Welcome back to our weekly artist interview, today we have the pleasure of sharing our talk with Margaret Organ-Kean, who’s distinct style appears on 27 Magic cards, including the iconic Lion’s Eye Diamond.

Here’s what Margaret told us.

How did you become an artist?

That’s an interesting question. From my point of view, it’s a bit like asking how did you become a female? It’s just something I am; part of my identity, like my height or my eye color or my weight.

However, if you’re wondering about my training, I started drawing and painting in my mid-teens and by my late teens I was trying, sometimes successfully to sell my work. I went to college at Boston University’s School for the Arts for two years taking drawing, painting (oils), sculpture and design.

I then went to the University of Washington where I majored in Art History, with an emphasis on the Italian Renaissance, Greek and Roman art, and Chinese art. I studied Art History for two years as a graduate student also at the University of Washington.

Oddly, except for high school, I don’t believe I’ve ever taken a class in watercolor.

And how did you start working on Magic?

My fiancé and I were at the 1993 Worldcon in San Francisco where I was organizing a series of art workshops. where we saw that Wizards of the Coast had a new product out, Magic. I looked at all the colorful cards and thought that that was just what I needed to be doing.

Remember, in the early 90s color reproductions were expensive and getting good ones could be difficult. I didn’t care what they paid and I almost (not quite) didn’t care if they paid as long as I got my hands on lots of those little cards to send as samples to people I was interested in working for (remember this was pre-internet; I mailed all my portfolios).

So, when I got home one of the first things I did was mail in a portfolio and I heard back with an assignment about 3 months later.

What was your first card?

My first set was Antiquities and I was assigned three cards, Ivory TowerMartyrs of Korlis (originally titled Monks of Korlis) and Amulet of Kroog. I usually work on more than one piece at a time so it’s a little hard to say exactly which one was first. But as I recall, I think I started and finished Ivory Tower first.

What Medium(s) do you work with? Can you give us a brief description of your painting process for Magic?

Currently I’m using Daniel Smith watercolors. At the time I started working with WotC, I think I was still using Winsor Newton watercolors.

For Magic and most of my work, I sketch the work carefully in pencil and send it in for approval. Once it’s approved, I work over the original pencil in watercolor.

That’s the usual; I remember a couple of time I reworked the piece as I was not satisfied with the original watercolor.

I’m also starting to work in pencil to a final completed piece and I’m enjoying that immensely.

What were the most challenging cards to paint and conceptualize?

Hm. I would say Heart Wolf. And that’s all I’m going to say about that card. The other was Lion’s Eye Diamond – I tell that story below. When the dam broke on that one – WOW!

Your Magic cards have these geometric elements that contrast with realistic motifs. Where do they come from?

They come from a lot of places; the quilts my mother sews, patterns in Asian art, especially Persian and Mughal miniatures and Japanese Ukiyo-e, and medieval miniatures.

European art since the Renaissance has viewed a painting as looking through a window at a naturalistic scene. I have some problems with that; paper is flat and I think that should be respected.

The pattern work is one way of doing that. Another is adding gilding and/or metallic, iridescent or dichroic pigments. These last don’t reproduce well so I haven’t used them as much as I would like.

Lion’s Eye Diamond is one of your most iconic cards, do you recall how it came to be?

Yes, that was a weird one. I had four cards from Mirage and the first three were very easy to conceptualize, draw, and finish. However I couldn’t for the life of me ‘see’ Lion’s Eye Diamond.

Then one evening I was sketching, trying to get something going, and about 8:00 pm I started the sketch that became Lion’s Eye Diamond. It was an amazing experience.

The drawing just kept getting better and better and when I had the pencil down, well I’m supposed to send the sketch in for approval. But I just couldn’t quit – it was like working in a dream. I just kept going until it was finished and it wasn’t until then that I noticed it was 8:00 am.

I was completely addicted to that painting. I don’t often have a piece hit the paper like that one did.

Did you get to keep any of the original paintings and sketches?

I wanted to. I very much wanted to keep Implements of Sacrifice and Hipparion. Unfortunately, my husband and I both had cancer in the last decade and I had to sell all of my Magic originals to pay medical bills. (For those wondering, my husband unfortunately died, but I will hit my fifth year anniversary next spring so I’m unlikely to have it come back.)

Of the work you made for Magic, what are you favorites?

Implements of Sacrifice, Hipparion, Autumn Willow, and Mana Prism. I like Lion’s Eye Diamond a great deal, but I think I did a better job on Mana Prism. Your opinion may vary. Of those four, I think I did the best job on Hipparion.

Implements of Sacrifice is a self-portrait, with a kitchen knife and a sherbet bowl. Someone said that there were no fat women in fantasy art and I decided to put one in. Another thing that most people don’t notice is that the woman is wearing an Amulet of Kroog.

When Fallen Empires came out, someone online said, “I hate that piece.” So I asked why and he replied, “Because he’s wearing nail polish and men don’t wear nail polish”. I replied that it wasn’t a man, it was a woman, and he said no, it was a man.

So I said that it was a woman and I should know because I painted the piece and it was a self-portrait! He didn’t recognize me as the artist because this was back in the days of Compuserve and I was using my Compuserve ID, 76506.1633 on usenet.

Autumn Willow was another portrait, this one of Kaja Foglio [also a Magic artist]. My husband and I went over in the evening to take the photos. Kaja is wearing a necklace I owned at the time, later lost in a burglary. I’ve always thought this was one of my best portraits.

Hipparion is one of the cards I actually researched. It turns out it’s an actual prehistoric collateral relative of the horse. I decided to paint the moment of summoning, and have them summoned into winter from summer, which explains the changes in their coats. I figured they might be like some of the arctic animals who change colors with the seasons.

Mana Prism was meant to me a counterpart to Lion’s Eye Diamond; evidently I succeeded as many people tell me they catch a glimpse of a Mana Prism and think it’s a Lion’s Eye Diamond.

Where can our readers find more about your work?

I’m active on Facebook; you can follow my personal page (cats, cats, and more cats) or if you want to see my work sign up for my professional page where you can get the pretty pictures, auction notices, and appearance listings here.

I’m also on Twitter, Instagram, Instagram with artist proofs, and Patreon