11 Jun 2012

On the Winds of Magic

BEING A MAGICIAN is apparently hard on one’s clothes. This is doubly true for necromancers. At least, if you look at my artwork, that’s the inevitable conclusion.

I never set out to do this consciously. Hindsight is 20/20, and it has only become evident over time. For months now, I’ve been cogitating on the whole “sex, gender, sexism, and teh hawtness” topic that I mentioned in September and again in a post last October. I’ve been mentally tagging pictures on the subject, my work and others’. That’s when I started to notice a pattern emerging about how I depicted magic and magicians.

The sex, sexism etc topic is an enormous and very complicated subject I can’t begin to do justice to in a single post. So I’m going to take smaller bites and, like this one, some posts will only address that background topic obliquely.

I tagged a previous post with “nekkid peeples,” which elicited chortles from one commenter. (This post has that tag also. You’re not surprised, are you?) So let’s start by looking at some of the necromancers I’ve drawn or painted over the years.

Probably the piece I’m best known for in this category is The Summoner, an illustration that appeared in the back of the Fifth Edition rules for Tunnels & Trolls. I talked about this piece in a Pictures Have Stories post last September:

Then there’s the necromancer of “Never Refuse,” a piece of card art I did for the Middle Earth collectible card game. This was the first post tagged “nekkid peeples.” I was quite taken with the idea of the grievous consequences to telling an narcissistic, self-centered magician “No means NO” … in a really creepy, glad-this-is-not-literally-true way.

Because of the nature of this picture and the black humor jest I have made about getting “boned” one way or another, let me note that I have been sexually assaulted more than once in my life, so don’t imagine I cannot take the topic seriously. This is definitely a picture about the abuse of power.

But more pleasant magicians I have painted also show evidence that I think the winds of the arcane blow when spells are being cast. Consider this happy druid who, admittedly, may or may not have conjured wings onto her long-suffering cats. Whatever the magic, it is not shredding her clothes, only lifting the heavy-looking sleeves.

The picture, Freyalise Supplicant, appeared in the Magic: the Gathering card game. One of these days I will share with you this picture’s extremely long, rather poignant and interesting story.

Next is another Magic card, another druid, casting a summoning. Her minimalist clothes are flying all over the place, even enwrapping the badger beastie she is conjuring up. Or maybe the furry godling was saying “For Light’s sake, woman, put on some clothes! Here, take my wrap.” With the jewelry at its throat and arm, the badger definitely started out wearing more than she is, with just those few leaves in her hair.

I’m amused to see the card text refer to “The wizard Greensleeves…” since there is no sleeve to be seen anywhere, much less a green one. That is the hazard of not telling the artist details like this!

Next I’ll offer another woman in mid-cast, one of my most popular prints. Lierra, Sorceress is a piece of concept art I did for (as I dimly recall) Bard’s Tale IV when that was being developed by Electronic Arts.

Her clothes are definitely in motion, but they’re not being tattered by magical winds. One could debate whether the movement is because she is herself in motion, but regardless of that, I always felt like the skirt might trip her in another step or two… wouldn’t that be awkward? But I liked the way it looked, so I left it.

We’ll have a discussion of that keyhole top another time.

The next example for your consideration is my rather modified take on the mage I play in World of Warcraft, generalized to be included in the poster I painted for American Libraries Association several years ago to promote National Gaming Day @ Your Library.

Limitations in the game prevent clothes from much shifting about as the characters move. But for my own satisfaction creating this painting, I had to lift his hair in the magical winds, and twist the decorative panels hanging from his waist against his skirt, er, I mean his wizard robes. (What ARE those things anyway?)

But not every spell raises those energies, it seems. Below I offer a picture of another mage (but one whose resemblance to the previous one is not accidental although I always liked the look of a trimmed goatee). While reading about the casting of a new spell, this wizard doodles with the magics, testing how the parts work for later use in a full-blown incantation. If there are a few hairs out of place, it looks more like shaggy bed-head than the result of being windblown by a blast from the otherworld.

This image, colorized by Steve Crompton, usually goes by the title of “Studious Mage” and it’s one that I am entirely too pleased by. The picture was created for the French edition of Tunnels & Trolls, and both the black-and-white and the color versions appear in that book.

I think there are a number of things going on in why these pictures look the way they do.

Foremost, what does magic look like? Since I’m a pretty crusty skeptic, I say “No one knows” which allows me to make it up. The conventional concept of wizards, mages and enchanters wiggling their fingers until reality is changed seems linked to the grand performances of stage magicians misdirecting our eyes.

But speaking as an artist, we face conflicting concepts when called upon to depict magical scenes. On one hand, the mages change reality with the power of their minds — that’s almost a definition of the category. But thinking at someone is just not a super-visual thing!

Additionally, wizards of lore, fairy tales, and fantasy are powerful, potent characters able to wield devastating and earth-shattering enchantments and conjurations. While explosions are certainly visual, how do you make it more personal than someone tossing a stick of dynamite or, say, shouldering a LAW rocket in the latest Hollywood blockbuster?

More to the point, how do you convey the concept of gentler or subtler magics? For me, I guess the answer involves magicians opening gates between worlds, and the air pressure is evidently not equal on each side of the portal.

As an aside: when I am writing fiction about magic, none of this occurs. It seems to be a visual thing. Weird, huh?

I love to draw cloth. I cannot say I’m really great at it, but given the opportunity to draw flowing folded cloth, I rarely say no.

My dad collected art books in his day, and one of them was this one. Being a guy, he was probably more captured by the “female” and the “undraped” aspects of the title, but when the book made its way into my young hands, it was the “draped” that captured my attention. The statue of Nike on the cover probably had a lot to do with it. (And lo and behold, doesn’t it look like the cloth might trip the goddess too!)

The book breaks down the ways large swaths of cloth typically fold and bend, and conveys a little about how to create rhythm and structure in a drawing, while conveying the shape of the body underneath. Who knew different folds had different names?

There are plenty of better books that show cloth — books of Howard Schatz’s underwater photography have some of the best — but this is the book that first taught me to see and hope to understand cloth.

Because I have pagan friends, I’ve been aware since college age of the idea of magic ritual being conducted while naked or nearly so. I can’t say I’ve ever thought “I should include that in my picture” any more than I include any religious iconography into my artwork unless it is appropriate and resonant to the image I’ve been requested to create. But sometimes it seems to. I expect that is the principle under which, for example, the badger-summoning druid above is shown outdoors and unclothed — literally skyclad.

The necromantic magicians I’ve done are the ones with their clothes in the worst shape. The subconscious cause is, I think, simplest of all, for all that I did not think of this until trying to analyze things after the fact.

The tattered clothing evokes grave cloths. Shrouds. We’ve all see cloth discarded in the gutter, or a kitchen towel accidentally buried in the dirt by the wood pile. Cloth decays rapidly, easily ripping and shredding even in the course of ordinary, everyday use. (I had to stitch up a pair of slacks earlier today, in fact.)

Add the idea that necromantic magics are universally considered the vilest and most dangerous by those who believe in such, whether across cultures in the real world or in the internal realities of fantasy tales. A magician who tinkers with such things can expect terrible results under even the best conditions.

Perhaps it is easier to intentionally wear less than go buy a new tuxedo after every girl says “No means no, mister.” And if she happens to say yes, you’re ready to go.

Turning to the question of clothing and nakedness, sexiness, sexism, and how all that relates to fantasy art — a question that has shown up time and again in blogs, Tumblrs, and recently in all three of the interviews I was asked to respond to — I’ll turn it around.

The characters in the pictures I’ve put up here range from buck naked to dressed in high collared elaborate garb. Both men and women are shown minus a stitch or two, with cloth artfully keeping them publishable. Are any of them sexually exploitative, and if so to what extent? Which of them seem sexy (if any), and why?

Tell me your thoughts. I’m interested.

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