Card Game Art: A Process

From Blizzard’s Heathstone to Wizards of the Coast’s Magic the Gathering, card games come in a variety of forms. Not too long ago, I posted here about looking into doing art for card games. I have had the opportunity to do work for the company Lixivium Games and have done a several cards for them. This kind of work can be very fun, but challenging as well. These cards, unless done for digital card games, have to be pretty small. Like 2″ x 1.5″ small. The image needs to pop and detail needs to be downplayed. Below is a process I use for doing this card called “War Salamander” for Lixivium Games’ game, Laboratory Mayhem:

Stage 1:

Stage 1

Usually, there is a briefing and some sketches that I need to do. This is a sketch that they liked. By breaking down each stage to a singular focus point, I am able to better focus on getting things right from the beginning. This stage is fairly simple. The focus needs to be about the composition here, right from the get-go. While sketching this with a wide brush and erasing out the “linework”, I put most of attention into how the image fit together, the composition. The repeating shapes of the arches and how they are placed against the War Salamander were extremely important going forward. If the composition is not figured out in the beginning, there is little hope for the rest. It will give the image its final impact, not the details.

Stage 2: 

Stage 2

For my stage 2 I’ll usually think about cleanup and making revisions based on what the client is looking for. Again by breaking it into stages I can simplify the entire painting. Here I added there idea based on their card and took into account the bleed area (made sure the main elements were firmly inside the card and not at the edges). Salamanders in their world are born from cauldrons, and they asked me if I could get that to fit somewhere. So here I refined the line work a bit and added the cauldron in based on their feedback. Also, the card is a strong card, so to help balance it, War Salamander deals 1 damage to himself every turn he does not attack, so to help represent that further I put a few cuts on him.

With the adjustment, I kept in mind that I would have to make sure to unify the colors of the background against the War Salamander though, to help tone down the busyness, so…

Stage 3:

Stage 3

Here I did color roughs to give me an idea where to go with it. They did not ask for them but I did them, and there is a big reason why. Color roughs save time and make the rest of the painting far, far easier. By having a color rough stage, I can better figure out how my colors will work together, and I can also paint right on top of the color rough I ended up choosing, so in this case, the green one. This also goes back to that composition. By having the composition more or less figured out, I was able to use my colors to effectively push my character painting forward. Kinda important for a card

Stage 4:

Stage 4

At this point I begin to paint and render things right on top of the color rough. I am able to work quicker because I am not trying to start a painting just over the line work, I have the colors basically figured out already. At this stage I also consider changes I should start making, like the length of his foreground arm and, while not updated here, unifying the background.

It goes to the old story about the tortoise and the hare. Sure, I could just skip the color study and go straight to painting, but there’s a higher chance of falling into issues and it’s harder to build from no colors to something like this. Whereas with the color study, I can catch up and pass the version of myself that didn’t take advantage of one.

To Finish:

War Salamander

To the finish comes fairly quickly. Before this final image above, I added more of the green over the cauldron to help group these colors and unify it into that background. Having the colors figured out already also helps me use these colors to influence the character. Then, I just began to render, adjust, and punch up the contrast. At the end, the image unifies for a very clear read for a final card. The line work is still very much showing, a requirement by the client, while still being rough around the areas that aren’t the focal point, again, part of the style they are going for. Even so, the image comes together because of the color and composition that brings together a complete image.

In the end, art will come across as more exciting with a interesting composition, unifying the shapes but making it interesting with variety, and using your colors to play with each other. These two things are much more important than rendering. Rendering is fun, but if we save it for the end it’s like the dessert that we have earned…


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