombie is looking down in dominance over the secondary character that is looking further downward in submission. This gives the painting a strong line of movement from upper left to lower right, and provides a convenient path for our eye to follow, lending both interest and drama to the painting.

It appears that all aspects of the Zombie proportions are correct; correct that is if we assume this Zombie is of human** descent, which I think is a safe guess. Seems that the ribcage is one and a half heads in length (check), midpoint of the figure is four heads from the top of the head (check) and the outstretched leg is also four heads from the hip to the ankle (check). As a secondary confirmation, it looks like the elbow of the left side arm, if swung down, would strike the torso at the bottom of the ribcage (check) and if standing straight up, arms to the side, the fingertips would reach the midpoint of the thighs (check). Yep… The proportions are correct.

What’s that? You have a question?”Why do the right side arm and leg appear abnormally short?” Good question – but there is an easy answer. Remember that this pose is drawn in a deep perspective, given the apparent camera angle, the forward placement of the left side leg, and the forward thrust of the hips. All of these choices force the perspective, and cause the artist to use foreshortening in the rendering of both limbs on the right side. From what I can tell, both have been drawn correctly.

Speaking of the dramatic down-looking camera angle, notice how Bader has also used this choice to simplify the background and focus attention firmly on the main character. By doing so, he has reduced the potential amount of background shenanigans that he’d have to address. And they’re shenanigans that would not even serve to enhance the scene – so why mess with them? From this angle, we do not expect to see anything but ground in the background, and therefore we do not feel cheated by the simple treatment offered by the artist.

To his credit, though, Bader did manage to make the background appealing nonetheless; notice how he has used strong lighting, apparently from a spotlight-like source, to create a nice pattern on the ground. This choice results in very interesting shadows being cast by the characters onto the ground. The second effect is what appears to be the edge of the spotlight. That edge marks a transition from a highly-lit area on the ground to a somewhat darker patch of ground that diagonally occupies the upper third of the frame. Compositionally speaking, this choice nicely complements the Zombie. This is true not only in that there is a balance between the dark and light, but also in the way the line of transition interacts with the head and arms.

Finally, if you take a moment, you will notice many well-executed negative spaces, and a beautiful line quality that is evident throughout this painting.

Starting with Argothian Enchantress, and proceeding through other great pieces such as Pouncing Jaguar, Multani, Maro-Sorcerer, and recently Whispering Shade, I have always enjoyed the work of Daren Bader. This piece is no exception. It lives up admirably to the high standards he has set in his earlier work. To this, I say”well done” to Daren, and I look forward to future Magic art that he will undoubtedly be asked to create for our enjoyment.

Perhaps if the Magic Museum of Art**** ever becomes a reality, Daren will be among the first artists to be featured in a dedicated exhibit.

Michael Jay LaRue

Engineer Legend

[email protected]

* – If you’d like, I invite you to put your thoughts into the discussion forum – you can nominate whatever building you’d like from the world of Magic art that you think would be a good real-life building to host the Magic Museum of Art. Personally I like something modeled after Fifth Edition City of Brass. Treetop Village would be interesting, but perhaps not very practical as a museum. In fact, feel free to offer any thoughts you may have on the subject of such a Museum – I think that would make an interesting thread.

** – If you do get a card signed, and the artist is nice enough to customize it using”special metallic ink,” and he cautions you to let it dry a long time -as Daren Bader did on a pre-release foil copy of Silent Specter for Jan – do as he says! Even though it may seem dry to the touch, it may not be sleeve-able yet – let it dry completely! Sorry, Jan – my bad.

*** – As an aside, in the form of a note to Randy Buehler, and in reference to a recent column on creature types. Please let’s not have any nonsense along the lines of”Creature Type – Human.” Please, I beg of you – don’t do it, for the love of all that is good in this game, please do not do that! It would be a big mistake!

**** – By the way, doesn’t that sound like a cool job – Curator of the Magic Museum of Art? Hmmmm… I wonder where to send my resume?