Today we interview Sorcery: Contested Realm Artist, Alan Pollack. Alan is a legend in the industry, dating back to his early years with TSR creating artwork for Dungeons & Dragons, and then on to Magic the Gathering (MTG) with Wizards of the Coast (starting with the Tempest set in 1997 and producing well over 100 pieces over the years), commissions for Baen Books, and now Sorcery: Contested Realm.
A few weeks ago I was fortunate to catch a live stream with Alan painting on the back of one of his MTG Artist Proof cards. Alan appeared on short notice with no announcement, so I was fortunate to be one of the few people following the live stream for a couple of hours. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and had the opportunity to ask Alan several questions; some of which I have woven into this piece for greater context.
Here goes the interview...enjoy!
Art Fan Pro Tip: This is an 'immersive' interview. Take the time to click the links to discover more information about references throughout the piece!
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: Early in your career you worked in a studio room alongside fellow Sorcery artists Tony Szczudlo and Jeff Easley. In fact, you mentioned they told you about the Sorcery opportunity.
Would you say they had an influence on your early artistic development, and in what ways they may have influenced you?
Alan Pollack: For one, Tony and Jeff are great friends. Tony was the one who made sure there was a space for me setup and ready when I moved in to the studio. As far as their influence, it was mostly Jeff over any of the other artists. I use a lot of his glazing techniques. The way he puts down a glaze and then pulls out details with a brush dipped in turpentine is something I use frequently.
Early days at TSR
(Left Image) Tony Szczudlo
(Right Image, left-to-right) RK Post, Tony Szczudlo, Todd Lockwood, Jeff Easley
[In the Instagram live stream that I participated in with Alan, he mentioned that the Sorcery opportunity kind of just fell into his lap because Tony Szczudlo and Jeff Easley were working on it and contacted Alan to let him know that they wanted to use TSR Dungeons & Dragons guys. So Alan reached out to Sorcery, and the rest is history.]
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: Can you recount any interesting stories from experiences in those days that you can share with fans?
Alan Pollack: There are so many stories. You’d have to get me drunk at a convention to really hear some stuff.
Tony and I used to work late night when the
building was pretty much empty. We would crank our music (Tony and I are both old school KISS fans) and share stories. I worked every day in a room with 4 talented artists. It was a great experience overall until the higher ups ruined everything in the end and eventually sold the business to WOTC.
[Here Alan is referring to his time at TSR. Many early era MTG artists worked for TSR working on Dungeons & Dragons. Many quit or were laid off as TSR began having issues, and the company was eventually acquired by WOTC. Several would end up returning to work on MTG.
Hint: One of those people in full Kiss make-up is Alan!...]
My time there helped me to build my portfolio and prepare me for my future career in book cover art and beyond. And I came out of it with life long friends in Jeff Easley, Tony Szczudlo, Fred Fields, Brom, Robh Ruppel, Dana Knutson and Paul Jaquays.
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: You have stated that you have learned digital art and have used that quite a bit, or in a hybrid approach with a mixed process, working back and forth between your favored medium with oils and leveraging digital. What are some of the advantages of leveraging digital in your hybrid process, and the experimentation it affords you with color, lighting, etc? Did you leverage this in your Sorcery works at all?
Alan Pollack: As far as going back and forth between digital and traditional mediums, what I do most often is create the drawing in Corel Painter. Sometimes I will go as far as create a color study digitally to use as a reference point when painting in oils. Once I create the finished drawing digitally, I print it out and mount it on hardboard with matte medium, a technique I learned from Donato Giancola. That is how I went about creating all the art for Sorcery.
[In the Instagram live stream, Alan described going to a gallery show for the Society of Illustrators in NYC when he was first starting to paint. Although similar in age, Donato was already established as he had started his career earlier. He had a painting in the gallery and Alan recalled being struck by how impressive the oil paintings were in person]
Mike @ Collector Arthouse:
You mentioned you are also a musician
Have you ever combined your painting with music, or consider doing so in the future? I wonder if combining your talents to leverage sensory stimulation of vision + hearing may be a new creative outlet of interest to you.
Alan Pollack: I’ve had an idea for many years to combine the two. I think if I can get enough of a following via social media to justify doing a Kickstarter, I would follow through with that endeavor. It has never been done before as far as I know. I think it would be way cool. I won’t say what it is because it would suck if someone else beat me to the punch.
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: Pivoting to your Sorcery artwork, there are 5 pieces I have seen thus far and 3 with particularly interesting art concept compositions that I would love to hear more about. Those are Tringh Constrictor, Psionic Blast, and Giant Shark.
For each of these can you provide some context to the art direction Erik gave you for these, how you settled on your vision for the art concept, and what you leveraged for reference models for the great detail and lightning technique?
Alan Pollack: Erik gave me very little art direction for my Sorcery art. That’s what made it so much fun. Unlike Magic, every artist had the freedom to create art in their own way, no theme, no style guide. I’m not sure how well it will work down the road but for these initial sets it should be pretty cool to see.
[Here Alan is referring to MTG's more recent approach to set design and art development. Since MTG sets are very thematic or tied to a specific lore concept, artists are typically given very specific direction on the art concept for each card. Several original MTG artists have stated that this was a dramatic change from the early days of Magic when artists were given little more than a card title, and artists had complete creative freedom to derive their own art concept. But I will save more on that for upcoming interviews with some of the iconic early-era MTG artist!...]
The 3 pieces you mentioned were pretty basic.
Tringh Constrictor just had to be a giant snake. I really wanted to do an albino version which I had never done before.
Giant Shark was supposed to be a giant shark similar to the Jaws movie poster but more like a Megalodon. I chose to have it coming at the viewer. I added the mermaid to show size.
Psionic Blast was to be a guy using mind power to blast his enemies. After submitting a couple different approaches we decided the overhead view fit best compositionally with the text boxes on the card.
As for the models, lighting etc., I did not pose for the shark…. However I did pose for the wizard in Psionic Blast so the lighting was all set for me. The lighting for the other two was made up. I tried to look for photo reference for the lighting but nothing quite matched it perfectly. So I had to figure it out on my own.
Art Fan Pro Tip: Since posing this question to Alan, I have found several more of his artworks for Sorcery; many of which I wish I could have asked about in hindsight! I have included those painting images at the end of this piece, and you can see them and dozens more from various Sorcery artists on the 'Sorcery Art Gallery' page at www.collectorarthouse.com.
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: How can fans support you? Can you tell us a bit about your Patreon, and also any upcoming events or opportunities to purchase your sorcery paintings?
They can become a patron on my Patreon page. There are tiers ranging from $5 per month to $100 per month. The 2 lower tiers are for behind the scenes footage, time lapse videos, narrated tutorials, process shots etc. The higher tiers are for people that want to also acquire original art. But it’s really all to support me as an artist and to enable me to create art on my own terms and potentially produce my own art related projects and merchandise for my fans.
You can also visit my website at www.AlanPollack.com.
I will be at IX later this year where you can meet me, get things signed and purchase original art and prints. I will have whatever Sorcery art I still have available and more at that show so make sure to come check it out.
Remember the best way to support artists is by buying their art and spreading the word. If you want to see your favorite artists creations on a product let it be known to the companies and throughout social media. Your voice has power.
Mike Servati @ Collector Arthouse and Collector Arthouse on Facebook, signing off...