Ron Spears Interview

Welcome to the #15 MTG artists interview series, There’s no Magic without art.

Today we have the pleasure of sharing with you our interview with Ron Spears, here’s what he told us.

“Digital services have created almost unlimited resources for the entrepreneur minded artist”

– Ron Spears

Hi Ron. Your first card debuted in 98, tell us a little about how you got started.

I came to Wizards of the Coast from a Video Game company where I was an illustrator and art director. Magic was expanding and they felt I could help with some of the organization and art needs.

It was an amazing time, working with all of the people who were so passionate about the game and the players. In addition to commissioning the cards, I would illustrate them when needed, if an artist couldn’t do one or if one was added at the last minute.

This usually meant tighter deadlines and many of my early cards were done more quickly than I would have liked. When I left Wizards, I continued to illustrate cards, spots, etc.

Ladies’ Knight © Wizards of the Coast

You’ve said in the past that you resist doing sketches, and prefer to see where the painting leads to. Can you give us a brief description of your painting process?

First let me say that working without a drawing is not a good way to work with art directors. They have a tough job and need to know what they’re getting in advance.

I generally do quick thumbnail sketches to get the main idea and composition – I’ll do lots of these until I get the feel I’m looking for. At this point, there’s no detail or even marks that represent anything other than the composition and mood.

These are only readable by myself and not intended to be seen by anyone else. From there I’ll pick a direction and do a tighter sketch. My sketches at this point are still a leap of faith on the part of the art director. If they approve the direction, I’ll shoot and gather reference.

I’ll do a drawing, based on the sketches and the reference and transfer it to the board, or sometimes just go directly to blocking in shapes using the paint without a supporting drawing.

Either way it’s still drawing. With the paint, I’m very much in the moment, reacting to the abstract shapes and slowly bringing up the focus. It really depends on how critical the details or the continuity to the I.P. is. If it’s critical that it has to look a certain way, then I solve everything in the drawing stage.

I just like the continuous creativity and energy from reacting to the abstract shapes, rather than rendering within the lines of an already solved drawing.

Utopia Sprawl © Wizards of the Coast

Your art is very colorful, playful and vibrant with action. Where do you draw inspiration from?

I’m inspired by almost everything and constantly experiment. Like most artists that work with adventure themed products, I have all the usual influences – Frazetta, Pyle, Wyeth, etc. Also, since I was on staff at Wizards, I was sitting next to the best in the biz – Lockwood, Brom, Post, Tedin, Waters, Fields and every artist I commissioned.

Earlier in Magic, variety in artistic interpretation and styles, coming in from all the different artists was embraced, so it was a great opportunity to try different ways of working. Today, there is an emphasis on continuity and consistency through an I.P., so it’s better to have a more stable way of working. It’s just easier on everyone.

Beast of Burden © Wizards of the Coast

In a 2006 interview with WotC you mentioned that “The transition to digital is necessary in today’s market.” What has changed since?

This is even more true today, with all of the emerging technologies beyond print and web; VR, AR, etc. Everything is digital – even the traditional media paintings are scanned, digitized, processed and converted to work across multiple platforms – print, video, apps, websites, VR, AR, etc. Art Directors rarely want to, or need to, handle an original piece of art.

Where once, there was a clear division of process – the artist was responsible for the original art – then it was someone else’s responsibility to process, color separate, etc. Today, many of the production responsibilities, as well as the creation of the art, lies with the artist. Even if the artist works traditionally, they are still going to need to speak and work in the digital environment.

Digital paint tools have advanced so far in such a short amount of time. While I continue to paint traditionally, almost all of my commercial work is using digital tools. People have adjusted to the speed of the digital age, so deadlines are faster, fees are less and changes are unlimited.

Hapless Researcher © Wizards of the Coast

That’s, in part, an economic change that illustrators need to be aware of. Companies need to compete. They need to get their best product out into the market, quickly and in the most cost efficient manner possible. This impacts the content providers, like illustrators. So we need to address this in our business plan as well and be able to deliver the highest quality work in the most efficient way.

I realize this doesn’t appeal to the creative artist in all of us, but if we want to make a sustainable career, we need to recognize the opportunities as well as the challenges. In its final form as a printed or preproduced image, it doesn’t matter what tool you used – digital or traditional – all that matters is the quality of the work, from concept to completion. In addition, Digital services have created an almost unlimited resources for the entrepreneur minded artist.

Dark Confidant is one of your most popular cards. Can you share with us how did it come to be?

It’s an honor to be asked to illustrate any card, but there’s always something special about doing a card like this. The main character is, of course, the player who designed the card, and the other guy is an iconic character designed by the concept artists at Wizards.

I was given the card and character description and some poor photos of the player. I wanted to do him justice, but had to work with what I had, plus meet deadlines. It was done with oils on board – a detailed drawing was done for this, since it was important to get the image right.

As I do most of the time, I used a friend to model for the figure and worked out the details, likeness etc. Fun project!

Entomb © Wizards of the Coast

Dark Confidant © Wizards of the Coast

Your basic land art is delightful. It’s quite different from what we’ve come to expect from basic lands. What can you tell us about it?

The Island/Swamp cards were created as one, continuos painting, with the elements of both fusing into eachother. They were then split for the 2 cards. It was oil on board. I love landscapes so this was a fun challenge.

Island and Swamp © Wizards of the Coast

The Sunflower card was done for a limited run of special land cards, based on Japan. Simple composition, but very satisfying. Done quickly, acrylic on illustration board.

Plains © Wizards of the Coast

What were some of the most challenging cards you painted, and why?

Every card has its challenges, but the one that come to mind first is the Phage/Akroma Painting. This was one painting that would be a bookcover, packaging, 2 cards, and other product uses. It had to be a more refined piece. The styling for Phage and Akroma was done by the legendary RK Post, so I had to take his character designs and interpret them in new poses and interactions.

In addition, I had to make a composition that would work for so many different applications as a dual engagement scene and single character cards. I had to do a very tight drawing to be sure the art director got what he needed. Originally the painting was done in acrylic on board. After the painting was received, there were changes requested base on new directions, but the deadline was too tight to send back the original.

They sent a high res file and I made the final alterations digitally. Its all good and actually a fairly typical story that probably every artist can tell. It happens all the time, no one to fault, we all just want the best possible product. Working with great art directors, who bring out the best in their illustrators makes this process possible.

Of all the art you made for Magic, can you name some favorites?

Veiled Sentry was was one of my first cards for Magic and remains one of my favorites. It needed to be done quickly, so I used acrylic on illustration board. Cloud Scraper was fun. It was a package piece, as well as a card, so I had a little more time to refine and polish, since it had to stand up to being printed larger and in more detail, than the small card image.

This was a single creature, with a lot of freedom from the art director. It was oil on board and done with a very loose sketch, preferring to let the abstract shapes in paint define the direction of the creature. As mentioned before, I like working this way, when its appropriate.

Phage & Akroma © Wizards of the Coast

Veiled Sentry © Wizards of the Coast

What were the defining factors behind the game’s longevity?

It’s a rare combination of passionate creators, all through the pipeline, including writers, artist, production, events, printing, scheduling, staff, managers and tech support – put together with the passion of the players, collectors and fans.

Energy from these people motivates everyone to want to continually develop a more immersive and creative experience with the highest level of quality. That’s why it has sustained over the years and continues to grow – it’s a great product, that continues to respect and honor its market base. More companies should take this approach.

Foresee © Wizards of the Coast

For our last question, is there any Magic related story/episode you’d like to share with us?

For the most part; what happens in Magic stays in Magic, but I will say that the best stories for me are divide into 2 groups. It’s always the people: The Artists and The Players. Having been able to work along side some of the world’s best fantasy illustrators was incredible and humbling. It’s a small, passionate community that shares, encourages and supports one another.

Having met so many people at conventions, tournaments and signings that play the game, collect the cards, art and share in a community of creativity and engagement, has been a very rewarding experience.

Dancing Scimitar © Wizards of the Coast


Thank you for reading!

We want to thank Ron for taking the time to talk to us, and for his kindness and awesomeness! You can find more about his work on Ron’s website.

Meet us next week for another interview!


Warren Mahy Interview

Welcome to the #14 MTG artists interview series, There’s no Magic without art.

Today we have the pleasure of sharing our interview with Warren Mahy, here’s what he told us.

“I imagined a goblin psychopath in control of a large walking robot swinging a mechanical whip having a softer side”

– Warren Mahy

Hi Warren! Tell us a little about how you got started working on Magic.

I was working for Weta Workshop as a concept designer here in New Zealand on the ‘Lord of the Rings’ film trilogy and through connections there, I was offered work illustrating a ‘LoTR’ RPG game.

From that point I made contact with a couple of the Art Directors at Wizards of the Coast. I had played (and still play!) Dungeons and Dragons as a kid and always imagined having drawings of my own in the D & D ‘Monster manuals’.

The opportunity to add illustration work for WoTC was offered and it moved on from there to Magic cards.

Goblin Furrier © Wizards of the Coast

How familiar were you with the game, and how did that change over time?

To be honest, I had never played ‘Magic’ before I started illustrating Magic cards and even now, could probably count the number of times I’ve played on one hand!

I have a personal issue (problem) with fixating on ‘new’ things that often turns quickly to obsession, so getting into Magic was something I consciously kept at arm’s length, not because I dislike the game but more along the lines of keeping a hold on my wallet and time!

Purity © Wizards of the Coast

Can you give us a brief description of your painting process for Magic cards?

Apart from the preliminary pencil design and sketch process, all of my rendering is done digitally. I first scan the ‘final’ sketch and start the colour pass in Coral Painter,

I then move into Photoshop. I lay down a canvas ‘toned ground’ first and then begin the blocking in of Shadows and Light. Once I’m happy with the overall contrast, I’ll begin adding colour.

What were some of the most challenging cards you painted for Magic?

I really enjoy a challenge and having an illustration brief that pushes my artistic boundaries is exciting. If I had to nail down an aspect that would consistently be an issue, it would be any illustration that requires lots of architectural structures and form.

Simian Brawler © Wizards of the Coast

You’re one of the go-to artists when it comes to Goblins. Amongst your portfolio, we can find the famous Goblin Guide and the dancing Battle-Rattle Shaman.

We also found some amusing Goblins of yours in the lighthearted unstable set. In few words, how does it feel to be a Goblin master?

Goblin master? HA! I guess my artistic ‘bend’ has always been to the ‘dark’ side, so any creature or illustration context that includes something mischievous or evil such as Goblins, Boggarts or Trows fit into this criteria well.

During the making of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ films, I spent most of my years working on Orc’s, Goblins and the Uruk Hai, basically anybody or any ’thing’ that worked in Mordor for Sauron.

Steamflogger Service Rep © Wizards of the Coast

Many of your cards share this vibrant yellow background light. We can find it in cards like Warmonger’s Chariot, Sunken Ruins, and others. What can you tell us about this effect?

That would probably be related to the ‘Yellow Ochre’ ‘toned ground’ I use a lot. I think it gives the background a ‘thick’ ambiguous atmosphere that helps to towards a feel of depth without the use of receding elements.

The Warm tone could be imagined to be sunlight breaking through a thick cloud layer or be the light of fires burning from a distant raging battle.

Wormwood Dryad © Wizards of the Coast

Of all the cards you painted, what’s your favorite?

That would be the ‘Steamflogger Boss” card. It was the first time I’d had the opportunity to mix Goblin creatures into a ‘Steam punk’ world. My daughter was about 18 months old at the time and often walked around holding her favourite toys.

I then imagined a goblin psychopath in control of a large walking robot swinging a mechanical whip having a ‘softer’ side. If you look closely at the Goblin ‘Boss’ sitting up in the ‘walker’ you can just make out a small pink ‘Teddy Bear’ sitting next to him.

Steamflogger Boss © Wizards of the Coast

Is there any Magic related story/episode you’d like to share with us?

I’ve been to a few Magic events as a ‘guest’ artist and no matter where in the world I am, I always have an amazing time. The players and event crews are brilliant and something about the ‘Magic’ game brings everyone together like one big family.

My first time to a USA tournament (Pittsburgh 2016) was highlighted on day one by players wanting signatures and asking where my ‘Tip jar’ was. Being from New Zealand where we don’t tip,

I had no idea what the hell they were talking about. It wasn’t until one of the players pointed out another artist ‘Jar’ (which was large!) did I finally get what they were on about. I quickly fashioned a money receptacle out of a box I’d brought my artist proof cards in and I was set.

Wasp Lancer © Wizards of the Coast

Thank you for reading!

We want to thank Warren for the interview, you can find more about his work on his website.

Meet us next week for another interview!


Craig Spearing Interview

Welcome to the #13 MTG artists interview series, There’s no Magic without art.

Today we have the pleasure of sharing with you our interview with Craig Spearing, whose first card debuted four years ago.

“I’m a compulsive detailer” – Craig Spearing

Hi Craig. How did you start working on Magic, and what was the first card you made?

It was a long winding road. I went freelance in ’95, illustrating for the children’s educational field until ’08. Most of my work was historical, focusing on Westward expansion in the 1800s: lots of cowboys, Native Americans, and pioneers. But through all that time in the children’s field something inside me, not of this world, was clawing to get out.

 © Cricketmedia

Around ’03 I started painting the things I loved to draw as a kid: dragons, demons, elves, and orcs. Over the next few years I moonlighted a new portfolio of fantasy images. Unencumbered by historical accuracy, it was like stepping into a wonderfully weird new world where anything was possible.

My work was in entirely traditional mediums, then I made the jump to digital in ’08. Sarah at Paizo, and Jon and Kate at WotC gave me my first gaming assignments, and I still enjoy working for Pathfinder and D&D today. I finally found the courage to submit a portfolio to Magic in ’13. Jeremy and Dawn took a chance on me, and my first card was Victimize for Conspiracy.

Victimize © Wizards of the Coast

Were you familiar with the game at the time?

Yes… and no. I had a small collection of cards by favorite artists, and I went to a few GPs to visit artist friends, who encouraged me to submit a portfolio to Magic. I was (and still am) blown away by the amazing images in the game, but I’m embarrassed to say I still have no idea how to actually play it.

One of these days I need to sit down with a very patient player, bribed with their choice of food and drink, to teach me the basics. My only concern is my obsessive nature, if I learn to play I’ll end up inevitably collecting eighty gazillion magic cards.

Can you give us a brief description of your painting process?

It starts with little scribbles, two or three thumbnails with no detail, focusing on the whole composition. I pick the one that flows the best and start blocking in lights and darks, making a rough value map. Then I noodle in and refine the details until it looks like an almost finished painting in grayscale.

With most of the variables locked in, this makes the final color painting go a lot smoother. I layer on the color slowly, much like oil glazes, being careful to retain the value dynamic of the grayscale base.

Catacomb Sifter © Wizards of the Coast

Bomat Courier is one of the most popular cards in the game right now. How did this card come to be?

Initially I envisioned the construct smaller, with a propeller on top like a beanie, buzzing through crowds. Cynthia, the art director, pointed out that the card didn’t have flight ability (this is why I need to learn how to play the game).

So we revised the sketch to have the construct rolling on the ground, and eliminated the crowds to bring more focus to the Courier. I never know which cards will be popular with players, so I approach all assignments as equal, and do the best job I can on every one.

Bomat Courier © Wizards of the Coast

What cards were the most challenging to paint, and why?

Kaladesh. The layers of brass filigree, gears, wires, pistons, mechanical joints, and Kaladeshy gizmos were incredibly challenging to paint, and also incredibly time consuming. I got sucked into the details, and it was difficult to know when to stop fiddling with ’em.

Deadlines are usually what stopped me, but the final images all looked kinda overworked. I think it was Michael Whelan who said (and I’m paraphrasing here)- “It takes three people to make an illustration: one to paint it, one to art direct it, and a third to point a shotgun at the illustrator to keep him or her from overworking it”. I’m a compulsive detailer, Kaladesh fueled that compulsion.

A more skilled illustrator can depict a mechanical construct with broad painterly brush strokes without getting bogged down in the details. I don’t have that level of skill.

From left to right, top to bottom: Dukhara Peafowl, Peema Outrider, Eager Construct and Tezzeret’s Simulacrum  © Wizards of the Coast

Were you aware of the ‘Hit him with your crossbow Steve!’ joke regarding your Octopus token? How do you react when fans get creative?

I think it’s hilarious! My intent with the tiny adventurers was just to show a sense of scale compared to the giant octopus. Obviously I didn’t give much thought to how useless it would be aiming a crossbow at a creature that massive.

At a recent Grand Prix I made little comic book dialog bubbles out of Post-Its that said “Hit him with your crossbow Steve!” and stuck ’em on the sleeves for that print. A lot of players thought that was funny, and I was happy to keep the joke rolling.

Octopus Token © Wizards of the Coast

Three new cards of yours from the upcoming Core 2019 were just spoiled. Did you enjoy working on them?

Definitely! I struggled with the color palette on Gallant Cavalry, but the whimsical feel of flying cucumbers and a baby dragon splashing around in lava on Volley Veteran and Sarkhan’s Whelp were a light hearted change of pace from work that’s usually darker in theme.

Admittedly, I made that little dragon as cute as possible. Electrify was also reprinted for Core 2019, it’s always nice to see an older card pop up again.

Volley Veteran and Sarkhan’s Whelp © Wizards of the Coast

Can you name some favorites among the art you’ve made for Magic?

It was fun turning an army into blue frogs for Polymorphist’s Jest. The simple bold compositions for Seeker of the Way, Opt, and Vampire Champion read well at card size (something that took a while to learn).

And I really liked the gothic horror of Innistrad, I wasn’t working for Magic yet when Innistrad first came out, so when they revisited that plane later it was exciting to be part of it.

Solitary Hunter and Might Beyond Reason were my favorites from that set, not heavily played cards, but I loved painting the images for those.

From left to right, top to bottom: Polymorph’s Jest, Seeker of the Way, Opt, Vampire Champion, Solitary Hunter and Might Beyond Reason © Wizards of the Coast

Where can our readers find you online and learn more about your work?

Readers can find me at www.craigspearing.com, or on Facebook. Also, I attend two or three GPs a year for in-person interaction with fans of the game.


Thank you for reading!


Seb McKinnon Interview

Welcome to our MtG artists interview series #12, There’s no Magic without art.

Today we share with you our interview with Seb McKinnon, who recently launched a Kickstarter campaign with some of his best work.

Here’s what Seb told us.

“Like seeing shapes in drifting clouds” – Seb McKinnon

Essence Flux © Wizards of the Coast

Hi Seb. How did you start working on Magic, and what was the first card you made?

After graduating from Dawson College from their Illustration and Design program, I submitted my portfolio to Wizard’s ArtDrop. I was working at Ubisoft as a concept artist when I got an email from Jeremy Jarvis several months later.

It was a dream come true. My first card was Attended Knight from M13 – and it was published in Spectrum later on. I am immensely grateful towards Jeremy for giving me a chance, for inviting me into the Wizards of the Coast family.

I still can’t believe I have the privilege of working amongst titans of fantasy illustration.

Rite of the Serpent © Wizards of the Coast

Were you familiar with the game at the time?

Yes. It was a staple of my childhood. I grew up with 4 brothers and we collected the cards for the artwork alone. In time we learned how to play, and it became a summer tradition.

Can you give us a brief description of your painting process?

When I first started digital painting, I came across a video tutorial by Craig Mullin’s, in which he took a scan of one of his watercolor paintings and started messing it up, pushing and pulling digital pigment to form something abstract and unrecognizable.

From there, he kept working until something emerged from what seemed like chaos. The process struck a chord within me and I’ve been working in a similar way ever since.

Duskborne Skymarcher © Wizards of the Coast

I try to not think too much at the beginning of a painting… just kind of let myself go… let things emerge from my subconscious.

It’s a bit like seeing shapes in drifting clouds. There is a moment when, all of a sudden, something will click in the imagination; the subject reveals itself, and then all I need to do is render. I use a lot of textures and apply them in washes, building up the layers, using various blending modes.

Rhystic Studies did a fantastic video [see bellow] on your work, where he showed how highly conceptual your work is. How do you transport the art description into your ‘own universe’?

Again, I try to put myself in a state of “non-thought” and let ideas come to me… eventually something jumps out in response to the art descriptions. What’s great about the art directors at Wizards is that they are really open to your ideas and what you can bring to table. Such a welcoming and creative environment, essential to conceptual work.

Archfiend of Ifnir © Wizards of the Coast

You mentioned that you’d love for Magic to return to Shadowmoor/Lorwyn, what do you like about these planes?

I’ve always been fascinated by faeries and the folklore that surrounds them. It’s a realm I’d love to have the opportunity to paint. I like the ambiguous nature of faeries. Are they good? Evil? Somewhere in between?

I like the contrast the planes that Shadowmoor/Lorwyn offer… its light vs darkness aesthetic, the way nature is depicted… It just seems like such a rich place to explore.

Everything about those planes call to me as an artist… I know I’m associated with often grim and macabre pieces, but honestly if I could paint faeries and treefolk all day I’d be really happy! My dream Magic commission would be to paint Oona, Queen of the Fae.

Pale Rider of Trostad © Wizards of the Coast

What cards were the most challenging to paint?

I think they are all more or less equally challenging. “Stasis” was one of the most challenging because of all the little details – the blue flowers, the lichen and moss on the armor… The more details a painting calls for, the greater the task!

Do you recall the art description for Dirge of Dread? This image also appears to ‘continue’ on Rite of Belzenlok. 

Yes. Mark Winters was the AD on that one, and he asked for two paintings that would depict a song. How abstract! He said Dirge of Dread was supposed to represent the verse, and Rite of Belzenlok was to be the chorus.

I came up with the skeleton choir motif to link the two together, as a storytelling tool.

Dirge of Dread © Wizards of the Coast

Can you name some favorites among the art you made for Magic?

I personally really like the vampires I did for Ixalan; Duskborne SkymarcherTwilight Prophet and Sadistic Skymarcher. I have a soft spot for vampires, and I think my love for them came through in these pieces.

I am also proud of my Stasis piece. I put my heart into all my paintings, but that one especially.

Stasis © Wizards of the Coast

Where can our readers find you and learn more about your work?

They can follow me on facebook or instagram.

I also make films and music. I have an original IP called KIN Fables that I’ve been developing for the past 5 years. It’s a cinematic universe, a sort of grand scale multi-media project.

I direct, produce, create the paintings and compose the music for it all. At the moment I’m raising funds for the first KIN Fables feature film through Kickstarter, selling playmats and prints of some of my best work for Magic.

It is a fantasy-genre movie, and it will be my debut as a feature film director (if I can raise the funds!) So far the response on Kickstarter has been incredible – I’d like to take the chance here and thank the MtG community for their immense support. Thanks to them, my film is getting closer to getting made.

https://youtu.be/J05d3zNkb3k


Chris Rallis Interview

Welcome to our MtG artists interview series #11, There’s no Magic without art.

Today we share with you our interview with Chris Rallis, who just launched a Kickstarter campaign with some of his most iconic MtG artworks.

“I’m trying to think as a film director” – Chris Rallis

Tin foil wrapped around an action figure (on the left) was the reference used for Danitha Capashen, Paragon’s armor (on the right).
Drag the slider to expand each image.

Your first Magic card debuted three years ago, and you’ve already done about 60 cards. How did you got started?

I remember myself at primary school, doing small sketches of superheroes and selling them to my classmates so that I could buy the next issue of my favourite comic book, “Conan”. I was 14 years old when I started working as a junior animator for a small animation studio in Athens, Greece.

After 3 years of working and studying at the same time I got my diploma in Graphic Design. I left home at 18 and made a living doing illustrations for Christmas cards, children’s books and then for Advertising agencies. That’s when my career as an illustrator started.

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria © Wizards of the Coast

The first time I submitted my portfolio to WotC was in 2010 I think. I did have a ton of illustrations, although I didn’t have any fantasy related pieces to show. But I thought “Why not?!”. Well, WotC very kindly did get back to me, saying that they’d like to see some fantasy related artwork.

The thing is I didn’t have any spare time to do any fantasy art or even personal art. All my energy was drained doing product illustrations and I had to work long hours to make ends meet and to provide for my family. I didn’t give up though.

In 2012 Greece was already in financial crisis and jobs were scarce. That’s when we moved to the UK and I started from scratch. First I did illustrations for independent game developers, then for Fantasy Flight Games and Applibot. That was the best way to build a decent portfolio and earn money at the same time.

Firebolt © Wizards of the Coast

After about a year, in 2013, I was lucky enough to find Jeremy Jarvis’ email. It took me almost a week to decide if I should send him my updated portfolio. I’m very shy as a person and I hate bothering people. In the end I just pressed “send” and hoped for the best.

Thankfully Jeremy is a wonderful person and he gave me a chance. I was over the moon! That’s when I got my first card assignment and I’ve been working almost exclusively for WotC since then, doing cards, key art and packaging art.

I’d like to take the opportunity to say that Noah Bradley and Clint Cearley helped me a lot when I was trying to break into the industry. Their advice was invaluable. Except from being great artists, they’re also very kind and generous guys!

Regicide © Wizards of the Coast

You used to play MTG, was this somehow helpful?

Well, yes and no. It does help in a way, knowing the product, but what really helps is my previous experience. When I was a junior animator I also did concept art. My boss, a very talented animator and artist, also had a great eye for cinematography and special effects. I learned many things about camera angles and how to set up a scene.

Furthermore, when I was an illustrator for advertising agencies I had to deal with very tight deadlines, countless rounds of revision and sometimes nitpicking art directors. That’s how I learned to properly read a brief and deliver always on time. Sometimes being a great artist doesn’t mean that you’re also employable. Being prompt and professional helps a lot!

Ixalan packaging art © Wizards of the Coast

How did it feel to paint the packaging art for both Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan?

When Wizards of the Coast offered me the commissions, I was very excited and blown away by the gravity of the assignments. As a self taught artist I treat each commission as a challenge, so those were double challenging. I never thought that I’d be trusted to illustrate packaging art, to be honest.

It was so fun painting both artworks. MtG ADs (Art Directors) always make sure we have enough time to do the job and that’s very important to us, artists. I really enjoyed working on those pieces. Am I happy with the finished artwork? Well, at the time yes. But, you know what (?)… and that happens with all my artworks… when I look at them after some time I spot mistakes or things that I’d do differently or better. I guess that’s good though. It means I’m evolving as an artist.

Rivals of Ixalan packaging art © Wizards of the Coast

The way you use perspective and composition is surprising. The POV (Point Of View) angle in Valor in Akros and Turn Against, the ‘raindrops on the camera lens’ effect on Shieldhide Dragon, the Shoulder to Shoulder enveloping frame of bodies, the list goes on. When you’re conceptualizing a painting, do you often try to push these elements in unexpected ways?

I’m trying to think as a film director. Different camera angles and special effects help to establish different scenes. Low camera angles make characters appear larger and thus heroic, dominant or even intimidating. In the case of Valor in Akros I used the opposite, a high angle, as a giant’s POV.

That way I tried to make the characters look small, so as to convey the sense of the perilous situation they’re in. I want the viewer to be part of the action. So, yes if I have to push these elements in unexpected ways in order  to achieve that, then I do so.

Dragon Whisperer © Wizards of the Coast

To follow up on that last question, can you give us a brief description of your painting process?

The first thing I do is read the brief very carefully, trying to imagine the scene and looking for key words. I also consult the style guide. Thankfully the material we get from WotC is very detailed and straightforward, so there’s no room for misinterpretations. Then I do some research, gathering reference and even shooting my own to help me set up my composition.

Sometimes I submit 2, 3 or even 4 sketches. I want to give as many options to the AD as possible, so that they decide which composition and\or camera angle works best. Once one of them gets approved, I start working on the final colouring.

Clerir of the Forward Order © Wizards of the Coast

I always start with the main character’s face, or whatever’s the focal point and then move on to the background. I go back and forth between the focal point and the rest of the painting, making sure that the lighting is consistent. It’s an evolving process.

I sometimes even change the lighting or the colours entirely, until I’m satisfied with what I see. Finally I do a colour correction, if necessary. Below is an example from one of my latest cards for Dominaria, “Danitha Capashen, Paragon”.
These are the sketches I submitted…

Sketches for Danitha Capashen, Paragon

What were the most challenging cards to paint?

Hmmm. I think “Liliana, Death’s Majesty”. That dress was really challenging! Unfortunately I didn’t have a silk dress to use as a reference, so I had to do it browsing through lots of photos, from cosplayers to wedding dresses, just to understand how silk reflects light.

I think I had around 20 different photos next to my canvas and I had to start all over again 2-3 times because it didn’t look realistic enough

Liliana, Death’s Majesty © Wizards of the Coast

Of the art you made for Magic, can you name some favorites?

Of course! I love Brad Rigney’s “Planeswalkers Pantheon”. It is amazing! :)Oh, you meant MY art…I reckon “Liliana, Death’s Majesty” is my best artwork so far. “Danitha Capashen, Paragon” is also one of my favourites, along with “Dragon Whisperer”.

Maybe this will change in the future, as new pieces are always being published. You know what most artists say, “My best artwork is yet to come”. That is so true!

Zada, Hedron Grinder © Wizards of the Coast

Where can our readers find you, and learn more about your work?

They can find me working in my studio/man cave. They can also find me on www.rallisart.com and subscribe to my newsletter, on Facebook and on Twitter.

I just launched a Kickstarter campaign where MtG players can buy some very cool playmats of my most iconic artworks, you can find it here:


Christopher Moeller Interview

Welcome to our artists interview series – There’s no Magic without art – where we talk to artists about their work on Magic: The Gathering.

Today we share with you our interview with Christopher Moeller, who recently announced his retirement from Magic. Here’s what he told us.

Interview with Christopher Moeller, the artist behind Umezawa’s Jitte and Meddling Mage

On the left: the original version of Lightning Bolt done by Christopher Rush,
On the right: The reprint painted by Christopher Moeller.
Drag the slider to see more.

Hi Chris! Can you tell us how you got started working on Magic back in ‘97/8?

Sure! I was introduced to Ron Spears (the art director at the time) at the San Diego Comicon. I used to set up there every year to support my comics work, and a lot of business connections occurred there.

Higure, the Still Wind © Wizards of the Coast

In the early days, Magic had a great variety of art styles. As the game grew, this variety gave place to homogeneity, and the art direction took a turn towards a more realistic style. What are your thoughts on these changes?

Magic’s increasing prominence in the industry is what has allowed it to become more focused in its “look”. The variety in the very early Magic work was a function of WotC’s lack of resources. They couldn’t pay much up front, so they had to cast a wide net to bring in enough artists to produce the number of pieces necessary for the game.

As WotC was able to pay more, and as Magic’s prominence as a brand grew, it began to attract more and more artists. That allowed Magic to be more selective about who they hired, and to make the game’s look more instantly identifiable and consistent. “Homogeneity” is a word with some negative connotations that I don’t agree with. I would say that the visual language of Magic now is much more focused.

My only critique (and it could be leveled at the early work as well) is that there is often a disconnect between the color of the card and the color language of the art. That’s a failure, in my view. When you pull a red card, it should say “red”. The art now, when you spread it out on the table tends to all look “gray”. In the early days it read “every color imaginable”. Both of those tendencies are failures in my view.

Can you give us a brief description of your painting process for Magic?

In the broad strokes, my approach doesn’t vary from other artists that much. I do a number of preliminary drawings, my art director selects one, often with some comments about things that they’d like to see emphasized or downplayed, then I go to paint. Where I do think my work differs from other artists is that I paint in acrylics primarily, sometimes in oil, never digitally.

Isamaru, Hound of Konda © Wizards of the Coast
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That’s not a slap at digital painting, I respect good digital art immensely, but I like the physical act of painting. Sitting in front of a computer all day isn’t what making art should feel like to me. I like to push pigment around on the canvas. My technique came out of the comics world, so it has that aesthetic… emphasizing line, shape, a sometimes angular graphic quality.

One curious aspect about your work is the unusual use of perspective. Cards like Deny Existence, Satyr Piper and Wall of Spears, all use this technique to great effect, making the viewer feel like he’s part of the scene. Is immersion an important aspect of your art? 

Absolutely.  Careful selection of the viewere’s point of view is one of those elements that came from my work in comics.  Comic book art, storytelling through sequential images, derives much of its effect from dramatic or unusual staging.  If you’ve ever seen a comic like Peanuts, let’s say, the “camera” is always side-on.

Sphere of Reason © Wizards of the Coast
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That works with a very simple drawing style like Schultz used, but for a comic it’s deadening.  Imagine a movie shot only from one perspective.  It would be really dull.  That’s true of single image storytelling as well.  I think of my paintings as one moment in a story.  What came before?  What will come after?  Did I choose the right moment for the story?

What were some of the most challenging cards to paint, and why?  

Let’s look at it another way:  the simplest cards to paint are those with just a few elements.  The challenge in those pieces (Fireshrieker, for example) is how to give the piece interest.  The most difficult pieces are those with the most elements… Bazaar of Baghdad, Sower of Temptation, Gilt-Leaf Palace, all of the Ravnica lands.

They need to work very small, so, in spite of all of the detail, the large shapes must hold up or it will look like a mess when it’s reduced in size.  The detail must be handled in such a way that the card “reads” properly… what’s emphasized?  Does the viewer’s eye go to the center of attention first, or does it get lost in all the detail?

Bazaar of Baghdad © Wizards of the Coast
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Last year you announced your retirement from Magic. You’ve mentioned that there was a point where “painting shifted from what had always been a joy (work, but joyful work), into a chore”. Do you keep working on personal pieces? 

I do.  I paint landscapes, I paint figurative work (which I sell through everydayoriginal.com).  I also still do illustration, just not as frequently as I did when I did it full time

What do you consider to be the defining factors behind the game’s longevity?  

No question, it’s organized play.  I think people underestimate how powerful a tool that has been for keeping young players coming into the game.  Every other collectible game has collapsed fairly quickly, despite beautiful art, or sound design, because nobody could replicate the robust organized play network that WotC built.

Lightning Bolt © Wizards of the Coast
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And what about your favorites? 

Copper-Leaf AngelBlood OgreSamurai of the Pale CurtainBlack Knight  & White KnightSnake UmbraShelter. Ink-Treader Nephilim.

Three pieces of power in manuscript-style

Is there any Magic related story/episode you’d like to share with us?

When I went to Japan, I took my son Eric with me.  Eric had posed for me for the characters in Meddling Kids.  When fans found out, he ended up spending a good amount of time signing Meddling Kids with me at my table!  Whenever I bring him along for events, he always does at least one or two signatures.

Meddling Kids © Wizards of the Coast
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We want to thank Chris for this interview.

Check out Christopher’s website and buy a print of his work on Original Magic Art.

You can follow Chris on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Thank you for reading!


Klug Alters Interview

Welcome to our artists interview series – There’s no Magic without art – where we talk to artists about their work on Magic: The Gathering.

This week we’re gonna do something different: we talked to an artist who paints on Magic cards for a living.

We interviewed Eric Klug, of Klug Alters, who has done some of Magic’s most famous card alters. Here’s what he told us.

Interview with Eric Klug of Klug Alters

You started playing almost 20 years ago, and you’ve played at all levels of competitive play from FNM to the World Championships. How do you feel about the state of the game today?

I think the game looks to be doing better than ever. For that, I’m very happy as I plan to keep playing for a long, long time. I do think the game is heading in directions looking to be more successful, and sometimes that can be a little alienating to entrenched players like me because the focus is on obtaining new players.

Ultimately though, I know the people who are responsible for the game cherish it as much as I do. New players is essential to the games survival. So I try not to worry much.

Not for the faint of heart…

You made your first alter back in 2008. You traded it, and six years later the card was sent back to you. Can you give us some insight into how you started, and how did that card (Wall of Blossoms) get back to you?

I tried out altering after discovering others work on online forums. It was very much a hobby for several years. After living abroad 2009 to mid-2010 I came back to the US and altered cards to supplement while I job searched. Things took off from there.

I traded the Wall of Blossoms that same year to a friend who went on to trade it to someone else. It eventually made it to a client years later who was aware it was my first and thought I might appreciate it more than he would. He was right! I’m not very sentimental about my work but was really moved to own the card again and by the client’s kind gesture.

On the left: Eric’s first ever alter
On the right: His take on the same card, six years later

Do you have some other work-related stories you’d like to share?

The only thing I can think of, off the top of my head, is that in 2008 my now-wife asked if I could make a living altering. I laughed and shook my head, “No way.”

From a business owner perspective, what has changed since you first started doing alters?

When I was growing up with the game an alter would usually be done by one of Magic’s official artists. It would be done with the same materials that they signed the cards with and would usually be limited to a small doodle/sketch.

Altering already started as taking customization well beyond a quick drawing. There were a lot of border extensions (extending the original artwork over the borders, blending printing with paint) when I first started.

Overall I’d say the work has become considerably more ambitious. In terms of detail, I’m working on projects I didn’t think would be possible ten years ago.

Also I think quality alter work has earned a lot more respect and a long term place in the community. It could easily have been just a fad within the game, but I think players see the art in it and therefore the added value that can come with a well concepted, well executed piece. Value both in terms of dollars and that of improving one’s gameplay experience.

Can you give us some insight into the process of restoring heavily damaged cards?

Working on damaged cards is much the same as working on pristine ones. What’s different is making sure the cardboard is a strong enough canvas. Water-damaged cards, for example, can be a lost cause. Altering can do a lot to mask minor dents, scuffs, and the beginning of shuffle creasing.

I usually just examine the card, clean up any dirt that it has accumulated over the years, and the paint does much of the rest. Another added benefit is that the thin layer of acrylic adds a bit of structural integrity to the card and slows any further deterioration.

Three pieces of power in manuscript-style

Other than time constraints, what would make you reject a commission?

If I thought the alter was inappropriate in some way. If it’s not my style and I think it would be hard to connect with the work. Or if I just don’t feel confident I could produce something totally awesome based on what the client is asking for. High quality, show stopping pieces is really my goal for each card and I take that into account when considering commissions.

Five years ago, you mentioned that Stephen Hawking JtMS was the weirdest card you’ve done. Is this still true today?

It’s up there but it’s hard to say. I’ve done a lot of alters since that one. This one from 2015 is pretty weird. I like it. Weird is good.

How many Black Lotuses have you painted?

I’ve altered 12 Unlimited Black Lotuses over my past ten years of painting cards. So a little more than one a year. I’ll point out that’s .068% of all the Unlimited Lotuses printed (~17,500). A lot of players draw a line when it comes to altering power but I think many don’t realize there is still a fairly large number of unaltered copies out there. Even if I paint 50 more I won’t crack half a percent.

Let’s say I email you inquiring about a commission. How would we go from here?

First and foremost I need to like the concept. It needs to make sense to me because the more fun I can have with a project, or the more excited I can get about it, the better the result. I’m fairly discriminating in the alters I take on because I put a lot of hours into each piece and have limited time to spread around.

Beyond that I’ll quote the client a price and let them know when we can get the project going. I only fully commit to a months work at a time to keep my queue from ballooning too much. It would be really easy to book a few years worth of work in just a few weeks, but that’d be pretty overwhelming for me and no client wants to wait that long.

Your work based on Hieronymus Bosch and Escher challenged my assumptions on what’s possible to do in an alter.

What are the inherent limits of working directly on such small cards?

There is a point where you can only fit so much detail into a certain amount of space. There’s also a limit to the amount of detail the human eye can perceive. I’ve definitely tried to push the boundaries over the years of what’s possible.

I’m pretty happy with the tools I’ve selected in allowing me to do so (brush and paint quality). Like anyone else, it’s mostly just practice then. Even after a decade I can still improve.

Have you done any Magic related commission other than card altering?

A few months ago I worked on playmat that several official Magic artists has also worked on. The piece in question was a homage to Quinton Hoover and Christopher Rush who are sadly not with us any more. I don’t typically take on playmat projects but this one felt right. A Lotus of course:

An homage to Quinton Hoover

Did you take some time to develop a non-alter portfolio?

I do non-alter commission work occasionally for a variety of clients and open air landscape painting for fun. Some of that work can be found here.

We want to thank Eric for this interview.

You can follow Eric’s work on Facebook and on Twitter!

Thank you for reading!


Carl Critchlow Interview

Welcome to our artists interview series – There’s no Magic without art -, where we talk to artists about their work on Magic: the Gathering.

Today we share with you our talk with Carl Critchlow, here’s what he told us.

Carl Critchlow, the artist behind Arcbound Ravager and Sakura-Tribe Elder

Silvos, Rogue Elemental © Wizards of the Coast

You’ve been working with Wizards of the Coast since 1999 and your paintings appear on more than 200 cards. Tell us a little about how you got started.

Back in the 1990’s there were quite a few artists in the UK producing fully painted strips for the UK comic 2000AD following the sucess of Simon Bisley’s work on ‘Slaine’.  Wizards of the Coast were looking for new artists to work on MtG and sent an art editor (Maria Cabardo) on a scouting mission to the UK Comic Art Convention where she made contact with several of us who went on to produce a lot of card art over the following few years.  Apart from myself, Kev Walker, Greg Staples, Rob Bliss and Dermot Power were all signed up.

Murkfiend Liege © Wizards of the Coast

You’ve mentioned that “as the Magic universe has evolved over the years, there’s a little less room for personal input than in some of the earlier sets”. As an artist, you’ve got a unique perspective on the growth of the game. How have these changes impacted your work?

I wouldn’t say the evolution of the Magic universe has had a great impact on my working approach, but there is a more coherent design influence to many aspects of cards in the later sets as they’re depicting people, environments and creatures that have already been seen in earlier editions.

Loaming Shaman © Wizards of the Coast

Many of your Magic art features Rats, Goats, Squirrels, Cats, Hounds, Tigers, Beasts, Bears, Elephants, Insects, Birds, and Wurms. Is this a “theme” that plays to your strengths as an artist?

I hope so.  It’s the job of a good art editor to match up the individual jobs with the most suitable artists, so I suppose you’d have to ask them 😉

On 2013 you said that “the artwork is always drawn traditionally (usually with a dip pen) in ink and then scanned in and colored on the computer”. Can you elaborate further on your work process and the impact of technology?

The interview you mention in the question was mainly about my comic strip work, which is usually black and white line art coloured in Photoshop, but for my Magic card art I prefer traditional painting. The older cards are done in acrylics and then I switched to a combination of watercolour and gouache around the time of the Ravnica block.

Overrun © Wizards of the Coast

After a hiatus, you recently made an amazing comeback with Unstable. That Goat token is genius. How did it feel to make these paintings?

Glad you like the Goat! Many thanks for the kind words – I’ve always enjoyed doing Magic cards and it was great to work on them again – I hope to have the chance to do some more (if anyone from WotC reads this 😉 but I guess we’ll have to wait and see…

Of all the cards you painted, which ones were the most challenging, and why?

Each card presents its own different challenges. As I mentioned earlier a successful Magic card always depends on a strong image that reads well on a small scale – the other thing you always need to think about is the card colour – I find White cards in particular need a lot of thought.

We want to thank Carl for taking the time to talk to us. You can find more about his work on his website.


Joseph Meehan Interview

Welcome to our artists interview series – There’s no Magic without art -, where we talk to artists about their work on Magic: the Gathering.

Today we share with you our talk with Joseph Meehan, and here’s what he told us.

Joseph Meehan, the artist behind the Phyrexian Scriptures Saga

Tragic Lesson © Wizards of the Coast

Hi Joe! tell us a bit about how you got started.

I’ve drawn my whole life, I come from a family of people who draw, my Dad was an illustrator, my Mom is an Art Director in advertising. I ended up going through the Toy Design program at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and got a job at Mattel, in the Boys Action Department, where I worked mainly on Batman.

I always wanted to be a concept artist and an illustrator, so in the evenings I worked hard to create a portfolio. Mattel would send employees to Comic-Con every year, and in 2013, I went knowing that Wizards of the Coast (WotC) interviews artists there. My interview went great and within 8 months I got my first commission.

What paintings were the hardest to do?

The ones that have a lot of figures in it, all trying to tell a specific story. Characters take a long time to draw. Natural environments are always easy and fun to do, but if you have four characters all interacting with each other, now that’s a real pain the ass! [Laughs]

For every character you must design the costume, and you want them all to be unique and cool, so the decision about what you’re going to draw takes a long time, not the drawing itself.

A specific card I didn’t like doing and wasn’t happy how it ended up was Confiscation Coup. It was a complicated story to tell, and a complicated scene to draw.

What cards were the easiest?

The simpler cards are the ones you can visualize more easily, if it’s just one character. Sometimes the Art Description (AD) is just “draw the character and make them look cool”.

I did the invocation for Hazoret the Fervent, and that was basically the AD. So yeah, for cards like that you can do a certain low angle, hero shot with the white light behind them.

Hazoret the Fervent © Wizards of the Coast

How was it to paint the ‘Spell Pierce’ Invocation?

I found that illustration kind of difficult, it was hard to get across what exactly was happening. He’s supposed to be splitting this wall of flames and the original illustration was not telling that story clearly enough, even though I do like it better.

I had a lot of that scene mapped out on 3D, and it was very easy for me to just rotate the camera, and then paint in the flames again. So, even though it sounds like it’s like a huge job to completely redo an illustration, for that one it actually wasn’t quite as hard.

On the right, the final image for Spell Pierce © Wizards of the Coast

Can you give us a brief description of your work process?

I always take a photo of myself or, if it’s a woman, take a photo of my wife. Then I go into Poser, and try to duplicate it. But, because I’m not muscular, and usually I’m called upon to draw heroic muscular men, I use a software called Anatomy 360: they have body scans of body builders, so you can get the references for muscles and that. Then, I’ll put it into KeyShot, the rendering software. If there’s buildings in the background I’ll always build the buildings in 3D.

Watchers of the Dead © Wizards of the Coast

You painted the new Saga card ‘Phyrexian Scriptures’ in acrylics, which is something you don’t normally do. What can you tell us about this painting?

Around that time they sent me that commission I had started considering doing some traditional paintings for Wizards, because the originals are worth a lot of money. Even though I don’t play the game, I knew this was going to be an important card. They were VERY specific on this one, more specific than they are on most cards.

It was an easy card to design. They sent me Dark Ritual – the card they were referencing – but wanted a human hand instead; they also showed me some examples of Phyrexian stuff, to make it ‘Gigoresque’ (to reference HR Gigor), and I noticed that this stuff they were showing me, these massive hoses and bones, was not symmetrical.

Phyrexian Scriptures © Wizards of the Coast

I decided that a symmetrical image would be more impactful for this sort of outer worldly look, and to make it look like an altar. The text was laid out exactly how you see in the card, and the words in the middle needed to be emphasized, so I decided to put them on that raised section.

I ended up with a render that looks very much like the final thing. I painted it on a canvas, which – I found out later – is not what most Magic artists do. Most Magic artists do a digital sketch, print it out on this heavy paper, and then basically glue it to a board and paint over it. This is a really good way to go about it, and it’s what I’m going to do in the future.

But I redrew the whole thing on a canvas using a pencil. I used this grid technique where I lay out a 10×20 grid over the KeyShot render, drew a bigger grid with the same aspect ratio on the canvas, and then drew it in by hand just by looking at it.

Ramos, Dragon Engine © Wizards of the Coast

What’s the main difference between digital and traditional painting?

You know, the thing with digital is you can lay down color and stuff faster, and you can end up with something that looks pretty passable faster.

You also have more flexibility…

Yes, but that’s the Achilles heel of digital. You have more flexibility, there for you have more opportunity to second guess yourself. I find myself going back and forth a lot on things, you have so much freedom it can really eat up your time. It’s like the more advanced the technique, the more time is wasted.
Now that I’ve been incorporating much more 3D into my work, I’ll sit there for hours moving the camera around the model by tiny increments until it’s just the right. And no one notices this, but I do.

Saproling Token © Wizards of the Coast

We want to thank Joe for taking the time to talk to us. You can find Joseph’s work on his Artstation, and follow him on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter. We’ll be back next week with another interview, until then, happy scanning!


Jason Rainville Interview

Welcome to our artists interview series – There’s no Magic without art -, where we talk to artists about their work on Magic: the Gathering.

Today we share with you our talk with Jason Rainville, and here’s what he told us.

Jason Rainville, the artist behind Rekindling Phoenix and Reality Smasher

Deadlock Trap © Wizards of the Coast

Jason, tell us about how you got started working with Wizards of the Coast.

I was working for various table-top publishers at the time when a call for artists came from then-WotC art director Jon Schindehette. The call was specifically for concept artists. I applied to the position of character/costume concept artist as those I feel are my strong suits. While word came back that I didn’t get the job, they offered me Magic The Gathering cards!

In which way does the small card format condition the creative process, and how do you work around it?

While the size of the art when printed is very small, I think that sense of immersion and awe can actually be very easily achieved if fans are viewing the art during pre-release, when larger hi-res images are being shown. otherwise, simple and cohesive compositions are well-suited to create impact at a small size.

The horizontal orientation of the image lends itself to large sweeping vistas and in certain cases scenes with many characters. The problem (for me) comes when a non-planeswalker brief calls for a single character.
It’s very hard to create an imposing figure in a landscape-orientation. Still, with a little bit of planning, perspective, maybe even a dutch angle, it’s possible to work around the limitations of the card.

Reality Smasher © Wizards of the Coast

You painted new art for the iconic Cryptic Command. It’s interesting how you took the element from Wayne England’s art and incorporated it as a central piece of your work. When creating new art for an existing card, does this increase the pressure on your side? How does this process differ from creating art for a new card?

I think there’s a bit of misunderstanding about the creative process and relationship between artist and art director with this card specifically; the iconic spell was part of the brief. I knew relatively little about the previous card and the art director called for the mage to be casting that spell at the viewer. Most everything else was left up to me, but I can’t take credit for the implementation.

I CAN however take credit for doing a small amount of research into blue mana and the card, trying to create something as mysterious as possible. I settled on a mage so shrouded in layers of swirling fabric that her figure (just like her intentions) were lost to sight.

Cryptic Command © Wizards of the Coast

From your descriptions of the work behind Oracle of Dust and Thunderbreak Regent, you seem to spend a lot of time preparing for each painting, doing multiple studies and sketches. Can you give us a brief description of your work process, and how you got there?

I really like front-loading my decision-making as it means I can focus on each stage of the process without having to think too much the whole way through. Thinking is a tough and slow process, and I’d rather get it out of the way early so less of the image has to change further down the road.

Ideally I start with studies of the subject before work even begins. As my schedule grows more and more hectic, this is a luxury I’m not often able to indulge in.

Studies for Oracle of Dust

I always start with a page of usually 21 thumbnails (small, simple sketches) done in graphite. I like to start in pencil as it forces me to keep things simple.

Going right to digital might allow me to get lost in the details to early on. I select the best ideas from those thumbnails, bring them into Photoshop and create 1-3 colour sketches that I then send off to the art director. Once one is selected/approved, I look for and shoot reference photos (usually of myself).

I then resketch the entire image in a tight digital line sketch. I paint the colours underneath this sketch, and then begin painting overtop. this rendering, though only one “step” can take up fully half of the overall time I spend on an image.

Muldrotha, the Gravetide © Wizards of the Coast

Art descriptions give artists a rundown of the card, they must imagine it and bring to life. Would you share with us some of your most challenging commissions?

While I’d like to recount a brief that was particularly outlandish or challenging, it’s almost never the brief that gives me trouble, it’s the subject matter being presented.

I feel like I still have a difficult time simplifying certain subjects in a piece, and anytime I’ve been asked to include a lot of foliage or cities I’ve usually had a harder time.

As for the hardest brief, I think it was Violent Impact for the Amonkhet set. It was just very difficult to show a smashed chariot that still read as a chariot. Drawing fantasy chariots are hard enough when they’re intact!

Did you ever receive an art description that made you say “I know exactly how I’ll paint this!”?

Yes! But it’s not released yet so I can’t really talk about it. Like I said Violent Impact proved difficult after a while, but I suppose something that made me do a double take was the description for Eldritch Evolution. it just seemed so gross and wild that I had no idea where to start sketching it!

Eldritch Evolution © Wizards of the Coast

Rekindling Phoenix is an amazing painting and one of the most played cards in Standard. Can you tell us more about how this painting came to be?

Rekindling phoenix is actually one of the pieces I’m most sad about. I don’t think it really came together and my disappointment is compounded by the fact that it’s a very playable and popular card. It has to do with the fact that I’m not too great at drawing birds, or painting foliage and distant architecture. This one had all 3!

I wish I could have used one of my other sketch options for this one but I misunderstood the brief and painted the phoenix way too large at first. Just so this isn’t a completely negative answer though; I had done some more dynamic views of the bird from the side, and in a much darker setting so that the fire would show better. unfortunately it was a little too far off of the brief and a different option was selected.

The concept-art for the phoenix was already established as well so I didn’t do much to design it. Overall the piece came together relatively easily, but I just wish it was more realistic and defined.

Rekindling Phoenix © Wizards of the Coast

What’s the most satisfying part of making art for Magic?

A few things; the art director-artist relationship is the best I’ve had, the ready-made worlds to illustrate are inspiring, and the built-in fanbase has made making secondary income a lot easier.

But really, it’s the very enthusiastic fanbase that just loves to see good art and storytelling in the game they love. If I can fit some easter eggs (like the bat in Heir of Falkenrath) or extra effort (Oracle of Dust) in some cards, it’ll get noticed and appreciated.

Seeing those bits of recognition, those positive comments from people who know this game/these worlds inside out really means something to me as someone who doesn’t.

It makes it feel like I’ve really tapped into something and made an impact even while being more on the outside. Makes me feel like I’m a good artist to know how to elicit that response every now and again.

 Heir of Falkenrath © Wizards of the Coast

We want to thank Jason for his time and kindness, and for giving us this incredibly funny and inspiring interview. You can find more about Jason’s work on his website, where you can buy amazing prints and sketches, or get one of your favorite cards signed. We’ll be back next week with another interview, until then, happy scanning!