Altering is one of my favorite little subcorners of the card collecting world—it's great when you pull out a totally unique piece in the middle of a game. The actual work can be fun and rewarding, especially if you're looking for something small to do at home. Altering doesn't have to take a lot of time, and it's not always as hard as it might look at first (of course, difficulty will ultimately depend on how complicated you want to make your project). I think anyone who's interested should feel free to give it a try without being intimidated. Maybe practicing your painting is the perfect use for your stack of basic lands?
With Midnight Hunt on the way, I wanted to bling out my Werewolf Commander deck. Werewolves have been my favorite tribe ever since I learned how to play Magic right after the first Innistrad set came out. I don't really care if they're good or not, they're cool and fun to play, and I'm super excited to see the new cards we'll get in Midnight Hunt!
I have a lot of werewolves to pick from, but today I decided to work on this Russian Smoldering Werewolf:
My basic idea for the alter was to keep things pretty simple: I wanted to expand the art out to the borders and play with some fire effects over the text box. The Russian language looks awesome, so I didn't want to totally lose it, but I also can't read it anyway, so obscuring it a bit wouldn't affect my gameplay.
After I decided what I wanted to do, I laid out my supplies and set up my workspace. This was really not fancy. I made a little log roll with blue painter's tape so I could stick my card to a piece of cardboard. The cardboard gave me something to hold onto to work from different angles, stabilized the card, and gave me a space to mix colors. I like mixing right next to the card so that color matching is easier.
For supplies, I like acrylics. Oils are nice too, but they're more expensive and take a lot longer to dry. Almost all the acrylics I used are from free samples you can get at art supply stores. Not only are they free (yay) but this tiny size is enough to last you a long time if you're just doing alters. You'll only need a drop or two for each card. I also used acrylic gesso primer that I picked up from the Walmart craft aisle. This just creates a grippy surface so your paint isn't sliding all over the glossy card.
As far as brushes go, I just used whatever cheap, tiny brushes I could find lying around. My favorite is a flat brush (meaning, the bristles make a rectangle shape), and I use that one for about 80% of the total work. I also have a tiny round brush (the bristles come to a little point) for small details, and a stiff, larger flat I use for scratchy effects and spatter.
The first step after getting set up was to prime the surface. I was pretty loose about this, and I only did one coat. I was more concerned about making a good surface than I was about covering up what's already printed. The paint layers later will do that. I did "feather" the edges of the primer layer into the card art a little bit. This is because I like to paint into the existing art to create a more blended seam, and also I don't always match my colors 100% perfect, so I can cheat by repainting the original art to match the new color.
The primer layer isn't fussy. It's layed down pretty fast, and it has some patches here or there where it's uneven. That's ok. This alter was just for me, so I wasn't going to stress. As long as you can't feel it through a card sleeve, you're good!
The gesso layer only took a couple minutes to dry. After that, I started painting by blocking out the spots where I wanted the color to stay lightest. In this case, that was wherever fire would be. I also splashed in some thin sepia where dark shapes would be later, just because it's hard to see the bright fire spots against the white gesso layer. It's all pretty loose and messy. It looks bad.
At this point it's important not to panic or give up. Trust the process.
Darks were next. I was still not that worried about exact color matching at this point, but I wanted to see where my darkest areas were going to go. This helped me gauge the bright areas and balance the values overall.
I also added the smoke effect over the text box here. This was achieved by smearing some black and sepia around, letting it dry halfway, then drybrushing the edges out to make the rough, translucent texture. This required very little actual paint to do, as too much would have been very dark and opaque.
Up to this point I had left the upper right corner alone, because that area has the most complex colors that require a few more brain cells to color match. The side of the barn back there is like a red-tinged black, and the far background glowing color is really interesting. It's an impure blue. I matched it fairly close with teal, sepia, ultramarine, and a little white. The closer piece of blue, right above the barn roof under the text box, is just a darker version of the glowy blue. I darkened with sepia and ultramarine instead of black. Black and white will desaturate other colors, so I try to use them pretty sparingly.
At this point I really needed to address the barn and the human figures. I put them off for a while because they were the fussiest pieces to fill in, but I found that they weren't too difficult if I just drew out the lines the original artist already started. I lucked out that the closest figure is so dark, just a couple brush strokes of black/sepia completed it, and the lack of detail doesn't stand out that much. I basically just shrugged and said "yeah, that feels like where a hat should end" and called it done. The other figure is even more obscure, so I worried even less about that one.
I also revisited the bottom corner and did another layer with the yellow and orange. The first layer was transparent enough that you could still see through to text, but in the time I'd been working on the top of the image, the corner had dried enough to add a second layer. The fire felt a lot fuller with the second layer. I also added some little red sparks with a dry brush, just tapping the ends of the bristles against the cardstock to make tiny spots.
Then it was time for my favorite part: spatter! This is what I used to get the effect of the sparks from the fire. I used the Golden Liquid acrylics in Iridescent Gold and Iridescent Copper for this. I dunked the bristles of a dry brush in my dot of paint, then peeled back and released them with my finger, kind of like rifling the pages of a book, to randomly splash little dots of glittery paint everywhere. Getting this right could take some experimentation, so if you're worried about wrecking your work, you can always practice off to the side on your piece of cardboard. I didn't like the big spatters that landed on near-guy's hat, so I ended up mixing his hat color again and painting over them.
After everything was dry, I finished up by cleaning textbox edges with a toothpick. It does a great job scraping unwanted paint away from the top textbox, where I wanted clean edges, and made it look like I was being very careful the whole time. I also touched up the power/toughness box with the toothpick. Add a signature, peel it up, and it's done!