After I dropped the middle child off at a birthday party, I headed down to a peaceful parking spot beside the river in the hopes that I’d be granted the inspiration to finish my article in one day. The trees reflected perfectly in the calm, glass-like river, so much so that they looked like… upside-down trees. It wasn’t for lack of things to say, but between the beauty of my surroundings and the interruption of sirens in the background, I had written a total of one sentence in forty-five minutes. Sirens in a town of no more than five thousand people (most of which fly south at the first sign of frost) are very rare, almost as rare as my ability to focus for ten minutes apparently.
Then it came to me. If you’ve ever watched the show
on TV, you know what I mean. It just clicked; inspiration.
It occurred to me that despite the wall of text that was my toolbox article, I managed to skip over something very important. If you’ve run out of room in your toolbox, don’t panic! This isn’t another item you need to run out and purchase, but without it, your end product will surely suffer. As with any facet of your life, without
quality can take a nosedive.
I’ve always been an advocate of quality over quantity. Dad always said, “Do it right the first time, or don’t do it at all!” and that saying seems to have stuck with me. So when you sit down to paint, make sure you’re inspired to do so because it lends quite heavily to the outcome of your work.
The best way to be inspired, especially when choosing your first card to alter, is to choose a card that you’re emotionally attached to, a favorite card that just always seems to make your home-brews. Picking a common or uncommon is also a very good idea for starting. My first alter and favorite card is easily Oblivion Ring, which makes any deck I can play it in, as I mentioned last article. I was really sad to see it rotate out of Standard, but now my new and improved O-Ring alter lives in my Captain Sisay EDH deck!
If you choose a card you really love, you’ll do a much better job on it as you’re emotionally invested in the outcome. Choose something that will definitely be seeing play in a deck you’re currently running, as the more often you see it during play, the more opportunities to be proud of it you’ll have, and that just leads to more inspiration!
This is what makes commissions a little trickier for me. Sure, my commissions come out pretty well, but they take a lot longer to complete. Let’s take Tooth and Nail for instance. I had two alter requests for this at the same time last year. Every night after work, I’d flick through the cards that I needed to complete, then put them away and go do something else. Between the fact that I’d never played the card myself and due to the complexity of the art, I just couldn’t bring myself to get started. Eventually I did sit down and do them, but it still took me a week to complete, as I’d only be able to get about an hour invested per night before getting frustrated with them.
Once you’re happy with your common and uncommon alters, I’d definitely suggest taking a shot at your EDH general. This card spends a lot of time on the battlefield in what’s usually going to be a long game. Even when your general isn’t in play, he’s on the table for all to see. Paint him and make him stand out! It’s amazing the amount of alteration requests you’ll receive by placing a painted general on the table. Then, once you’ve done them for all your friends, word travels, and you’ll be a busy little painter.
I can’t stress enough; paint cards you will play. Make them a priority whenever possible. I’ve only just started doing alters for myself again, and I find it really rejuvenating. Completing that Oblivion Ring for my last article was like casting a Regrowth on my paintbrush! I did the same thing this week, pushing aside some commissions again (Sorry
they’re coming!), so that I could work on my own EDH general. I’ve had Captain Sisay as a general for about a year now and still hadn’t put the paint to her. That’s about to change!
I’m going to simply barrage you with images again this week, as this is shaping up to be a hefty article. I promise I’ll spend an article deeply focusing on a walkthrough in the near future.
Overall, I’m not too happy with the outcome, but I feel it’s just as important to discuss my failures as my successes. As Winston Churchill said:
Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”
I definitely have the enthusiasm intact and have a new Sisay base coated to try again. What I’m not happy with in this piece is the perspective. Despite spending a great deal of time just staring at the card and moving the guidelines around to try to find the right ‘shot,’ I just got it utterly wrong. Unfortunately, I only discovered the correct orientation once I’d completed the piece. I’m also not too pleased with my deck boards as they’re not true to the contour of the image. They should go from thinner at the left, to wider at the right to aid in the effect of depth. There are quite a bit of other little things that I’m not satisfied with, but I’ll highlight some of the positives to keep the balance.
Most of the foggy cloud stuff came out pretty well. The greenish color was a difficult one to match and took a combination of a grey, green, beige, and yellow to achieve. I’m also really pleased with how the sail turned out on the right side. The black bands around the main post shaded really well, as did the side engine thing. Items like those take a lot of work as I start with a stock black and slowly add more and more grey, working my way up to the lightest shade. By the time the black to grey gradients were finished, I probably had about ten different shades in there.
As an added bonus this week, I want to shift focus to another alterer in the community to show you guys some really amazing stuff. He goes by the name Poxy14 on the MTGSalvation.com forums and lives two hours outside of Manila in the Philippines. We spent the last week or so e-mailing back and forth and here’s the (highly edited) outcome:
Hey Poxy! I’d like to thank you for putting the brush down for a while to have a chat with me. It is much appreciated. (Would you rather go by Poxy or your real name?)
Thanks, too Jeremy, we can go by just calling me Earl hehe…
Okay Earl, so over the last year, you’ve been one of the artists that I really look forward to seeing new work from. Your style is unique and unlike my general extensions, you usually replace the existing art with an amazing original work. Given the size of our canvas, I’m in awe of your talent. Would it be safe to assume you have formal training and make your living in an artistic manner?
Yes, I’ve graduated from the University of St. Tomas in Manila with a degree in Fine Arts majoring in painting. During that time I began playing Magic with my classmates in my free time. I won several painting competitions back in college, but when I finished, I needed a job quickly, and I went on to become an art teacher at a small school. Without having a background in education, they allowed me to share my knowledge in painting and creative works by handling painting classes and tutorials due to my credentials.
Once in a while I was able to get murals commissioned, and by the time I got bored of this very slow process, I studied graphic arts just to get a good job that could support me. I frequently visited the States looking for opportunities, but I couldn’t find a job related to the arts. When I went back to the Philippines, I got this big break to try out for a printing company, and I’ve been working as a graphic artist there ever since.
My friend introduced me to altering using his cards as an experiment in November 2009. I had a scheduled art exhibit reunion with my former classmates, and I only submitted one piece as I was trying to get back to my old form. The cards I was experimenting with became my practice pieces.
After posting on some local threads, I was so surprised at the reaction to altered cards. Then someone told me to post at the MTGSalvation.com altered art thread… it was huge! I got my first commission in April, and the rest is history.
So you’ve been altering for a full year now, and our community seems to have doubled in numbers since you first joined. Would you be able to share any pro tips for those interested in getting started?
Actually I have no special tech regarding the alters. I did read the Salvation forums for tips and the materials they used… it was pretty much all the same with legends like Yawg, Bigup, Klug, etc. It was just an advantage on my part that I had professional training, and I was just waiting to get back to my old form after a long absence from painting. My first alters weren’t that good, and I just got better through constant practice; my renders became thinner and much smoother as I acquired better materials and brushes. As my commission volume got larger, the difference in my style of shading to the others became apparent. I like dark backgrounds with intense highlights. I’m not into anime, and my strength really is with faces and figures. I like landscapes too, but I’m not as good as Sandreline.
Though I do appreciate the artistic merits of the anime alters, they’re really not my thing either. I have to skim past them in the forums, so the kids don’t see them as they’re usually ‘R’ rated.
You mentioned the volume of commissions, so I checked your site and was amazed to find you’ve done over 250 alters! Do you remember the first one you ever completed?
Actually, my first ever alter was an accident! A friend gave me an Ironman bust to paint on with red, black, and gold acrylics, and as I was painting it, I needed cardboard to put excess paint on… too lazy to get up, I had a scrap Fireblast at my side, and I wiped my brushes on it. After the Ironman was finished, I edited the card, and I felt it looked good. I gave this to my friend, and he gave me one of those Ironman toys in return. When the alters went
for me, he was able to dig through his Magic cards in his garage, and luckily he still had it. He let me sign it, and I tried to trade a Guru Island for it (which he really can’t afford not to have in his pimp blue deck), but he wouldn’t let me… he said he’ll keep this one forever!
Earl’s the one on the left
That’s an awesome story and a lot more interesting than how most of us got started! I love the frame and certificate he had made up too, what a nice touch.
The Fireblast obviously is among your favorites because it’s where it all began, but which is your favorite you painted for yourself?
I really have no favorite alter. I make new ones all the time, and they all amaze me. Since the day I started altering, I see new developments, from the materials I’ve been using to the new techniques I’ve developed all throughout the line-ups of commissions. During the first stages of my altering career, I began experimenting on battered cards, and when they were finished, I played them in my decks. As far as I can remember, these alters made my deck before I gave them as gifts to my early clients. I haven’t been able to make extras lately because I really don’t have much time. Even my favorite deck has been left with no other alters besides the Dryad Arbor Apples that I only made because I ran out of blue paints, and it was raining too hard to go and get more… I couldn’t do clouds without the blue for the commissions I had lined up!
Do you have a favorite you painted as a commission then?
Every alter is my favorite! When clients enquire about commissions, I tell them I don’t do repeats ever. Every alter I make, I put forth my best effort to please every client’s requirement. I’m very pleased when they receive their altered pieces and give me wonderful feedback about how much they love their customized cards. Other foreign clients ask me why my fees are so cheap compared to CardKitty’s and others. I tell them I just want to share my works with the world!
Really? Out of all those pieces there’s none that stand out to you? Let’s switch gears then. Every once in a while I run into a commission that I fight with for hours; is there a particular alter that you can remember having a difficult time with?
The only time I raise the commission price is if the alter is really elaborate. The difficult ones to do really would be everything that requires a face. Every alter I’ve made, from Bazaar, Akasaha Vampiric Tutor, the Kratoses… as long as they’re human faces, they’re tough! I always spend the time needed for them to look like the original face like the 300 FoWs, the Villainskraft, the sensei guys… tougher than those landscapes hehe!
Man those are all beautiful. I’m very curious about the amount of time you spend altering. It seems like you have two or three alters to post every day. Generally, it takes me 3-4 hours to complete a card to my satisfaction… which leads me to believe that you’re either really fast or you spend ten hours a day painting cards? What’s your average monthly turnout?
I work fast, even when I was in college. When I begin to work, I always stay focused. I always develop a certain routine for doing things fast and efficiently; it’s kinda elaborate. In almost all the things I’m doing, I want it fast and good. As far as time frames go; a new dual can be done in 1.5 hours, a figure/picbox alter like the TMNT FoWs is about one hour each. If it’s a full art including the borders, I’d be adding 30-45 minutes.
One of the techniques I developed was having each card thinly pre-coated with white acrylic (I know almost all of the guys at MTGSalvation are doing this). Once it’s completely dried, it’s really fast doing the shading; I just apply what I learned from college. Dry brush techniques on highlighting, wet on wet surface wash look styles, etc.
Wow you do work fast. I’d imagine it’s faster to do an original work though, seeing as most of my time is spent on color matching to the existing art.
You mentioned the dual lands you’ve been doing lately and based on the amount you’ve turned out in the last couple months, is it safe to assume this is now your most requested alter? I could definitely see why; the three Savannahs done in this style are probably my favorite works you’ve completed; they are truly amazing.
I’m glad you like the Savannahs! I love silhouettes. That is the trend right now from here and international commissions. I definitely work fast, and if I had a whole free day without any tasks, I could do like 10-12 of those types of alters in one day.
I’ve always been a little hesitant when doing big money cards, afraid of messing them up and such. I might have to ship you one of my Savannahs. ;o)
After seeing these, I wondered why you weren’t an artist for Magic. Have you ever contacted Wizards directly in an attempt to produce original works for our game?
I really would love to see a Filipino as an original Magic card artist. I just don’t know how to contact WotC.
Maybe the guys at the Mothership will be checking out this article; we can hope right!? That’s probably enough questions for now. I don’t want to pester you too much; you have cards to paint!
Thanks again for taking the time to chat with me over the past week, Earl; it’s been an absolute pleasure. We should stay in touch, do an alter swap or something!
No prob man! It’s been a pleasure, too! If I have time during the Christmas holidays I really want to send you something, like an altered card as a gift… I have to find time for that hehe!
Earl’s entire collection of works can be viewed
and he can be contacted for commissions directly by e-mail: earlgrantdeleon at yahoo dot com.
A big thank you to Earl and to everyone taking the time to read my work. As usual, I can be reached on the Twitter
and by e-mail: jfroggatt at persona dot ca.