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 Enthralling Victor by Winona Nelson from Magic Origins.

Take it away Nonnie.


This card was always intended to be total beefcake. 

The card description asked for the character to look like this:

“He is impressive along every vector: buff, confident, battle-hardened but gorgeous, and carries it with a leading-man’s ease.”  

They specified bare chested, barbarian style costume, and said the goblins should be mostly oblivious… “…Except for one.  One male goblin has turned partially around in honest awe and star-struck admiration of this guy.”  For the mood they said: “sometimes there is no recourse but to give in and stare at the sun,” and while this is a humorous concept they wanted it painted in a serious way; not too over-the-top silly.

My favorite part of getting this assignment was the note that came along with it from the art director.  He said that no one else could do this one justice.  So, it seems I’m the go-to woman for meticulously and lovingly painting shirtless guys.  I’m cool with that.

To start the piece, I looked for reference for each of the qualities asked for in the description. 

Buff?  I looked for Jason Momoa and Chris Hemsworth references.  Bonus, he’s in barbarian costumes a lot. 

Gorgeous?  Let’s get a little Jared Leto and Ian Somerhalder too. 

Confidence is a matter of pose and expression, and I looked at male runway models for that swagger, and went old school for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Yul Brenner. 

He needed to look like he knows he’s gorgeous and it gives him power, so I used an upward camera angle and gave him a straight-backed posture and slightly smug expression.  Finding reference of a shirtless man with an axe is surprisingly easy: firefighter calendars.


Here’s a compilation of some of my reference images.  You can see the fireman’s pose is pretty close to what I chose to use but he’s not *walking* and his axe is way too small.  I used the random long-haired man to his right for a little bit more of the kind of swagger I wanted.

Looking for this kind of reference is extremely dangerous.  You can disappear for days…

My favorite part of the image?  Um, abs?  Haha!  Really the main thing I wanted to keep in this piece was the balance of a humorous subject with a respectful treatment. 

I wanted the guy to be fully aware he’s blowing minds, and is playing it up, but not so crazily sexualized that it makes you feel kind of grossed out from looking at it.  I wanted the straight guys looking at it to appreciate the humor, and the folks who are attracted to men to feel utterly captivated by this guy – and everyone to have at least a little of the same reaction that goblin’s having.  I was going for “OMG” 🙂

I usually start out with a really rough, small doodle in my sketchbook.  This one was unusually loose because I felt sure from the very beginning what kind of composition would best suit the description.

The next step is putting on some music that fits the mood (in this case, hair metal and glam rock) and looking for inspiration and reference on Google images.  Then I do a digital sketch.


I think the inclusion of the goblin really makes the piece.  It sort of puts the viewer in the same position as him, gazing up at this glorious man.  The viewer identifies with the goblin’s feelings, or at least that was my goal and it’s worked that way for many.

Now that we’re done with the last Core Set, I’m going to miss them.  The Core Set is a bit more free and wild.  It means not having to refer to a style guide and not having predetermined colors and styles and costumes.  It’s fun to work both ways so I’ll still be having fun working within a co-created universe, but it’s a little bit less personal for the artist.


The original artwork for Enthralling Victor was created digitally.  Anyone interested in purchasing prints or some of her other work should check out her website.

Thank you Nonnie for sharing this story with us. 

Check back next Thursday for more Art in Focus.