The creative process behind each piece of Magic art is unique to the image and the artist.

From the art description to the final product, the Art in Focus series reviews every step involved in crafting the art of Magic the Gathering in the artist’s own words.

This week we shine the spotlight on Blessed Spirits by Anna Steinbauer from Magic Origins.

Take it away Anna.

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This was one of the first two illustrations I worked on for Magic, so I was quite nervous but also very excited when I received the art description.

ART DESCRIPTION:

Setting Not Specific
Color: White creature
Location: set against the stained glass window of a cathedral
Action: Show white-aligned spirits of saintly-looking sister and brother twins. They float in front of a stained glass window that sheds its colored light through the ethereal spirits with an effect that resembles sun beams passing through clouds. One of them reaches toward the viewer with a welcoming hand.
Focus: the spirit children
Mood: Innocent protectors

The first thing that struck me was that the three major elements of the image – spirits, window and light beams – were all inherently bright in terms of tonal values. To make the final illustration read at card size, I would have to plan these value relationships extra carefully.

After letting the description sit in my head and thinking about it for a while, I started scribbling very loose thumbnails in three values. I decided that I needed a viewpoint that allowed me to place one of the children in front of a darker background to make it easier to distinguish the silhouette at first glance. At least one of them had to be full body to show that they were floating and not touching the ground.

After trying several different arrangements and angles, I felt like I could create a more rhythmic shape with the the girl’s dress and pose, so she ended up being the one in the back, with the boy extending his hand to the viewer.

I tried to make the kids look as pleasant, peaceful and benevolent as possible to really bring out the feeling of ‘innocent protectors’ the description called for. I loosely based their outfits on old pictures of children’s clothing, while trying to keep the era quite non-specific.

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This is the sketch I ended up sending in. It was approved, with the note from Jeremy Jarvis to make sure that they had some soft and lost edges looked more incorporeal in the final.

When beginning a painting, I tend to define the faces first. That way the image starts looking presentable quickly, which makes me more motivated to work on it. I usually take the faces to an about 80-90% finished stage and leave some refinements for the end to have something to look forward to.

Normally I prefer going from a sketch with basic values straight to color. However, since the spirits were going to be mostly monochromatic and keeping the right tonal relationships was so important, I tried a different approach and rendered quite a bit in grayscale before adding color later.

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Now that the tonal values were established, the color choices had to further improve the readability at a small size. A basic warm-cool color contrast was the way to go and, after trying several options with different hues, I decided on what seemed to be the best one.

I wanted the stained glass design to reflect an equally peaceful feeling as the spirits themselves.

At first I thought about an angel motif, but adding a humanoid figure in the background could have distracted from the actual focus. However, I didn’t want to go completely abstract either.

In the end I decided on a bird, as the beak pointing back down towards the children was a very useful compositional element. It is also a bit of a tribute to Marcelo Vignali’s Birds of Paradise. I liked the idea of one of the first MtG cards I painted having a little connection to a card illustration I have always loved.

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I drew the entire stained glass window design and transformed it to fit the perspective.

If you look closely, you can see that the flowers were blossoms at first, which I changed to buds to go better with the flow of the lines.

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After everything else was more or less finished, I painted in the colored beams of light. Getting the effect of the light passing through the spirits right was difficult, but in the end I am still happy with the result.

Finally, I softened some edges and blurred the background. The final was approved without changes, hooray!

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While it was a great experience working on the last core set, I actually enjoy the sets with a specific setting even more. It really helps with the immersion, which makes the process of painting much more engaging.

The original artwork for Blessed Spirits was created digitally.  Anyone interested in purchasing prints or some of her other work should check out her Inprnt gallery.

Thank you Anna for sharing this story with us. 

Check back next Thursday for more Art in Focus.