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 Reave Soul by David Palumbo from Magic Origins.

Take it away Dave.

reave soul

One of the more noteworthy things to me about this particular card was that this was the first Magic assignment that I was given after having switched from making digital preliminaries to traditional media preliminaries.

In general, I feel that the sketch phase is the most important and most difficult part of my process because all the decisions are open and flexible.

Once I have a sketch approved, the remaining challenges mostly come down to “what is the best way to execute this particular scene?” and those are very technique based problems. Creating the sketch, however, is dealing with abstract conceptual problems that are more about communication, emotional connection, and the constant puzzle of fitting the needed elements into an interesting and effective composition.

reave sould thumbnail

For years I had been doing rough pencil thumbnails and then working up digital tonal drawings which I would submit for approval.

Sketching digitally was really handy because it allows so much flexibility and you can quickly move, resize, and shade elements until they’re just right. My problem with this was that I don’t really enjoy working digitally. Combining that with the fact that it is the most mentally taxing step in the process for me, I would often dread and avoid “sketch days” where I knew I’d be sitting at my computer for hours moving pixels around. So after years of that, it occurred to me that I might enjoy sketching more if I did them as small paintings.

This particular assignment wasn’t the first job that I used this approach on (I had tested it with two other clients shortly before), but it was the first time for Magic and I was very excited about my new process.

To me, these little oil sketches are much more representative of how I intend the finals to look and feel. More important than that, I really enjoy making them. This biggest change to my workflow was shooting and gathering reference a bit earlier than I normally would, but even that turned out to help me work through compositional problems earlier and smarter and helps me spot weak spots that I might not otherwise have caught until later.

reave sould sketch 1

Translating this into a presentable sketch, I shot some reference and worked up a little painting.

While the scene was dynamic and the figure did have a decent “soul being ripped out” vibe, the hand was feeling a bit lost and I was worried that it might not be reading clearly enough. Looking back at my early thumbnail, I decided the woman should be more doubled over and we should really see the magic surging though her.

The setting of the forest ended up becoming a nondescript mist to further emphasize the silhouette and shape of the action. It also occurred to me that the scene should be flopped to give the magic hand more forward motion (we read images left to right, so right moving motion feels more powerful)

reave sould sketch 2

This was the version that I sent in for approval.

The only notes I was given were to make sure that the figure read as an old woman (I thought patchy sparse hair would be cool, though it does contribute to a more masculine appearance in these roughs) so I gave her a full head of silver hair and tweaked the face just a bit as I moved to the final.

All in all, it was a very fun piece and successful implementation of my new sketch process which I have continued on all jobs since.

reave soul

The original artwork for Reave Soul is still available for sale.  Anyone interested in purchasing prints or some of his other work should check out his website.

Thank you Dave for sharing this story with us. 

Check back next Thursday for more Art in Focus.