Today we have a Design Diary from Grace Allison and Rich Ellis, the artists behind Phoenix: Dawn Command. The artists will be appearing in a LIVE Hangout Q+A on April 26, 2015 – join them

Rich and I work on the cards by passing them back and forth in stages. This helps us keep things consistent, as both of us will have the opportunity to put our own touches on the final illustration! Here’s how it breaks down:

Layout – These are quick and rough thumbnails that determine a card’s composition and general direction. We try not to spend a lot of time on these, but may do three or four before settling on what will work best. Both of us tend to work on these digitally, where we can take elements of a sketch and move or resize them quickly.

Pencils – This step is where we set the groundwork for the lineart, and where most of the designing will occur. We each do this step about 50/50, and try and divvy it up by who is most suited to the design.

Rich tends to take on armor, weaponry and classic monster design. Most of the Bone Legion, a skeletal army outfitted in a manner similar to the Roman Empire, is his work. I cover clothing design and unusual/horror settings and creatures. The outfits of the iconic Phoenixes and common folk are usually my designs, as well as many of the creepier Fallen, which I pull influence from Japanese yokai to create.

Since Rich and I have already agreed on the key components of the Phoenix art style, the biggest visual difference between our pencils is that Rich works traditionally (i.e. actually with pencil) and I do them digitally with Photoshop.

Inks –  This step is always done by Rich. He turns the penciled piece light blue in Photoshop and prints it out on a 9×12” sheet of Bristol board. Then, he uses a brush and Rapidograph ink to give the illustration nice, crisp lines. When scanned in, the blue is easy to drop out, leaving just the lineart.

Colors – This step is always mine. I take the inked lineart and start filling it in using four shades of grey. I use maximum contrast at this point to make sure that the tonal balance is pleasing to the eye. Once I’m happy with it, I’ll substitute the grey tones for the color palette of whichever type of card it is.

To finish up the colors, I’ll add a specific grunge texture as a light overlay and sometimes add color holds. Color holds are when I take the black lines and color them one of the shades in the palette. It’s an effective technique for special effects or giving a design less visual weight!

art process

The Affliction Card was one of the very first that Rich and I laid out. We hadn’t nailed down the style of the cards yet, but this early concept is one we kept throughout: a collection of dangerous things that means something terrible is going to happen.

Once we had settled on a more streamlined and iconic style, the layout got a revamp with smoke instead of a textured background. The items were given a bit more clarity, and we added a snake to help tie the elements together. Consensus on the snake was that going through the eye socket was a bit too gruesome, so we slightly changed how it was coiling around the skull while penciling.

At the coloring stage, we started with all grey tones, which are generally assigned to the Antediluvian (undead) type of challenge cards. However, since the Affliction is a unique card, we gave one of the tones a pop of color in a deep red. The end result was one of our favorite designs to date!

To see more of Grace and Rich’s art, check out the Phoenix: Dawn Command Kickstarter campaign