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March 09, 2017 4 min read

The creative process behind each piece of Magic art is unique to the image and the artist.

From the art description to the final product, the Art in Focus series reviews every step involved in crafting the art of Magic the Gathering in the artist’s own words.

This week we shine the spotlight on the Ajani's Aid by Terese Nielsen from Aether Revolt.

Take it away Terese.


I often get asked, “Out of all the cool Planeswalkers, who is your favorite?”

Truth be told,  I’m not entirely “up” on all of the Planeswalkers and their unique and tangled story lines. Thankfully, figuring that out is just a YouTube video away.

SeibenLore {Check out his Patreon} is my go-to source for inspiring, “Cliff Note” video versions. I appreciate what he puts together as it greatly simplifies the research aspect of my job. It’s the perfect way for me to nestle into the essence of a character when I can’t just ask all my knowledgeable Twitter friends. 

Ajani has appealed to me since the first time I saw him, without even knowing what he was all about. .

First off, I have an affinity for large cats. I digress, but any guesses how many large cats I’ve had the opportunity to paint thus far for Magic?

Should I help? I came up with thirteen… well, almost.

  • Stalking Tiger
  • Raging Cougar
  • Natural Order
  • King Cheetah
  • Stream of Life
  • Spiritual Guardian
  • Provoke
  • Team Spirit
  • Giant Growth
  • Silvercoat Lion
  • Lifelink
  • Ajani’s Aid
  • Stocking Tiger  :)

Most people reading this will know far more about Ajani than me, but after submersing myself in his heart wrenching and transformative story, I found myself wanting to hug Ajani.

I appreciate the difficult path he’s walked and the enlightened soul he’s become. I hold compassion and understanding in high esteem, so following his story from being shunned by his own clan since birth, losing everyone dear to him, and transforming his path of understandable vengeance to healing and teaching, spoke deeply to me.

Art Title:  [Ajani’s Aid]
Art Description:*PLANESWALKER
Color: White and Green spell
Location: An exterior city scene 
Action: This is a close-up of the lion-headed planeswalker, Ajani Goldmane, from the chest up. He is holding his signature double-axe like a staff so that the golden blade is level with his head. His face is flagged against the gold of the blade as he looks at us with the warm look of a long-time battle brother. Sunlight catches the golden blade to give the whole scene a regal quality.
Focus: Ajani
Mood: A loyal friend who has stuck by you through the worst of times.

From this description, the elements I locked onto was “he looks at us with the warm look of a long-time battle brother” and the mood, “A loyal friend who has stuck by you through the worst of times.”

I was inspired by Ajani’s gift of looking deep into other beings (seeing the very essence of their spirits) and then healing their wounds using the power of each persons very soul. That’s amazing stuff right there!

With each soul he connected to he became more and more aware of the preciousness of life, and left with a newfound respect for those he had touched and those who had touched him. Capturing that essence in this illustration was a tall order, but reaching for those exquisite characteristics was my intent. 

When all of these elements coalesced  into a “feeling”, a Gandalf-like presence kept coming to me. Ajani felt like a Gandalf to me. By the way, I’ve always wanted to hug Gandalf as well. 

As everyone knows, Alphonse Mucha is always simmering below the surface of all I create.  I came upon this cartoon detail in a book of his I’d picked up when visiting Prague years ago. I liked the mood in this design for a stained-glass window in St. Vitus Cathedral. 

From there I went on to source various references of regal lions and the final piece was excavating my ol Big Jim doll (from my childhood) out from the bottom of my closet.

His duty was to assist me in modeling Ajani’s armor… i.e. a pressed together kneaded eraser in a loose configuration of armor. 

Please excuse Big Jim in his whitey tighties. 

So, now l have all the elements needed to create a sketch. Violá! 

I pulled out my tracing paper parchment (still my favorite surface to do preliminary sketches on) and went to work. The final pencil drawing for Ajani’s Aid is 10 3/4 x 8”. 

The sketch was approved by the art director Cynthia Sheppard, (it was my first time working with her). Upon approval I excitedly launched into the final.

The process is the same as I’ve described numerous times before except that for the past year or so I’ve printed my drawing (with an Epson Stylus Pro 4880) onto Arches Oil Paper. I don’t need to wet stretch this paper and it already has a wonderful toothy quality to its surface.

Previously I would have to seal the paper with airbrushed layers of matte medium before I started in with any oils to protect the paper from degrading. The linear touches nested within the image are done with Prismacolor pencils and they still drag across this surface nicely.

This short compilation of still shots taken throughout the process shows how the painting came together.

 Of course a “T. Nielsen” painting, a warrior with golden armor and a Planeswalker with “a soul of gold” wouldn’t be complete without my signature blessing of gold, so I dusted the battle worn armor with several hues of Kremer Gold Pigments.

The vibrant golds were then toned down and harmonized into the piece with glazes of umber and burnt sienna oils.

Painting Size: 11.25 x 8.5”
Substrate: Arches Oil Paper
Medium: Acrylic, Oil, Kremer Gold, Prismacolor pencils

Bonus: An extra close up of Ajani's face and axe head.


The original artwork for Ajani's Aid was created traditionally.  Terese greatly enjoys the final painting and may be adding it to her personal collection.

You can check out Terese's portfolio of work at her website and you can purchase prints of her work through her Online Store.

Thank you Terese for sharing this story with us. 

Check back next Thursday for more Art in Focus.

Josh Krause

Josh Krause owns and operates the Original Magic Art Store.

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