Lars Grant-West illustration: Blog en-us (C) Lars Grant-West (Lars Grant-West illustration) Sun, 17 May 2015 11:41:00 GMT Sun, 17 May 2015 11:41:00 GMT Lars Grant-West illustration: Blog 120 100 Tormod's Crypt Process


There are two questions I'm always asked at least once at every convention:



1. "What was your favorite piece to paint?"


2. "Do you just come up with art and send it to Wizards of the Coast to see if they want to buy it?"



The answer to the second question is easy: No. Each piece starts with an emailed commission from Wizards.


The first isn't so straightforward. There are certainly pieces I've enjoyed working on more or less than others…but there's no one standout favorite. It's kind of like trying to pick your favorite song. Most of us probably have dozens of songs we like for different reasons.


However - If you were to ask which card seems to start the most conversation, especially as people browse the prints I have for sale, the answer would have to be Tormod's Crypt. For people who only know the art from the card, seeing the full painting is always a bit of surprise.


I'll get back to that in a minute. 


First things first. The all-important Commission email from Art Director Jeremy Jarvis:



ART ID: 110125    TITLE: Tormod’s Crypt

SIZE: 2 1/16" (52mm) wide x 1 1/2" (38mm) tall    

SKETCH DUE: 5/4/2007   

ART DUE: 6/5/2007



Color: none (artifact, but a 'dark' artifact)

action: Lets show this 'Crypt' as the outside of a stand-alone monument or mausoleum. Grand but ominous. Maybe there are broken stained glass windows on it from which a heavy fog constantly seeps, covering the ground in a thin but eerie mist.

ps: no crosses or real world symbols.



As a life long fan of the classic Hammer films and Universal monsters, this assignment instantly popped my mental clutch. Gothic and gloomily atmospheric - there wasn't a single thing bad about this job!


I wanted to make sure this wasn't a classic cemetery scene - so my sketches started by minimizing the land around the mausoleum. My first sketch just puts everything around the structure into shadow. 


After that the "stand alone" part of the description started to push it's way in. In retrospect it's curious to me how the brain latches on to some parts of an assignment. As I read this description eight years later I realize that the three words, "stand alone monument" drove the concept of this piece, but did it subliminally. I don't recall ever reading those words.


 I began to imagine that maybe this haunted edifice didn't have the patience to wait for an adventurous soul to wander into it's not so inviting portals - but took a more proactive approach to luring them in. I could see this thing ripping itself out of the ground and - in utter silence - floating silently across a desolate, a contrail of heavy graveyard mist in it's wake.


The other sketches I submitted showed that idea.


These are the sketches I sent. They're almost embarrassingly crude - but clear enough to convey the concept:



Jeremy replied that they wanted me to use the low point of view. He really liked the floating idea, but the crew at Wizards didn't feel like the flying part fit the mechanics of the card. That was fine of course, but I couldn't get the idea of this predatory thing floating around out of my head.


The solution was to do the art, but then to add more space around it to allow me to give Wizards the art they'd preferred, but to end up with the painting I wanted to do. Jeremy was fine with that.


So I had approval. Next I needed to make the art. I began by visiting nearby Swan Point Cemetery (incidentally where horror icon H.P. Lovecraft was interred) to get a feel for the architecture. Then I set about to create the structure digitally. I sketched out a design, then built the components of the building using Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, and 3D modeling software called Bryce. 




I could have built a model in cardboard or other found materials, but the complexity of the building would have made that time consuming. I also could have just drawn over the sketches, but I wanted to experiment more with the camera angles.


While capable, Bryce isn't exactly a high end modeling program. What it offered was a simple way to model a fairly complex bit of architecture, and the ability to experiment with different camera angles and lighting setups relatively quickly.


This is the model I ended up with.



I sent it to Jeremy to see what he thought. I got a kind of chuckling response back…I had ignored one of the cardinal rules of magic art, and the last part of my brief: "ps: no crosses or real world symbols".


Yes…type is a group of culturally specific symbols - so it counts. 


I had put a carved banner over the entry to say who was inside. These are all over the place on real mausoleums, but present a problem for the folks at Wizards. Remember that this card is going to be printed in several languages.


Besides, if anyone forgot who this building was built for, the name remains half an inch up as the title of the card - so out with the banner.


The next step was to paint the piece up, so I copied my drawing based on the render onto a fairly large board - about 24 inches tall, and started painting.


My usual process is to lay down a monochromatic (single color) acrylic underpainting - just to establish the details and to work out light and shadow. I use acrylics because they dry quickly. I can usually get art on the board and make any corrections within a day. The following day the acrylics are nice and dry, so I can start in with oils to build color and highlights.




Here's the final art with my cropping recommendations to go to Jeremy at Wizards of the Coast.



And here's how it appears on the card:


giant-cardTormod's Crypt by Lars Grant-West


If you like the art, prints of Tormod's Crypt are available in my print store. Please note that because of it's non-standard proportions, I'm offering two versions:


With border - this format will give you the full art with a dark border.

if you frame your prints, this one can go in a  standard frame.




Without border - I'd recommend this one if you're doing a custom frame, as this gets you the most art at each frame size.

There are dark bands on top and bottom to fill the paper out to a standard size, but the width runs right to the edge.

You can find this version here.





If you'd like to see walkthrough of a different piece, give me a shout and I'll see if I've got enough material saved to write about it.







]]> (Lars Grant-West illustration) Lars Grant-West Magic the gathering Tormod's Crypt Sat, 16 May 2015 21:03:16 GMT
Family Portrait   You've probably seen posts where illustrators describe their self abuse when capturing reference photos for their work. Like other illustrators, I've got a hard drive full of very strange photos of myself swinging flashlights, brooms, or plungers, while wearing weird mismatched outfits and the occasional colander on my head. My wife has kindly learned to look the other way, so the only witnesses to this foolishness are usually my dog and my camera.

  There are times, however, when you need a model who isn't a forty-something guy who spends a lot of his time behind a computer. It would be great if we had an endless supply of people willing to pose for us at a moment's notice, but that's not always the case. Sometimes events coincide to help out.

  This was how it went with a recent Magic: The Gathering card I was commissioned, which came to me as illio.# 152526 Hulking Minotaur (A.K.A. Mogis' Chosen).

  The assignment was to draw a bad-ass (yes, that's a technical term) Minotaur with a big axe and a belt of severed heads. It just doesn't get any better than that.

  I did several sketches. This is the one that got approved, with the request that there be fewer heads on the belt, and only one set of horns.

 The next step for me was to tighten up the sketch, and get my reference together. I posed for the minotaur - but I still needed to find the least embarrassing (and legal) way to photograph some severed heads. As it happened, my sister-in-law asked a bunch of family members to her house for dinner that weekend, so providence conveniently provided access to a cornucopia of crania.

  Instructions to the models: "Sit on a couch, then let your head loll and jaw go slack".

  The hardest part was getting past the inevitable giggles, but in the end I got the shots I needed. Here's my reference composite:

 The guy in the middle with his eyes bugged out is my Brother-In-Law, Robert. He didn't have to pose. I already have a lot of shots of him photobombing family pictures.

 Yes. That minotaur is wearing a watch. When common sense and good planning fail me, some editing on the fly is necessary.


 The resulting painting:

 If there's a lesson to be learned here, it's that if you make yourself available to any illustrator as a model - don't ever assume the result will be a shimmering, soft flattering portrait.

]]> (Lars Grant-West illustration) Lars grant-west Magic the gathering Mogis's chosen minotaur Sun, 14 Sep 2014 18:45:13 GMT
Swaps, Barters & Trades! I find my interests pull me in many different directions. If things had happened differently I might have been a sculptor, a woodworker, a paleontologist or a stop-motion animator, or maybe I'd have spent my life working with or around animals. I could have worked in a museum or built robots, or explored distant, hard-to-reach places in the world....but illustration won out in the end.

Still, I get opportunities now and then to live vicariously through the people I meet. I love hearing about what people do for their work, or just for fun. Everyone's got at least one great story to share. Sometimes those stories lead to interesting trades. 

Most of the paintings I sell are are bought outright for cash, but sometimes someone walks up with a story and an offer that's just too good to pass up.

My philosophy is that a good trade leaves both people feeling like they got the better end of the deal.

Here are a few of the barters I've made...



While in Maine, I talked with a guy about finding shed antlers in the woods. We talked about the way those antlers are sometimes clearly rodent-chewed, as mice and squirrels look for calcium, and trim their ever-lengthening teeth.

I decided I was going to have to incorporate that idea into a painting - and found the chance in Wildwood Geist. If you look at the bottom of this piece you can see a mouse, temporarily sidetracked from nibbling on a deer antler. The little guy's nearly invisible in the actual card, but I'll always know he's there.

Some real world examples of rodent nibbling:

A deer skull which dwells on our house sports these tiny nibble marks on one antler. That ridge running up the center is the result of focused rodent attention.

And here's a piece of bone squirrels worked into a natural piece of art.


So the trade was the Wildwood Geist original for a set of Moose antlers, which my wife and I strapped to the car.

I'm not sure if the looks from passing motorists on route 95 were due to the moose antlers or the other peculiar stuff on top of the car, but they served as a happy reminder that I'd made a good swap.




While at a Magic event I chatted with a guy for quite a while about fossils. He was interested in artist proofs, and over the course of our conversation a trade began to gel. I gave him a set of artist's proofs, and in return got some gorgeous trilobites (literally a box full, all annotated with species, location and age), as well as a location for our next family vacation.

On that note, if you're ever heading towards Lake Erie, stop by Hamburg, NY, grab some sledge hammers, pry bars, chisels, and a sun-shielding hat and spend a day at the Penn Dixie Paleontological Center

Here are a few of those traded trilobites:

By the way, if the man who made this trade reads this, get in touch and I'll update your artist proof set! I still feel like some small pieces of printed paper stock in trade for remnants of archaic animals is just not an even trade. 




Finally, an art-for-art trade. These can actually be the hardest to make. 

A few years back at the Illuxcon convention, Tom Kuebler mentioned that he was interested in this wolf token I'd painted:

  So what to trade for.....

The fact is I like pretty much everything Tom makes. The man is a quirky, creative genius. A lot of his work involves hand tinted silicone castings and manually implanting individual hairs. Understandably, a lot of what he had on display was well out of fair trade range for this small painting.

Now, I don't know what I did to make Tom want to see me financially destitute, but he's been adding skulls to his product line. It really is problematic because it targets a particular weakness of mine.

Fortunately, one of his artifacts was right in this trade's sweet spot. He carried over one of his Frankenstein skulls and it was like the clouds parted and the sun shone down. I had to have it. Trade made.

 Jealous? You can get your own Frankenstein Skull along with other Kuebler marvels here

Our Frankenstein skull is now festooned with turkey feathers (pretty much everything in our house ends up buried in natural artifacts of one kind or another). No zygomatic arch is too sacred for a feather or snake skin.

With apologies to Tom, here he sits, grinning at visitors as they walk in the front door of our house:


So next time you see me, tell me your story. Maybe there's a trade to be made!

]]> (Lars Grant-West illustration) Fri, 05 Jul 2013 00:53:36 GMT
Hoppy Octopus There are some pieces that just resonate with people for one reason or another. Originally done for a card game, the Giant Octopus art has gotten a really good response. For those who have asked, yes, it was done a few years before the octopus in this great commercial.

I've been asked for permission several times to use it for tattoos or t-shirts. As a person with an absolute adoration of Cephalopods, the interest in the art isn't mysterious to me at all.  

I recently got contacted by Valerie Hayken, hoping to use the image for a beer label, and asking for the rights to use it. The label was a personal project for her, so it was really nice surprise to be asked at all. As it turned out, Valerie's an extremely talented professional photographer, so is very conscientious and considerate when it comes to artists rights.

So a few days ago UPS shows up at our door with a mystery box - containing two very well padded, octopus-adorned bottles of VERY tasty beer!

If you're interested in photography (or just beautiful images of nature), check out Valerie's work and information-packed blog



]]> (Lars Grant-West illustration) Beer label Lars grant-west Valerie Hayken giant octopus Sun, 16 Jun 2013 12:51:05 GMT
Magic: The Gathering - Modern Masters set released Wizards of the Coast releases the Modern Masters set for Magic: The Gathering today. I've got one new card in the set, a couple of older ones, and  a token that I don't think has been printed before.

Glimmervoid is one of the old ones, and is also probably the most popular of the cards I've done (by far the one I've signed the most of, at any rate). 


The new one, Engineered Explosives, is another card with the crazy hexagonal Glimmervoid Grid in it.


The other card that hasn't seen the light of the day is a Spider token.

If you keep following this blog, you'll see that I kind of like spiders.

The last card is Imperiosaur - Kind of my Ode to Ray Harryhausen:

How can you go wrong with a big, angry t-rexian thing?!


]]> (Lars Grant-West illustration) Lars grant-west engineered explosives gathering glimmervoid imperiosaur magic masters modern spider token Fri, 07 Jun 2013 10:55:39 GMT