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Alderac Entertainment Group—The Company.

Click on the Logo to go to AEG’s Website.






tm-AEG—The Game.

Click on the Logo to go to AEG’s WARLORD page.

A Card Game Company Contacts Me

In this case, the company is Alderac Entertainment Group.  They are working on a brand new card game called WARLORD, that they have been designing and developing in-house.  They are now ready to begin assigning art for the cards of the premiere set.  The art director contacts all the artists he knows.  I’ve worked for the company before, so I am on his list.  If I don’t have a previous relationship with a company, sometimes an art director will contact me anyway, if he/she knows I do the kind of art they want.  Or I will hear of a job I’d like and contact the art director myself, telling him/her I’m interested and either mailing him samples (rare, nowadays) or sending him/her to my website so they know what kind of work I do.

The Negotiations

At this point, the business part is very simple.  I’m aware of what the company expects and what their usual contract is like.  I know they will send it to me to read, and that I will sign and return it.    Basically, the Art Director (A.D.) just needs to know if I want the work.   I need to know the DEADLINE, since that will determine how much time I have to do the work—such as how many cards I can take, if any.  The deadline is tight for me—it’s around Christmas 2000 and I have several other assignments, so I say I can only take 2 to 3 cards.  Sometimes the assignment is sent right away—or maybe it is days or weeks before the AD contacts me again.  In this case, it was 5 days.

The Assignment

After the A.D. knows who is free and how many cards they can take, they decide which cards would best suit each artist.  Sometimes they will ask the artist what they want to do.  For WARLORDS, I say that I’d like to do elves.  I’m assigned 2 cards—and a third later.  And I’m sent the WARLORDS STYLE GUIDE, so I know what the creatures and weapons look like.


Since time is short, I get a description by e-mail.  The designers are still working on card titles, so there is none in this case.  Sometimes there is only a working title.


The Card Description: 

A female elf, holding a mask of bone in her hands, lounges on a throne of

bone and ribs. She is eerily perfect, her honey-colored hair flowing down

over her shoulders, beyind her deep violet eyes. She's not wearing much, but

it all gold and silver, and she's completely in control. Kneeling at either

side of her throne are two armored elven warriors, wearing their war-masks,

holding short pikes made of blackened bone. They are wearing golden

chainmail. Keywords: Cold, creepy, sinister, regal. april lee


Here is a scan of the sketch that I faxed to the Art Director to get his approval.


Sometimes the sketches can be very loose, sometimes much, much tighter than this.  It depends on how much the art director trusts you!  If he knows you can turn your stick-figure into something great, and it will match the armor and items and other descriptions in the assignment, then you can sketch loosely.  If you want to make sure you’re doing it RIGHT, it’s best to turn in a sketch that is tighter and more detailed than this one!

The Sketch

The first thing to work on is the sketch.  Sometimes the AD sets a deadline for the sketch.  Not in this case.  From the Style Guide, or other information the AD gives to the artists, I know the dimensions the art must be in.  First I do THUMBNAILS, which are quick little one-inch sketches.  Then I work out one that looks promising a little larger—usually around 4” by  6” (or whatever is the correct dimension for the finished art that corresponds roughly to that size). 


Sometimes I do lots of thumbnails, sometimes only a few.  The same goes for the sketches.  When I am satisfied that I have at least ONE sketch that will make a great image for the card, I will usually stop.  If I’m not satisfied, or am not sure what I’m looking for, or what the AD is looking for—or what might be best for the card, I will do several sketches and have the AD choose which one he likes.


I usually take several days to do the sketching.  It really doesn’t take that long, but I have a full-time job that gets in the way of my free-lance work!


The Approval

The sketches need to be approved by the AD before the painting is started.  He needs to make sure that the artist is going in the right direction, and that the image will be right for the card and for the game.


In this case, I only sent in one or two sketches—mostly because I didn’t like how any of the others were coming out.


I faxed the sketches to the AD and he either phones or e-mails a reply—telling me to do Sketch A, or to just go ahead and paint the one sketch I’ve sent in to him. 


I have never had to re-submit sketches.  But sometimes there are changes.  In this case, the designers decided that the elves do NOT wear masks, even though a mask is asked for in the description.  The AD just said to take the mask out and approved the sketch.


The AD can take several days to get back with the Approval.


This is the drawing that will be painted over.  It is done on illustration board.  About 20” x 24”.  This is a fairly detailed, finished drawing for me.  Usually they are not this finished.

From Sketch to Board

Now that I have my sketch approved, I’ll need to paint it.  I decide that I’ll airbrush most of the painting, so I want a very smooth board.  I’ll use the best board I have:  Strathmore Illustration Board (archival quality), with a hot-press finish.  I like a smooth board when I airbrush because I like to work back into the paint with an eraser to bring up the highlights—but more on that later!


I like to work big.  This painting is about 24” tall.  The actual card image is horizontal.  Card images are small, so I want the figure cropped in.  But I also want an original that will look good, so I’m going to paint outside the boundaries of the card image.  This way, the company can also use the image in different ways, if they need it for advertising—but mostly it’s for me.  I wanted to show more of the throne and the elves at her feet, but it would not all read well if I stuck to the horizontal format.


WARNING:  Do NOT do this unless you know it’s OK.  Most companies would prefer you to follow the exact directions, because doing odd formats can be confusing and maybe the AD doesn’t want to deal with figuring out why you’re painting something vertically, when it’s supposed to be horizontal… . I took liberties in this case because I knew that this could be an important card, and because the AD knows me and my work.


Anyway—I usually take my little sketch, which is already in the correct dimensions, but enlarged, of course.  Anyway—I enlarge the image even more on a copy machine.  When I get it to the size I want I usually need to tape all the bits together!


Then I cut the illustration board to the size I want.  I bull-dog clip the enlarged copy of the sketch to the board and slip graphite paper between (Saral rolls –available in art stores—or you can scribble with pencil on the back of your sketch—but that’s too much trouble for me), and I’ll trace over the sketch so that it is transferred to the board below.  I can lift up the sketch and the graphite paper to check to see if I’ve got all the lines down, since it’s clipped on, and when I’m happy that I’ve got the sketch roughly traced, then the work REALLY starts.


The graphite drawing to the(upper)left is what happens after I clean up the very roughly transferred sketch. 


This took several days.

Beginning the Actual Painting

The reason I usually don’t want to get too detailed in the drawing is because the drawing gets quickly covered up by the paint.  BUT, if your drawing isn’t worked out well enough, your painting might not look as good--or you'll be trying to fix problems too much as you paint. 


I decided that I didn’t want too many hard edges—or that cut-frisket-airbrush-look!  And I’m lazy.  So no frisking used here, although I usually DO use frisket paper (it’s low-tack, clear plastic that you can lay over the board and you cut out the areas you want to air-brush with an x-acto knife). 


From the drawing, I already knew that the light was coming from the upper left.  But I didn’t do a color rough (like a sketch in color) so I didn’t know what colors everything was going to be.  I just felt like blues and some purples, so I went with that.  (Usually it’s a good idea to do a color rough, unless you have a very clear picture in your mind ahead of time!)  


The throne behind her is supposed to be made out of bone.  I put a little sepia brown in there, for the shadows and to have some warms that matched her skin tones and off-set the cool blues and purples. 


I was NOT sure what color I was going to use for the hair of any of the elves.  She’s supposed to be in silver and gold--and I almost forgot that the description of the card said that she had honey-colored hair.


At this stage, I have already gone in and used the eraser to pick out the highlights on the bone throne and on her skin-tone.


This stage takes about an hour or two for the airbrushing (quicker with no frisket—just need to dump in paint colors and do some cleaning between), and an hour or two of erasing.

This is actually a scan from AEG.  I think it came out a little too dark and contrasted, but oh, well!  Right now, they do the scanning and I have no control over it.

The Finish

The next stage is the longest.  I go in with Prismacolor or Design pencils and tidy up all the messy over-splashed airbrushing… Although I think I over-tightened the piece.  I need to relax more and let some of that looseness of the former stage remain…  But I get nervous about how it’s looking and sometimes things just get over-worked.  Since most card game companies prefer tighter than looser paintings, this isn’t all bad, although the art that isn’t done that way could well be MUCH better.


I darken the shadows on the bones, put some blue reflected light coming from under and to the side of the throne, fill in some of the background with blues and purples and smooth things out a bit.  I try to model her skin tones a bit more carefully. 


About 50% of the painting is airbrush and 40% is color pencil, and the remainder is eraser and acrylic paint and some marker-pens.


Doing the eyes and the details of the armor and jewelry is mostly done with acrylic paint—a lot of white for the highlights and Paynes Grey and burnt umber for the darks.


The gold and brown colors are washes of yellow ochre, transparent yellow and other earth-toned acrylics.


I spend several days in the color-pencil stage, and several days in the high-lighting, detail-finishing, fixing up phase.  The deadline looms and I barely have time to attach a cover-sheet to protect it, write my name on the back, and put the card information on it, scan it and photograph it for my records, make a color print-out for AEG’s records (only AEG asks for a color copy of each piece of art), package it between a ton of FedEx boxes and FedEx it overnight to AEG…

©2001 AEG/Illustration, April Lee

The Card

Sometimes the AD calls to say the artwork has arrived, but usually, with so many artists working on a game and all that art coming in at once and having to be scanned in and composited with the card borders and text, the AD is usually too busy.


In this case, the AD was in touch by e-mail with many of the artists and eventually made a general comment to the effect that he was happy with the art. 


Usually the art is not sent back until the set is printed.  This job was due in December/January, and the game was not to be released until the end of April.  In this case, the AD sent the art back to me right after it was scanned because he worried about damaging such a large piece if it hung about the offices for 4 months.  But this is unusual.  If there is an emergency, the company prefers to have the art at hand, rather than ask for it back from an artist—who might have sold it already, etc.


The companies usually send artists several samples of the cards they have done.  This also comes after the release of the game.  As does the payment, in this case (some companies will pay upon receiving the art, not publication).


In this case, WARLORDS had sets of pre-constructed decks that were distributed as promos in the card game magazines, so some cards were available earlier than others.   This particular card, now with a title: TEPHEROTH, was in one of the promo decks, so I was sent several cards before the release of the game.


And There You Have It!

That’s the process for this one card.  There were some unusual aspects in this situation—but for the most part, it’s the same process with every card game assignment. 


I hope you found this interesting.  Right now, I’m thinking I must have too much time on my hands to throw pages like this together! Back to work...  J


Last updated: 4/14/01