My Own Magic Cards Project: Swamp card

I'm starting with a new project to create a better portfolio to send to card game publishers.

I take a name of a playing card, I'm using Magic 2012 here, and I try to create my own image just by reading the description and not by looking at the image that comes with the card. This is the best way if I don't want to be influenced by the images already created for the card.
All cards will be land cards, so this means only environment pieces for now, because that is the area I want to specify in right now.

Here is the list of subjects for cards I want to make:

  • Drowned Catacomb
  • Glacial Fortress
  • Fog
  • Forest
  • Mountain
  • Island
  • Plains
  • Swamp
  • Sunpetal Grove
  • Rootbound Crag

The first card I created was the Swamp card. I created a critique topic on where I'm able to share all my work in progress with the rest of the community. 

I can't stress enough that being active on art forums like ConceptArt.Org, CGTalk, CGHub and even the smaller ones like WeCookArt, means a lot in being a better artist. People are sometimes afraid posting their work on art forums because their lack of skill or so they think! Seeing artist giving critiques or even insults can be daunting at first, but most of the artists out there are more then willing to share his of her thoughts in a friendly manner. It's a place where artists can share advice and techniques or just chit-chat about art.
For me personally it also a big motivator seeing all those people contributing to my art with their thoughts and critiques. It keeps me going every time because I know I can't let them down.

thumbnail sketches
For my first card I started quite over-enthusiastic and jumped directly to a small color sketch, not spending enough time on the research part. The image didn't looked like a swamp at all and the green hues had a 'toxic' feel to them.

I started with less but more worked out thumbnails, adding some darker values with a marker. The most important step for me at that moment was getting a right mood for the image. These were my thoughts about the thumbnails: 

  • A: I think this could be a nice scene once worked out, but it doesn't have the feeling of a swamp. The hanging tree is too much in focus.
  • B: This is one of my favorites. It conveys a nice an tranquil swamp early in the morning with cool shadows and warm highlights.
  • C: I think this one has potential. The idea is to have a swamp with big grass that is creating a sort of tunnel
  • D: Here the front tree should be shrinked to get more the feeling of a plain with hanging trees and little vegetation. I like the sky, it creates a nice mood.
  • E: The tree is too much in focus but I like the idea of a dark magical forest with a swamp full of rare animals.
  • F: Also a favorite. A foggy swamp with little or no vegetation and life. In the distance you can vaguely see some hills.

color sketch
Eventually, I chose E to work further out. I started with a quick color sketch of the thumbnail. Deciding which mood I wanted to create was the first thing to do. I thought a mid to low-key image would be the best.

By creating a specific value range, you're able to create a specific mood. Before you start working on an image, you should decide which value range you want to use to describe the mood/content/ideas/subject matter/... of your image.
You can take a look at other images, photos or even movies to try to understand what is creating that feeling you have. Is it because of the darkness or maybe the strong highlights?

composition flow
I created more depth in the image by overlapping my forms and added some 'peeking windows' by overlapping dark values on lighter ones. I still had the feeling though that the composition wasn't guiding the viewer enough so I added more depth to the image by making the fields of grass going into perspective (red marks). In my previous piece the patches of grass were all going horizontal. I also removed the sunlight and realized it's more realistic to have a light source in the middle and darker at the top because of the leaves and branches in the top of the trees (purple mark). The image still felt too flat because of the values in the mid and foreground. They were almost the same thus creating a much more flat feeling of the image. 

The detailing part is always the most relaxing part, the time to listen to some music in the background. The important decisions like mood (value range), composition and color (+temperature) are made. I got the suggestion to add more atmosphere in the image by adding some sun rays but I felt it changed the mood that I liked so much to a much more bright one. I had to find a way to add more depth in the background and a way to keep that mysterious mood. I added a blue hue to the trees in the background, blue because of the blue sky, getting a nicer depth. Adding some animals like birds to an image can give that extra punch of live in your paintings.