Paolo Parente has been a regular contributor to Magic card art since Weatherlight, having illustrated over 100 cards as of Betrayers of Kamigawa. You can see his work on such cards as Avizoa, Shard Phoenix, Albino Troll, Misdirection, Armadillo Cloak, Time Stretch, Tephraderm, three of the Darksteel Pulses, and the card behind this week's Meet the Betrayers vignette, among many others.
The first step of the creation of a card's art is its art description. The art description tells the artist what the card will do, what its flavor is, and what the mood of the illustration should be. Here were the instructions given to Paolo for Cunning Bandit:
Location: none/doesn't matter
Action: This is a special "flip card" that shows two different points in time (before and after) on the same card art. On one side we want you to show a rough-looking mountain bandit, and on the other side of the frame, we want to see his ghost after he has died. His ghost should be a large nonflying kami that barely resembles him. The two figures should "flow into" each other, forming a kind of backward N shape in the frame.
Focus: The bandit transforming into a disembodied tyrannizing spirit.
Mood: He's an ambitious bandit with a great dominating spirit within him.
Next the artist submits one or more sketches with his vision of the art description.
Here's Paolo's initial sketch submitted for Cunning Bandit:
Cunning Bandit sketch by Paolo Parente
We have the picture rotated to the spirit side, because that's what changed the most from sketch to final art.
Since kami in Magic art are bizarre, alien creatures, the art team was looking for the bandit to change into something completely unrecognizable from his mortal self. Although the screaming mouth in the spirit's chest is pretty weird, they wanted more options for that extreme transformation. So Paolo then submitted these:
Cunning Bandit sketches by Paolo Parente
Although you can see that, especially in the upper sketch, that it's getting weirder and weirder, these still didn't have quite the departure the art team was looking for. I mean, this is Azamaki, Treachery Incarnate we're talking about! Paolo came through in the final art -- below you'll see that Parente went all the way and lopped off the spirit's head.
Cunning Bandit final art by Paolo Parente
Here, the only thing left of Cunning Bandit is that ponytail-like appendage where Azamuki, Treachery Incarnate's head might be. Now that is a Magic kami.
And here's how you'll see the card in its final state, in booster packs of Betrayers of Kamigawa. Get ready to flip out with ki counters (with a little help from Paolo Parente) at the prerelease!
Meet Paolo ParenteMeet artist Paolo Parente at Pro Tour Nagoya, January 28-30!