This entry is part 3 of 15 in the series Journey to Nowhere

Posted by Judson AKA GUDoug
GUDougRight around the time that I started playing EDH it seemed like the mesmerizing craft of card altering was starting to really take off.  It was either that or it was around this general point in time that I really started taking notice of the phenomenon.  Regardless, it was there and I was looking like a creepy Peeping Tom hanging out in trees waiting to catch a forbidden peek into another world.  Cards with the most amazing pictures on them were popping up all over the internet and two of my personally most watched venues were on the forums of MTGSalvation and MTGCommander (then just called Elder Dragon Highlander).  I was enamored by the artistry, cleverness, and pun-ish/inside humor of the art and I just wished that there was someway that I too could participate in it.  Eventually I found a way and I would like to make everyone feel like they can too by passing on my story as well as very accessible altering style.

Show me a person who does not like alters and I will show you a person who unable to truly enjoy themselves.  Whether it be an extension, complete picture change, or textless an alter done right is a beautiful piece of art to look at.  Even a scribble with a Sharpie on a card is a great way to document a humorous event or sick play. It’s also just a fun way to make ridiculous and over the top statements on your cards.  I don’t have a huge amount of alters crafted by others but the ones that I have run the gamut of styles and types and according to me they are all pretty much the most fantastic things ever.  I have a textless Rhys the Redeemed extension by the one and only Derfington, a Murder She Wrote Azami, Lady of Scrolls by the extremely talented Julie White, a self portrait in colored pencil my friend Tim made of himself on a Diabolic Tutor, and a surprisingly subtle yet effective Stoneforge Mystic Sharpie alter by internet MtG hack Andy AKA GHoooSTS.

The art on some alters are almost like the mixing of  juices of the forbidden fruits of keen artistic ability and perfected surgical technique.  Not to toot my own horn, but I do possess a little bit of squandered and underused artistic ability, although painting with acrylics with little brushes smoothly on cardboard is unfortunately not one of my strengths.  As years passed, I kept an eye on the forums for cool alters and would occasionally try to snipe altered cards on eBay on the cheap just to say that I owned a few, completely unsuccessfully I might add.  I could hold court for hours anguishing over tales about this crazy alter I just missed out on or that extension I almost had, or that one time I missed out on my favorite pet card altered up all trump tight and how it slipped through my fingers because I forgot to bid on it.  

It was during this time that I stumbled upon the first of two card alterers that would shape the way that I make alters.  I started noticing certain cards by a seller named ehan106 while doing generic searches for altered cards whose style stood out to me as very unique and appealing.  They weren’t done in acrylic paint but marker on a blanked card and featured quirky pictures and pop culture references.  The look of the cards altered in marker was vastly different than anything that I had ever considered as viable or possible.  I was immediately drawn to them.

(Alters by ehan106)

By chance attached to only one of ehan106’s cards for sale was a YouTube video embedded in the body of the auction.  Soon after hitting play I realized that I didn’t need to be an outsider looking in on the altering community like a poor vagabond peering through a frosty window as the monocled seasoned card artists lit cigars off of flaming altered cards.  I could draw and that was all I needed to be an alterer too, and thus create cards that I wanted to make and play.

Once I decided that I was going to try and give marker altering a shot I needed to figure out how to blank a card, or remove the picture.  In the above video acetone is used to remove the original printed card art.  Although I have never tried this method it is supposedly fairly easy to do, but you need to be very careful to cover your card extremely well to ensure that it does not remove parts of the art you want to keep.  The method that I use is to just erase it with a Sanford Magic Rub ink eraser, a basic white eraser you can pick up almost anywhere. The process takes about 5-10 minutes and removes the picture cleanly and easily.  

A few months before I had drawn my own playmat and had purchased several artists markers, so with those in hand I set off to alter my first card.  It should be noted that the only markers I had at the time were various shades of grey and brown and that is reflected in my first alters.  I didn’t want to ruin a money card right off the bat so I decided on a Wood Elves and went into a brief brainstorming process on what would be humorous to alter on it.  The first thing that came to mind was Pinocchio. That seemed fine enough and kind of humorous to me, so I did a quick internet image search, found a picture, and went about drawing and inking the card.  After a pleasant result I immediately wanted to make another one.  Since I wanted to make sure that it would be a card that I would always play and not leave the deck it made sense to me to just start altering elves in my elf tribal EDH deck.  I picked Wellwisher as my next victim and my immediate thought was an old lady bringing a pie to a neighbor.  Not the strongest of premises but it worked for me and I went about ruining another card for tournament play.

Once you get the altering bug, it is hard to stop. I was hooked and ideas were flowing about what I could put on certain cards, but I also felt limited by what I felt I could personally draw on a card and still be pleased with the outcome of.  During my free time I would trawl the internet for alter articles and posts.  It was during this time that I found the second influence on my altering style, Eric Klug.  I had seen his stuff all over the internet and really enjoyed the pop culture aspect of what he was doing, as well as his artistic “in the style of” variations, but that was not what influenced me most.  It was actually some statements that he made in two posts he wrote, one in a Gathering Magic article and one on his blog that caught my eye.  Sure the process he describes is not his brainchild, but wrote it down and made it available for anyone to see, up to and including me, so he gets the credit in my eyes.  It really opened the door to me advancing what I was capable of making.

Gathering Magic Article Except:
I can print the image out and have a perfectly proportioned image to work from, and/or carbon-transfer the image onto the card directly. While any image is easily replicable given the proper time, it’s not always prudent to do so. In this case, I primed the card with a gray acrylic and transferred the image using a carbon-copy method. This is where you coat the back of the printed image with heavy graphic and trace the image onto a primed surface. A lot of people scoff when they discover the secret to this “magic trick,” but honestly, do you ever blame the chef for not churning the butter himself?

Blog Exerpt:
Do you use Photoshop with every card you alter?
I do for most cards that use source imagery – which is pretty much everything I do. Making a mock up is not only useful for playing around with composition, but necessary for the carbon copy process.
I read through the article that outlines the process you go through with every alter. I think the carbon transfer technique is a very innovative technique.
Carbon transfer has been used for a long time – I can’t exactly take credit. A lot of the old masters used to use a similar technique during the Renaissance (sorry, the art historian in me).

These two things pretty much exploded my mind.  Drawing on the cards was such a painstaking venture and encompassed an exorbitant amount of my card altering time.  Sure I could draw the image on the card but if there was a time saving measure why not do it.  Plus there are things I willingly admit I am not that great at drawing, so this was perfect.  Also using a photo editing program to manipulate pictures was a great idea.  From this point on I was off to the races.  One of the first series that I did were some Clerks themed elf cards.  I found some art from the Clerks cartoon series and then edited them to get the characters in positions that I liked and altered them onto a few elves.  Then for the Quick Stop, I used Wirewood Lodge. I actually just used a still from the movie and just went over all the lines to create the image.

None of these are particularly tied to the card names, but they were things that I liked that meant something to me. I like having them on cards that I could play regularly, enjoy, and share with others.  I don’t know how many times I have had Clerks conversations with fellow EDH players because of these cards and they have been a great way of sharing a different experience with others on a level other than those that are Magic the Gathering related.  As soon as you realize you can alter whatever you want on your cards and have the ability and means of doing so, it is an easy way to express your own personal styles and likes and hopefully derive a lot more enjoyment with the game and people that you play with.

Being able to pick and choose images and aspects of images that I liked and then piecing them together to ensure I was getting exactly what I wanted was very liberating.  I started finding art all over the internet and many times the images that I was now using encompassed as many as seven or eight pictures edited together, sometimes even for a single figure. I like the way the head looks on this picture, the body on this picture. the way the mouth looks here, the hat and eyes of this one, and so on and so forth.  Is it necessary to do this?  Not really. But it is a handy tool to use.  Case in point, I used 5-8 images (depending on your definition of different) and some extra editing, manipulation, and freehand changes while altering during the making of my Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker alter.  Here is the concept that I pieced together and the finished product.  I admit there were a few mistakes that needed to be covered up (which is why the hair got so long) but I was pleased with the outcome.

(Side By Side of  “Photoshopped” Concept and Finished Card)

Once I even toyed with removing only a small portion of a cards art and then drawing in my own image.  It was my submission to the CommanderCast Season Three Sharpie Alter Contest.  It was more of an experiment in seeing what was possible and if it could be done with markers and erasers to more closely mimic the results that you see in many alters done in acrylic paint.  At this point I had not started using the carbon transfer process so I still see lots of things that stand out to me that aren’t exactly perfect.  Also note that the text of the card was altered purposely in a jank style to better reflect the “I just drew on this card and changed the words” type of feel.  Although I have never tried the technique again I know it is possible and I thought it turned out pretty good. For those of you not familiar, I present CommanderCast Season Three Contest Runner Up Greater Gargamel.
Altering has brought me a lot of gratification.  I get to mesh most of my favorite things into a single venture, drawing, pop culture, Magic, humor, and good times (wow that last one sounds like it belongs in a beer commercial).  I feel more vested in the game as a whole, and when I play certain cards and they get a chuckle or a comment that spurs a conversation I feel like it is expanding the collective experience of everyone involved.  I don’t claim that my alters are the best or the top notch quality you see from a lot of what the internet alters are posting, but they are mine and I like them.  Here are four of my alters that I am most proud of.  Bonus Hipster-Cool-Guy-Space-Cred if you know all characters.  Join me next time for a continuation of Next Level Sharpie Alters where I will make a special alter for a certain loudmouthed podcaster and go step by step in detail on how easy it is to make your own alters similar to mine.

My alters on Deviant Art
ehan106’s eBay Store
Eric Klugs Facebook Fan Page
Julie White’s Facebook Fan Page
Derfington’s Blog

Email me at: judsonjg(at)yahoo(dot)com
Follow me on Twitter:!/GUDoug

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