Altering Commander – Have You Heard About the BoP? by James Griffin

Altering Commander: The Sissay Project by James Griffin


It was my wife’s birthday a few weeks ago, and in order to recognise this, so we packed up our things and headed down to London for a weekend.  Trips around markets and some melted cheese later, we were ready to go to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition 2010.  What has this got to do with magic? Well, if you’re bothering to read my articles, you’re probably into magic, and you’ll understand therefore that we never really stop thinking about it matter where we are what we’re doing (yeah, no, I I can’t think of any exceptions to that either…) However, you don’t have to be actively looking for something magicky for this fella to jump out at you:

What’s that? Sorry, can’t you tell? Maybe you’ve been looking at pictures of mana birds with big pink tails in front of cathedrals for too long – this is a close-up of the back end of the bird of paradise. As far as back ends go, I think this one is rather lovely.  Okay, so every time I play this card I’m going to have to explain such an abstract take on the artwork to somebody, but no matter, inspiration had struck.  So, the following week I sat down with my paint brushes, and had a go.

I began by creating a background. I did this with an air brush, lots of layers of green leading into yellow until I was happy with the results. I’m not looking to recreate the picture entirely, I’m looking to interpret it myself, I’m certainly not up for painting a motion shifted background, so I kept my background smoother and more subtle:

I made a mistake here, for some reason I was having trouble removing the paint from the text boxes between layers and I managed to fade the text somewhat as I was doing so. Nothing I can really do about that, still, nothing is perfect.  Next it’s time to grab a brush and start painting the branch that my bird of paradise will be hanging on:

Layers of dark and light Brown, followed by stippling and careful line highlights finish the effect.

Next, I painted the bird itself, starting with dark red colour, and adding lines of lighter red into orange.  At this stage my wife is concerned the tail looks too much like fur rather than feather, however all the parts of the painting, I believe this one most closely matches the original art work, and as such I’m keeping it. You’ll notice that I’ve added a slight part of the body the upper wing and the head. This is largely to make the painting a little less ambiguous.

The leg gets added next, I begin by mapping out the basic shape in a dark blue and then add a light blue and white highlights to it, muddling and it slightly to give it texture.

There’s no easy way to paint the tail pieces, the only answer is to take a paint brush, some thin black paint, and simply freehand paint them on.  If you’re having to do something like this then the best way of doing it is simply to look at where you’re aiming for and to be confident.  This makes the line look smoother.  They aren’t quite as I would like, but changing that would require respraying the whole card, and some things aren’t worth the time.

Finally, the wheels on the end of the tail pieces are painted, in a mid, light and dark green, with black-and-white highlights to differentiate it from the background, and the beak finishes off the bird so it’s ready to take flight. Or at least, help Captain Sisay my Commander/EDH general to.

Here’s the thing, I’m relatively happy with the way the birds of paradise turned out, and I think it’s a different take on the card than I’ve seen from anyone else, but I had some more time this evening, so I decided that I’m going to tackle another, rather more precious card. In my Captain Sisay Commander/EDH, deck I’m playing a massive six fetch lands, and I have big plans for the Zendikar ones, which you’ll find out over the coming weeks, but I’m not sure what to do with the other three. The artwork on the Wooded Foothills card is really rather pretty, but this same photographic exhibition has given me some ideas as to what I would like to do with it. I don’t want to get rid of the style of the original artwork though, and as such I’m going to take another one of the photographs from this glorious exhibition (I would very much encourage you to go to it if you have the option, it will take your breath away) and reinterpret it in the same style as Rob Alexander’s original art. This is the photograph:

I know, right? Stunning. Kind of fits the Wooded Foothills theme, don’t you think? As with the birds, I begin by blanking the card, this time in a rich yellow brown colour. I haven’t quite covered all of the artwork, but what I’m aiming to do here is to keep the paint is thin as possible while still having a good coverage.

Using a thick old brush, I add some brown in a random pattern where the rock face will be.

Some grey gets added to this, and then I have some lighter brown as well.

Next it’s time to add the water, and I do so with nice thin layers of blue paint.  At this point it’s worth noting I’m not recreating the artwork exactly, rather I’m taking elements of it that I particularly like and including them in such a way that the card looks pleasing when I’m done (I hope).

This is followed by lighter layers of blue.

Following this, I sponge on some green which will form the basis of the trees, and this is quickly followed by Orange, yellow and gold colours. I also added a little more definition to the water at this point.  A lot of people all at the idea of using a sponge on the artwork, and I can understand that, if you really really need control over what you’re doing.  If you do, then this isn’t the technique for you, however if you don’t mind the slightly random nature of the marks that you’re left with, then you can create some rather nice random looking patterns with comparatively little effort.

Next I switch back to my paint brush, and add the waterfall on the rock face, and further definition to the water in the pool below.

I now have the basic layout of what I want to be on the card, so the time-consuming part of the task approaches, as I begin to work in fine detail of individual parts of the foliage, adding fine little branches leaves and so on, using a mid tone, highlight, low light process. There are too many little details to go into here, so I’ll leave you to look at the different pictures and spot them.

Finally, it is time to add the spray. I crack out the airbrush again, and using a bone colour, I add in the spray, wiping parts of it away with my finger immediately it is added to give it some texture. I hope you like the final result!

If you have any ideas of what I can do with my Windswept Heath or my Flooded Strand I would be really grateful to hear – Flooded Strand is really really really really dull and Windswept Heath would appear to have the leg of an AT-AT in it – what is that anyway?

Finally, part of the challenge of this project, has been to trade for all the cards in the list that I don’t already own, and so many people have been extremely generous in trading with me what I’d have needed. If you’re one of those people let me pass on my most gracious thanks. However, there are but a few cards left that I still need to find, several of which are rather expensive or tricky to come across.  So then, if you have them as you’re willing to trade please get in contact with me I’m sure we can come to some arrangement.  The cards I am looking for include Three Visits; Myojin of Life’s Web; Sylvan Library, Loyal Retainers and Mana Crypt.

That’s all for this week – I often say what I’m going to bring you next week, and it almost always seems to be something else, so you’ll have to wait and see if I get the full art Zendikar fetchlands or the Darksteel Colossus done first, or something else entirely!

Thanks for reading,



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