Pictures Have Stories: Hymn to Tourach

HYMN TO TOURACH was not a title that made an impression on me initially. At the close of a long convention — Origins, I believe — I was saying goodbye to Sandra Everingham who was then Magic’s art director with Wizards of the Coast. Around us, booths were being torn down, curtains between stalls shoved aside as people loaded boxes to ship home, forklifts and pallet loaders rumbling by.

“I’d like to have you do this card,” she said.

The name went in one ear and out the other, half-heard in the din. “What is that supposed to be?” I asked.

“Three or four people working together to cast a spell.”

“All right,” said I. “I can do that.”

I had no inkling the picture would be the most iconic Magic card I would ever paint.

Hymn to Tourach -- Magic card art by Liz Danforth


This post is another in my series of “Pictures Have Stories” blog posts, where I talk in detail about a given piece of artwork. And like a few others in this series, in the end I will tell you where and how you can find the original art which, after all these years, is being put up for sale.

I had been doing cards for Magic the Gathering for a little while by the time I was assigned Hymn. Rust and Devouring Deep were among the first cards I painted for WotC, soon followed by others. I was unreasonably proud of the recently-done Lim-Dûl’s Hex (assigned as “Pestilence”), with its nod to late medieval obsessions over death, but it was a ghastly image that few appreciated. Cards like Portent, Glacial Chasm, and Zur’s Weirding would come along a few months later.

LimDûl's Hex


The making of Hymn did not come easily. The problem lay in that description Sandra had given me: “Three or four people working together to cast a spell.” Envisioning how to create the piece, the mental camera in my mind spun about: going here, there, closing in and backing off as I tried to decide where to begin. It was like trying to hear a piece of music too distant to make out.

The problem was a basic one: with several figures to be included, probably facing each other, then no matter how the camera panned around, there would always be one with their back to the viewer. I didn’t like that idea. After panning around and around at butt-level, my mental camera finally floated up above the spellcasters — and I knew I had the concept I needed.

Hymn‘s top-down perspective was definitely a challenge. To get the sketch right, I badgered my then-boyfriend to stand at the bottom of the stairs wrapped in a dressing gown my mother sewed for him one Christmas. I sketched quickly, leaning over the edge of the rail, saying things like “Hold your hands out to either side” and “Okay, now turn 90º and go down one step” and “Try turning your head.”

It would have been so much easier if phones had cameras back then.

Hymn to Tourach sketch w website

For the record, the sketch is not being sold at this time, although it may be offered for sale at another time. While not the most finished sketch I’ve ever done for a Magic card, it is unusual in that on the back of the same sheet is my original sketch for Initiates of the Ebon Hand. It’s a two-fer!

And it’s funny: I may not have even been given the title of Hymn to Tourach when Sandra first assigned it to me. The note appended next to the sketch reads “Chant of Theon.” Back then, it was not uncommon for WotC to dissemble about what titles cards would have, or to change them before the card was released.

With the basic body positions captured, I made some figures fatter, some skinnier, some older or younger, straight hair or curly. I invented the topknot hairstyle (nothing like his), to let me show a little bit of the characters’ faces and head shapes.

The painting itself went easily, once the sketch was down. At the time, I was much in love with malachite, and wondered if I could depict it realistically. Out came the books of minerals and geology, out came the real examples of stone we had in the house, and out came the brushes.

Up close to the painting, you can see I was learning as I went… the stone at the 7 o’clock position isn’t as finely-done as the bits from 11-2pm, to my eye. It took a little while to figure out I had to paint with two brushes at once … one with the paint along a dry edge, and immediately coming along behind with a brush with just water to “pull” the pigment down in a fading wash. Acrylic paint dries fast; I had to work faster. But I got the effect I wanted. Fortunately, malachite has natural variations.

Still, it was painstaking and meticulous. I remember thinking “I’m never going to do THAT again!” And to date, I have not.

Malachite detail

I played with other, more accidental effects.

In the blue center, I tinkered with the effect of big salt crystals dropped on wet water-based medium. Children do this in craft classes and library demos, using common table salt. Usually the salt absorbs the water, drawing the pigment along, and makes a star-like or sparkling effect. In this case, I left the big kosher-salt crystals in place longer than usual, letting the paint dry into blocky bubble-looking things. Then I tried to join them with “threads” of magic swirling up toward the men, twining with the color variations in the malachite. There was not enough contrast, really, and too subtle for a small card’s image.

Both the small and larger salt crystal effects show up better in one of my versions of the Shrink card.

Shrink, arena version

For Hymn, though, it gave me what I was after: the implication of a deep well or spell portal going to or from “somewhere else.”

Plastic wrap on wet paint can also produce wonderful accidental patterns. This was not a new technique to me; I’d been using it for years. When I did the nine Nazgul for Iron Crown’s Lord of the Rings collectible card game the following year, I used the technique to unify the backgrounds of all nine to make them a “set,” visually.

Indur Dawndeath w website

In Hymn, the blue-orange and red-green contrasting tiles were only small pieces of the visual puzzle the picture had become, but it worked out reasonably well for all that they were tiny.

But for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what to do outside the circle of magic. More than once, my artist friends have commented that I “don’t do backgrounds” and you can see I had no plan for anything in the sketch. My inclination is to depict people, and any background or support images tend to be graphical, stylized designwork so viewers focus on the primary figure(s). Imagination will fill in the rest! (Does the green background above not suggest deep jungle, given the context of the character’s helm and skin?)

Hymn‘s “background” had to fall back, or the piece would become too busy. I didn’t want anything brightly colored — the main part of the painting was already very colorful.


But flat, featureless grey? Um, no. Carefully drawn tiles or some other regular pattern? No again.

I turned to another common artists’ standby, digging out a humble kitchen sponge (never used, thanks), and cut a block the size of the “tiles” I wanted to suggest. Dipped in darker grey paint, I laid in the tiles one at a time. It gave the piece textural interest that in no way conflicted with the brightly colored central image.

Let me take a step sideways in this discussion, now.

Last year, Jeff Menges and Pete Venters launched The Gathering art book, funded through Kickstarter. Forty-nine of the earliest Magic artists contributed to the book, combining a retrospective look at one of our old works alongside a “where are they now?” Some reinvented their old assignment with skills honed over the past 20 years, and some did entirely new work unconnected to their old images.

My choice was neither a recreation of the old image nor entirely new. Hymn to Tourach is the card I elected to hearken back to, but Frost and Fire is a painting with a long story in its own right. This red-coated magician preparing a portal spell to break the boundaries between “here” and “there” is the image that appears in the finished book. Here, his outstretched hand invites the viewer along for the adventure of a lifetime instead of holding hands in mundane co-op spellcraft with three of his fellow mages.

The original is somewhat different in proportion, but the piece was designed to be cropped thus for publication. The full-size version is a little more PG-13 than the G-rated version you see here. (The link in the picture will take you to my blog post written when I started to work on this painting.)

Frost and Fire w website

Now you know pretty much everything there is to know about Hymn to Tourach. When I finished it, I wrote the title “Spellcasting Priests” on the back, because I didn’t remember the title I was given, whatever it was. I was thoroughly surprised when the Fallen Empires expansion was released, and there were other versions of the card by different artists.

I thought that was cool idea on WotC’s part, actually, and I know there are discussions out on teh intarwebz about “Which is your favorite?” Every one of the artists who did a Hymn has their admirers — which is as it should be — but I’m always rather pleased to have done the picture favored by many players.

I went on to do many more paintings for Magic and other collectible card games — at least 187 card paintings for one game or another, by my best count. Some are technically better, in my not so humble opinion. Some were more challenging to execute, and some were less successful or more experimental. I had good paintings that never sold and some pictures that I didn’t care for got snapped up at first offer.

But there is no card image I’ve done more widely recognized than Hymn to Tourach.

I have to say that I never planned to sell Hymn. I have sold many of my favorites over the years, and thought to keep this for myself — not something I do very often. But for many reasons, I have decided the time has come to see it delivered into the hands of someone else, whether fan or collector.

Scott Mosser has agreed to handle the mechanics of getting the painting into auction on eBay for me, with my blessing, but you are still buying this original from the artist. No one else has ever owned it. I remain deeply embroiled in completing the work for Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls (art, editing, writing, and game development for the project), which is badly overdue. Scott has taken a huge burden off my shoulders by undertaking the sales and publicity work for this painting so I can continue to focus on dT&T in hopes of completing the rules by the end of the year.

You can bid on the original artwork for Hymn to Tourach on eBay. (I’ll include the link as soon as Scott has it set to go.) I have set a reserve price, but aside from that good luck and thank you for considering placing a bid! ETA: The link to eBay is live here: good luck to all the bidders!

For the record, a few remaining copies of The Gathering book can be purchased from Jeff Menges and Full Steam Press in either hardcover or soft. This book will never be reprinted due to contractual limitations with Wizards of the Coast, so if you want a copy, do not wait. I doubt they will last out the year.

I have a very few copies of the book available to sell as well. They will be individually personalized by me and will cost you a little more. I have signed limited edition prints of Frost and Fire in both cropped and uncropped versions. I also have prints of Hymn to Tourach itself in a signed limited edition, full four-color press run with top varnish (and a variety of other images as well). Drop me a line if you have questions I can answer for you, and thank you!


16 Replies to “Pictures Have Stories: Hymn to Tourach”

  1. Fascinating blog post Liz! I really had no idea how many cards you had painted for various cards games nor was I aware of the variety of techniques for you used to create backgrounds and textures. I find out something new about you every time I get in touch with you.

    One never knows what piece of art you do that gets the most notice. And its often not related to how much time or effort was put into said piece. R.Crumb did a quick drawing of Mr’ Natural that made him over half a million dollars and he’d drawn highly detailed portraits of Jazz musicians from the 1920’s that he loved, but few people were even interested in. Most times an artist has no idea that a piece of art will become iconic – that often happens years later.

    Liz has created an iconic Magic card and that’s an achievement not to be overlooked. Few artists ever get that strike of lightening that combines great art, notoriety and iconic status. Good luck with the auction – I’m sure many of us will be looking forward to seeing the eBay listing for it!

    1. I like them, but for some odd reason, they don’t seem to be quite as “popular” as some! But I am grateful for the ghastly image that led us to find ourselves introduced to one another so many years ago… 🙂

  2. I just want to say that Scott has brokered original CCG artwork sales between myself and another well-known CCG artist. I have found Scott to be completely professional and ‘artist first’ – Scott ONLY takes reimbursement for postage, fees (e.g. eBay listing/selling fees). All other non-fee monies go directly to the artist.

    I am DELIGHTED that Scott is brokering the sale of this iconic piece on Liz’s behalf. Likewise, I encourage Liz’s fans (and fans of original M:TG art) to bid with full confidence.

    DISCLAIMER: I am not affiliated with either Scott Mosser or Liz Danforth, other than being a satisfied buyer.

  3. I’m always fascinated by your posts sharing how a piece of art came into being. The whole process is just as much aa mystery to me as how people are able to draw ANYTHING! At all! Ever!

  4. Another appreciation for the backstory.

    A few months ago I found, during one of my early-morning dog walks, a big pile of discarded M:TG cards. They were next to what I euphamistically call a “deep discount moving sale” box . . . a pile of items left by a dumpster, by someone moving away.

    I spent hours sorting out the cards into neat piles*, and admiring the art, but didn’t think to check if any of the paintings were by you!

    *Gave them to a co-worker who plays the game.

    1. S’okay, Stefan. I recognized decades ago that people who know me in one venue have no idea what I do in other venues where I am equally well-recognized (or UN-recognized) but for something else. If I had dedicated myself to Just One Thing, I might’ve had more impact. But I would also have not had nearly as much fun living my life…

  5. Great article. I get the feeling today’s Diablo III / WoW Magic art just doesn’t have this kind of creative energy in each piece, nor the creative license to let the artist express themselves. I’d maybe argue that Merchant Scroll (while way more of a literal piece) is also one of your most recognizable works (and I’m fortunate to have a signed one!).

  6. Less than 12 hours to go… Scott has offered to let international collectors contact him directly if they wish to bid, but it must be done promptly.

    While it’s at $5200 right now, I expect there will be a flurry of activity at the last hour or even last few minutes. This should be interesting!

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