4/3/24 Blog Part 2: Historic Sale FOW art – 3 official FOW Commissions – Origin Story My Altered MTG cards

Part 2: Historic Sale of Force of Will Original, Alternate FOW Art, Altered MtG Cards

3 FOW's Altered Mtg Cards Heritage Auction FOW

Since the first post titled “‘Alliances’ Original Force of Will Art Being Auctioned“– FOW did indeed sell. On December 16th, 2023 the final amount came in at a cool $350K. It was a fascinating event to watch. Generally artists are lounging on a nimbus cloud when they see their work go for such prices. 🙂

If you missed the 3 minutes of fun click the play button below for an exciting replay.

“This is of course the Force of Will original artwork… as we already know…”

Creating a Second Certificate of Authenticity, Up Until This Point is Something I’ve Never Done Before

As this piece holds historical significance within the buying/selling of Magic the Gathering art, to document the authenticity of the artwork I have been asked to create a “second” certificate of authenticity (COA). The circumstances that elicited the need for this were odd.

In the early days of Magic, when selling the originals, I had not yet implemented creating COA’s for original art. So, in 1998 when I sold the art to the original buyer in Sweden it did not include a COA. Many years later in 2016 he asked if I would provide him with a COA for the painting. It was fun to hear from him after all those years and I was happy to accommodate his request.

Fast-forward to February 2024 after the December 16th, 2023 sale of this piece. I was contacted by a representative at Heritage Auctions stating that, “Somewhere along the way the COA was either lost or misplaced.” They went on to say the buyer was unhappy that Heritage was unable to provide the COA that I had created in 2016 for the original buyer.

I told Heritage I felt uneasy about printing a duplicate of the original COA. I said, “I don’t feel it’s a good idea to have more than one Certificate of Authenticity floating around out there, especially in the case where it seems to have been “lost/stolen” rather than damaged in a fire/flood etc.” I also have no way of personally authenticating the art or its current whereabouts.

The New Force of Will Owner Contacted Me

On February 13th, 2024 the new collector let me know that he was now the current owner. He and I have been in communications since 2020 so we had corresponded several times throughout the last few years.

Certificate of Authenticity/s documenting Original Force of Will Art

The new buyer provided me with high-resolution images and a video of both the front and the back of the FOW painting. After viewing the photos and video it leaves no doubt in my mind that what he has in his possession is the original painting. It was painted on Crescent hot press, heavy weight illustration board. The backside has all the trappings of how the “back” of my illustration pieces tended to look. The front was also telling. I could see the underlying use of my linear charcoal elements. Also apparent was the depth of paint on the gouache spatters and the edges of the xeroxed sketch affixed to the board.

This information is being documented in this blog for historical and authenticity purposes. I personally verify the authenticity of the art that the new buyer possesses. My newly issued COA will accompany that authenticated work. If at any time the first COA created in 2016 resurfaces, it is to be considered null and void. If at some future time the first COA emerges to purportedly authenticate an “original” Force of Will painting, then as of this writing, neither the COA nor the art is valid.

The 2016 version COA had the look of my previous branding. The new COA created in March of 2024 has the look of my current branding.

Ok. Enough said on this topic. Onward!

Part 1 ended with:

Stay Tuned…

Masters 25 Was Actually the THIRD Time I Was Commissioned by Wizards to paint Force of Will?!

What? So, in 1996 the Alliance’s version of Force of Will was painted. Later that same year, then art director Shawna Wolf Narcisso called to inquire about my interest in doing a cover piece. This was to be used for the upcoming September 1996 issue of The Duelist magazine. True to that far-gone utopian era (I’ve checked my archives) it seems there wasn’t an actual art directors write-up or written prompt given for the piece. Some jobs were just an over-the-phone chat with a contract to follow. “Would you be interested in doing your take on a female version of Force Of Will?” (This request would pop up again in a same-same-but-different way years later.)

The stars were aligned. This was one of those sweet “cover jobs” that I was blessed with early in my career. An illustration featured on the front of a magazine garnered a lot of eyes and curbside-magazine-rack-appeal. This was great advertising long before the social media days. I had done interior spot illustrations for The Duelist and Dragon. Spot illos tucked in the back pages next to an Ani-mayhem ad were not nearly as desirable as a cover gig. So obviously I jumped at the chance. I got right to work as tight deadlines and four children left no time for hesitation.

I Wondered to Myself, What Else Should Be Going on in the Piece?

The Duelist Cover Reimagined FOW Detail of Dueling Candles

The two wax figures warring for sport was torn straight from the brilliant mind of my brother and then frequent collaborator Ron Spencer. As I recall we were on the phone jabbering in our respective art-caves. I was stressing over my quandary as to what this noble female-FOW could be doing. In keeping with the original fire them Ron immediately pitched an idea fully-formed. She could be animating little candle-wax constructs for her entertainment– the two attempting to extinguish one another using candle snuffers. That idea brought a smile to my face. He faxed me a sketch not long after. Somewhere I have that faxed sketch of the candle warriors, but as of this writing, I’m unable to lay my hands on it. When I happen onto it again I’ll be sure to add it to the blog post here.

The Love of Texture

The sketch was completed and approved. The background was created laying down a base-color. It’s hard to recall if this was all done in gouache or a mix of gouache and acrylic. My guess, based on the brushwork, is primarily gouache.

Stage one; cover that white board! Lay in some mid-tone color washes. Next apply a bed of gold leaf. This stage is a simultaneous push/pull between layers and textures. My attempt is to achieve a visually stimulating variety of textures. To do that I employ many approaches: transparent and opaque airbrush, surface scuffing using rough sandpaper and razor blades, rough applications of Prismacolor pencils. But always my favorite; the horrendously unhealthy practice of puddling paint and spattering Crystal Clear into those puddles. Spraying Crystal Clear into wet paint forces the paint to repel and bead-up within itself (likely the same way my lungs respond) in interesting semi-unpredictable ways. One can also use it to seal-in an otherwise fugitive medium before working with a different medium on top of it.

Checkers were very cool in the ’90s

Detail Crop Checkers

I don’t remember anymore if the arch-like framing element was inspired by or referencing anything specific. I do recall checkered and striped ornamentation were inspired by artists like Kent Williams and Bill Sienkiewicz. The frilled reptilian lace stretched between the bony spikes surrounding her head were achieved using a piece of lace just as one would utilize a stencil. A black/dark area was airbrushed first. The lace was then positioned over the dark area after which a lighter value was sprayed on top of the lace frisket.

Reimagined Force of Will Art Close-up cropping
Force of Will Art Alliances Close-up cropping

In keeping with the look of FOW you’ll notice the bridge of her nose and eyes are more scaled and lizard-like. Whereas the original FOW’s nasal ornamentation was more brittle, stone-like, and placed atop the skin. Part of this was me just having fun reimagining the initial character concept. However, I was also molding her appearance towards an idealized, feminine-shape language. The golden ornamentation upon her forehead was an homage to “The Emerald” by Alphonse Mucha. That image was the basis of the inspiration for this piece. I felt Mucha’s posing emanated that “subdued yet in control” intense and powerful energy I was trying to capture with Ms. Force of Will herself.

To this day I still enjoy looking at the piece. As is typical of my work from this era, I do not recall who bought the original or sketch nor do I recall what they sold for.

The First Time Prints Have Ever Been Made

13x19" Signed Print The Duelist Magazine Reimagined Force of Will Art

This is a unique and somewhat obscure piece. I’ve only recently had it digitized from a 35mm slide which sat dormant in a closet for almost 30 years.

🔥 If you’d enjoy a beautiful print of this for your collection you can find them here.

Foreshadowed and Referenced Above…M25 Emerges

M25 Force of Will Art Sketch and Final Painting

A whopping twenty years later and it was time to tackle FOW again. Long gone were the days of off-the-cuff phone descriptions of, “Eh, I dunno, give me your take on insert subject here.” We now entered the era of 1″ thick style guides and very specific needs. That said it really was a delight to reimagine this character. A way that seemed more congruent with my then (2016), modern body of work. In retrospect I do wish I’d tucked just a few lizard scales into her design– just a few here or there as a tiny nod to previous FOW incarnations. 🙂 As I recall they didn’t want a continuation of the previous fiery-tribalistic FOW theme whatsoever. This was intended to be a completely different take on the aesthetic and energy of the original card.

Immediately after the card came out I wrote a comprehensive article-length write-up on this version of FOW. For that reason I wont retread all that was covered in that initial article. I’ll touch on a couple aspects about the painting that I didn’t get into the first time, that may be of interest or lend some additional insight to its creation process.

One of the things you’ll notice when skimming the time-lapse of the piece above is how much things changed and shifted as I was painting her.  This one in particular just kept going on and on and on. I had a certain, very particular energy I wanted her to emanate that just was not coming easily. I wanted an intense, powerful persona, but one that’s totally in control, not needing to scream it in your face.

Illustrations Oscillate in and Out of a Range of Acceptability

Usually illustrations oscillate in and out of a certain range of acceptability several times during the process. This little number though played an unwelcome and poorly timed hide-and-seek game until the very end! She just seemed to keep morphing from “Not working” to “Nope! Not that!” to “Still not quite there, but closer.” again and again. This difficulty crops up with any painting that involves a character that requires hyper specificity in mood or feel. For me it’s rare a piece like this comes together really fast. Actually it’s a certified “unicorn moment” if they do. But this one would get close and then back off, followed by brief flashes of “She’s just a highlight-in-the-eye away”, to little moments of “Ok! I think she’s there!”… and then she’d disappear again and I would need to grind for another several hours.

This process is not rare but even so can cause a day or days worth of furrowed brows and heavy sighs. It tests ones patience and fortitude. This is where the naive comment, “It must be so fun to do what you love all day long.” can derail. For me, I can’t enjoy working on other aspects of the painting when the main character (staring at me 24/7) isn’t giving me the right vibe. Regarding this piece, some of that difficulty I attribute to a minor health issue I was dealing with at the time that left me with the wonderful options of either excruciating pain or a mushy, haze-for-a-mind on painkillers. As my art director at the time proclaimed: “At least you’ve got painkillers! 🙂” I had to disagree on that point.

M25 Force of Will Art Sketch Close-up Eyes
M25 Force of Will Art Close-up Eyes

No Pupils?!

I’d also attribute some of the tussle from the request to remove her pupils in the final painting. It’s incredibly tricky to make someone empty-eyed, overflowing with energy and power, without simultaneously conferring some sort of Mephistophelian, wicked affect unless that’s the intended effect. I find it more difficult to connect to a subject when the eyes are obscured so dramatically. For me, that’s where I tap into the mood, personality and soul of a being.

You can see in the video above smaller elements like the smoke tendrils that appear in the background at (1:16) get obliterated (1:22) a mere two steps in the process later. It’s common for there to be a bit of restlessness going on between foreground and background, but typically I try to work on bringing the whole painting up at the same time. As I continue further into the painting the elements increasingly harmonize and compliment what’s next to them. In the case of this piece (when I was really in the trenches) there may have been more of a “just throw it at the wall and see what sticks” kind of approach. I can never relate to some artists that are able to start at the top left corner of a painting and fully-render their way down to the bottom right– all in one seamless pass.

Doodles, Alters, Alterations, Extreme Alterations…

When talking about “All Things Force of Will” I’d be remiss were I not to mention all the alter work I’ve done over the years, all of which started with FOW.

It’s been fun and rewarding to gather together and look back on all of the alter work I’ve done all these years later– reflecting on where they started, and how far they’ve come. It has evolved into its own niche genre and art form, sustaining its own audience and collectors. Watching how other artists have taken the ball and absolutely ran with it has been a delight. My altered cards have inadvertently served as an interesting series of time capsules, as so many of them reference what was then-current touchstones of the pop culture and political landscape, and to see how things have changed since.

In the early MtG days doing super quick little doodles on cards during signings were something I would occasionally do, during the rare slow times at an event or signing. Looking back on when things really started to gain momentum would have to be around late 2003. It began at Frank and Sons Collectible Show east of Los Angeles. I was sitting there at Shuffle and Cut’s booth doing a small signing. As part of the appeal to come out do a signing they had purchased an original from me. Those signings were small, relaxed and easy, plenty of time to shoot the breeze with people standing around.

“Oh! Can You Turn the Shaman into Wolverine?”

I recall a handful of young guys circled around. I was personalizing someones card and the surrounding conversation quickly turned to “Oh! Can you turn the shaman into Wolverine?” “Can you do Spawn?” I was just sitting there goofing around with markers whipping out these primitive interpretations of various characters one after the other. The players were SO excited by this. The idea of specifically converting FOW fully into comic-book/“geek” culture icons gathered momentum in my mind. That soon kicked off the era I coined “Extreme Alterations!”. 

As commissions increasingly began to roll in I’d scan and archive batches of alters and reproduce the sets in glorified poster-form, pictured above. They looked cool in that format but also served to spread the word out there to even more, increasingly attracting an overseas audience. With hindsight being 20/20 some of these earliest alters are pretty painful to look back on given the crude approach.

Full-Fledged Illustrations Painted at Postage Stamp Sizes

Postage Stamp-sized Altered MtG Cards

I had no inkling how refined the process would become at that early juncture. So as price and demand for altered cards continued to increase I put more and more time into them. I muttered to myself, “Well… why not just use some paint here for this spot and it’d look a little better?” and a handful of alters later I was realizing to myself, “Well, now the entire thing is painted, with the exception of an occasional thin marker outline. What have I gotten myself into?” 😀

So the more sought after and collectible alters became, the more increasingly refined they became. I’m not sure but I think at this stage I’ve topped out– short of renting an electron microscope. When I do an alter nowadays it’s entirely the same process as painting an illustration job. The difference is there is FAR less real estate and margin-for-error. It has became a fun challenge in itself– like, “Ok you can paint a decent looking face at 1″ or larger, but can you paint with illustration-level detail at a literal postage-stamp size?” This requires the precision of a neurosurgeon. After painting minuscule likenesses of characters on the front of cards painting on the back of an artist proof card feels like mural-size.

Enjoy a Historical Perusing of My Altered Cards

To check out the progression described above you can see where the “Extreme Alteration” era began and how it’s unfolded from there. The entire archive of alters from todays date, back to 2003 are in the gallery. They’re ordered sequentially from newest to oldest, formatted and uploaded to a comprehensive retrospective gallery. I know there is a small handful of more involved alterations I did that I didn’t have good scans of, just a photo. If anyone owns any of the cards that are seen here and would be willing to send me a good photo or scan of them, I’d love to add them to the gallery. I’ll continue to keep the Altered Cards gallery updated with the occasional alters that pop up when I do auctions on my site.

I will always be grateful for the art directors that gave me those auspicious opportunities to create art for the various iterations of Force of Will. Wrapped in that same blanket of gratitude are the collectors of my: original art, the smaller altered-art paintings, artist proofs, playmats, prints, signed cards…etc. As I’ve said many times, “Force of Will… the gift that keeps on giving.” Thank you.

All that said, this should be the final wrap-up of “All Things Force of Will”. Thanks for coming along on this journey. 🙂 💕

Visit Terese Nielsen's Comprehensive Altered MtG Cards Gallery

🔥 Click “Gallery” and then select “Altered Cards”.

🔥 Click here for all related Force of Will products.