The creative process behind each piece of Magic art is unique to the image and the individual crafting the illustration. 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 Dragonlord Silumgar by Steven Belledin from Dragons of Tarkir.
Take it away Steve.
Though Dragonlord Silumgar makes his appearance in Dragons of Tarkir, his creation came about in August of 2013 while I was working on the concept art team that hammered out the visuals for Fate Reforged.
While there was a lot of fine tuning involved, one thing remained consistent: he was always a big, fat dragon.
Only later while working on the concept art team for Dragons of Tarkir was it made clear to me that the more grotesque version of Silumgar would be the “after” image and was therefore asked to to retcon his more svelte “before” form.
When I was given the assignment to paint Silumgar, the Drifting Death, it was under the condition that I agree to paint him again in his older form. After much arm-twisting (or rather none), I relented.
If memory serves, the art order was simple: Wizards was looking for an image of Tarkir’s Jabba the Hutt.
They wanted to see Silumgar atop an elaborate platform that was visually inspired by the throne of Tasigur, the Golden Fang. He would be bloated and drooling, surrounded by his vast wealth and decorated with lavish jewelry. So clearly there was to be a touch of Smaug in there, as well.
I quickly went to work collecting reference of sunning lizards and lounging cats. I was looking for a pose that gave the beast a bit of an old Hollywood mafia don vibe — stately and perhaps a bit refined, but still dangerous. So maybe Don Corleone visually, with the a bit of Tony Soprano thrown in. Or something.
Point being that the attitude was going to be the major selling point and his gesture was going to be key to that. In the end, despite the fact that his design is more influenced by lizards and snakes, his pose became much more lion-like.
Anyway, the sketch ended up looking like this:
The thing about this piece is that in many respects it was the companion piece to the original Silumgar illustration.
The difficult thing was to find ways of tying them together visually. I didn’t necessarily want to slavishly follow a path that would have me rehashing a lot about the first piece. In the end, I went about linking the two more through palette choices than anything, but it was something that nagged at me early on.
Anyway, Wizards liked what they saw and gave me the go ahead, and so I took it to paint.
When painting a piece, I wish I could tell you that I have a set formula. I know a lot of folks that work their way from background to foreground, while others work up the entire piece more holistically. While I’ve done both (and various other methods throughout my career), I’m not disciplined enough to have one set way of working.
In all honesty, each morning I start with whatever I feel like working on. In this case, I started with Silumgar himself and circled out from there. That’s not to say that I neglected everything else each day, mind you. I spent a quite a bit of time blocking other stuff in, but Silumgar was the focus and the selling point, so he got the most attention until I felt I’d gotten him right. The rest fell into place around him.
The result ended up looking like this:
When I designed Silumgar in 2013, someone else on the design team mentioned that perhaps he should be wearing jewelry. Very quickly, I knocked in a some bracelets and a necklace made of skulls and the dangling body of one of his victims. This choice was largely based on what I thought would amuse Magic Art Director Jeremy Jarvis.
It turned out that I was right and the necklace stayed in.
At the time, the remains dangling from the beast’s neck were not meant to be anyone in particular. He was naught but a placeholder. Eventually, however, it was agreed that perhaps this would be a good opportunity to make a nod to Tasigur, and so it was that poor fellow who ended up around Silumgar’s neck.
Sadly, Dragonlord Silumgar would be the last image I painted in the world of Tarkir. Having been fortunate enough to be part of several concept pushes for Magic, I feel some degree of attachment to those worlds I helped create.
This attachment sits outside of the usual love/hate that many of my fellow illustrators have for various blocks (just ask any illustrator that got to play in the world of Mirrodin, for example, and you’ll get wildly divergent opinions). Seeing the pieces others create based on things I had a hand in designing is extremely special and I love seeing the world unfold in a more fully realized form.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I could easily have done another set’s worth of images for in this world. I’d love to have gotten a chance to visit with the clans I helped design yet never got a chance to illustrate. But as the world of Magic turns, it was time to move on. One never knows, however. There may be an opportunity down the road. For now, I just have to be content with diving into the next world.
The original painting for Dragonlord Silumgar is currently being auctioned on Ebay. Anyone interested in the original can check out the auction for more information or to make a bid.
Make sure to check out Steve’s Blog to learn more about his creative process.
Thank you Steven Belledin for sharing this story with us. Check back next Thursday for more Art in Focus.