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 Outland Colossus by Ryan Pancoast from Magic Origins.

Take it away Ryan.


Outland Colossus was the kind of job I love to see in my Inbox. I love painting humans or humanoid creatures, especially when there is only one to deal with. Even better, it was completely open-ended. The giant was not from a specific plane and there was no style guide to work from – appropriate for the last core set. Here was the assignment as I received it:


Setting Not Specific
Color: Green creature
Location: deep forest
Action: Show a 20′ tall male giant with an enormous boar spear. He is a fierce hunter, and we are looking at him from prey’s eye view. He hasn’t spotted us yet, but he will. He is lean, his skin has a greenish tint to it, and his has the look of a predator scanning for prey. He wears a hunting cloak sewn from numerous hides.
Focus: giant woodland giant
Mood: He’s coming for you

Normally after reading the assignment I’ll think about it for a few hours before sketching anything. I think about the lighting and composition, imagining how a film director might frame the scene. Then I start doing thumbnails. I do very small thumbnail sketches so that I spend just a few seconds on each. Many times I’ll sketch the same idea over and over, trying either to make it work or prove to myself that it won’t work. I will sometimes fill up multiple pages in my sketchbook with thumbnails for just one assignment. The idea is to see which concepts are obviously bad, and which appear promising. I use ballpoint pen so I don’t have the ability to correct anything. The only choice is to move forward with the next sketch.



For Outland Colossus I did unusually few thumbnails. I think this was partly due to the simple nature of the assignment, but also because I hit on an idea I liked early in the sketching (circled). I liked the composition and the shapes and I could envision the final painting in my mind. I usually like to give the Art Directors multiple sketches to choose from, but that didn’t happen in this case.

Instead, I moved on to figuring out the values and color. For this step I work digitally. I import the ballpoint pen sketch and use an iPad app called Procreate to draw directly over the sketch. In this way I can explore different color combinations easily. It is important to anticipate and correct any problem areas at this stage because it can be very difficult or impossible to fix things once moving to the final painting. My goal for this piece was finding a way to paint trees in full leaf without making them green. I have painted many green trees but often I don’t like the results. Casting the entire painting in sunset (or sunrise) light was the best solution I found.


After I am satisfied with the color and value, I can then start developing the details. I gathered photo reference based on the direction of the color sketch, which for this assignment involved many photographs of trees and a few pictures of me holding a broom. I printed out my digital color sketch and laid vellum paper over the print, tracing a simple outline of the main features. I removed the color print and continued to sketch based on the photo reference.

In developing the details, I try to make the artwork look like it belongs in the Magic universe by avoiding classic fantasy tropes. For example, drawing a mage that looks like Merlin from Disney’s Sword in the Stone wouldn’t be appropriate. Magic should feel modern and edgy, with just a nod to some of the old themes.


Once I am satisfied with the pencil sketch, I submitted both the color comp and the sketch for the Art Directors to review.


The illustrators who work on Magic collaborate with a few Art Directors at Wizards. This time I was working with Jeremy Jarvis. He approved the sketch but (rightly) thought the one-antler head adornment was distracting. He suggested adding a broken antler to the other side of his head. I tried a few solutions, but they all ended up looking like Shrek. Switching the antler for a braid solved the problem.

Now I needed to translate the digital color study to oil paints.

I can create any kind of digital color scheme I want, but it won’t tell me whether I should use Cadmium Yellow or Nickel Titanate Yellow, for example.

By doing a couple small paintings using a variety of tube colors I can narrow my palette down to the appropriate colors. I didn’t write down my palette for Outland Colossus, but based on the color study I assume I used Ultramarine Blue Deep, Transparent Oxide Red, Winsor Red, and Naples Yellow. I probably substituted Ultramarine Blue for Cobalt Blue when I painted the sky.


At last, I was ready to proceed to the final painting. I printed out my approved pencil sketch at the size of the final painting, 12″x16″, then secured it to my primed canvas over a sheet of graphite transfer paper. I traced over my sketch and the transfer paper left a subtle outline on the canvas.

Using the outline as a guide, I did my final drawing directly on the canvas, finalizing the details. Once that was done, I coated the drawing with a layer of spray fixative so the turpentine didn’t wash away my work.


I don’t have any images of the painting in progress, but the process is largely the same for every painting. I start with a layer of oil paints thinned with Gamsol to establish the general color notes. Then, starting with the area of greatest interest or the area of the highest contrast I lay down the final layer of paint, working out from that spot.

There are always pitfalls and mistakes along the way, but hopefully my preparatory work helps me overcome the problems that arise. The amount of time I spend planning and laying the groundwork for the final painting is directly related to how much I enjoy the result.

The first goal is always to satisfy the Art Director, handing in a finished piece by the deadline. But longevity in this career is achieved when you are also proud of your work. Outland Colossus is one of those paintings.

Here is the final piece:


The original artwork for Outland Colossus is now up for auction on Ryan’s Facebook page.  Anyone interested in purchasing prints or some of his other work should check out his website.

Thank you Ryan for sharing this story with us. 

Check back next Thursday for more Art in Focus.