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“Hanna, Ship’s Navigator” the Girl Next Door?


"Hanna, Ship's Navigator" (for MtG's Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 first expansion) isn't the first time I've been asked to illustrate Hanna, but being asked to make her look appealing certainly was a first. In case you haven't been involved with Magic since the beginning, it might be revelatory to know that the style guides, back in the early days of Magic were, well… lets just say not as thick or nearly as highly developed as they are now.



Above was the version of Hanna, depicted in the style guide back then. At best she's, how shall I say, "the girl next door", and don't take me for a chauvinist, because I also thought Gerrard and Ertai were a wee bit, the "boy next door", until I had the opportunity to create my version of them. : )


When I painted Fact or Fiction and Jilt, I was asked to make her "normal" looking, which I loathe being asked to do. When an artist is told to paint a "normal" character it screams boring, lackluster, uninteresting, amateur (because clearly you must not be able to paint something pretty) or just emotionless.  

FoFRefPicsSo, in honor of following the art direction, I used a very average model (myself) and didn't bother to idealize her. Of course I also required a photo of the basic pose and lighting for the goblin, so I grabbed who was closest, which was my partner Dawn. Fact…or fiction?   ; )

Jump forward 10 years from 2001 to 2011 and I'm asked to paint Hanna again, this time with the express wish from the art director "Can you please take this assignment? I want a T. Nielsen face lift of ‘Hanna’." How could I refuse? 

So this was the official art description I was given.



Title: Hanna, Ship’s Navigator

: White- and blue-aligned legendary creature

Location: Belowdecks aboard the wooden airship Weatherlight

Action: Show a glamour shot of Hanna, the talented artificer who went on to serve as navigator for the airship Weatherlight. Hanna wears her blond hair in a slightly disheveled ponytail and wears a uniform in blue and gold (see reference). Mystical artifacts (strange crystals, vials, puzzle-boxes) are strewn about the table, and she's looking up from a parchment map or blueprint, perhaps with a lock of hair falling across her face.

Focus: The artificer Hanna

Mood: A young, whip-smart artifact expert; grace under pressure

Notes: See Hanna's Custody, Fact or Fiction, Jilt, Protective Sphere, for Hanna's look and costuming reference (although we'd like her to look a little nicer/better here).

Great assignment right?!! A glamorized Hanna, in her lair, surrounded by all of these amazing old bottles, maps, puzzles, nautical instruments. Steampunk in Magic. If my studio lair looked like this I'd be in heaven… but I do have little corners of it going on here and there.

Oldscale Mary

Box TereseNielsenBWmug

I knew I wanted her in a contemplative mood and pose. When I'm in my favorite reading corner or tucked behind my drawing table ruminating over my next project, you'll find me in this position.



So I gathered together little doodads I had laying around, some old photos of nautical devices from the internets and then grabbed a light and our daughter, Heather, to shoot for the basic pose and lighting.

After photos and reference gathering, I hunkered over and drew away until this appeared.


I was given the go-ahead on the sketch and immediately started painting. As the entire image was filled with interesting items, I enjoyed pretty much every square inch of this piece… love it when that happens.

Me and Hanna

Oh, and I guess there is still a bit of me, i.e. the girl next door, in this Hanna, as I needed the disheveled, iconic blond, Hanna-hair…and mine still worked for that.  : )



 Those interested in signed limited edition prints of this, just pop on over to the store.