Ajani, Mentor of Heroes is one of the most iconic images created for Journey into Nyx.
To get a glimpse at the process that went creating this amazing illustration, I sat down with Aaron Miller and asked him a few questions.
You started illustrating for Magic the Gathering with the Theros set and only 3 sets in you are already assigned a piece of Planeswalker art, that is quite the accomplishment.
Can you give us a bit of your history and how you got started in the industry?
I’ve been around awhile. 40 years to be exact (hard to believe, I know). To the illustration community I’m one of the new guys. I made a drastic switch to my career a few years ago. It took a few years of hard work on sharpening up the skill sets and creating a portfolio of work. I got my first break in 2009 after blitzing the art directors at Gen Con. The first assignment I got was that October. So late in the year it might have well been 2010, and here I am 4 years later. I still feel I have a lot of catching up to do.
How did you get your first assignment by Wizards?
I got my first assignment after a few years of getting “yes” to my portfolio. My first review was in 2008, again in 2009. I got my first project sometime in 2010 on D&D with Wizards. I kept working hard on my portfolio and had a sitdown review in 2012 at Gen Con with the Magic and D&D art directors. I hadn’t gotten much work from Wizards for 2011 or 2012, but the review went well and I had a very busy 2013 which many are finally getting to see the fruits of.
Planeswalkers are a big part of the Magic brand and prized assignments for artists.
Did you request the opportunity to create a Planeswalker or did Wizards come to you?
Funny story actually.
Yes, a Planeswalker is a big deal to get as an assignment, something I’m honored to have undertaken. I was just that week planning on working on a piece of sample art of a Planeswalker when the assignment came in. I was in shock and excited. I think I went out for dinner and drinks that night with my wife. I had seen plenty of Planeswalker work from my good buddy and mentor Eric DesChamps and I wanted to work on one as well. It’s crazy how it all happened.
What was the art direction you received for Ajani, Mentor of Heroes?
The important description was that he’s looking badass, “he should seem stern and powerful.” “Put him out in some grassy field, maybe slightly backlit by the sun, camera slightly low… a glorious reveal sort of feeling.”
Can you describe the process you went through from initial direction to final image?
There were certainly changes along the way. What I don’t know is if those changes were based on the art I was presenting, therefore inspiring direction on the R&D side, or if R&D just wanted to go in different directions all together. It’s not an unusual process to have some changes. They were all at the correct stages of the work, the beginning. That’s the time I prefer all these changes and why I don’t overwork my drawings. I want to make sure the overall feel is going in the right direction. The focus for me is in the composition at the early stage.
I started working on the drawings and got an email to switch it up a bit. And pull it in a bit of a new direction. That’s where I don’t have details to share as to why that happened. I don’t think it’s a big deal, again there’s a lot going on in R&D behind the scenes. Maybe a mechanic the card does, I really don’t know. And, it’s not that important from my end. I just need to help create and awesome image for my art director. I was now off to create some new sketches.
Once those sketches got approved I moved onto drawings and studies. I wanted to work on this traditionally as well. I was running out of time but thought I’d take a chance anyway. I painted what would have been about half way and I wanted to make some technical changes that oil paints just wouldn’t allow me to make time wise. I then photographed what I had as if it was a final painting and went to town on it in Photoshop.
What is your favorite thing that you were able to accomplish artistically with the new Ajani?
One of my goals was to create a lasting image. Something that you can sit with a while. One way to do that is with quiet energy. Even though the figure is in a strong pose, objects around him are in motion.
What are your plans for the original sketch or painting for the new Ajani?
The painting I created was promised to a collector. He knew I had some original paintings coming up, of what he didn’t know, but asked if he could buy the first one. Ajani happened to be that first one. It will get some fixing up to be painted as close to the final as possible. I have sketches from throughout the process that I can certainly make available for purchase.
If someone wanted a sketch or an artist proof, once they are available, where should they go?
I have a shop on my website that I will update as soon as possible. Which is not too long after all the cards are available in stores.
Thank you for your time, Aaron. We here at OMA appreciate all of the effort that went into making Ajani, Mentor of Heroes and are so excited to see what else you have in store for us in future sets.
Make sure to check in each Wednesday for new Magic art content.