Welcome to our MTG artists interview series (#17), There’s No Magic Without Art.

Today we have the pleasure of sharing with you our interview with Volkan Baga, whose first card debuted twelve years ago.

This interview also features questions from our friends over on reddit’s /r/magictcg! We’ve asked for your questions, and the feedback was fantastic! so thanks to everyone that participated, we’ll be asking for more of your questions in the future!

Enjoy!

“I guess it’s the balance. The “Yin & Yang“ thing. No light without shadow. “

– Volkan Baga

Hi Volkan. Could you give us a brief introduction about yourself?

Hi there, I’m an professional artist since I graduated in Illustration from the University of Applied Sciences in Würzburg, Germany in 2002. I’ve worked for different kinds of clients such as game, book and magazine publishers, advertising agencies and private art collectors.

While I took on commissions of a broader range way back when my career started, I find myself focusing more and more on fantastic art such as Magic The Gathering. It’s a gorgeous way to dive into fantastic worlds with no limits other than my own imagination.

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Sketch and final painting for Mox Pearl © Wizards of the Coast
Baga painted alternate-art of the legendary Moxen, including: Pearl, Jet, Ruby, Emerald and Sapphire
The original paintings – framed as over-sized Magic cards – were awarded to the winners of the Vintage Championship from 2006 to 2010.

In which ways have you changed as an artist since your first card, about 12 years ago?


Technically there is no difference. I still pretty much use the same materials and procedure as I did with my first card. Oils, brushes and panels. I assume that I’ve gotten better and better. At least I hope so. 😉

But I guess that the main difference is that I’ve gotten more confident by every each card. I remember being a bit nervous when I did the first card. It took me forever to finish the art as I kept revising it till the deadline urged me to come to an end. I worked into the nights. I know that the constant revision didn’t make the art necessarily better, but I felt so.

Working on Magic cards for so many years is like merging with Magic’s World. At some point I felt I’m part of it and that makes me feel confident. And that turned it into a natural and intuitive creation process.

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How did working with Donato rub off on your own art in smaller, non-hand-related ways we might not have noticed? (Asked by reddit user ButtPoltergeist)

[NOTE: Volkan Baga is a former studio assistant to Donato Giancola, one of Magic’s most famous artists. Donato has been creating creating art for the game since 1996]

Donato pointed out the importance of narration in a painting to me. With him I started strictly considering to make every artwork a piece of storyteller. I’m certainly very thankful for that input.

A beautiful painting alone doesn’t make a good painting. Once a painting starts to communicate, then you’re on a good way. It’s not an easy task, sometimes you fail.

It’s always worth to work extra time on the narration. If you go into a museum and look at all the old master pieces, you will realize they put a lot of efforts into the story telling.

That’s when you stand in front of such pieces and look at it for quite a while … as it tells a story.

Sketch and final painting for Muzzio, Visionary Architect © Wizards of the Coast
Muzzio is a former apprentice of the famous goblin planeswalker Daretti, and word has it that the pupil killed the master.

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Sketch and final painting for Angel of Invention © Wizards of the Coast
Angel of Invention features the Fabricate keyword ability, first introduced in the Kaladesh expansion.

To develop your idea for a painting, you first do 2x3cm sketches. Could you show us some pictures of these incredibly tiny sketches?

I’m using my thumbnails to get an initial capture of my ideas. They are very quick and sometimes nobody other than me can decode the wild doodles. They help me to process the ideas from my head.

It’s a back and forth between my thumbnails and my imagination. Here are some examples right out of my sketchbook. You might be able to identify the actual cards that these thumbnails were for.

[Can you guess the cards in these thumbnails?]

Baga’s exploratory sketches for Magic cards

Your paintings often depict narrative-driven scenes where multiple characters interact; and there seems to be a tendency for complex compositions, where detail plays an important role.

They seem very challenging to paint, not only from a technical standpoint, but also from a conceptual one. Is this something you agree with? What makes a painting particularly challenging to paint?

Yes, the more complex a composition is, the more challenging it is in any ways. First of all there is the story that I would like to tell. I have to figure out what the best way is to create a narrative-driven scene so it’s understandable by the viewer.

I’m thinking of individual elements at this point, e.g.: a kneeing servant in front of the main character to transport the idea of a powerful person etc.

Second I have to figure out the composition where all individual elements come together in a nice artistic way. It’s not easy as I always have to double-check with the potential of negatively affecting the narration.

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I read on your website that “the human and his emotions as well as his personal story are the focus of Volkan Baga’s works”. How do you transport these intimate feelings to the fantasy setting?

I transport these intimate feelings by sensitively using inconspicuous little gestures and mimics that makes a big difference. We humans interact with each other in our daily life. Our voices are not the only organ that communicates.

Our body language is as communicative as our voices are. Therefore I’m using specific face and body expressions to transport intimate feelings. It’s a gorgeous way to bring characters to life.

Eyes, eyebrows, mouth, hand gestures etc. are all excellent elements for emotional expressions. We humans know how to decode them as we handle it intuitively every day when we meet other people.

Sketch and final painting for Sovereign’s Bite © Wizards of the Coast
“You have given all to your kingdom, dear knight. Serenity shall be your prize.”  —Queen Lian
– Sovereign’s Bite flavor text.
 

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Do you have a favorite piece of your MTG art? Any of them you’d like to do over or differently than you did? (Asked by reddit user Zakreon)

It’s difficult to point out 1 specific most favorite piece. I really like “Elspeth-Knight Errant” or “Muzzio Visionary Architect” or my “Chrome Mox“. Each of these have their individual attraction to me.

Would I re-do one of my pieces? Actually not. All of my works are an expression of the period of time when I did them. Each of them have a reason why they look like as they do.

But would they look differently if I would do them today? Certainly, yes. There are so many aspects that will influence decisions. Inspiration for example makes a big difference.

Sketch and final painting for Vampire Sovereign © Wizards of the Coast
Vampire Sovereign, a new card from the Core Set 2019, is one of the most recent cards painted by Baga.

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My works are influenced by my surrounding. So, for example my approach for a painting may look differently if I’ve just returned from a trip from Italy compared to one from Japan.

While I’m working on a commission I constantly thinking about ideas. And ideas pop up by the influence of my environment, while I go out for a walk, look through books or do some sightseeing. So, the creation of an art piece is always a unique capture of an idea at that moment.

Is the artistic process different for a reprint compared to a brand-new card? (Asked by reddit user aec131)

It may seem that it’s different, but in the very essence it’s not. Of course I look at the existing artwork first to get an initial idea of how the original looks like.

But after that it’s the same procedure with the reprint as with a brand new card. I’m reading the art director’s description and try to find my own interpretation. The existing artwork is not important at this point anymore.

Sketch and final painting for Chrome Mox © Wizards of the Coast
Baga painted the reprint of Chrome Mox for Eternal Masters, a set intended for the Legacy, Commander, and Vintage formats.
The first version of the card was painted by Donato Giancola, whom Baga assisted in Giancola’s New York studio.

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Sketch and final painting for Snapcaster Mage © Wizards of the Coast
This card was made for 2007’s Magic Invitational tournament. That year’s winner, Tiago Chan, designed the card and got himself depicted by Baga.

What would be your dream project/commission? (Asked by reddit user Floral-Spuzzem)

I’m already pretty happy with my work for Magic. I painted my first card in 2005. So I’ve been continuously on board for 13 years and that is a proof that I really love to be part of Magic’s universe.

It’s such a versatile and vital world. Every set has its new individual attraction. Additionally I get commissioned for different kinds of cards, such as landscapes, artifacts, good guys, bad guys, creatures etc.

It’s so broad that I’ve never gotten bored. Magic’s authors, concept designers and art directors do such an incredible job on forming Magic’s universe.

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Nevertheless, something that may top Magic is finding some time to create my own personal art pieces. No deadline, no art direction, just my own art piece.

An example is my “Melody” series that I work on if my time schedule and muse allows.

Of the five colors in the game, is there one that feels closest to home, artistically speaking?

It’s weird actually, because normally I would answer that question with “white”. Nevertheless if I do a black card I find myself thinking “damn, I really enjoy doing this piece”.

I guess it’s the balance. The “Yin & Yang“ thing. No light without shadow. Everyone has a white and black side. So my true answer would be black and white.

Resplendent Angel © Wizards of the Coast
Resplendent Angel was the fifth Angel painted by Baga for Magic.

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Edgar Markov © Wizards of the Coast
Edgar Markov became the very first vampire of Innistrad by decocting Angel blood.

Thank you for reading!

We want to thank Volkan for taking time of his busy schedule to talk to us, and sharing his vision.

You can find more about Volkan Baga’s work on his website.

Meet us next week for another interview!