Sweet! Super! Score! Excellent, muy bien… Fantastico, and GGGOOOoooAAAaaalll!!!
Not a second too soon, a new piece of Onslaught preview art has become available – and it is outstanding! It is a great way to top off this little experiment called The Daily ‘Slaught.
The card itself has been previewed earlier this month – with small artwork, unfortunately – but I am talking a big juicy JPEG here, ripe with possibility, ready for review.
I feel like a little kid on Christmas morning, having just opened up a gift, and realizing that it was just what I wanted.*
Anyway, the art that I will talk about today is Rorix, Bladewing, by Darrell Riche. I am really happy to see this JPEG out and about for several reasons. First of all, it is one of the best renditions of a flyer that I have seen in quite some time.
Second, it marks the return of the Dragon Legend – sniffle, sniffle…
(Oh, don’t mind me, I’m just fondly reminiscing about my favorite cycle of creatures ever, the Dragon Legends from Invasion.)
Third, I get to discuss for the first time, a very simple-yet-powerful artistic technique that is used to establish depth.
Finally, the major noteworthy attributes of this painting are very similar to several of those that I have discussed throughout this week. By talking about Rorix, I can perfectly wrap up this series, and reinforce the main ideas discussed in this series.
For context, the card is listed as follows on the MtgNews spoiler:
Rorix Bladewing 3RRR
Creature – Dragon Legend R
In the smoldering ashes of Shiv, a few dragons strive to rebuild their native land. The rest seek any opportunity to restore the broken pride of their race.
Darrell Riche 224/350
You know what? Hold on for a second. I haven’t yet branched off into literary criticism… But is that the lamest flavor text ever, or what? Since when do dragons of Shiv suffer from broken pride? Do I have to start reading the books to figure that out, or can I just persist with my hopeful fantasy that they really do retain their pride, having never lost it?
And as for dragons engaged in rebuilding – what is up with that? What’s next: A card featuring a dragon with a hard-hat and hammer? Puh-leeze! Why is one department within Wizards trying put out a great card by commissioning fantastic art, while another department is trying to ruin it with crappy flavor text? Heads should roll!
Thanks for indulging my little rant there.
The actual art, as it appears on Wizards’ website, from a recent installment of Arcana, looks like this:
First thing to notice, once again, is the wonderful composition. The placement of the dragon is optimum. I really like the way the curvature of the stadium perfectly cradles the dragon in a visual sense.
I won’t go into much detail, because I am sure you noticed it for yourself… But this composition is resplendent with numerous interesting negative spaces. All the nooks and crannies of negative space that the wings define are superb. In addition, notice the space to the right of the statue; it provides an excellent counter-balance to the statue, and is a nice shape in its own right.
Something that I noticed while examining this composition is the effective usage of very simple shapes for the major elements. Despite the simplicity, a very rich scene is portrayed. Can you see the simple shapes? If you are stumped, I’ll help you out.
Starting at ground level, the stadium is basically a simple circular shape, of which we are only seeing a small segment. Ascending, and on the right side, the statue is essentially a vertical cylinder. Finally, the dragon is basically a triangle. I think it is this jumble of simple shapes that is subliminally appealing to the viewer; by squinting, the details blur, but notice how this composition still resonates with great impact. These three simple shapes, expertly arranged as they are, form a beautiful scene.
In terms of balance, the key is the relationship between the dragon and the statue. It is almost as if the alignment of the dragon’s body in flight is saying,”Let your attention drift further upward and to the right.” As our eyes try to follow this suggestion, they drift to the right, where they are abruptly halted; stopped mid-scan by the massive and foreboding statue.
By the way, that is not your average garden variety, lawn-jockey statue – that is one hell of a big sculpture. I surmise this because of the very small figures that appear in the bowl the statue is holding. I take these figures to be human-size. The scale of the statue helps contribute to the awesomeness of the scene, and makes it all the more memorable.
In the introduction I mentioned that I would discuss an additional technique that I have not previously covered – one that is used to reveal depth. Previously, we have seen perspective used to convey depth, as well as the oft-repeated use of dark-to-light coloration, when receding from front-to-back. The new method, used here expertly, yet very delicately, with extreme subtlety, is called overlap.
To witness the powerful effect of this technique, notice how the right wingtip just barely overlaps the upper chest area of the statue! If there was previously any question in our mind – and there was in mine based on the small artwork available earlier this month – as to whether the dragon was in front of or behind the statue, that miniscule overlapping wingtip provides the answer. The dragon is clearly in front of the statue. That is the make-or-break snippet of this painting.
Why, you ask? I’ll tell you.
Without that small overlap the viewer can’t resolve the spatial relationships properly – there just isn’t enough information. Conversely, if the statue was allowed to overlap the wing, then the drawing would be flat-out wrong – the perspective for all elements would be out of whack. Then again, if the tip is not connected at all, we will give ourselves a headache trying to figure out the relationship in space. The final possibility – and the one that would doom the piece – is if the artist had let the wingtip touch the statue at one point only, thus forming an accursed tangent. That would totally ruin the piece, since it would have the effect of flattening the painting, reducing everything to a single plane at the point of tangency. Fortunately for us, the artist was skilled enough to avert such a disaster, and with only minimal overlap, he fully clarified the spatial relationships. Outstanding!
I had mentioned that I thought some features here were similar to other topics discussed this week.
The first example is the economy of effort noted in the Snapping Thragg review. As mentioned in that article, Iain McCaig had realized a nice economy when he switched deftly between the dust clouds and the mountain in his painting, keeping the color palette the same, changing nothing more than the stroke he used with his air-brush. His choice to not waste energy to embellish something that doesn’t add substantially to the painting is similar to the economy shown here by Darrell Riche is his simple color palette. Basically, this is a two-color painting… And in this case it is very dramatic and effective. The red-against-purple palette has great visual impact and an elegant simplicity.
The use of purple is an uncommon choice, but I think it works extremely well here.
Another instance of similarity pertains to yesterday’s”More Than Meets the Eye” article. The example I am thinking of relates to the painting for Voice of the Woods, by Pete Venters. A key point of that article was that the artist chooses what will be outside the frame, as well as what will be inside the frame at the very outset of his work on a painting: By making the Elemental tall in that painting – so tall, in fact, that its upper body and legs were relegated outside the frame – the artist was inviting us to visualize the unseen extent of the big creature. That tends to make the art more engaging, which is a good thing.
Similarly I think Darrell Riche has made a comparable invitation. By the dynamic pose of the dragon, characterized by its flying upward towards the viewer, we are presented with the question:”Why is that dragon flying towards me, and what is it chasing that brings it so close to me? It couldn’t be chasing me, could it? Nah, not me… Hey, you know what – that bugger is chasing me!!!”
Perhaps I run the risk of over-ascribing by suggesting that… But the fact is, that’s how I have been drawn in and engaged by this painting. While I don’t know the thought process used by the artist, I do know that he has created a beautiful work that is very engaging and visually appealing.
Finally, while Rorix is several orders of magnitude superior to the Big Blue Bird, there is something to be said for the extreme dissimilarity between the two. To revisit the primary weaknesses of the Big Blue Bird I quote from the earlier article:
“As for the painting itself, it suffers from two cardinal sins with regard to the aesthetic rules of art: First, there is no discernable composition – and second, it is flat, flat, flat! …The main thing that thoughtful composition provides is a meaningful context for the art. Composition answers the questions: What is the setting, what is in the background, what is in the foreground?”
The very things that are worst for Big Blue Bird are in fact the strengths of Rorix. It has wonderful composition, answers the questions of spatial relationships, gives context, and conveys volume exceptionally well.
On that note, I now conclude this mini-series of articles.
While I hate to have ended it by making you once again consider the visual travesty that is the Big Blue Bird, I am happy that I got a chance to share with you my thoughts on Rorix. Regardless, it is probably fitting that this end with a comparison of what may ultimately turn out to be the worst and the best artwork respectively, that Onslaught has to offer. I know that of all the preview art I have seen so far, Rorix is my favorite by a wide margin.
Have fun at the prerelease; personally, I am hoping, artistically speaking, for a deck that contains Krosan Colossus, Voice of the Woods, lots of elves, Snapping Thragg – and, of course, Rorix!
Michael Jay LaRue
* – Speaking of youth, what comes to your mind when you think of your favorite childhood toy? For me it was any one of the Mattel Die-cast Hotwheels cars. My particular favorite was the Beatnik Bandit. Of course they are still being sold; however, they are not the same – not by a long shot. These vintage-era cars were high tech, and exquisitely styled. Called Redlines, for the thin red trim line that graced the stylish Mag wheels, they were also known for their special paint. Called Spectraflame, this paint was characterized by deep rich candy-apple colors. Redlines were also distinguished by their nylon wheels bearings which reduced friction, and by the bent-axle ‘suspension’ that made the car seem springy. There is also a thriving collectibles community, sponsored by Mattel. A lot of Redlines, and other Hotwheels collectibles transactions take place on eBay. Unfortunately the Redlines have gone the way of the Dodo; the paint has become much less vibrant, and the distinctive Mag wheels, bearings, bent axles have been replaced with what looks like nails just stabbed through the center of a hard disk of black plastic. What a shame.