Dragon’s Maze

Screen Shot 2013-04-30 at 11.41.26 PMHowdy!

This past weekend I was in Temecula, CA for the Dragon’s Maze prerelease. I also wanted to post some of my new cards and a few process shots of Hidden Strings and Progenitor Mimic.

I don’t go to very many prereleases unless they are close enough to drive to. I had a lot of fun in Temecula and I would like to thank Damyan of Tier 1 Games and all of the fans for having me out there. Despite there being only a handful of people, I still wrecked my wrists. Hopefully I will do a little better in Portland and Vegas.

Speaking of Portland, I’ll be at the GP from May 11-12 along with fellow artists RK Post, Tyler Jacobson, and Mike Dringenberg. A special playmat featuring my art from Progenitor Mimic will be available. There is actually an interesting story behind the art for Progenitor Mimic.

146665 Transformancer 08Originally there was only a single figure and she was flying. I went through the sketch approval process and I was well on my way to the final painting.

A week before the final was due, I received an e-mail saying that they had to change the mechanics of the card and therefore I needed to change the painting.

The new painting needed to include a second figure and they both had to be standing. Oh crap.

146665 Transformancer 09I tried to salvage as much as possible due to the short deadline, plus I had other freelance paintings I was working on at the same time.

I decided to paint them standing on some type of magical thingy, and since this card now copies itself, I wanted to make it look like the copy was being created from the magical “walkway.”

I tried to make it look like the copy was rising up from the magical walkway, which is why part of her legs are disappearing below the walkway while magical remnants still cling to her upper legs. I’m not sure if it really comes across though.

147778 Smeltward GatekeepersWhen the painting was first posted online, it was fun to read the comments from the fans speculating what it was all about. Several people got very excited about the prospect of Simic angels, but many pointed out that the Simic angel had Boros armor designs so it was probably a card that took control of another creature.

Sorry Simic, no angels for you!

The one card I am happy with is Hidden Strings, so I wanted to do a little tutorial. Unfortunately I never record any of my freelance paintings, so this will be a written tutorial.

Here is the description I received from WotC.

Show a female Dimir vampire who has mesmerized a Boros knight. His sword lies on the floor, his vacant stare looking off at some faraway place. She lazily puts a pale hand on his shoulder and looks at us, her gaze telling us that this is child’s play for her. Another knight is off in the background, slumped to the floor. A pale, bluish light illuminates the blackness of the undercity’s gloom.


I started out with two sketches but I can’t remember why I decided to go with the second one. I did this painting almost a year ago, so I guess I forgot. Looking back now, I think I like the first one better. Whoops.


Like I usually do, I started out in black and white. It is much easier for me to get started when I don’t have to worry about color, especially if I’m working on 8-9 paintings at the same time.

The figures were feeling a little small, especially at print size, so I tried to make them a bit bigger.

146752-Neural-Dominion-04Here is a closer shot of a WIP of the girl’s face. I typically start with faces since they are usually the focal point. It also helps me focus on something and gets me excited about starting a new painting.

People usually ask how far I take my black and white painting before I start with color, but it really depends. Sometimes I only take a black and white painting as far as the first sketch I did for this painting (the one I didn’t pick to do) while other times I take it to an almost completely rendered painting.

At this point I am ready to start with color. Boros players might be thinking “Hey, his armor shouldn’t be dark.” You are correct. Boros armor is usually silver or white.

I decided to go with dark armor because otherwise the girl’s hands wouldn’t read at print size. Her hands are pretty important to the story, so I didn’t want them to get lost. Also, the dark armor could show that he has become corrupt and is now under her control.

146752-Neural-Dominion-051). For the first stage of adding color, I added an overlay layer and started blocking in the base colors.
2). After I have the base colors down, I start painting opaquely on top of everything.
3). I added another overlay layer to push the blue glow in the background.
4). I added a soft light layer and painted it with blue to bring some harmony to the greens in the middle ground. I also added several color balance adjustment layers.

146752 Neural Dominion 06Now I am starting to push the blue color scheme and I am beginning to render the painting. At this point I think I am mainly painting opaquely.

I typically only use layer modes to get the base colors down or to add effects. The majority of the color work is done with good old-fashioned opaque painting.

One of the problems with working digitally is that people tend to think you can add color in one step. Well, you COULD, but it would look like crap. Adding color is a long process, most of which is done with traditional techniques.

146752 Neural Dominion 06bThe faces were getting a little too cool in terms of temperature, so I added warmer colors in order to make them pop.

I am also adding in some foreground elements, like the hanging moss and the figure on the ground.

Also, more rendering. This is where patience comes into play. The hard part is knowing how much or how little to render or refine.

146752 Neural Dominion 08I decided to ditch the stairs and go for a more simple pillar design. I think the stairs were going to be too small for stairs and the ground was getting a little cluttered, not leaving a lot of space for the sword.

I also desaturated the colors.

Some of the perspective is a bit messed up, but I guess I didn’t notice it at the time.

146752 Neural Dominion 09Yup, more rendering. Now I’m getting down to the small details, like adding the red designs on the knight’s tabard and resizing his hands.

I just realized that I haven’t really even started painting her outfit or her other hand. I also haven’t worked on the guy in the foreground, right now he is still just a dark lump.

146752 Neural Dominion 10Boom, done!

Magically I finished painting her outfit, hand, and the dude on the ground all in one step!

For the background I did a gaussian blur to push the depth and to pull more focus on the main figures.

The easiest way to blur parts of your image is to select the entire image, copy it, and then paste it. You then apply the gaussian blur, add a layer mask, and fill it with solid black. Then you paint with white in the layer mask to reveal the blurred areas.

I also added some floating specks of dust to give the painting a bit of atmosphere.

As always there are many things I wish I could go back and change, but all in all, I think I am pretty happy with how it came out.

4 Replies to “Dragon’s Maze”
  1. Is there any other way to get that Progenitor Mimic play mat besides the portland grandprix? I was fortunate to pull one of those at my LGS prerelease and landed 4th because of that and some evolving Battering Krasis’s.

    • Not that I know of. Maybe after the GP they will sell them online, but I really have no idea. They just told me it will be available at the GP, but other than that I really have no information. I don’t even know if I’ll be getting any copies.

  2. Great tutorial Daarken thanks! šŸ™‚ Two questions if I may?

    1. how long did the whole painting take from start to finish roughly?

    2. Did you use any reference for things such as posing, lighting, armour, effects, architectural structure? I would be interested to know your use of that in your work šŸ™‚

    As always, fantastic work, and thanks for the vimeo tutorials too – I watch them alot šŸ™‚

    • Thanks! I don’t time myself when I’m working on illustrations, but they usually take anywhere from 1-3 days to finish.

      I don’t use reference that often, but sometimes I do for hands or if I want a really specific lighting scheme on a face. Although after I bought those swords I have been taking a lot of photo ref. Gotta put them to good use!

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