Happy Thursday, everyone!  I hope the day finds you all well and gearing up for some Prerelease action this weekend.  Despite what you probably think, I’ve got my permission slip signed (Thanks, lovely wife!) and will be trying my best to run some tables in central Massachusetts this Saturday.  (In related news, tune in on Monday, where I will do my best to dissect the inevitable train wreck!)
We’re going to look at alterations today, but first, a quick mea culpa:
MY MISTAKE – ARCHANGEL’S LIGHT SUCKS, AND OTHER CRITICAL OMISSIONS
I should have seen it coming when Mr. P noted some…er…problems with my Dark Ascension set evaluation from a few days’ back.  Specifically regarding Archangel’s Light:
Turbonothing says “Hi!”
And Gravepurge:
If you’re psyched about this, you must love Footbottom Feast.
In talking to Imshan from Commandercast, he made very similar points; including the nearly-functional Bone Harvest as well on ‘Purge, and pointing out that for what it does, Light is way over-costed and should be an instant.
I’ll admit it…you’re both completely right.
I mentioned Light in terms of my Radiant deck, and that’s about where it stays.  It’s in theme there, after all.  That deck can use some additional time to get off the ground and some extra use out of all of the stuff it runs to make the angels in the deck better, so this could fit the slot.  On the other hand, it’s damn expensive.  So maybe not after all.
Dammit.  This card does suck, doesn’t it?
I had Bone Harvest in my mind as a comparison to ‘Purge, and simply forgot to add it in to the article.  Yeah…not one of my better attempts.  I had completely forgotten about Footbottom Feast too, owing to the fact that I missed completely most of both Lorwyn and Shadowmoor block.  So I’ll leave it at this – Gravepurge is better than Bone Harvest and more in-flavor in zombies than Footbottom. 
See?  I was half-right…
.   .   .   .   .
I initially got into doing alterations a few years back because of Strip Mine.  I had a 4th Edition one lying around and needed one for a new deck.  There’s no way I would be caught dead playing a white-border Strip Mine (Oh, to be young and have skewed ideals…), but I didn’t want to let this one go to waste. (Read: too cheap to buy another one at the time.)  After following some of the threads on card alters over on MTGSalvation, I decided to dive in give it a try.  I grabbed some acrylics and brushes, and dove in.  I never intended to do much more than the Mine, but I was hooked, and have been altering ever since. 
That was the beginning of a serious love/hate relationship with alterations for me.  I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret – I hate doing them.  I love the end result, but I’m a hopeless perfectionist when it comes to projects and details, and I’m also an unabashed fan of the concept of instant gratification.  For those of you keeping track at home, this is a recipe for disaster. 
I was able to finish two alterations last night, so I decided I would look at one today to discuss my process, if not my technique.  (Confession time: I’m a hack in comparison to some of the better alterists out there.  Look no further than Eric Klug if you want to see the real deal, among many others.)
Here’s the “finished” version of the Memory Jar I finished up for Imshan for the Thrax’ contest (I’ll explain the quotations later on…):
For reference, the original:

Imshan asked for a borderless Jar, which is fantastic for two reasons:
1)      I’m really good acceptable comfortable doing borderless alters.
2)      I’m not very good at doing completely alternate art with acrylics.
Still, this was going to be challenging for a number of reasons, least of which was the detail in the actual Jar itself.  It’s really hard to replicate detail like that with acrylics and have it match up in a way that looks good.  The fact that the bottom half was hanging out of frame meant that I needed to come up with something, though, so I knew that I had to put that on the back burner to simmer. 
I started the way I usually do, by working on priming the edges at the top and blacking out the border on the bottom around the text box.  The end result:

I mentioned to Imshan that I typically don’t like to just leave the bottoms black on my alters, because it seems like a bit of a cop-out.  I ended up breaking that rule here.  The result is a little more vanilla that I would typically like, but I tried adding in some of the energy coming from the jar in the lower-right corner several times, and it never looked right; the result was a cartoonish element that I wanted to avoid, so I pulled it completely.  I think the clean result is better in the end.
I’m a “fly by the seat of my pants” type of artist, so I don’t do a ton of pre-planning.  I like to dive in, start adding, and see what happens organically.  After cleaning up the bottom, I moved on to the green in the foreground:

Several layers of several mixed shades of green went on over several sessions.  Some light white was brushed on and faded out to the edges.  The effect we’re looking for is to “punch up” the area on the ground near the shards of the Jar, and I think this accomplishes that fairly well.  I’m so neurotic that I could still be at my desk working on this section right now if I let myself, so I decided to move forward.
This is how the Jar itself ended up:

There are two things happening here.  First, I decided after several failed attempts on the intricate brass detail to go with a basic smooth finish to the bottom.  I was actually inspired by a lamp my in-laws have in their living room that looks remarkably similar; a very plain, smooth middle section, with detail on top.  This got me off the detail hook, but I really like the results regardless.  The color is not quite perfect in comparison with the top, but I’m really happy with how it turned out.  Brass under heavy lighting tends to take on a near mirror-like quality, so it’s all about what surrounds it, and the lighting source (and angle) itself.  You get these funny “smudges” in places, and pure white from light sources in others, but you still have shadows and ambient light fading to take into consideration.  Lots of layers in that part, and probably about ten different subtle color variations.   
The second thing is the extension of the base.  I’m not confident enough in my abilities to try to do complete art replacements, but I do like to add or change a major element when I do an alter, so that it doesn’t look too cookie-cutter.  The base here accomplishes that, and it is one of my favorite parts of the whole thing.
The lettering:

Man, lettering sucks.  My first few alters involved just leaving the existing boxes around the card name and type, but it looks so much cleaner to do it this way.  It’s a necessary evil involving a tiny brush, a magnifying glass, and being unable to focus my left eye for about a half-hour afterward. 
That gets us to the swirls of color:

This was the last thing I worked on, and the part I’m least satisfied with.  Early on, I decided to black out parts of the background to accentuate the energy swaths.  The effect is dramatic compared to the original; I’m on the fence as to whether I like it better, but it is very defining and changes the focus on the card quite a bit, and I like that.
The color swirls themselves are pain-in-the-ass #2.  If you look at the original art, the Jar has a bunch of images flowing out of the Jar; Tolarian Academy, young Urza, old Urza, and Some Other Lady™.  Initially, I took it upon myself to add Karn into the art, which I thought would be incredibly awesome.
You’ll now go back to my statement about my ability to add new art, and note this did not happen.  Trust me…it’s for the best.  (Sorry, Imshan…I tried!)  Instead, I focused on adding in various swaths of color and blending gradients over the top of one another, to give the effect that the images are sort of accelerating away from the Jar now that they’re free of its’ confines. 
I’m still not totally satisfied with this effect at this point, which is why I put “finished” in quotations above.  I’m dropping this in the mail in a day or two, but I may touch up this part a bit before I do.  At some point, I need to just let it go and be satisfied, which isn’t easy for me, but I know it needs to happen.  This Jar is clean and unique, and one of my favorite alters to date.  I’m very proud of it, and for a self-described artistic hack, I think it’s a great completed product.  Imshan, I hope you enjoy it! 
.   .   .   .   .
That’s it for now, folks  I may dip more into the alteration process in the future, and perhaps do a better step-by-step with pictures as I go if there’s interest.  In the meantime, thanks again for dropping by, and enjoy the Prereleases this weekend!
See you next week,
àDJ