Wednesday, October 19, 2016


This was for Inktober's Day 15, "Relax," starring Tamiyo readin' like a noid. Ironically, this was not as relaxing as I'd hoped it would be; I'm kinda exhausted from working on these MTGinktobers daily, but it's a good kind of tired. I've been pushing myself on these all month, and after the first Liliana piece, I've been really winded, so I'm just hoping to keep chugging along and get these all done on schedule.

Tamiyo was mildly difficult cuz there are tons of little inconsistencies across her official depictions. Like the gloves--some have them open fingertips, some have palm-side trim, one rebel even has no gloves! I love details, so it was tough deciding what was "correct." I was delighted to find she tucks pens in her hair bands, so I gave her a G-Pen, like mine. Plus she's reading a scroll on Yale and Astrophysics, how about that!

Next for Day 16's "Wet," given my well-documented love of rain, I knew I wanted to do something with skytears, so after a couple quick brainstorm sketches (I try to keep pre-planning to a minimum so pieces can be as "live" as possible) I decided on a Totoro spoof starring Garruk as Totes and Kid Lil as Bobby Bouchet ft. her dead brother as the ghost of Encino Man.

I knew I needed a huge, bulky character to contrast with the tiny girl in the composition, so Garruk felt like the best choice since I could use his fur-trimmed, muscular silhouette to mimic Totoro's shape (I used his Relentless look). And I thought of Lil' Lil pretty soon after pausing to ponder who to "cast" for that role.

It clicked when I realized she had a brother who died, and the pose called for a little figure to piggyback. I also thought of that famous historical war photo of the Japanese kid who hiked with his dead brother on his back, so this image acquired an even darker subtlety baked into Liliana's already grim deadbro-carrying.

As a little bonus, this was almost the image I was going to go with before hitting upon the Totoro idea. It was Tibor and Lumia in their academy days, before they got married, where Tibz first kinda puts da mooves on Lumia, by which I mean offers her his umbrella on a rainy day. It was cute and I still kinda want to draw it...all these new ideas I want to bite into after Inktober. But for now, on with the show.


Monday, October 17, 2016


Onward ambles MTGinktober with Day 13's "Scared," starring Liliana Vess, terrified at a wonderful, wonderful world. I was pretty pumped to do this one, as I enjoy drawing these more unsettling emotions.

This piece took a ton of reference, including having to pose myself into my bigger mirror (my smaller mirror usually handles most reference). The boots were intimidating, but ended up being a lot simpler than I had thought they would be. I was surprised to find they only have half of the ring shoelace port things, though.

Easter Eggs: Kev Walker's Cavalry Pegasus in kawaii mode.

I had a couple of rejected poses I was working with, and I initially wanted to play it straight horror, with like blood dripping from the top of the piece or something, but then I thought it'd be funny if she were horrified by pleasant things. So there's hearts and stuff everywhere. I'm not a MTG lore scientist, so I don't know if actual scary things scare her, but I've decided to take liberties with these characters myself, such as the assumption that Nissa's bad with directions.

Next, for Day 14 "Tree," after such an intense run with Liliana, I was (and am) pretty tired, so I needed a little bit of a break, and thought I'd try something more minimalistic. I wanted the tree to dominate over any figures involved, so I was thinking I'd need tiny characters and negative space. That meant an excellent chance to try something like Jock's incredible cityscapes, but in a forest, using Algenpfleger's flying-dust sketch technique to help inform the void.

I initially wanted to draw Mina and Denn sorta recklessly hand-standing on top of a lone tree, but I was really feeling the tiredness and opted to just go with Selvala hanging out like Spiler-Mayne. That Tyler Jacobson art is just killer and I was happy to get to take a stab at his design.


Friday, October 14, 2016


MTGinktober lurches onward with Gisa and Geralf as our floor models for Day 11's "Transport." I unfortunately caught this prompt ahead of time and was somewhat dreading it since I don't really draw vehicles much. But I tried to keep it out of mind and focus on the given day's prompts instead.

I knew I wanted to avoid traditional concepts of transportation, and idea of piggybacking hit me, but then, rather than buddies, why not an adversarial take? I thought of the zombie bros. from Innistrad, Gisa and Geralf, as drawn by Karla Ortiz, who I've wanted to cover for a while. What if they were teaming up and used zombies as their personal rickshaws?

Fun Facts: The animals hanging out in the tree are two bats and a robin who thinks he's a bat.

Easter Eggs: The background echoes the faint zombies in Gisa's card. Geralf was inspired by Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and Edward Scissorhands, and his hair contains Jack Skellington's curly mountain.

Next was Day 12's "Worried," and I was not sure what to do on this one. I was thinking maybe Pia Nalaar facing execution or something, but then I thought, wait, why not kid Chandra? I loved the idea of a menacing arm guiding the kid, which is terribly disturbing. I hate the idea of adults abusing power and bullying kids. I've had to be around people who disrespect kids and it's utterly sad.

The thopter was pretty fun and I loved getting really tight with the details there. I feel like I leveled up a bit on this piece because I managed to get the G-Pen to work with my ruler smudge-free (ish). Also, I liked that by using shadow, I could turn the Kaladesh guard's white sleeves almost black, but the black Evil Empire glove was a must.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016


MTGinktober rolls on with "Broken" for Day 9, so I thought I'd draw some kind of artifact creature. Kev Walker's Patagia Golem was one of the very first card arts that I just loved, so I knew I wanted to depict a soft/delicate artifact creature. Another one of my favorite card arts from my early Magic days was Chippy's Beast of Burden because of how quiet it was, plus I loved the contrast of the loyal, huge machine versus the somber, little girl, so I thought I'd draw the pair's potential future.

A little girl and her artifact friend were inseparable, but one day they got ambushed. The girl defended her young robot friend as best she could, prepared to fight to the death, but the attack was so severe it ignited her spark! She had become a Planeswalker at that very moment and got flung to some far-off world she could not name. She trained for years, honing every skill she could, until she was finally able to planeswalk back home. When she at last returned, she immediately began searching for her old, robot friend. And then she found her friend. Broken. She collapsed, and they were unified in uselessness.

Easter Eggs: There's a little Planeswalker logo on her outfit, which itself is modeled after her younger version's getup.

Next, for Day 10, we have "Jump." I don't know the daily themes ahead of time (so I draw day-of for maximum excitement), and I had been wanting to draw an action scene for a few days now, so I found some posing reference and drew Nahiri jumping over an artmage...I mean archmage.

The archmage's hood was modeled after Jace's, but I refuse to draw that dude, so I went with some sakura leaves, angel feathers, and some kind of Germanic eagle logo dealio.


Monday, October 10, 2016


This weekend's MTGinktobers yielded Nissa for "Lost". The initial concept of the piece was Nissa frustratedly studying a map, since she seems like she would be the responsible navigator who can't stand getting lost despite her prep and affinity for nature, meanwhile Chandra would be haphazardly/futilely looking around from a tree, possibly Jace scouting out, too.

This is how it looks in its "prep"/"principal photography" mode, right after initial G-Pen inks. I am floored with how versatile it is, even on super fine lines like with the eyes, just need to get comfortable using a ruler with it. I do use my .03 Copic liner to strengthen/hatch the super fine areas, though, but the G-Pen can generally handle just about everything.

I was listening to a Jake Parker interview where he said he used to pencil tightly before ultimately letting his pen handle more of the detail work, and I though, maybe I'm stuck in this detail-obsessed stage...I pencil quite tightly not out of love of detail (though I love detail), I just don't like "guessing" at the inking stage. Inks feel like the performance, pencils are the rehearsal.

No time for this initial background concept, I just went with what I could safely pencil within my deadline, which was a landscape fusing elements from Ghibli and stuff. I knew I would be ok with live-inking finer details here because it's just natural textures and stuff, so less necessity to be exact. Plus, at a certain point, you've done enough of this stuff that you don't have to rely on pencils to texture-coach so strictly.

Next was "Rock," and I knew I wanted to do a planeswalker/rock-band piece. We ultimately ended up just trimming down to good ol' Domri Brown. This one's a good example of a purely live-inked background, though I did rough (then scrap) a similar stagelight concept (just circles and cones of light).

Here's our principal photography. At this point, I knew we were in a pinch: No time to pencil a proper background as initially concepted, and even the abstract stagelight idea would be too time-intensive. So that meant our only option was to live-ink something even more abstract. And of course that entailed using our seldom-used size 1 micron, which all too easily chews paper up into potentially dangerous ink-wads.

Fortunately when I went into town the other day to buy another eraser pencil (for the first time in my life, I finished--didn't lose!--an eraser), I also picked up a white pen in my continuing search for a strong enough white overink. This Zerba Kestick tends to stutter and flat-out-stop a little too much, but it was quite excellent when it did work. I'm happy to continue working with it, though it does have a super strong scent... As for the pencils, as you can see, we were going to have a little band scene, but not enough time for all that jazz.


Friday, October 7, 2016


MTGinktober continues with "Sad," which is probably my favorite emotion, featuring Jhoira of the Ghitu, as depicted by the legendary Kev Walker.

I thought for a good while what to do when I got this prompt, and initially started trying to think of my saddest Magic memory so I could maybe channel that into a more tangential fan art, but ultimately decided to see how emotastic we could go on an official character instead. Looking at my notes, I had Gisa, Jhoira, Feldon, Liliana, and Pia Nalaar shortlisted after briefly considering Chandra (even looked up reference from that old Chandra manga, which I guess is retconned away now?).

I was just about done with the face and when I pulled the trigger on Jhoira over Gisa (despite longing to interpret Karla Ortiz's work!), with the deciding factor being the hair: I felt Gisa's veil/helm/sombrero just limited how expressive I could go, so I costumed our figure with Jhoira's garb and that left me free to let the hair play a larger part in the emotion of the piece, sorta evoking despair or doom for Jhoira.

I don't usually like my stuff too much, but I have to say I'm actually pretty happy with this one. I tend to take on the emotions of my figures while I'm drawing them, and I even unconsciously make the same expression, so this one really got to me. Even looking at her now, I can start to feel the emotion welling up in me. Haven't felt that way with a piece in a long, long time. I took inspiration from Slow Motion for the background and gesture, but had to guess on most of the bracelet--I did manage to sneak a Planeswalker logo in there. In my head, she's getting left behind in a time rift or something, and is crying for the viewer to stay or take her with, or it's possibly even just her accepting severance.

Next was "Hidden," which I decided to use to depict Talinthas, from Tumblr, who wrote an incredible article on racial depiction in Magic (Kaladesh specifically), who I first noticed when he spoke some quiet, respectful, but powerful words at the PAX Kaladesh World-Building Panel Q&A.

I should note I am a dark-skinned Mexican-American, but I hold no particular fondness for my own race any more than say, how I think it's mildly interesting that I have looped fingerprints or that I like water as my beverage of choice. But I was almost moved to tears at the passion in his article; the utter frustration and disappointment in his account of Kaladesh rendering his identity hidden and relegated to tissue-thin window-dressing were incredible. Speaking of the broken promise of finally receiving an Indian-flavored plane to add to the pantheon of depictions in the Multiverse, he wrote,
Not only was the invite no longer in the mail, but the party was at my house, and I was sent outside to wait for it to end. --Talinthas, Kaladesh, you break my heart
So rather than a cheeky drawing of a girl commanding creatures with ninjutsu and morph or whatever, the article inspired a more "serious" take on what it means to be hidden in Magic. I wanted a sea of shadowy black with a chorus of cheery white faces to contrast his non-white optimism. I thought of simplified mask forms to echo that gorgeous Paul Laurence Dunbar poem, "We Wear the Mask," too.

From his article, I found it interesting that we share the same sentiment about self identification, which perhaps affects me more evidently as I must draw (that is, actively depict) people--there's always that uncomfortable moment not just on color pieces, but even BW, where I have to decide what skin tone I'm working with (a keen eye will notice I often just use gray drop shadows but leave the skin itself uncolored). As I've discussed before, my natural inclination is indeed simply to go "white." Not because I hate my race or anything, I just have been "programmed" to think "white." There's no maliciousness, just simple conditioning for as long as I can remember, "White is default/neutral/normal." And then when I look at my Copic collection, despite my efforts to collect darker skin tones, I simply have more expressive options for light skin.

In any case, I remember first really being confronted with considering these subconscious racial design decisions when reading fellow Mexican-American Jhonen Vasquez's posts on his Randy Cunningham designs, where he wrote, "I had Randy as a ginger and more of a regular looking kinda dude," (with the black guy being a bad guy, I noticed). This made me ponder, after Zim's all-white main cast (which was his show, unlike Randy Cunningham, which was just him being on character design), what did Jhonen Vasquez think about drawing white characters versus non-white? Were these racial decisions made out of obligation, were they even conscious decisions, was non-white even an option?

I recall from an old Zim DVD commentary that there was an issue Nick had when he wanted to use mariachi music in one gag, which is actually where I believe my interest in his take on racial depiction secretly originated. So I know he did at least have race in mind at some point somewhere during Zim, if only like me, in that I only care when race can contribute out of necessity more than anything (in the maricahi music's case, in service of a joke). I myself always feel this conflict between forcing self-identification (which, again, holds no personally strong relevance to me) versus "neutral" skin tones (which I understand is simply ubiquitous, but is in fact also my default programming).

I of course understand the viciousness of white-washing, particularly the cruel stupidity of robbing ethnic actors of movie roles they ought to have dibs on when the part "clearly" calls for an ethnic actor, like in the Avatar, DBZ, Prince of Persia, etc. movies. But when it comes to visual art, drawing white characters doesn't actually rob any non-white actor of a "job," so realistically, it's ultimately up to the viewer to feel unsatisfied with the art when it comes to race. However, the artist can choose to insert any projection they want, and more and more I feel compelled to "do my part" and at least have non-white depictions as much as possible whenever applicable rather than just mindlessly draw "normal." I remember realizing one day that my comic had no white characters, not out of some agenda, but because that was simply what the roles called for. I felt proud for not falling into the trap of "default mode," but then felt weird for feeling proud of that...but what does it matter? It's my art, I draw how I want, who cares.

I should note, as a "minority" (are we still called that these days?), I absolutely disagree with shoving race down peoples' throats for the sake of inclusivity; it feels insultingly phony--in the 90s, you'd always see these ridiculous pan-racial cliques on school-aged media, just sheer, absolute pandering--that offends me (plus, I mean, even as a little kid I realized the white kid would always be in charge, natch, and if any race had multiple representatives, it'd invariably be the white homie). All-white casts and stuff don't bother me (is it supposed to?) because I'm conditioned to perceive it as normal, but when it's in contrast to what a "role" calls for, then that's when it becomes an issue of poor depiction.

This is why I was so relieved to hear this guy, who has infinitely more qualification to speak on Kaladesh than me, to tell WotC Creative directly that Chandra Nalaar is bewildering. I mean, if she's white, let her be white; if she's not supposed to be white, then don't put on airs and cheap costumes. There was that mild curiosity that emerged back when Gideon suddenly got darker skin in the creepy little figures they put out, but WotC announced it was because they were officially changing this guy to be naturally more olive-skinned as they decided they had intended. So, if you have to use a mallet-based solution like that, then fine, who cares? Just announce "ok, we're changing Chandra to look more accurate to what we now envision her as," then change her, and be done with it. Or make it clear she's not actually supposed to be Indian-ish, and knock it off with the seemingly incongruous name.

Ultimately, I'd rather have an all-white cast that's white than an all white-cast that supposed to be multi-ethnic-ish; if the role calls for it, let that race have their due role and let that depiction flourish; to do otherwise is in direct opposition to WotC's ambitions to be inclusive (I believe this TV Trope is called "but not too black" or something like that). I myself don't particularly seek an Aztec-y or Mexican-y plane or characters because first, race as box-checking is insulting to me and secondly, my race as a general theme is largely uninteresting to me. But if a character is supposed to be from Azteckopia or whatever, seeing a white depiction there might be enough to make me feel how Talinthas does in his article about his own peoples' depictions or lack thereof.

Anywho, I love Magic for the gameplay above all else; the creative trappings have largely left me ever since, again as Talinthas so eloquently puts it, "Magic shifted from I am the Planeswalker to These dudes are the Planeswalkers and you’re telling their story through cards." I love the art, and as long as it's good, I don't actually care about racial depiction, assuming they aren't going around touting how great their racial depiction is meanwhile keeping all the true cultural representation under their sombrero.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016


Here's another batch of Inktobers for MTGinktober. This one is Vraska, who they say collects victims as statues, so I thought this a good fit for the Jake-Parker-endorsed "collect" theme, rather than something a little more on-the-nose.

So this is sort of her eagerly adding to her collection with one sap frozen mid-charge while the other chump is blocked mid-morph.

Easter Eggs: The guy crying is a ref to Killing Glare.

This one was fun because it just had room for subtle background elements like the mushrooms and vines, plus inking Vraska's outfit was also an exciting mix of improv and planning.

This is a riff on a funny outtake from a past Magic event, where Ben Stark and Tom Martell were on coverage. Ben S. thought he was off-camera so he went in for some Chipotle, but Tom swiftly indicated that they were still live!

The day's theme was "hungry," by the way. I did think about doing something with like Garruk or Domri going Luffy on some meat or something, but that felt too "easy," so although the final piece might be a little too inside, I'm happy I went with the final direction.

I find researching pieces to be pretty fun, and this one involved some nice sleuthing to put together the references. I abandoned an initial draft based strictly on the GIF linked above because it was just too grainy to get any clear detail, so I just winged it a little and moved the camera angle. I finished Tom in that one before realizing that version was going nowhere and besides, using such poor reference is agony.


Monday, October 3, 2016


I'm doing Inktober again this year, this'll be my 3rd year. I learned that the creator of Inktober is actually Jake Parker, so I thought I'd use his prompt list this time, combo'd with tying it into Magic somehow, so "MTGinktober," if you will.

So for instance, this is Venser, the blue white planeswalker, for Day 1, "Fast." He looks like Tasteless, Day9's brother, kinda, by the way. Anyway, since Venser teleports, that's like super speed, assuming you arrive at the desired location any faster than it would normally take...

To keep each prompt a surprise for me for each day-of reveal, I saved the list to a PSD file with each theme hidden behind a layer of black, so each day I delete that day's portion of the black sheet. Clever. Anyway, I wasn't sure if we'd just be doing planeswalkers all month, but I was surprised to find there's actually not too many PWs floating around...

This is my take on one of my favorite card arts, Screeching Skaab, by Clint Cearley for Day 2, "Noisy." I loved how surprising and arresting it was when I first saw it, and it still gets you.

Working on this piece reminded me of working on the Penny Dreadful, so satisfying working with ink. Using the G-Pen for the main lines, and then detailing and rendering in Sakura microns.

Not sure how in-depth I want to go with these, though...feel like simple character shots are kinda played out, wanna try scenes. Just lines? Copics, too? So many Qs to A.


Friday, September 30, 2016


A pirate-type guy.

I'm not sure where this came from, though I do feel like I'm drawing a lot of oceanic/aquatic themed-themed stuff lately.

I'm pretty sure this one's inspiration hangs from KNKL's groundbreaking Violet piece, which was the first piece of his I saw when I started studying his videos, linked to from the Magic Reddit when someone was suggesting art resources for those who want to study digital painting.

I'm of course using his chalk brush and line-sculpting technique. I wasn't sure where I was going with this one, just wanted to switch it up from the harder linework Steve Ahn's ink brush allows.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016


This was a study I did that morphed into a quasi sketch of Meer Katnip from the Tanis Podcast. I could see her as perhaps of Asian or even Russian descent with a heavy winter coat with fur trimming, isolated away in self-imposed exile somewhere, doing her thing. However, I should note, while I really, really enjoy the The Black Tapes Podcast podcast, I am on the verge of giving up on Tanis.

I cleared out the current two seasons of TBP, and found out that, neat, they have a sister podcast that's apparently a more SF-y TBP. That's got to rock. Well, I listened to the first episode literally three times at least, and then the first five episodes or so twice, and I still had no idea what's going on. Not like, "oh, man, what's gonna happen next???" but like, "Ok, what is this about? Why should I care? Why should anyone on the show care? Why is anybody doing any of this? Why is that hacker character such a jerk? Is this supposed to be charming?"

I mean, let's get right down to it, easily my least favorite personality on the show is Meer Katnip. Let's pretend the show were scripted real quick...I would say the writers are trying to make an abrasively charming "Dr. House" type, who's so good at what they do and so ultimately helpful that their severe social shortcomings get forgiven. I can get down with that, but there's no underlying warmth to it. Like, imagine if there were say a brother-sister sort of relationship where MK might needle or "abuse" Nic, but you could sense that she actually did care for him if anything external were threatening the cat's mousey plaything, I could buy that. Or if there were moment of opening up and betraying what causes the curtness, or if she saved his life or something, that gives us some contrast to the general harshness.

But when it's so one-sided, she just feels like a rude bully, and then there's such a labored effort by Nic and the dude he hangs out with on location sometimes to assure the listener that despite the brusqueness, this MK character sure is cool, eh? I just can't get into it. It's telling not showing; there's nothing for me to "see" where the coolness comes from to alleviate the rudeness. This was true at least (especially) for season 1, which is what made that season such a chore to get through, if I'm being perfectly honest. I would dread(!) whenever MK was coming on. Contrast this with the joy when Alex would stop over!

But after my first bout of "wow...I don't think I can keep going with this one," I soon happened across the Reddit for all the Pacific Northwest Stories series. And while it seemed the consensus was that TBP was a better listen than Tanis (and there was certainly much more discussion of that show, too), those who did enjoy Tanis did stress that after making it through season 1, it really pays off in season 2. I'm just about current on season 2, and I'm still waiting for stuff to feel worth it, and I'm just weary of the cycle of "find out what happens next time" and then we find out nothing substantial next time. I can appreciate not giving any real meat to chew on if they want to preserve/prolong as much mystery as possible, but when denied even the bones to go on, then there's only so many times you can keep coming back to the diner.

Granted I listen to the podcast while drawing, so maybe I can only 95% focus on the audio (but to be fair, painting, inking, etc. doesn't actually take major concentration after setting up the base stuff), but I do the same for all audio, and am fully absorbed by TBP, Ruby the Galactic Gumshoe, the Bright Sessions, King Falls, Dunesteef, etc. enough to follow those narratives and discern what I like and dislike about each.

I must say, though, when it's just rando-wacky tales, like the bonus short about the sadistic doctor lady (Bonus Ep1), or the early season 1 episode with the urban legend of the elevator game, that stuff rocks. It's weird, unsettling, and vaguely relevant, but compact enough to feel satisfying. Just like with the early TBP where seemingly unconnected weird stories just came at you episode to episode, those felt worthwhile because they were self-contained enough to feel like something happened, and only got richer when things started coming together. Tanis just feels like someone trying to wink you into submission that they know something you don't know, but they won't even tell you generally what it even is that they know and why you need to know it, just that you need to know it. So why do you even care that they know it? Who knows!

So where do we stand on Tanis? I dunno, I might relisten to season 2 after it's all released, and if that doesn't work out [faint background female scream], I'm pretty sure I'll drop it, or at least only check in once per season. I really, really hope they pull it together; had such high hopes after TBP. Worse comes to worst, at least they have a new series coming out, too. Optimistic for that one, just as I was with Tanis.