How to alter, the Fundamentals (Part 1 of 2):

Alright it has been a little while since I contributed an article, last time it was about how I got into altering. Today I want to talk about the very basics of what goes into altering and some of the variations. When it comes to technique mostly I will be referencing my own particular way of doing things but this hardly means it is the only or best way, just what I found works for me.

Basically altering a card comes down to a few simple concepts:

  1. The willingness to put paint onto the card
  2. Really thinking that you can make the card look better in some way.
  3. The last part is actually doing it.

These may sound like simple ideas, but are actually tough to deal practice. If you love the game of Magic like I do you will find yourself looking at your collection saying: “I want this to look better but I am not sure if I should work on that card, its worth…”. Part of what you have to realize is these are cardboard, cardboard that we all believe is worth something. Jace TMS is worth more than a basic land for a reason but if you get too hung up on what a card is worth you will be paralyzed and never try it for yourself. This is a difficult struggle for everyone at first but once you start practicing and building your skill you realize its ok, and you’re not ruining the cards or that it really isn’t for you and stop anyways. I suggest starting low, as tempting as it may be to work on an expensive card right away nobody goes to the NBA without having dribbled the ball first. Try working on some less expensive cards, I started with a darksteel ingot worth about 50 cents at the time. I decided to work on that first because I believed it could be a card I would use, and at the same time if I ruined it I would not be upset either. A lot of alterists start on basic land, there is a reason: we all have some sitting around and land is easier! You may ask how is a basic land easier?

Art 101 time: (For those who need a refresher on some basic art terminology.)

-Most images are composed of foreground and background elements.

-Foreground elements are parts of the picture that appear closer to the viewer’s perspective.

-Background elements are parts of the image that appear distant to the viewer’s perspective.

Examples: The angel is clearly in the foreground and the sky, tower and other angels are in the background. The scalding tarn is all background, although some parts appear closer.

Background is easier because you typically do not have to interpret what is going on too much, you just follow the lines/colors that are there and you do not have to worry about putting stuff over the borders. Painting or drawing hands/faces is one of the hardest things for any artist, those elements tend not to be part of lands thus easier.

Some tips for choosing a card to start with:

– Darker colors! Lighter colors are more difficult to replicate and the eye is naturally drawn to lighter colors, so if you make a mistake it stands out more.

-Work on a card you are going to enjoy using, if your successful you may end up playing the card in a deck which means you will be more likely to paint more.


How to make a card look better:

There are really 2 ways to make a card look better most of the time:

  1. Extend the artwork to the border.
  2. Add additional elements to the card.


The first is what I primarily focus on, I am all about the extensions and a lot of artists start there and then move to adding pokemon/dragonball Z pictures on the front. For me there is a certain challenge to making a card look like it was printed that way that I still enjoy doing so. I actually do commissions for adding favorite characters and what not but prefer to extend card art as my main focus. Really the whole process of extending card art, follow the colors and image as it appears.

Tips for extended art:

-Work on one element at a time, if a mountain spikes up, follow that line and paint in the whole mountain then work on the river or whatever else is there.

-The card will not look right until it is basically done, see the above tip and repeat!

With all that being said I also started altering with doing partial alters: adding single elements that were not already on the card or adding more to elements that were already there.

Above: A before/after of a partial terminate followed by an extended art version.

For doing partial alters the basic concept is pick out 1-2 elements only that you think look cool and add more of it or extend that element onto part of the card it was not on before. I suggest adding elements that are in the foreground as they stand out the most. In the terminate example above I simply added some of the very small ash that was flying off the cards. Much faster than extending the art, but it is all part of the same process. Obviously the extended art stands out more but it also takes significantly more time. Again you can see the concept of foreground background being applied here, the skeleton and ash is all foreground the white and character in the back is background.

Tips for partial alters:

-Look for the part of the image that appears closest and enhance that in some way.

-Only work on 1-2 elements if you pick out too many things to highlight the effect becomes lost.

The Third section of doing the altering is going to be coming next week as I want to put together a series of short videos to demonstrate each point. Also I want to do a brief discussion of tools. The basic steps are:

  1. Basecoat
  2. Block in color
  3. Highlight
  4. Detail work

Thanks for reading, drop me a message on my Facebook page or leave a comment if you enjoyed this or have any questions!