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 Force of Will by Terese Nielsen from Eternal Masters.

Take it away Terese.

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“It’s a good thing “Force of Will” is being reprinted. I’m pretty sure I’ve signed all but one last playset.”
— Terese Nielsen

On January 8th at 4:09 PM the familiar chime of an unread email dropped into my inbox. The subject line was catchy, “funny story…” followed by the masterfully truncated query, “We need a new Force of Will. You interested?” Eyes riveted to my screen, I lurched for the floor grabbing for my dangling jaw. I cleared my sight with several long blinks and worked my way slowly through the email. The email went on to say, “it’s more of a ‘blue’ angle on what will is… mental will rather than physical.” Eyes wide, I nodded to myself, o.k….o.k….

BTW ‘the’ most frequent question I get asked at a signing is “How many Force of Will’s do you think you’ve signed today? “ The second most asked question is, “Do you just come up with whatever you want to paint and submit it and then they make it into a Magic card?” Keep reading, you’ll see how far off that notion is. 🙂

The full description for the new Force of Will was as follows:

Setting: NOT SETTING SPECIFIC
Color: Blue spell
Location: your choice
Intention: This spell prevents another spell from taking place.
Action: A FEMALE HUMAN MAGE (I would like this to be a black woman please) stands with her front toward us (this is probably from the waist up) with her hands overlapped, palms toward us and fingers fully extended and tense,  defensively in front of her chest (think of an open-hand CPR). Her chin is slightly upturned as if looking over the camera. Her face is almost expressionless with concentration. Her wide eyes glow a bright blue and bright blue sparks of overflowing energy are rushing out of them. A huge WAVE OF FIRE splits around her and DISPERSES as if it’s hitting an INVISIBLE SHIELD, leaving her unharmed. Maybe it turns into smoke on either side of her.
Focus: the scene of super-human concentration and power
Mood: “Nothing in this world or the next is stronger than my will.”
Notes: please make this iconic.

My first thought was, “Holy hell, a black woman… now that’s perfect… exactly what I would have wanted!!”

Being asked to recreate this incredibly popular card a second time was and is an incredible honor. Somehow the stars have aligned in a way that has allowed me to continue creating art for this remarkable game. I feel head-shakingly lucky each time I’m asked to participate in another set. I never take it for granted as I am acutely aware of how many unbelievably amazing artists there are to choose from. To continue to be asked to illustrate for Magic and get to add “my” voice to a reinterpretation of what has become a juggernaut card in Magic makes me certain that I have a charmed existence.

Anyway, I cleared the four-leaf clovers off my painting table and got busy sketching. Since the desired pose was carefully specified in the description I went ahead with shooting reference for the pose with various lighting options. The creativity would come in with the costuming and expression. I don’t recall when or where I shared the details about illustrating the first Force of Will, but it got out there somewhere.

Back in the early days I took on 6 or 7 cards per set and was a slave to 1-hour photo stores to quickly develop my film. If I required a late night shoot, I’d pull out the ol’ Polaroid that could eject a dark, semi-fuzzy, immediate pic. So (as per usual) I was running a tight deadline on my old original Force of Will assignment, and the only person I knew with abs that I could bother late at night for a photo shoot was me. So Dawn (my wife) got one of her first of many lessons from me: Posing and Dramatic Lighting 101. She snapped several Polaroids of me in underwear, growling and flexing at the camera. Goddess help me if those ever find their way to the internets. 0_0

This time around, twenty years later, I still kept it in the family. I enlisted our daughter, Kristi, for the general pose, lighting and hands. But when I don’t have one reference photo to draw from (our one friend who regularly blasts blue sparks out of her eye sockets was busy) the face and expression become an ever-evolving aspect of the piece, and this is never my comfort zone. Nevertheless, my immediate priority (after the general composition) is to nail the eyes and expression of the character to elicit that spellbinding connection.

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I drew inspiration by perusing many photos of powerful, captivating, black women, yet interestingly not one particular photo embodied all of what I was after. It was an iconic essence I was looking for, an archetypal strength that I had to keep teasing out of my pencil. When I finally felt the face was close, then I started weaving in costuming that embodied “blue” this time around, rather than the “red spell” that Force of Will was originally assigned as.

As a springboard for reinterpreting the costuming and physical design of the spell I selected a “Japanese Design Motif” book I stumbled upon a year ago in a musty New Orleans book store. Within it’s pages were elegant, circular wave patterns that I squeezed inspiration out of.

After submitting my sketch with fingers crossed, I received feedback that the sketch was really excellent with two additional requests. They wanted her centered in the frame to cement the iconic feel. Secondly, they really wanted the “wide-eyed look to add intensity to the face, with the eyes completely flared out by the glow, energy overflowing.” This is the real world of illustration. You have to merge your interpretation with the client’s. So I launched forward massaging our two visions into one.

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The sketch was printed out on Velvet Fine Art paper, centering the figure in the composition. I then proceeded to lay in the color with acrylic washes using both my brush and airbrush. The priority is to completely cover the white of the board/paper/canvas to quickly establish general colors and mid-tone values. From there I continue to push the darker values and build up the lighter values while also detailing the ornate aspects. I toggle between acrylic, colored pencil and oil in an intuitive, moment-by-moment, oftentimes frustrating but somewhat harmonious way.

You can catch a glimpse into the push and pull of this process in the video.

Personal Reflections

The first Magic set I was part of was Alliances, and the first card I painted within that set was “Force of Will”. That card, along with five others, was assigned to me in 1995 to come out in 1996. Fortuitously, the new one was assigned in 2015 and will release in June of 2016… exactly 20 years later. I was 30 when “Force of Will” came out and will be 50 when the reiteration of “Force of Will” is released. What a ride this world of Magic has been, and what an honor to have been a part of it from its infancy throughout its 20 years of success. It’s evolved quite a bit from the days of loosely describing it to people as a card version of Dungeons and Dragons (because most people had a slight inkling of what that was) to now where my daughter will mention what I do to someone at the gym and they’ll scream out, “Oh my God I play that game… your Mom painted Force of Will??!” Or the customer service guys at Charles Schwab or GoDaddy will suddenly get shy because they play the game and know my name.

Players have been “tapping” my cards since they were little ones. Many are now doctors, lawyers, engineers, hedge fund managers, investors, entrepreneurs, artists, mothers, fathers and extraordinarily wonderful people. I’ve said many times that the players and collectors in the Magic community make my life sparkly. Several times a week, if not daily, I read to my family notes or messages I’ve received from players and fans. The outpouring of thoughtfulness is overwhelming and warms me.

Our lives can be fleeting and transient. Our MtG community recently lost several influential and skilled comrades: Quinton Hoover (March 16, 1964 – April 20, 2013), Wayne England (1960 – February 9, 2016) and Chris Rush (1965 – February 10, 2016). We all understand that this is the dance we’re a part of here, but we miss their physical presence. The transition is real and difficult for those left behind. As I slumped in a pool of reflection for a few days, I realized I wanted all of you in my community to know that I appreciate your inspiring presence in my life and career. You’ve been a catalyst to create and I deeply appreciate the ways you’ve shared with me… the times you’ve let me know that some aspect of what I do has made a difference and touched or inspired your life… I thank you for that. <3

Can’t think of a more appropriate way to celebrate my 50th birthday, and my 20th Magic anniversary, than to spend it with all those who can make it to #GPDC next month! We’ve got some fun things planned. Let’s celebrate and have a great time!! 😀

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Questions:

Will there be artist proofs?

I don’t know yet. I didn’t receive artist proofs for the recent “From the Vault: Akroma’s” so if this new card falls into that category then I guess I won’t. Otherwise if I do, watch my Facebook art page or Twitter. Everyone finds out first there. I won’t know until June the same time the set releases.

Will there be a playmat?

That will be on the high priority list that I hope to produce in the near future. I’d love to have some available before Christmas this year.

How about prints?

Yes. I’ll have prints of the new FoW for sale in Washington DC, at #GPDC and on my website, shortly thereafter.

Auction:

The original sketch and painting for Eternal Masters: Force of Will are available.  Terese is listing the art on Ebay so that all collectors will have an opportunity to own them.

The auction for the original sketch will go live on February 26th.

The original painting will be listed on March 4th.

Both the original sketch and painting will come with signed certificates of authenticity. If I receive artist proofs, the sketch will be accompanied by a signed and numbered #2 artist proof card and the painting will include a signed and numbered #1 artist proof.

The original painting and sketch for Force of Will will be auctioned soon.  Anyone interested in purchasing prints or some of her other work should check out her website.

Thank you Terese for sharing this story with us. 

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