If you’re picturing a Homunculus wearing an argyle sweater, made popular by golfers and poindexters worldwide, give your head a shake. The minion of Argyle is me.
It began back in the early summer when my playgroup started planning for the GP in Toronto. Of course, everyone was excited that we were finally going to be getting a GP close to home, as it hadn’t happened in some number of years. The last one we could consider â€˜close’ was in Montreal back in 2007, which is a six-hour drive from our little town. My third bun was in the oven, so I was on a Magical sabbatical, missing out on Montreal. Toronto would be my first taste of the Pro scene.
Preparations were underway, and everyone was starting to brew and share ideas; the energy was amazing, and it was still so far away. Despite all the main event hoopla everyone was caught up in, one of my priorities for the GP was of an artistic nature. I’ve heard that several artists show up to any given GP, and after having such a positive experience meeting rk post a few months prior at a Worldwake Prerelease, I was totally stoked to find out who the artists were.
Chippy was announced as the headliner, and I couldn’t be more excited. So many great cards! Sure, he was no Rob Alexander or Mark Tedin, but sheesh, Lotus Cobra, Sarkhan the Mad, Abyssal Persecutor, Bloom Tender, Doom Blade…not to mention all the basic lands! That’s probably the first thing I searched for in Gatherer when I found out the artist line-up: basics. They’ll see tons of play in any deck I make, or I could get my EDH deck blinged with all-signature lands.
There were also some other artists there, too: Drew Baker and some Steve Argyle guy…
So as I did before meeting rk, I started scouring the shop and pilfering people’s binders for foil versions of the artists’ cards to bring with me. This led to spending a whack of money on foil basic lands on eBay, as nobody had the specific ones I was looking for. I think I ended up with about sixty foil basic lands by Chippy in the end.
Although Steve Argyle was rather new to the Magic scene, after looking through his list of cards, I was really impressed. Sure, there weren’t as many staples as Chippy, nor did he have any basic lands for me to hoard, but what I did find was that every piece of art that he did was truly inspiring. The textless Ponder has long been one of my favorite card arts, and I didn’t realize it was Steve’s. FNM Bloodbraid Elf, FNM Woolly Thoctar, Dawnglare Invoker, Celestial Mantle, Mayael’s Aria, and of course, Everflowing Chalice. Look at those pieces…they’re all brilliant!
I also remembered that I’d altered one of Steve’s cards in the past…Child of Alara
I spent months trading and buying foil versions of whatever I could. At some point, the main event of the GP was no longer the main event for me. I was going to see the artists and buy prints! This change in priority happened just prior to the announcement of the SCG Talent Search.
I’d recently discovered the Twitterverse and was gobbling up all the information scrolling up my phone’s display when I happened upon a tweet by
(one of the hosts on The Eh Team podcast for those of you interested) about wanting writers for his site. I messaged him that day asking what he thought about the idea of an article series based on card alterations, and he was gung-ho.
I wrote my first piece and picked a current rocket of a card in Fauna Shaman and sent the files to him. A week went by with no contact, so I sent him an email, trying my best not to be a pest. He said he’d get it online soon, and then another week went by.
I was a little perturbed at this point, but I was sure he’d put it up eventually….then the big news hit; StarCityGames.com was having a talent search! I’d already spent the time writing an article and painting some cards for it to put on a relatively new site, then they hit me with this?! I couldn’t use the piece I’d sent in for 60cards.com, so I was a little hesitant at first. Yeah, that’s right; it took some prodding (thanks, Sean). Realize that it takes me 3-4 hours per card to do the painting regularly, then add in one minute pauses every few minutes to snap progress pictures. Combine the 2-4 hours I’ll spend writing and editing my article….not to mention the time spent in Photoshop prepping all the pictures to be easily inserted into the article. Basically, an article is typically more than a full day’s work!
I got on with it though and submitted my article to StarCityGames.com with hopes that maybe I’d get some exposure and boost commissions a little bit; not really thinking there was much of a chance of making top five in a category. After all, there are a lot of Magic players out there, and we’re an intelligent, well-read bunch, I’ve heard.
Skipping forward to event time; we loaded up my minivan (me being the only one with kids and all…) and headed to Toronto for some cardboard slinging. The travel and shenanigans that were had could be an entirely separate article, so I’ll save that for the campfire and focus on the art.
Chippy’s booth was busy. The
time. I don’t know how he managed to do what he did that weekend, as his line was ever present. By the time I actually was able to set aside the time to stand in an hour-long line up, it was the Sunday of the event. I never did get all my stuff signed, of course, as there was a limit of like eighteen cards or something peculiar like that. I did, however, get Angelheart Vial in print and foil signed, which is now framed and up on a wall.
Luckily for me, Mr. Argyle had about half the action that Chippy seemed to have. This had nothing to do with their artistic abilities, just the amount of cards and staple cards that Chippy had illustrated made the attraction great. So I chilled with Steve for twenty minutes or so, talking about his art, print sizes, his time so far at the event…the usual chatter. Then I asked him how he felt about alterations. Understand that some artists are very protective of their work and get their backs up at the mention of painting on their art; thank goodness Steve wasn’t
guy. I showed him a few examples of my work, and we talked about altering a little bit, which was really cool. He seemed right into it and super supportive of what I was doing.
I purchased myself some prints: textless Ponder, FNM Bloodbraid Elf, and Mayael’s Aria, and I let him get back to servicing his fan base. Overall a really positive experience, and I was super happy to have all my stuff signed and some new sweet prints to frame.
As day two of the GP was winding down, Top-16 range, I received an email that would change my weekend, nay, my life. I looked down at my phone and saw “From: SCG Editor.” The people around me at the side events table must have thought I’d just won the lottery or something because I was jumping around like my six year old when she doesn’t want to go to bed, making everyone I knew read my cell phone. High fives were had by all…even a few bro-hugs. GP Toronto was amazing. A quick thanks to my Peterborough crew for making it a hilarious adventure!
The following week, I emailed Steve to tell him about the talent search and to see if he was willing to do an interview with me for one of my future articles. I’ll let the rest unfold in this highly edited three-month span of emails:
Hey Steve, I met you this past weekend at GP Toronto. I was the guy that showed you a few alters I did, if you remember much…I purchased three prints, and they look amazing. I’ll have them framed and up on the wall hopefully sometime next month once I’ve recovered financially from the Grand Prix adventures. The reason I’m writing you is because I made it through the first round of the StarCityGames.com Talent Search, and I’d love to be able to do a brief interview with you for a future article (provided I’m still in the contest). I realize you’re probably a pretty busy guy, but I’m positive you’ll get a few print sales out of it. Let me know what you think!
Have a good weekend!
Terrific article on altering cards. I’ve actually just recently started doing acrylic card alters myself. Like, within the last week. It definitely yields a much nicer finished product than the sharpie and marker method that I’ve been using.
I went ahead and got some slow drying acrylics. Golden open acrylics, in case you’re interested. I’m still getting the hang of them, but I’m really enjoying them. I’m thinking about doing a handful of alters each week and putting them up on my website. Or perhaps just stockpiling them for when I go to events so I don’t have to stay up all night every night doing requests.
The only potential disadvantage I see so far is that, because it takes longer to paint in acrylics than it does to squiggle on them with a couple sharpies, the cost would have to go up. And I’m not sure whether players are more interested in getting something nice and cool but expensive or just something quick and cheap.
Guess I’ll find out. I haven’t done any alters from Magic yet because I had long since run out of cards. But I just got a box full of them yesterday. 5 to 10 of every card I’ve illustrated. That will keep me busy for a while.
But I did manage to do some hard alters for another game. For the event I went to last weekend in France. I’ve attached a couple of them, just in case you were interested. I’d love to hear what you think of them.
Oh, and on the interview about altering cards, I’m happy to answer any questions that you have on that. Though I really don’t have a lot of experience, and many of my alters are done on the spot, somewhat hastily, with not the best materials.
Thanks for taking the time to shoot me back an e-mail, no worries on the length of time…It’s understandable what with you being a globetrotting superstar and all.
As for the alters you linked me…even though I’m not familiar with the originals, they look sick, man. You did an awesome job shading that Santa hat; Metroid looks dope, and my kids want me to do Cookie Monster Magic cards for them! I definitely would love for you to email me some MTG stuff that you do in the future or just add me to the ‘cool, hip, groovy, and with-it’ mailing list and let us know when you get them on your site.
Speaking of the site… really impressive. It’s well built, easy to navigate, and all the writing showcases your personality. Being immersed in all this writing stuff myself lately (due to the talent search) has really opened my eyes to quality writing. It’s like when you buy
car, then see
car all over town for the next month.
To just touch on the ‘interview’ thing….I’d rather just do it like this honestly, just shooting the shit in an email. It’ll come off a little less contrived and feel organic that way. So if you’re still open to me poking at your brain (I’ll use a brush, it won’t hurt) a little bit, that would be stellar.
What was it like the first time someone asked you to alter / sharpie / mark up one of your card artworks?
Very nice tutorial, Jeremy!
I’ve been playing around with Golden “Open” Acrylics, which are kind of in-between acrylics and oils. They’ve got a prolonged drying time, hours instead of minutes, so you can mix them on the canvas (card) kind of like oil. I’m still getting the hang of them. They concurrently delight and defy me.
The first time I was asked to do an alter, I guess I was kind of confused. “I love your artwork! Now can you scribble on top of it with sharpie? Give them mustaches or something?” But I took to it pretty quick. I think the first alter I ever did was an old Warlord card, where I gave an orc sunglasses, a derby, a Les Paul guitar, and a suit.
I’ve started doing some “no holds barred” Magic card alters. Basically taking all the time I want, just to get used to the medium. I’ve gotten used to having a stack of 100 when I go back to my hotel at a GP, working feverishly through the night, addled with caffeine. It’ll be interesting to see how things turn out when I have my full mental faculty, as well as tools, available.
Thanks for reading the article (new one goes live this Thursday!). With no artistic training, it seems kind of odd that I’m the one writing about altering, but I think my angle has been to appeal to the everyman, which seems to be working thus far.
So I’ve heard of these Open acrylics, but with that sort of drying time, it seems improbable that you could finish an alter in a day. Surely that can’t be the medium you’d use when actually at an event where turnaround time is critical? Also, thinking of them as ‘like oils,’ one would assume this adds a fair thickness to the card; is this the case?
I’ll assume you play guitar considering I watched you put one on somebody’s Chandra playmat…is this one of your go-to alters when given the freedom?
Jumping back to mediums for a minute; what brand/type of marker do you usually use for sigs and alters? I spent a truckload on some Prismacolor brush tip markers, but I find that the ink is way too watery for the cards. I could use it, let it sit overnight, and the next day, I can still smear it! The stuff you were using at the GP (silver and gold) both dried within a minute or so.
Next time you have a few minutes to shoot me an email, attach one of these acrylic MTG cards you’re working on. I’m dying to see what they look like!
I’ve attached my first alter with the open acrylics. Let me know what you think!
I’m still getting used to them, but so far, I’m a fan. You can kind of see my learning curve in this painting, actually. I jumped right in and started on Chandra herself and ended with Jabba’s face.
On the Open acrylics: If they aren’t diluted with water, they act kind of like oil. They do go on a bit thick, but I’m not sure what’s “too thick” for a sleeved Magic card. When they’re diluted, they behave much like regular acrylic, except they don’t skin up as fast on the palette. Combined with a stay-wet acrylic palette, they’ll keep forever.
At events, so far I’ve just used sharpies, or at Toronto, I did some with a white acrylic base, then colored on top with markers.
I do have some “go-to” alterations, since at events, I don’t really have time to sit and consider what would be awesome. Basically, whenever I think of something new, I’ll jot it down. I try and do something original with each alter, but if there are no muses around, I’ll grab something off my “cheat-sheet.”
Surprisingly, players seem to want “that thing I did to their friend’s card” more often than something brand new anyway. And I’ve often had folks come back for playsets that match their first alter.
That Chandra is hilarious! The detail you managed on Jabba is really nice; I really can’t wait to see more!
As for the acrylics you’re using, from looking at the image, they seem to be a little too thick. In casual decks (non-tournament types), this sort of thing would pass. In tournaments however, I always bring my alters up to the Head Judge before we start just to make sure everything is cool. The first thing they do is take it out of the sleeve, inspect it, and bend it a little…then they put it in the middle of my deck and see if they can cut to it. Basically, if the paint is thick enough to puff the sleeve up a little, it’s really easy to cut to and thus, unplayable.
I’d absolutely die for paint that didn’t dry out after being in open air for five minutes…I wish that stuff was thinner lol.
So, I’ve got a hot-button question for you. What’s your take on alterers covering over the name credits at the bottom of the card? Every alter I do, I cover all borders, as do most of the other guys in the community. Some people take offense to this, but I justify it as a means to an aesthetically pleasing end. That said, I don’t cover up a signature that’s within the art box. So what’s your take?
Another idea I had for this article is us both tackling the same card and doing a full borderless alter and comparing them afterward. Would you be up for it? We’d choose from one of your printed cards obviously, and I could have the public vote for which one or something…anyway, just a thought.
If it’s watered down, it’s thin, just like any other acrylic. So between that, and
one of these,
I can work with the same paints for days. There are also acrylic mediums that have slow drying times.
Thickness may be a problem. But on the other hand, I’ve seen a lot of the more involved alters go into binders or even framed on a wall with a print. I’m kind of aiming for that latter collector. At the moment, I’m just going for the best-looking alter, learning the medium, then later I’ll tackle some of the additional limitations.
Sure, I’d be up for doing a parallel alter with you. I’m going to be doing them anyway! It’d be a lot of fun and great publicity for both of us. A public vote sounds just dandy.
Oh, on covering up the credits. I don’t care so much. I figure that people who like the art enough to want a full-bleed card or whatever have probably glanced at the name at the bottom. I agree that typically, it’s more aesthetic to not have a floating box at the bottom. At the same time, I’ve been tossing around ideas in my brain-meats as to how to keep them there, without detracting from the alter.
Attached is the Child of Alara that I did a while back for your perusal… also appears that I’m not on your mailing list….must be rectified, posthaste.
And lo, you’re an official Beloved Minion and shall be spammed mercilessly.
The Child of Alara pic looks great!
I’ve been looking into the tournament legality stuff on alters, and one thing that’s been mentioned is that it’s not legal if the original border is covered. Which seems odd, and in many of the alters I’ve seen, that’s kind of the point. Am I missing something?
Thanks for the minionization; it really warms my heart-meats.
As far as legality is concerned, it’s extremely vague. Every Constructed event I’ve played in, from Grand Prix to FNM, has included alters of mine, and I’ve only ever had an issue with my original Oblivion Ring once (but also played that same card at other events). So when they say that it’s at the final mercy of the judge, that’s where it stands. The issue he had with my O-Ring was that it was a white card but once altered, looked more like a black card and could cause confusion. Every alter I do is removing borders entirely though, and while I’ve heard about this border-in-tact thing, I’ve never seen it used. I’d imagine it’s more important for cards that have non-legal printings, like gold-bordered collector’s editions and maybe some of the older cards, just to ensure you haven’t taken a proxy / non-tourney legal printing and altered it to look passable.
Again, the people buying alters are aware of the risk and generally would still be making the purchase whether it’s tourney legal or not.
I know you mainly work on the computer, but during schooling and whatnot, have you ever used premium art markers? I know of a few alterers that use Prismacolor art markers and have a lot of success with them. I’ve been debating getting a bunch to experiment, but they cost a fair chunk.
One more thing, I’m toying with the idea of showing up to a big convention (Wizards World Comic Con, which has a fairly large Magic tourney at it) maybe in an artist’s booth to do some altering etc. for the weekend. Having never done something like that before, do you think this would be a good idea or something I should steer clear of?
I do use some markers. I’ve got some Prismacolor markers, and lately I’ve been into Copic Sketch markers. They’re great for playmat sketches, or adding some color/tone to sketchbooks. Although – they eat through acrylic. I tried using some to tint a few things on a card alter, and they basically scrub the paint right off. A sealer might fix that, but then you’re running into that thickness problem again.
As for cons, I can only speak from my own experience, which probably isn’t really applicable to anybody else. At almost any event, I’m pretty well bombarded the whole time with signings, and a lot of folks will ask for alters on a handful of those. I’ve been charging $10 for Sharpie alters, which it seems isn’t enough. I end up spending all night doing them. I started charging in the first place just to weed out the greedy players. Folks would say, “Hey, can you do a little doodle on there?” And I’d oblige with a chuckle. That worked okay, but there’s always that one guy, who’s like “Wait, alters are FREE? Here!” And with a mighty crash, drops a box of 1000 cards in front of you. And then they’re disgusted and offended when you tell them “Ah… sorry, I can’t alter all these. Or sign this many for that matter. There are folks waiting behind you, after all.” My next step was “First one’s free, the next is $5.” But that still made for an arduously slow line, since everyone wanted at least their one free card. Now what I do is take the $10 upfront, set the card aside, and ask them to come back the next morning. And that still gets me 100+ alters a day at an event. So, in the interest of sleeping, I started doing these fully painted alters in advance. And, I think I’m going to need to bump sharpie alters up by $5 or $10. I’d much rather make a little bit less but sleep a lot more. A GP with essentially 72 hours straight of fan service, after traveling, just wrecks me for days afterward.
I have no idea how a custom alters booth would do, but I imagine pretty well. I think that a lot of what I get is just that my name is on the bottom of their card, and they want to collect signatures and a memento while I’m around.
My last article ended with the poll, and it seems we’re going to be doing Everflowing Chalice. I’m sure you have one done already right? Let me know how your calendar looks!
Now that we’re caught up in space and time, here’s the Everflowing Chalice that I finished up on Sunday night. Luckily, I had a few with signatures on them to start with, which adds nicely to the bling.
Sorry for making you sign all those, Steve…oh and the other three pages.
Signed Chalice getting his first coat of slush. Black on the top and bottom, purple and khaki on the sides. Basically something close to the main colors being used in these areas by the end.
This step shows me deepening the purple (by adding a touch of black to it) and weaving it into the dark portions of the original art. Next, I took some of that khaki and mixed in a bit of a flesh tone to try to figure out where I was going to make the smoke go. I also lay on another coat of the khaki, as it was pretty thin.
On the left, I’ve fleshed out where all the smoke will be going and started adding little dashes throughout the table using a lightened purple for each. Over to the right, I’ve decided where to end my table and defined that with black. This step also shows the table texture, which has been accomplished with no fewer than four colors to get something close to the original table Steve did.
Left side: disgusting whiff on the shade of yellow. Some lighter colors added to the smoke to bring it in line with the original. Right side: finding the correct yellow/white combination and adding depth and highlights to the smoky wisps.
This is the final stage. I’ve added spark-like dots and cleaned up all of the paint that came over the edges and of course, added my little JF. It turned out pretty well in my opinion, considering I really pushed the speed at which I painted. I’ve been trying to really increase speed so that when I finally do start going to events to paint, I can complete several in a day. This Chalice is my fastest work yet at about an hour and a half, all in one sitting. My neck hurts.
Let’s see how Steve made out.
Help support the Steve. Visit his website:
and read his entries; there’s some real gold in there. Make sure to purchase some prints as well; they look absolutely amazing in real life.
If you’ve hung on this long, thanks for reading!
Minion of Argyle