Battle for Zendikar

160816 Sphere of Exclusion

Quarantine Field – Battle for Zendikar

Back in July of last year our son was born. Anyone with a kid knows how hard it is to work full-time when you have a new baby in the house. Over the first 8 days I had a combined total of 8 hours of sleep. When I did get some sleep, I was waking up every 2-5 minutes because every sound made me think “OMG is my son ok?”

Right after he was born I received my Origins commission, which included the description for Fiery Impulse, Consul’s Lieutenant, and Hangarback Walker. Those weren’t exactly simple cards to illustrate, so it was challenging trying to finish those cards while helping to raise my son. After I finished those illustrations, I asked my AD if I could get some easier cards for the next wave. Luckily my AD threw me a bone.

The first three cards I received for Battle for Zendikar were Jaddi Offshoot, Ghostly Sentinel, and Tide Drifter. It was still hard finding time to work on my freelance and teach my mentorship. I would often have to paint while holding my son as I bounced up and down on a yoga ball. For some reason he would only stop crying or fall asleep while bouncing on a yoga ball. Although, it was good exercise!

You can probably tell that these three illustrations are a bit looser than some of my other illustrations. I have to say, the fish brush saved my life when I was painting Tide Drifter. Thanks Jonas De Ro!

brood butcher

Brood Butcher

This was also around the time when I was trying to push myself to create different and more dynamic compositions, like in Fiery Impulse. I think for the first three illustrations I resorted to my typical painting style, probably due to the lack of time. When I received the briefs for Brood Butcher and Quarantine Field, I tried to push myself again.

There are still some things that bug me about these illustrations, like the dark object in the foreground in Tide Drifter and the poorly rendered water in Brood Butcher, but sometimes you gotta turn in what you have.


160289 Chandra's Scorching

Fiery Impulse – MtG Origins

It has been a long time since my last post. We just recently moved and with my work schedule and helping raise mini Daarken, things have been pretty busy.

Origins was a special set for me. I was lucky enough to be on the concept push for Origins, so I helped design the look and feel of the set.

If you have seen the other cards that have been previewed, you will know that architecture, vehicles, and elaborately designs props and weapons play a huge part in this set. Those are also all things that I normally don’t paint, so it was a real challenge.

Before I started working on the concept push, I received a mixed review on my book Elysium. The person said

“I didn’t give it 5 stars like many others though, everyone has their own perspectives and reasons; me, I would have enjoyed more variety in color and poses. I understand that that artist is commissioned for specific pieces, but it doesn’t feel like he takes much risks. I’m not sure how many pieces he worked on to be exclusively for this book, but that would have been a great opportunity to get out of his comfort zone. It feels like he has a formula that works and is in a safe place at the moment. Don’t get me wrong, I became an instant fan, the book is high quality, I agree with many of the reviewers, but didn’t give it the 5 stars because every other work was a little expected.”

Most people might ignore a review like this or think “they don’t know what they are talking about.” For me, this review really made me take a closer look at my decisions as an artist. I thought about it for weeks and months on end. I’m the type of person that will dwell on one single bad review instead of the hundreds of good reviews. This review wasn’t really bad, but you know what I mean.

Kaladesh Captain - MtG Origins

Kaladesh Captain – MtG Origins

After I received that review, I went to Renton for the concept push. Maybe the art gods were keeping tabs because I ended up having to work on a lot of architecture, vehicles, and elaborate props. It was great to get out of my comfort zone, but I was constantly second-guessing myself.

When it came time to work on Fiery Impulse, I did the sketch how I normally would. It was just the standard standing pose with Chandra casting some magic. Nothing special, but it got the job done.

After I finished my sketch, the words of the reviewer echoed through my head. This person was right. I wasn’t pushing myself or taking enough chances, so I completely started over. I tried to come up with something more dynamic and something out of my wheelhouse. If I hadn’t received that review, I probably wouldn’t have come up with that composition.

Hangarback Walker - MtG Origins

Hangarback Walker – MtG Origins

I guess the moral of the story is to take any negative feedback you receive and try to improve upon it. Don’t get mad or stomp around your house pouting, try and become a better artist. You are going to constantly receive criticism as a professional artist. If you can’t take it, you probably won’t last long.

I think it also helped that this person was nice with their feedback. Had they resorted to trolling, the result may have been much different. So I guess there is a double moral to this story; if you give someone a critique, be professional about it and try to give them feedback that will actually help the person.

Dragons of Tarkir

159802 Kolaghan's Mastery

Kolaghan’s Command – Dragons of Tarkir © Wizards of the Coast

At PAX East, Wizards of the Coast previewed some of my paintings from Dragons of Tarkir, although I think the entire set has been released online by now.

I only have three cards in Dragons of Tarkir. I actually had to opt out of the second wave of commissions because the deadline was going to be a little too close to the birth of our son. This was the first time I declined Magic work, so I was a little afraid that they might forget about me and not hire me again for the next block. I’m glad I did though because it gave me more time to prepare.

There are so many new names in Magic and their work is incredible, so I always worry that one day I won’t receive any new Magic work. I think most artists feel this way once they have been in the industry for awhile. This fear also helps push me to try and create better art. It doesn’t always mean that I do produce better art, but I definitely try to. At the same time it is also exciting to see all of the new names and what they bring to the game.

Boltwing Marauder - Dragons of Tarkir © Wizards of the Coast

Boltwing Marauder – Dragons of Tarkir © Wizards of the Coast

Thinking back, I probably should have opted out of this wave as well. At the time I was on-site at Wizards of the Coast for a concept push working on some secret stuff. During the concept pushes I’m at WotC from 9:00 am – 6:00 pm Monday through Friday. It is a normal full-time job. That means in order to work on my freelance, I have to do it after hours at the hotel.

Typically I would get off at 6:00 pm, shower, and then eat some dinner. That means I probably won’t start working on my freelance until around 7:30 pm. I would probably get in a good 4-5 hours of work before I had to go to bed since I wake up at 7:00 am.

So after getting off of work, I had to work on all three of these illustrations. Of course two of them aren’t exactly simple. Multiple figures, horses, and dragons. I’m getting old now, so working 12-13 hours a day isn’t as easy as it used to be.

If you have ever had to work in a hotel, you also probably know that they don’t exactly have the best desks. Most of them are way too tall, which would wreak havoc on my wrists. It also doesn’t help that I have carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists and cubital tunnel syndrome in my left arm. I probably could have gone back to the office, but after being there all day, you kind of want to get away. Plus I think they turn off the A/C at night, or maybe that is just on the weekends.

Foul-Tongue Invocation - Dragons of Tarkir © Wizards of the Coast

Foul-Tongue Invocation – Dragons of Tarkir © Wizards of the Coast

It also didn’t help that I was struggling with all three of these paintings. Horses are always hard to paint, plus I think dragons are hard to paint as well. I think it is mainly their wings that give me problems. Multiple figures with multiple horses and dragons? Blah.

I often go through these periods where I feel like I forgot how to paint. I was definitely feeling that when I was working on these. I couldn’t figure out the colors, I couldn’t figure out how to render certain things, I just felt like I couldn’t paint. Maybe I get this way when I’m burned out, I don’t know.

Foul-Tongue Invocation gave me a lot of problems as well. I wasn’t very happy with this painting and I sort of wrote it off as one of those paintings that you finish and then throw away. The dragons are usually a lot larger than that, but I had to show one next to a human and make them both important and both read at card size, so I had to just make the dragon smaller. Sometimes you gotta bend the rules to make something work. Maybe this is a baby dragon. Yeah, my excuse is that this is a baby dragon.

Foul-Tongue Invocation detail

Foul-Tongue Invocation detail

I also didn’t like how the girl’s face looked at card size. The glowing bits from her eyes and mouth just made her look weird at card size. The glow from her eyes and mouth was in the description of the card, so I had to put them in there. It looks a lot better larger, so take a look at the detail shot.

I actually completely started over on her face too. The first one I painted was pretty horrible and the lighting was bad. I also didn’t really capture the features that I wanted. Instead of trying to make something work that doesn’t, I just deleted the face and started over. Sometimes you just gotta throw something away and start over.

It might seem a little silly to worry about these things, especially when the images on the cards are so small that most people won’t even see the details artists worry about. I think I mainly do it because I don’t want to create a bad painting, regardless of how big or small it will be printed.

GP Vancouver 2015

Photo Feb 21, 8 36 16 AM

Vancouver Convention Center

Over the weekend we attended GP Vancouver. This was my first Canadian GP and only the second time I’ve been to Canada (I think). The first time was for my sister’s wedding in Winnipeg. I hate flying and my wife doesn’t like boats, so luckily we were able to drive to Vancouver.

You know you are in Canada when it is 34 degrees outside and people are wearing shorts and t-shirts. I remember one time during GP Albuquerque it was snowing outside and Rob Alexander was walking around in a t-shirt. Crazy!

We were only in Vancouver for the weekend, but I was really impressed. It has the big city feel without the cramped crowded streets like San Francisco or Seattle. For a big city, it was also incredibly clean. The buildings were cool, the trees were huge, and the air was fresh. Plus everything smelled of maple syrup and people said “eh” and “aboot.” What’s not to like about this city?

The food was amazing. Everything I ate there, with the exception of the convention food, was incredible. There is a food truck near the convention center called Japadog; you must eat there before you die. The butter and shoyu fries were the best fries I’ve ever had, they finally unseated the duck fat fries I had in San Jose. The hot dog was also the best hot dog I’ve ever had. I need to go there again…soon.

Hippo Token

Hippo Token

In honor of my first Canadian GP, I created a special token for the event. Behold, the legendary hippo token!

When I was first asked to create a special token for the event, I had no idea what I wanted to do. With the help of Twitter, I decided to give hippos some love and create a baby green hippo token. Now I know hippo tokens aren’t exactly popular, but I wanted to do something different. Sorry, no goblin token this time!

Even though I went with an obscure token, it still seemed pretty popular. I guess there are more hippo fans out there than I thought there would be. Hippo army ftw!

I’m not sure if I will be selling them online or just making them available at shows. Tokens are cheap (2 for $1), so shipping and the time spent driving to the post office probably wouldn’t make it worth it. I was thinking about maybe making them a special bonus if people bought something else, but who knows.

The Grand Prix was great. It wasn’t as large as some of the other GPs I’ve been to, especially when you compare it to something like GP Vegas, but it was still good. It was probably better that this one was a little smaller because it really helped my wrists.

I tried to get to everyone in line when it came to alters and drawings, but unfortunately there is a limited amount of time. There is only so much I can do in 9 hours each day. Thanks to everyone who came out to the event and dropped by, I really appreciate it!

I kept hearing about the Vancouver Aquarium and how people will drive to Vancouver just to go to it, so we had to check it out before going back home. It was awesome. The shows were great and they had a lot of cool things to look at. I was bummed that the Monsters Revealed exhibit hadn’t opened yet, but I guess that gives me an excuse to go back. The area around the Vancouver Aquarium is beautiful, plus it was only a couple minutes away from the convention center.

I just want to thank everyone at Game Keeper and WotC for a great show. I hope everyone had a good time, I know I did!

WotC Concept Push – 2015

Photo Jan 19, 8 31 09 AM

Day 1 at WotC

I just got back from another 3-week concept push at WotC. Of course I can’t tell you what we worked on and unfortunately you probably won’t see any of it for another couple of years. Boooooo, I know.

The concept crew this time consisted of Tyler Jacobson, Cynthia Sheppard, Chris Rahn, and Steve Belledin, with additional help from Sam Burley.

I have to say, out of the 5 concept pushes I have been on over the years, this one was probably the hardest. I felt like I was spinning my wheels and I don’t feel like I produced as many concepts as I usually do. Typically I feel like that during the last few days of the push, but I felt like that by day 2. I had actually worked on some of this stuff last year, so maybe that was why I was feeling burnt out.

There are two things that were probably my greatest contribution to the push. The first was my laptop. There was a TV in the room we were working in, so I brought in my laptop and hooked it up. Movies galore! We seemed to be the talk of the office. Every so often someone would walk by and look through the window. We would then hear them comment about whatever movie we had playing at the time.

For me, watching movies while I work is something I do every day, but I guess for others it is a novel idea. I really hate working in silence. I actually find that when I work in silence, I become more easily discouraged, frustrated, and more prone to putting my painting down and walking away.


Turtleneck & Chain – The concept artist edition

My second best contribution, and probably my greatest contribution in my entire art career, was the Turtleneck & Chain concept artist edition photo. The day before we were listening to the song by The Lonely Island, so later that night my wife thought it would be a good idea for me to photoshop our heads onto one of the Turtleneck & Chain pictures.

The original picture only had three people in is, so I was only planning on adding the heads of Tyler, Chris, and Cynthia. The more I thought about it, the more I thought I should add all 5 of us. I combined a few other Turtleneck & Chain photos into this one, and behold, my greatest creation ever!

Initially I was just going to use the photo of myself that I photoshop onto all of my photos, but it was really grainy and it didn’t match any of the other heads. I went to the hotel bathroom (it had the most light) and took a few pics of myself with my phone.

Tyler Tech...wait, what is that on the roof?

Tyler Tech…wait, what is that on the roof?

It’s actually really funny how many people thought this was a real photo. To me it looks obviously photoshopped, but I guess I can understand why some people might be fooled. Chris and I do make a pretty good couple. I think I need to hang a large print of this above my mantle, when I have a mantle that is.

I foresee some turtleneck and chain shopping in the near future. All I need now is a furry couch…

One day when I was walking around the parking lot, I noticed that Tyler apparently has an office next to the WotC building conveniently called “Tyler Technologies.” That Tyler and his ego, jeez! Of course when I stopped to take a photo, Tyler himself was overseeing his building. Probably to make sure everything was running smoothly. That guy is everywhere!

Fate Reforged

Archfiend of Depravity © Wizards of the Coast

Archfiend of Depravity © Wizards of the Coast

Two of my illustrations from Fate Reforged were spoiled the other day, so here they are!

The first card is Archfiend of Depravity. This card was fun, but very tricky. The description called for a demon floating above a pile of dead bodies. Although I have to admit, painting the pile of dead bodies was pretty fun. Not because of the subject matter, but because it allowed me to paint things I don’t normally paint, like feet.

It was a good challenge, but now I wonder if the government has me flagged for Googling piles of dead bodies. I think most artists probably have some pretty weird Google searches.

The body pile ended up taking me maybe 2 days to paint? It doesn’t seem like much and a lot of it is hidden in shadow, but it took a lot of time. After I turned in my painting, my AD said that the demon was too small at print size and they were going to have to crop out the body pile. They own the image and they can do what they will with it, but I was a little disappointed since I spent a lot of time painting it, plus I felt it made the illustration better. I completely understand though, they need the illustration to fit their needs, so you gotta do what you gotta do.

I was very surprised when I saw the spoiler because they left the body pile in! Yeah I guess the demon is a little small at print size, but I think the card makes much more sense with the body pile considering the mechanics of the card.

Outpost Siege © Wizards of the Coast

Outpost Siege © Wizards of the Coast

The next card is Outpost Siege. Battle scenes are always tough for me. I tend to have a problem creating cool and dynamic fighting scenes, which is why I find it weird that so many of my illustrations these days are battle scenes.

I was never really fond of this illustration. I had a lot of trouble painting it and I was just never satisfied with the results. Most of the time I don’t post paintings I don’t like, but sometimes I have to. If I didn’t, I would never be able to post anything. If I really hate a painting, I won’t post it. I think I’m mainly unhappy with the people and not so much the dragon.

I believe I have 1 more painting in this set. Unfortunately I had to opt out of the second wave in the third set (Dragons of Tarkir) since our son was going to be born during the time as the deadlines. I should still have 3 cards in Dragons of Tarkir, but I was pretty bummed out because this was the first time I turned down work from Magic, plus I had helped concept two of the three sets of Khans of Tarkir, Dragons of Tarkir being one of them. Ah well, it was probably better that I opted out instead of turning in mediocre work.

GP San Antonio 2014

View from the hotel

View from the hotel

Last weekend I attended GP San Antonio. This was the first GP I’ve been to since GP Albuquerque one year ago. I haven’t been traveling lately because of the little guy and I probably won’t be doing much more. I do plan on going to GP Vancouver in February since I can drive to it. I can tell you one thing, I don’t miss flying.

This GP was special because I created a unique playmat for the event and I was able to visit my parents since they live in Texas. Of course that meant a trip to the Alamo! I should have taken a picture next to the Alamo while holding up my playmat.

I don’t think I’ve been to the Alamo since I was in middle school. It’s funny because the Alamo looks so small now with all of the big buildings around it. It probably looks smaller since everything looks bigger when you are younger.


Sarkhan Gambit alter

Luckily the event wasn’t too big. I believe there were 1167 players. If this ended up being another Vegas, I probably would have died. I must admit, I was a little rusty since I haven’t been to a GP in a long time. I always forget to take pictures of drawings and alters I do, but I took a few.

I just want to thank everyone for dropping by and thanks to Steve Port for bringing me out there and giving me the opportunity to create the San Antonio playmat!

GP San Antonio Playmat – Spirits of War

Spirits of War

Spirits of War

Next month I’ll be one of the guest artists for GP San Antonio from November 28-30th.

Steve Port contacted me and wanted to know if I would be interested in creating an original playmat illustration for the GP. They wanted something that was specific to the city of San Antonio, so of course the Alamo and the Riverwalk were the first to come to mind.

The illustration needed to look like it could fit within the world of Magic, but it couldn’t look too much like Magic. The Riverwalk is a little too modern, so I didn’t know if I could make it fit very well within the world of Magic. I ended up going with the Alamo idea, but I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the Alamo.

At first I considered painting a battle scene, but I thought it would be a little too complicated. Players will be playing Magic on top of these playmats, which means there are going to be a lot of cards and tokens cluttering the surface. If I painted something that was complicated and then added all of the elements from the game on top, I thought it would just be too chaotic and it might distract the players from the game. I wanted something a little more simple, but not too boring.

The Sketch

Original sketch

Original sketch

My first sketch had the warriors standing in front of the Alamo, but they were all living. WotC had to approve my sketch, and their feedback was that my painting didn’t feel fantastical enough to fit within the world of Magic. They also suggested that I make the designs of the warriors similar to the designs in Khans of Tarkir.

I decided to turn all of the background warriors into spirits. Hopefully that would give the illustration a more fantastical feel. I had also planned on making the main warrior’s sword glow, but I thought it would blend in too much with the background warriors.

Video Tutorial

At this point I thought it would be cool to record my painting process and create a new tutorial. Since I hadn’t recorded the process of the original sketch, I repainted it specifically for the tutorial.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to record the entire process. Some parts during the middle of the process weren’t filmed because it would have taken up too much space and the video would have been extremely long. I usually spend 2-3 days on a Magic painting, so this painting took me probably more than a week to paint. Even after skipping parts of the process, my video was still 6 hours long. I was able to cut that down to a 4.5 hour demo and the video file is around 9 GB.

Selling a 9 GB file through my own store might end up exceeding my bandwidth, so I decided to offer the tutorial through Gumroad. Yes, I have finally joined the Gumroad frenzy. Be sure to check out my other videos on Gumroad as well!

Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath

Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath

Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath

This morning I checked my FB feed and saw that my Ob Nixilis card finally came out after waiting for more than a year! I’ve been waiting for a long time to show this painting, but I have some mixed feelings about it now that so much time has passed.

I guess the good thing about going back and looking at older paintings is that I can see what needs to be fixed. Sometimes I’ll go back and fix older paintings before I make prints. My older Magic cards were pretty loose and painted at smaller sizes, so they don’t always translate well with larger prints.

Someone on my FB page asked if I had started in black and white and added color later or if I had started in color first. I started in black and white like I normally do. Starting in color is pretty rare for me. I usually only do that if I’m doing a study from life or if I have a very clear idea of what I’m going to do with the color scheme.

I wasn’t planning on showing the process for this painting, but since someone asked, I figured I would go ahead and show it.

Here is the art description I received.

“This is a planeswalker, one of Magic’s iconic, world-traveling mage characters. Ob Nixilis is black aligned planeswalker who eventually gets transformed into a demon. This card represents him as a human before becoming a demon. Ob Nixilis stands over 6′ tall, and is broad across the chest. He is clad in black armor that parallels his torso in demon form. On his breastplate, and written in blood, is demonic script (no real-world letters or symbols please). He is bald, and there is heavy stubble on his face. He has sunken, but intense eyes, and he has the look of a person who has seen some seriously dark stuff. Or, perhaps he looks like a sort of black magic addict. Your choice. Under one arm, he holds a helm that is fashioned with the same horn pattern as he will have as a demon. Ob Nixilis stands in front of a blood-stained altar.”

After reading the description, I just realized that it had asked for a demonic script written in blood on his chest. I completely forgot to add that, whoops! I guess it wasn’t that big of a deal since no one ever brought it up.


Ob Nixilis, the Fallen by Jason Felix

The image the description referred to was the painting done by Jason Felix. I tried to make some of my armor designs similar to Jason’s painting, mainly the helmet and the shoulder spikes. I also kept the glowing chest the same since it already looked like plates of armor.

Before going into the painting I already knew that I wanted to give a nod to the portrait paintings done by John Singer Sargent. Sargent has always been one of my favorite painters and I thought the setting and mood would fit well with Ob Nixilis.

I don’t know much about the lore behind Ob Nixilis, but I saw him as being snobby royalty that would revel in having his portrait painted. Hopefully it doesn’t go against his lore.


The Earle of Dalhousie by John Singer Sargent

It seemed like his face was a major part of the art description and I liked the idea of him being addicted to black magic, so I decided to spend more time working out his face during the initial sketch phase.

Typically I don’t spend this long on a specific part of a sketch before giving it my AD, but I wanted to make sure they had an idea of where I was going. I wanted it to look like the black magic was actually corrupting his physical appearance and staining his eyes and lips. It reminded me of the Mentats from Dune who would drink so much sapho juice that it would stain their lips red.

I’m actually not sure if I had completely worked out his armor design when I sent my original sketch for approval. The sketch I’m showing now is more refined than what I usually send clients for approval.

I took some pretty funny reference photos of myself holding my ice hockey helmet and sword, although I wasn’t holding both at the same time. I should probably go back and do that just because it would look ridiculous.

Ob Nixilis sketch

Ob Nixilis sketch

Throughout the process I kept having to make him look taller. Looking back at this sketch, he looked really short. He definitely doesn’t look like he is over 6 feet tall like the description said.

After I received approval, I started working on different color variations of the face. I wasn’t even worried about working on the color scheme for the entire image, I just wanted to get the face nailed down first. It also helped that I already knew he was going to be in black armor and the pillars and altar were probably just going to be a stone color.

I came up with two different color variations for the face. In the first one I was going for a sickly pale skin tone with a bit of green and yellow. For the second one I decided to try something completely different and went with a blue and purple color scheme.

Both of these were achieved by adding color on an overlay layer. The pale one also required quite a bit of opaque painting on a normal layer to get what I wanted, but the blue/purple one was almost done completely with one overlay layer.

Face color variations

Face color variations

I ended up going with the first one because I felt like he looked more like an addict and it showcased the staining better than the darker version.

Now that I had an idea of where i was going to go with the face, I started working on color for the rest of the painting. The black armor was also done using an overlay layer. Of course I couldn’t just make the entire armor black, so I would have to go and add more color variation by painting opaquely on a normal layer on top of the overlay layer.

Ob Nixilis process

Ob Nixilis process

In the third image, I decided to add some red cloth to his design. It made him feel a little more like royalty and it added some color variation to the image. Later on I added more red to his arms because otherwise the red cloth felt too isolated. I needed red somewhere else in the image to balance it.

The next to the last image is closer to what I actually submitted to WotC. When I found out my painting was released this morning, I opened the file to post it. I noticed that he still looked really short and his Captain Morgan leg looked off. I moved his head and neck up to make his torso longer and lowered his bent leg. I actually think I made the image a little too dark. I should probably go back and fix the levels.

If you are interested, I added prints to my inPRNT gallery. Check it out!

Khans of Tarkir – Concepts & Illustrations

156633 Sarkhan, the Dragon's Voice

Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker

Hey everyone! I have some more Khans of Tarkir art to show you. I’m also going to go ahead and repost the illustrations from before so that you can get the whole picture of what I’ve done for Khans of Tarkir.

Today WotC posted the video of their Khans of Tarkir Worldbuilding panel at Pax Prime 2014. If you weren’t able to attend Pax Prime, be sure to watch the video! They also posted a high-res wallpaper of Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker.

Since they spoiled a few pieces of my concept art at the panel, I wanted to show some higher quality images of the same concepts. For some reason they looked incredibly dark at the panel. I’m not sure if it was the projector they were using or what. I know my name is Daarken, but my paintings aren’t that dark! Or at least they aren’t anymore.

Back in January, 2013, along with Chase Stone, Tyler Jacobson, Sam Burley, and Wayne Reynolds, I helped concept Khans of Tarkir. Over 15 days I produced almost 40 painted concepts…which is pretty fast for me. The other guys probably produced between 60-80, so I’m pretty slow compared to them. One day we came to work and Chase whipped out this fully rendered illustration that could have been slapped on a Magic card and called it done. That sneaky little jerk painted that whole illustration the night before at the hotel after hours.

The Pitch

Actually, I should probably start at the beginning. Back in September, 2012, I received an email from Jeremy Jarvis asking me if I would like to paint a pitch illustration of Sarkhan Vol because they were planning on returning to his home-plane. I believe I was actually the first person to create a painting for Khans of Tarkir. This was back before the project had been approved by the higher-ups.


Original Sarkhan concept

I received the email on a Friday and they needed the sketch by the following Monday and the final a day or two after that. It was a pretty short turnaround, especially since nothing had been concepted yet for the world.

I was basically given the phrase “a heavy metal Mongolian inspired empire” and told to run with it. Of course that world is so large and expansive that it was hard to narrow down the essence in a single painting. I basically tried to throw everything into the same painting and hoped it worked.

To the right is the original Sarkhan sketch I gave them on the following Monday. I knew I wanted to pull something from my original Sarkhan Vol design from Shards of Alara so that you could more easily identify him as Sarkhan Vol. I thought similar pauldron spikes might be a good way to link the two designs.


Updated Sarkhan iteration

After some feedback, I submitted the following painting. I changed the position of his head to match the original Sarkhan Vol and I continued to refine his costume design. I personally like the original head position better.

I also added an embroidered dragon claw on his left pauldron. They wanted some sort of clan symbol on his armor, so this was my first stab at a Mardu symbol. The Mardu symbol was later changed to a set of wings while Temur adopted the dragon claw symbol.

The following January we arrived at WotC to concept the rest of the world. I didn’t actually work on Sarkhan while I was at the concept push. He was already in a fairly good place and there were much more important things to worry about, especially since we had a limited time to finish everything.

After I returned home at the end of January, I was contacted again to see if I wanted to update Sarkhan since I had just spent three weeks working on Khans of Tarkir. I knew a little more about the look of the world and they wanted to see my take on an updated design.

Sarkhan_Concept 02 05

Third Sarkhan iteration

Sarkhan’s previous design was a little too convoluted. Since I didn’t know what the Mongolian inspired world should look like, I had just thrown everything in the design. I tried to simplify the design a little more and focus on the large scale mail as the repeating shape of their culture.

The pauldron spikes were replaced with two dragon horns. Hopefully they are still reminiscent of his original spikes while also adding in a bit of narrative regarding his connection with dragons.

I also changed his weapon to fit more with the look of the other Mardu weapons we created. There is also a little storytelling element on his weapon.

He also needed some more color and more bits of fur. The fur was tricky to add due to his red pants and black boots. Do you know anyone else with red pants, black boots, and white fur? Yeah, I really didn’t want him to look like Santa and every time I added the fur with the red pants and boots, he looked like Sarkhan Claus. I tried to hide the pants as much as possible and keep the colors toned down. If you are a good little boy or girl, Sarkhan Clause will bring you a bleached dragon skull for Christmas!


Like I mentioned before, a few of my concepts were spoiled at the Khans of Tarkir worldbuilding panel at Pax Prime. I wish I could show you more, but these are the only ones I can show right now. Maybe I’ll release more in my next book!

You’ll notice that the Temur ice elemental has the text “Temur Djinn” written on it. My original idea was that this was what a Temur Djinn would look like, but they later decided to make him an ice elemental instead.

Usually when I concept something at the pushes, I don’t receive card commissions of anything I concepted. This time was different. I was able to illustrate both my Temur Ice Elemental and my Sultai Rakshasa…and Sarkhan of course. I also illustrated a fetch land, which is really cool. I’ve only illustrated two lands before this one, Badlands and Fetid Heath. I think Badlands was only released on MTGO.

Mardu trailer illustration

Mardu trailer illustration

After the concept push, I created this Mardu illustration featuring Zurgo Helmsmasher which was going to be used in the SDCC teaser trailer. This illustration also had a really short turnaround. I think  it was also commissioned on a Friday and I turned in the final on the following Monday.

Females play a large role in this set, so we wanted to show them in more powerful positions…and wear normal armor, sans boob plates.

I hope you enjoyed this closer look at the concepts and illustrations I created for Khans of Tarkir. If they release more of my concepts I’ll be sure to post them. If not, you might see them in my next book (if I ever make one).