Altering Commander – Making Academy Rector Pop by James Griffin

Altering Commander: The Sissay Project by James Griffin


I love me some Academy Rector.

He’s fabulous.  He was one of the first cards I really got excited about in EDH, and I’ve had fun pulling Oblivion Rings and Eldrazi Conscriptions out of my Eight and a Half Tails deck ever since.  He (she?!) is in a really bad shape now, with dings and scratches around the edge despite being sleeved, so I’m going to have to make sure I do a really good job of masking that as I work on him (her).

This time I’m going to do a ‘pop out’.  This is one of my favourite ways of working with magic cards, and it can give an unhinged/unglued feel to them which can be really striking.  I begin by cleaning up the card with water on cue tips (cotton buds) and with a light layer of acetone.  For the actual lumps of dirt I use a scalpel to remove them.  It’s delecate work, as the slightest slip will slice into the cardboard.

I then want to work on the book he’s holding.  I’ve been looking at this artwork on and off since I started this project and I have only just decided how I want it to look.  The trick here is matching the colours.  THey are all light, and if you look very closely, they are shaded with a slightly reddish grey tint.  To keep the washed out look I shall be mixing grey and dark red with a lot of my paints.  The book cover is painted in successive thin layers of brown, which is then mixed with a bone colour for highlights around the edges of the book and the spine.  I allowed the mid brown base coat to spread up into the artwork so that the join between the two can’t be seen any more.  I use the base coat mixed with black and red to shade the spine.  The pages also get painted with a brown slightly lighter than the cover, and is allowed to streak with the brush strokes to create the look of the paper.

I tie off the bottom of the book and fill in the inside of the spine of the book before moving on to the rector him(her)self.  There is a lot of red in this guy’s cloak, although again it is washed out.  I painted Oblation earlier this week, and the colours I’m mixing couldnt be any different!

I add a few thin layers of grey for the cloak base coat.  I then begin to add very thin slightly lighter layers to match with where I think the highlights will go.  I then switch back to the basecoat and tidy up my work before moving on to a slightly darker shade and washing this over where the recesses of his cloak will go.  This is a time consuming process indeed, as the longer one takes, the better the finished product

Now I have a problem.  It is clear where the layers of paint as opposed to print are, after all this work.  I decide that the problem is the paint is too ‘cold’ – that is has too much blue tone in it as opposed to red.  Now in order to warm it up I mix up washes of dark red, and lay thin watery layers down over the paint and the print until the difference is minimised.

I then  go back to the highlighting and shading until I’m happy with the result.  You can see the difference still slightly in the photo, but once it’s varnished you shouldn’t be able  to any more.  Next it’s time for the cuff.  I go through the same process again, improvising where I think the folds of the cloth would reflect and absorb light leading to lighter and darker patches.

The arm gets a layer of flesh coloured paint which is highlighted and shaded in a similar way.  Are you seeing a pattern here? Yep that’s the routine for every patch of freehand.  The trick is to make sure that when the paint cures, in 36-48 hours that you cant see through to the print underneath.  Lots of layers is the key.  I use acetone to remove the stray paint from the text box.  That is easier on older cards than newer ones to an extent, as the ink reacts less well to the acetone wash.

He’s looking good, but he’s sort of floating here like this, I want to give him some context.  I correct the clearly wrong angle of the bottom of the book cover, and add a layer of mid brown (slightly different from the book) to the bottom of the card for his desk.

Two issues to watch here as I go through the same highlighting, shading and washing process.  The first is the perspective – the grain of the wood, made by rough brush strokes with lighter and darker colours, is angled in such a way as it gives the impression of the table being flat and horizontal.  The second issue is the realism of the wood grain.  Once I’ve added rough strokes of lighter and darker strokes of brown, I switch to a thin (000) brush and highlight the wood grain, painting in knots in the wood of the table.

It’s at this point I decide to go to bed and pick up again tomorrow.  Rested I begin on the final details I want to add.  I find a picture of a quill and stand, and begin to map this out with thin outlines of paint.  I want the feather to be slightly see-through, so I use a thicker than usual paint on a wide rough old brush.  I then switched to a small detail brush and added the central part of the feather along with highlights and low lights on the flight.  I completed the base by using the same process as before.  It takes practice to know instinctively how light plays on a surface, and how to demonstrate ‘shininess’ or ‘dullness’ without adding gloss or matte chemicals to the paint.  The trick with shinier surfaces is to have a harsher contrast between the lightest and darkest tones in it.  this can be seen in the brass dome of the pen holder.  While i’m in the process of doing this I also begin to add decoration to the cover of the book with a simple gold/brown inlay around the corners by adding careful thin lines of a yellow beige colour, with a little grey mixed in to keep it fitting with the rest of the card.

Here he is basically finished.  The last thing to do is to go around the black border to clean up any ‘dings’ in the cardboard, and make it look good as new again, and the Rector is ready to Academize again, or whateve it is that he does.  Probably in my case fetch Orings.  Fair enough.

I hope you liked this guy,  Next week, if I get over some problems I’m having with him I’ll share a transformers/Darksteel Colossus project I have going.  Unless it goes horribly wrong, in which case I’ll tackle the basic land for Captain Sisay’s EDH deck.  We’ll see.
Until then,



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