Altered Reality – Voltron

Some of the hardest aspects of altering present themselves when working on ambitious projects. In any endeavor, challenging yourself is a great tool for getting better. Today, I want to walk through one of my more ambitious works—a play-set mural of Squadron Hawks.

I've said in the past that I'm not a big fan of mural alters, because they tend not to look that great unless the entire image is assembled. In any given game of Magic, you're not always likely to draw all the pieces of the mural and cast them all. However, I felt Squadron Hawk was a great opportunity for such a project because its ability helps you to assemble the artwork. And what better to put together than the almighty Voltron? I came up with this idea about a month ago, and this was the result:

Early Voltron alters

The work got a fair amount of attention. With Standard PTQ season coming up, I thought it was time to run it back one more time, and to write about it to boot.

I try not to repeat exact alters, so for this piece, I picked a different Voltron image. For this tutorial, I'll be talking more in depth about technique. If you're looking for more details on my process, I encourage to reference my previous article, found here. As I start all my pieces, the first step is priming the cards with gray acrylic. I taped down the four Hawks in the way they would be positioned when assembled. I couldn't tape on the surface of where the cards met, so I made sure to use double-sided tape underneath so that the set would lie flat for the entirety of the project.

It's important to note that I always just eyeball where I think the lines are going to go down when priming. Throughout this and future steps, I constantly reference a mockup printout. If the priming isn't perfect, it's not a problem; I can always clean it up after my lines are laid down.

You can see here that I did a pretty good job guessing, but still had a little excess primer in some areas, and not enough in others. You can best see this at the top of the head and in the right wing. Painting in more primer is no problem, but getting rid of it is a little trickier. Wooded toothpicks work wonders scratching away unwanted paint, but you have to be careful not to scrape the card in the process. It's important to resolve these issues as soon as possible. I've found in practice that the paint tends to "set" and adhere more strongly to the card the longer you wait. In this case, I cleaned up everything and inked all in one step.

It's crucial when working on an ambitious work to break your process up and compartmentalize. By mentally dividing your labor, it's easy not to get overwhelmed by what you have left to do. Don't get me wrong; altering is an extremely enjoyable hobby, but it's also easy to burn yourself out. Pacing myself has been key to managing roughly two heavily involved alters each day.

I already had some experience in which direction to go with my Voltron piece. Because there's very little modeling in the image, I just wanted to go through color by color, eliminating them from the equation.

Some issues that might not be apparent to the first-time painter are the opacity differences between certain paint colors. Reds and yellows can be enormously difficult to work with because they tend to be very transparent. A good habit is to mix a very small about of white into them to slightly minimize this problem. Patience is certainly valuable as well. In the end, it takes about two and half coats to get a good-looking finish with either color.

As I mentioned in last week's article, it's helpful to have your lines show through each layer of paint so that you continue to have a "map" when you're ready to ink again. You can achieve this by painting around the lines with your first coat, and then over them with your second, taking advantage of that paint transparency I spoke about above.

At this point, I was left with laying in a lot of grays and white. Not the most exciting prospect, but welcome after most of the color was out of the way.

Here the card was at a stage where it has a nice, solid foundation. I could really get into the fine details of the work, combining shadows, highlights, and inking into one big step. Using my previous Voltron piece to reference from, I decided to add some details that weren't in my original mockup, which was a little too flat for my tastes. Something that I think worked really well with the original is the faint blue halo that outlines the entire figure. Layering a light blue over a second base blue gives a nice glowing effect.

Every once in a while, I'll get an idea that warrants a revisit. Murals are an aspect of altering that hasn't been explored fully—making me wish there were more cards that brought themselves together so easily.

I hope that this tutorial is informational for everyone. As it stands, I'm looking for where to take these articles in the future. What questions do you have? What do you want to see? Your feedback is invaluable to me! Thanks for reading, and feel free to contact me with questions or commission requests at:

eaklug at gmail dot com
@klug_alters on Twitter