Altering Commander – Three Visions – by James Griffin

Altering Commander: The Sissay Project by James Griffin


In the last couple of weeks I’ve taken a brief status hiatus and spend some time working on my quest for power.  I’m still doing that, and whilst I thought I would have some news on that front of this week, we sadly have to wait for the postal system to do its thing, before I can go ahead and reveal my progress.  What this does mean is that I now have an excellent excuse to actually paint something for myself for a change.

So, I crack out my Captain Sisay deck, and have a look through to see which cards need working on. There are still a few that aren’t basic land that need doing, and so I spent some time looking at them and picked out a few to spend some quality time with.  First up is a card that I had been looking forward to painting since I began this project, and is also the first time that I will have painted one of the ultra-rare Portal Three Kingdoms cards.  This card,  Three Visits, is a functional reprint of Nature’s Lore, a card which was reprinted in the Garruk versus Liliana set, and sells for about 20p.  Of course, EDH loves to have consistency, and as such if we run Nature’s Lore then we had better run Three Visits as well.  This isn’t a card I actually owned at the time I decided to paint it, and I had spent a good few months looking for one in people’s trade binders, in shops, to no avail. There was nothing else for it, I had to get onto eBay. Well, as with so many modern technologies, in less than 10 minutes I had bought one, and it was on its way from Singapore. When it got here I was well impressed.  I tend to try and find bad quality cards when I’m painting them, because I can work on them and improve the state of them. However when this card arrived, it was clearly mint, and when I took it out of its sleeve, it didn’t even have any fingerprints on. Quite how they got it from the booster pack into the sleeve I have no idea. However, this is excellent for me, as not only do I get to paint what I humbly consider to be one of the prettiest cards ever made, but I get to do so on a completely clean canvas. Hooray!

I begin by… well actually now I don’t begin by cleaning up the card, because there is no cleanup to do, so instead I’ll just spend some time looking at it and trying to mentally match the colours in my mind, as well as how I want the card to look when it is finished.  Sometimes this is the most important piece of the process for me.  It has a beautiful crisp white border, and I very much prefer the Chinese version of this card, as the artwork seems to suit the language.  No airbrushes or other fancy tools will be used to do this alter, because no fancy tools like these were used to do the original by the looks of it, and as such I limit myself to 3 different sized paintbrushes, some water, and the most basic number of colours I can.  I mix up a dark blue grey colour and starting at the top of the card, I paint the sky and the roof.

I then mix up the lighter blue colour, to paint the stars in the sky, and to give the roof detail depth.  All the while, I am trying to keep the amount of brush strokes I use to a minimum so as to preserve the simple, beautiful look of the original artwork  (Can you tell that I really like this card yet?).

Working physically down the card, I come to the Gables of the building in two shades of brown

Then I add the grey and block out the next piece of brown down.  I am beginning to really like these altars where only the border is managed, it makes me feel like I’m opening up a window into the artwork.  I know, I know, maybe that sounds really pretentious, but when something is taking a really long time, and when like this piece, the sort of techniques I need to use really don’t come naturally, it’s important to have that driving force.

Next, the ground for the walls co mes out, and down one side, I match with a hatching weeved like texture of the wall.  This takes an age, and in order to keep my motivation up, I take a break.

As I return to working on the card the next day, I should explain that I was a little distracted this painting session.  This was largely due to my cat, who goes by the name of Liliana Vess (named after an unfortunate bet with a magic playing buddy), staring incessantly at me at the end of yesterday evening.  Lilly has just discovered a tiny little stuffed toy, about an inch long in the shape of the world’s smallest lion, which it turns out she absolutely adores.  She throws it about the place, and yesterday for the first time she brought it into the living room and dropped it at my feet.  Confused, I picked it up and threw it to the other side of the room, largely to get her out of my way, and she bounded after it.  The joke was on me, as she brought it back and plaintively dropped it at my feet.  I threw it again, and the behaviour was repeated.  This happened again and again, and very soon, while she’s showed no sign of getting bored, I very much am.  When I got home from work today, she was all excited to continue the game as if nothing had changed, and has spent the entire evening staring at me in an accusatory fashion.  It’s insanely unnerving  As such, I will give you updates on her, as I continued to paint the card, because it’s right there on my mind.  This is what she’s doing when I kick off the session:

Back to the card, the next thing to do, is to paint a hatching on the other side of the card, and add tiny little snowflakes on top.  This has the added advantage of covering up any slightly poorly textured patches, and saving me some considerable time.  I also added the green cloak over the third guy, who I am thinking of as a wise man.  It’s almost like something out of the Nativity.  This is again done, simply, with two colours, switching between them to tidy up each layer in turn.  This stage I could get rid of the original artist’s signature in the bottom right-hand corner of the art box, but I would feel dishonest, as it is only small and not in the way, and after all, I am only adding to his work, rather than creating one of my own.

Cat update:

Next, it is trying to map out the rest of the card, the snow and the path.  I use the verge on the left-hand side of the card as guidance for what to put on the right-hand side, snowy verge.  I also map out the path, being careful to keep correct perspective.  I block this out in dark brown, over several thin layers so that I get a nice smooth finish.

Cat update:

Finally, I paint over the dark brown layer of light brown, trying to keep the number of brush strokes I make to a minimum, to add to the texture into the road.  Voilà, one completed Three Visits, and a card that to be honest, I am really rather proud of.

Also, a cat update:

Buoyed by my success so far, I crack out another card, which I’ve been looking forward to working on, from another set of as I have never altered before, ‘The Dark’.  How many creature cards can you name from the dark?  Will it your anything like me, that list won’t be very long.  In fact, I think Maze of Ith is the only real card of note from that set.

Preacher gives me a good answer to the problem blue steal your general cards, such as Gilded Drake, and there aren’t many Mind Control cards in white and green.  All this guy needed, was a clean up of his black border, which was in a right state, and I decided to keep the alter simple, by just extending his arms and his lecturn.  It was a real challenge to match the colours in his sleeves and finger, and I will at some point use my airbrush to better blend the detail from the lecturn into the bottom of the card.  However, until then, I am happy to have this little guy protecting Captain Sisay while she goes and fetches the legends in the deck.

Oh yes, also, a cat update:

Next, how about another cheap card?  I feel like I am really making progress.  Now, and so I crack straight on with Sterling Grove:

This is another alter, like the Three Visits alter, which will reward simple brushstrokes and basic colours.  I think.  As such, I paint in the sky to begin with:

…and then move on to the trees:

using tiny little dots of white paint, I add in the fireflies or whatever they are, and later on I will add in the grey mist at the bottom of the art box to the borders with my airbrush.  Another simple alter, but it takes me one step closer to the completion of the deck, and presumably to untold glory and fame, or whatever.

Lilly doesn’t seem too impressed:

but that’s ok.  I’ll go throw her lion for a bit, that should help.  What do you think of them though, any thoughts?


PS. I’m editing this for publication, and this is how lilly looks 36 hours later as I sit at the PC:

Sigh.  Also, at a CMC of five, she’s not even particularly constructed playable.  Aah well, roll on Innistrad…

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