Steven Belledin Interview

Welcome to our interview series (#20), There’s No Magic Without Art.

For this week’s interview we had the pleasure of talking with Steven Belledin, who shared with us the stories behind his craft.

We used several images present on Steven’s blog, which we highly recommend you check out.

Here’s what Steven told us.

“I am a problem solver by nature”

– Steven Belledin

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

I got into Magic through working on Dungeons and Dragons. I’d been doing DnD art for years and in the process worked with several different art directors. I happened to be in Seattle for a friend’s wedding and so I decided to go and meet all the people I’d worked with in person.

I also used that opportunity to get in and see the Magic art director (who was Jeremy Cranford at the time). He interviewed me, looked through my portfolio and was brutally honest in not liking a lot of what I’d done. Fortunately, there were pieces that he did like and he brought be on board as a Magic artist as a result. The first set I worked on was Coldsnap.

Can you give us some insight into how you conceptualize a Magic card, from the art description to the first stroke?

When I get an art description, the first thing I do is read it over and over again. If it references images in the styleguide, I take a look at those too. Then, I stop looking at the description and the styleguide and I let my mind wander. Before too long, images start to appear in my head.

These images are largely the result of what I take in. Comic books, movies, cartoons, photography, other people’s art, television shows, landscapes and cityscapes I’ve seen, places I’ve been to and books all contribute to the images swirling in my head. As I’m trying to pin down what I want to do with a Magic painting, my brain takes little bits from all these various sources and melds them together.

Narstad Scrapper© Wizards of the Coast

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Fevered Visions  © Wizards of the Coast

These mental images often come in very quick flashes—sometimes as still images, sometimes as one or two seconds of motion—and I sometimes have trouble capturing what I just saw in my head. Usually, though, while my brain is doing all this, I am sitting there with my sketchbook making very rough drawings. I say “drawings,” but they’re actually just scribbles and random marks.

As time goes on, the images start to coalesce into more legible thumbnail sketches. After I’ve started to latch onto a general idea, I go back and reread the art description yet again and reexamine the artwork in the styleguide (again, if there is any). This is a way for me to recheck my thought process and make sure I’m still on the right track.

From there, I start to refine my scribbles into an actual image. Only after I get the idea to a point that I like do I go forward to a finished sketch. Sometimes I have more than one idea, or more than one point of view of the same idea and I’ll do multiple explorations.

But in the end, it’s rare that I submit more than two sketches. Most of the time, though, I submit just one. Then I send these sketches off to the art director and await their reply. If I get approval, I start painting as soon as I possibly can because painting is my favorite part.

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What makes for an exciting art description?

I am a problem solver by nature and solving problems is what makes illustration a fun career to me. With art descriptions involving pre-determined visuals, a lot of the “problems” of the illustration are already solved.

So, I prefer any assignment that involves getting to actually design elements within the finished image. In short, I like using my brain and the more I have to figure out and create within a given job, the more exciting it is to me.

Why did planes like Kaladesh and Theros felt to you more distant aesthetically, and what were your favorite planes to work on?

Kaladesh is a world whose visuals rely heavily on a lot of ornate and decorative design. I don’t really like that kind of thing because decoration has no real purpose. I prefer more practical design because it makes more sense to me and tends to feel more usable and real.

The more decorative things become, the more distant the feel to me personally. I don’t know why, but that’s just always been the case for me. A banged up, rusty or greasy gear is always going to be more interesting to me than the filigree-covered gears of Kaladesh.

Wasteland © Wizards of the Coast

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Herald of the Fair © Wizards of the Coast

Theros was a different issue in that the world felt too close to its inspiration to me. Ancient Greece is interesting, but I wished they’d pulled the aesthetic further into the world of Magic.

I know that Wizards wants to continually broaden the boundaries of what Magic’s aesthetic is, but for me, Theros felt too much like actual depictions of Greece and its mythology and not enough like it belonged to Magic. In a way, it felt more to me like doing historical painting than fantasy painting.

Of the many planes I’ve had the privilege of working on, Mirrodin is near the top of the list of my favorites. Well, Phyrexianized Mirrodin, anyway. I really enjoyed working in that world and I can’t think of a plane that Magic has ever gone to that is more unique and more “ownable” as a Magic plane.

I also feel like I painted some of my best work for those sets. Ravnica is another place I like a good deal. Unfortunately, every time we’ve gotten to visit that world, I have things going on in my life that prevent me from taking on as much work as I’d like, and so I have only a few paintings set there.

If I had to choose just one plane, though, it would probably be Innistrad. I’ve had a lot of fun working on the paintings for that world, and I hope it’s a place I get to go back to again someday.

How was it to work on the Concepting team for Innistrad, a fan favorite set?

Concepting in general has been a blast. It’s a very intense experience that is inspirational and also exhausting. I’ve had the privilege of working on Kaladesh, Ixalon, Dominaria, and Tarkir as well, but all of those experiences can’t top working on Innistrad.

Part of that is because it was my first time doing concept work. Part of that is that it was the first time I got to work alongside other artists. The rest of it is that Innistrad really fits well with my work and my sensibilities and is a place that I could really sink my teeth into.

Drawing things for that world was almost second nature to me. While there were certainly challenges, they weren’t frustrating ones, and collaborating with Steve Prescott and Mike “Daarken” Lim made solving any problems interesting and exciting.

We were constantly bouncing ideas off of one another and helping to make one another’s ideas even better. There’s a part of me that wishes I had that all the time, but then my studio would be too crowded!

On the left: the images Steven used as reference.
© Steven Belledin
On the right: Floodtide Serpent, Lantern Scout and Veteran Explorer © Wizards of the Coast

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You also mentioned that Demolish was an unexpectedly hard card to paint. The First Eruption resulted in ‘severe hand cramps and occasional hand spasms’. What makes a card challenging, and what – on the other hand – makes it ‘a breeze’ to work on?

I had a teacher once tell me that when one has finished an illustration, what one has learned is how to paint that specific illustration. While there are lessons one may take from that illustration into the next illustration, the combination of problems one had to solve will never be the same again. I’ve found that my teacher was generally right about this.

I know how to paint metal, but the combination of the metal, the lighting, the shear amount of detail in Demolish, made it very hard to paint. The First Eruption, meanwhile, was a test of endurance. Sometimes I know what the challenge in a piece is going to be. Often it’s the lighting or the amount of detail. Other times, I find myself in the middle of the piece suddenly realizing that I’m stuck.

Fortunately, we live in an age where I can take a photo of the painting in progress, import that photo into Photoshop and digitally paint on top of it to figure out what my next step will be.Then I can take the solution to the easel and paint confidently. The reality is that the biggest factor that has made Magic paintings challenging has been the passage of time.

Greater Sandwurm © Wizards of the Coast

When I first started working on Magic, the illustrations were simpler and required less detail. Over time, the amount of detail and the level of realism have continued to increase and it’s frankly very hard to keep up. The simpler an image is, the easier it tends to be. To this day, the fastest I’ve ever painted a Magic piece was two and a half days and that piece was Deathmark.

Why did it take so little time? It’s essentially just a close-up of an eyeball. While there’s still a lot of detail in that piece, the image is primarily made up of large, simple shapes. If you look at most recent Magic illustrations, the shapes tend not to be large or simple.

The illustrations are increasingly detailed and chock-full of stuff. The more stuff a painting contains, the more problems there are to solve and the more time these images take. So it’s the combination of those things with the ever-looming deadline that tends to make things so challenging.

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

Surgical Extraction, Rampant Growth, Overgrown Tomb, and my original basic Forest are among the favorites that have been released.

The First Eruption © Wizards of the Coast
Detail on the right

You said about Mox Amber that “it’s not exactly shouting its value or power, either. It is, in many respects, the perfect example of my aesthetic philosophy”. What other aspects define you as an artist?

In general, I like to keep things pretty simple and real. The things I am asked to depict are generally very unreal and so I don’t like to make those things feel inauthentic with extreme points of view or exaggerated perspective.

I try and depict things in a very straightforward way as though the viewer were standing there, actually seeing the things I’m trying to show them. I try and let the subjects of the images call attention to themselves naturally.

Also, I tend to dislike lots of bright color (which may be another reason I don’t feel completely comfortable in Kaladesh). I like seeing the bright colors in the work of other artists, but it feels very unnatural to me. So I tend to stick to more muted tones whenever possible and limit the amount of bright hues.

Rampant Growth © Wizards of the Coast

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We recently saw two new pieces from you on the Core Set 2019. How did it feel to work on them?

Both were a lot of fun, honestly. I don’t think of myself as a creature designer, but more and more I’m finding that I’m asked to do just that. Obviously Wizards likes what I do in terms of creature design, and hopefully the audience does too. Additionally, I got to create these creatures from scratch, so both were a lot of fun.

The new version of Vaevictis Asmadi was especially interesting and fun since it was an existing character that needed to be reinvented. Wizards provided some very basic guidelines, but I was essentially free to do whatever I wanted with him. I felt pretty honored to be given that degree of trust.

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

Sure! I need to start by saying that my sketches nowadays are largely digital and almost fully rendered out. They’re pretty elaborate (though not as detailed as finished work) and pretty clear for the most part. That wasn’t always the case.

My sketches used to be quite bad and to some extent open to interpretation. This could sometimes be problematic but also led to a funny incident. Well, I found it amusing, anyway.

Island © Wizards of the Coast

The paintings I did for Tome Scour and Idle Thoughts are strangely related to one another because of my poor sketches. Tome Scour was one of the first Magic paintings I ever did, but it was for a card that didn’t get published and so it was kept in Magic’s art files waiting for the day it could be used for a new card. I submitted two sketches for Tome Scour.

The first was a sorcerer magically pulling the printed words off of the pages of a book and is what the painting was based on. The second sketch depicted the words falling out of the same book as the book was being shaken by the sorcerer. For some reason that second sketch really stuck in the art director’s head.

A couple years went by and I was assigned the art for Idle Thoughts. The art director asked me to paint the second sketch I submitted all those years ago of the flying book. I was confused and had no idea what he was talking about. I had never drawn a flying book. So he called me on the phone and tried to jog my memory. It took a while, but I finally understood that he meant the unused sketch for Tome Scour.

I looked at the sketch and I realized that he wasn’t wrong and that it really did look like a flying book. I pointed out to him that the book wasn’t flying but rather the words were being “poured” out of it. Obviously that’s not what he saw in the image I’d created. It was at this point that I realized I needed to start making my sketches a bit clearer so art directors could properly interpret my intentions.

© Wizards of the Coast

Surgical Extraction © Wizards of the Coast


Thank you for reading!

We’re incredibly grateful to Steven for taking the time to share his passion with us.

Find more about Steven’s work on his website.

Meet us next week for another interview!


Yeong-Hao Han Interview

Welcome to our MTG artists interview series (#19), There’s No Magic Without Art.

We had the chance to catch up with Yeong-Hao Han and talk about his work on Magic: The Gathering. Enjoy!

Hi Yeong-Hao Han. We saw your first Magic card six years ago. How did you got started?

I submitted some work to Jeremy Jarvis. The work had a lot of photo textures in it, which I knew wasn’t really Wizards style, so I didn’t really think anything would come of it. Jeremy got back to me saying the work was perfect for the upcoming set. That set turned out to be Return to Ravnica.

Were you familiar with the game at the time?

I used to play 4th Edition back in the day. To be honest, my play group was so rudimentary compared what I see people doing now. I’m not sure if it’s the internet that has people sharing information or if the game simply evolved over time, but my gameplay was childish in comparison.

Carnage Tyrant © Wizards of the Coast

Millstone © Wizards of the Coast

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

I always start out with thumbnail sketches in a sketchbook. Then I blow them up and do a rough, black and white painting on the computer and submit that to Wizards. Once that sketch is approved, the process deviates from painting to painting.

It really depends on the subject matter and how I want the final painting to look. Sometimes I start with a traditional painting, or I might build a 3D model, other times I’ll do a really detailed line drawing, and most often I’ll jump in digitally. Whatever the process, I always bring the illustration back to Photoshop to finish the painting.

You painted the five weapons of the powerful Gods from the Theros block, how did these cards came to be?

I was given an art description that said the weapon is floating in the sky and with the Starry Nyx Mechanic glowing in the shadows. The weapons had already been designed, along with their prospective gods. My first pass on the cards, I did dramatic up shots at the sky with the weapons dropping down about to wreak havoc on the people below. Jeremy Jarvis, the art director, came back and told me to tone it down. Wizards was actually just looking for a plain side view of the weapon in the sky.

I was a little bummed out because it’s hard to make a really dynamic looking image with these requirements. The weapons themselves are very simple in design, so it’s not like I could go crazy with some ornamentation. Because of all of this, I put most of the emphasis on the clouds, to spice up the image.

In terms of getting a set of cards to work on, getting 5 paintings is definitely better than 1! One of my favorite parts of working on Magic is seeing my cards get play, but generally, I don’t know if the card is going to be any good. In this case, I figured one of these weapons will be decent enough to see some play time.

Sanctum of the Sun © Wizards of the Coast

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

The hardest cards for me are when there are a ton of descriptors in the description. Wandering Tombshell is an example of this. The art description was something like: A gigantic, rotting, zombie tortoise, with ruins on it’s back, walking through a swamp. It’s hard enough to paint a giant tortoise, but it has to be a zombie as well! The buildings are ruins means I’m really limited in camera angles because they need to read as well on a small card.

When doing new art for an existing card, do you take into consideration the old art, or does it depend on the art description?

I do look at old art. For reprints, I think it’s really important to take the history of Magic into account, especially since a lot of reprints are popular cards. I try my best to do something different from the previous card art. For example, Maze of Ith already had 2 versions: An organic labyrinth, and a man-made prison version. I tried to do a combination of the two, which is still man-made but forming an undulating organic landscape.

Thaumatic Compass © Wizards of the Coast

Do you ever put some easter eggs/hidden elements on your paintings?

Not so much, but it is an interesting idea. Maybe that’s something I’ll try incorporating in future paintings.

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

My answer is always the same. I really loved painting Wall of Limbs and was totally bummed out when I found out the card sucked. Carnage Tyrant and Thaumatic Compass are also cards where I like how the art turned out..

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

You can view my work at artstation.com/fooyee or deviantart.com/fooyee/gallery I’m really bad with updating my work, so I tend to be a set or two behind.

Island © Wizards of the Coast


Thank you for reading!

We want to thank Yeong-Hao Han for taking the time to talk to us.

Meet us next week for another interview!

Wall of Limbs © Wizards of the Coast


Steve Prescott Interview

Welcome to our MTG artists interview series (#18), There’s No Magic Without Art.

We had the chance to catch up with Steve Prescott over Skype, and got to chat about his work on Magic: The Gathering. Here’s what Steve told us.

“My stuff always has sense of humor whether I want it or not”

Steve Prescott

Hi Steve. Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Steve Prescott and I have been working in the fantasy gig Industry since 95, maybe 94. I started out right out of college by doing a bunch of work for a company called White Wolf games, doing a lot of contemporary horror type stuff like vampires and werewolves.

The White Wolf stuff led to doing Shadowrun work, which let into doing a few other assignments for, you know, smaller companies there.

I gradually made my way to Wizards of the Coast in about 2002/2003, working on Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) and Forgotten Realms, and a few years later I started working for Magic.

Lightform © Wizards of the Coast

Did you have a formal education or were you self-taught?

Both, I’d say. I did go to school and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts at the Columbus College of Art & Design. What that entails is giving you the medium and the fuel for teaching yourself sort of speak. I like to consider it was both self-taught and learned education.

Were you familiar with the game at the time?

I was familiar in the vaguest sense. I played D&D in college with my buddies, but they started playing Magic in the mid-nineties. They were all very good at it, they got a good mind for gaming, but I don’t, I’m terrible at strategy games [Laughs]. So I just watched over their shoulder and appreciated the cool game with awesome artwork.

You work mainly with traditional medium?

All the work I’ve done for Magic has been completely traditional. If I’m doing concept design I’ll often use a mixture of pencil and photoshop, but otherwise, yeah, I’m an acrylic artist.

For hearthstone I’ll tweak certain details digitally because they’ll often have a fix or two after I send them the final, that usually doesn’t happen with Magic.

Can you visualize the final picture with ease, or do you find it as you go?

I find it as I go much more often. I’ll work out a lot of it on the sketch phase, if I can get the drawing right, the mood, and the facial expression right, then I can make everything else work very effectively.

But it usually isn’t that smooth of a process, there’s a lot of erasing and even when I get to the painting phase I will often change my mind, not so much on the structure of the painting, but on the colors. It’s definitely an organic process.

I have a quote here from you that says “I know if it’s right when I see it”

Yeah, that’s a shorter version of saying it than what I just battered out [Laughs].

Roon of the Hidden Realm © Wizards of the Coast

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Fleetfeather Sandals © Wizards of the Coast

What kind of art descriptions do you usually get?

It depends on the assignment obviously. There are some artists that grasp abstract concepts better, like “Show time melting away” [Steve uses a very deep voice], you know? That’s not my forte.

I can do that, but I think other artists do a much better job at that. So they go with those artists for that. They like me for something that’s whimsical, that has a touch of humor in it maybe, and is creature or costume design oriented.

You mentioned Fauna Shaman took you a week to paint, that’s a long time.

Yeah, depends how smoothly everything is going. I just did one for Magic – can’t talk about it in detail obviously – but it took about a week, not because anything is going wrong, but I just started getting into the details and had to get reference for some specific elements.

Usually they take 3-4 days, depending on how many figures might be on the piece.

Fauna Shaman © Wizards of the Coast

When sorting through your cards by color, I noticed you only painted 9 black cards out of almost 200…

[Laughs] That sounds about right actually. If you’re gonna to paint a black card, you have to have a darker approach I guess.

My stuff always has sense of humor whether I want it or not. My grizzliest black card has a comic book type flare to it, so it isn’t as gritty as they’d like.

When we interviewed Christopher Moeller, he said that for him white cards were the ones that required more thought. What’s your relationship with the different colors?

Well, I don’t read a description and say “Oh man! It’s a white card! I don’t wanna do that!”, you know? [Laughs]

But I agree with Chris, there is a certain aspect to each. I fit in best with red and green cards, I think. ‘Cause it’s usually a lot of lot of chaos, there’s some whimsy, there’s animals, whether cute or ferocious, and that kind of fits my look a little bit better.

But blue usually has some mystical magic elements, and there’s some other artists that do that better than I do; white almost has some abstract approach to it and there’s artists that do that better than I do; and of course black needs a really dark approach in order to be cinematic, and not be funny [Laughs], and there’s artists that do that better than I do!

Whatever card color they give me I always try to do my best and trust they gave that card to me for a reason.

Reincarnation © Wizards of the Coast

Some artists struggle with cards that have many figures, some struggle with backgrounds and buildings, do you have an Achilles-heel?

Hmm. Achilles-heel you said? [Laughs] I do, but I think art directors stir me clear of any stuff where I could get tangled up. Like if I had to do a sprawling city scape where it was pertinent to get the right lightning and detail, that would take me a lot longer than I wanted to. I could get it done, but there’s other artists that can do it better and faster, an art director wouldn’t put me in that position, they’d want to use my strengths.

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You mentioned in the past that, of the cards you made, you really dislike Battle Rampart..

Damn it! Don’t bring that card up! [Laughs]. It’s funny you brought that up, last week I got an email from someone saying they like the card and that only I could pull off those colors. That may have softened my view on the card.

That card just wasn’t working out, so I started pushing out the colors as far as I could just to make it kind of gory. Whatever else I had in mind wasn’t working. Someone that didn’t see the process wouldn’t know it, but when I see it I’m like: “that card makes me feel bad!” [Laughs]

Prognostic Sphinx © Wizards of the Coast

I guess when you look at the card you can see the whole process behind it, while we just see the end product. I guess it’s hard to look at something you made with fresh eyes, maybe it’s something that takes years.

There’s plenty of cards where I felt “I don’t want to look at this anymore, I don’t want to see it”, and years later I’ll go back and, while I won’t say “Hey! This was a tremendous piece of art”, there will be some aspect of it where I’ll say “you know what? that worked out alright!”. I give myself a mild pat on the back [Laughs].

I really like your Goblin Contraptions from Unstable, this is a single painting divided into 9 individual cards. How did this came to be?

It’s definitely the biggest painting I’ve done, and the biggest Magic card – soft of speak, because it’s actually nine cards. And going back to your previous questions, that was probably the most involved and most difficult piece to do, just because it was so detail intensive.

Because it was goblins, almost anything could work in it, I didn’t got to have this specific light source and make it look like this contraption could actually work, it was supposed to be chaotic and zany and whimsical, in that respect everything worked out great. It took a lot to lay it out and make sure that all the pieces were going to fit the nine cards in the right way, it was interesting though, I had a lot of fun with that challenge.

Abzan Guide © Wizards of the Coast

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Goblin Contraptions from Unstable © Wizards of the Coast

For the Comic Con Planeswalkers, the black effect was added on post-production right?

Those were done for some other project, and right when I turned it in they said “you know what, we’re gonna use these for these Magic cards”.

I just did them pretty much black on white, almost like I would if was painting a comic book page or something. They came up with the idea to make gloss black on flat black or whatever and just the color of the magic, but I thought they did a fantastic job with that.

Can you name your favorite paintings?

I have a bunch because I like certain parts of a lot of them. Even though there’s other elements on the piece, I will like I piece just because “Oh I like how I handled the clouds”.

The goblin contraption is a good one, there was just so much work and so much fun.

I like Kiora’s Follower, Silver Knight, I like the armory guy from Shadows over Innistrad, Prognostic Sphinx… I don’t know, there’s a handful.

Rowdy Crew © Wizards of the Coast


Thank you for reading!

We want to thank Steve for taking time to talk to us and share his vision.

You can find more about Steve on his website.

Meet us next week for another interview!


Volkan Baga Interview

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!


Jeff Menges Interview

Welcome to the #16 MTG artists interview series, There’s no Magic without art.

Today we have the pleasure of sharing with you our interview with Jeff Menges, one of the original Magic artists.

“The best thing an artist can do today, is develop an idea without the computer, and go to it later — when your vision is already clear. Only then will the image be yours.”

– Jeff Menges

Hi Jeff. As one of the original 25 Magic artists, how did it all start?

For me, it started by working with a a small RPG company that was innovative and willing to take a chance on a new idea. In 1991 WOTC was just a handful of employees putting out Role-playing products that I was providing black-and-white artwork for.

Mostly grayscale stuff. When this idea for a card game began to develop, the first artists they asked were those that were already working with them on these products. Brian Snoddy, Chris Rush, Daniel Gelon, and myself—there were probably others—all started this way.

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The original Sketch and painting for Sea Serpent. © Wizards of the Coast

At what point in time did you first notice the game was a huge hit?

It was obvious from the start that the game was something different. I was at GenCon in 1993, when the game came in, they couldn’t sell it fast enough. They sold everything they had at that show.

This year marks Magics 25th anniversary. What do you consider to be the secret behind such longevity?

What is different about it is the ever-changing landscape of the game. Every few months there is an entirely new set of art, options, and combinations to get a hold of. It keeps players buying and collectors interested.

WOTC has done a great job maintaining story and gameplay quality. It’s a game that is built to grow— not to be complete at any point. That seems like something many games have now, but it was different in 1992.

Can you give us a brief description of your painting process, and how has it changed since the early days of Magic?

Once I manage a sketch in my scrawlish kind of scribbles… something that I can see the answer to an idea in, there are a few steps (usually with tracing paper) to clarify and develop those ideas.

These are usually about standard page size, for convenience sake. when that sketch has what I want, it gets enlarged digitally, and then hand-transferred to a board where the painting takes place. While I do occasionally digitally color work, I prefer to work traditionally.

My paint of choice is usually acrylic. I have occasionally painted cards in watercolor and on really rare occasions in oil (though never used oil for MTG). I’ve recently started to experiment with gouache, which seems to be a paint medium that suits my skill set very well.

In 26 years, the biggest change in process has to do with digital access. The internet has become such a powerful tool for research, you can get a picture of ANYTHING in fractions of a second.

Black Knight remade for The Gathering: Reuniting Pioneering Artists of Magic: The Gathering

Pencil piece Jeff did for Wotc early 92. (About 6 weeks before the GenCon where they talked about the new card game….) © Wizards of the Coast

It wasn’t like that in 1992. (Or, maybe it was for a select few) I think it has killed a lot of imagination. I think the best thing an artist can do today, is develop an idea without the computer, and go to it later—when your vision is already clear. Only then will the image be yours.

You’ve described yourself as a “landscape artist working in a fantasy setting”. How has your work on Magic impacted your personal work?

I have. Magic has affected it, on many levels.

Being the biggest potential client in the marketplace, it has influence on my potential directions, and on the buyers who are interested in my work. For example— a recent piece that has the look and feel of my Alliances era paintings will get much more attention from my fan base than a linocut I am working on for my own creative satisfaction.

As long as I require money to survive, that kind of skew will impact the choices I make on work I want to sell for income. It becomes a balancing act, between pleasing an audience and self-satisfaction. Both are needed for art to thrive.

Thawing Glaciers © Wizards of the Coast

Do you recall what were the most challenging cards to paint?

As the game developed, art requirements changed. Originally, experimentation was encouraged. Later, it was about competing for jobs with artists who you looked up to for inspiration just a few years prior.

The game’s success meant nearly every illustrator in the fantasy market was drawn to it like moths to a candle. So what I was doing in 1996 was very different from what I did for Alpha.

Cards that had challenges—conceptually—”Swords to Plowshares” is one I get asked about a lot. When I was given the title (over the phone) I asked what that was supposed to be about— Jesper Myrfors told me it was about turning a fighter into a peaceful, non-threatening creature.

So I imagined an old warrior who was now working the fields with his military past (the castle-fortress) behind him.

Aliban’s Tower”(s) from Homelands were tricky, too. While I was keen to do towers, it was explained that they were made by summoning the stones from the surrounding area, so they had to look kind or organic, not cut.

Swords to Plowshares © Wizards of the Coast

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

Sea Serpent” is my favorite Alpha piece. Love the subject. My earliest decks were attempts to make it work. (Turning opponents lands to islands…)

Kjeldoran Outpost” from Alliances is a stand out. It is the kind of harsh environment I used to like to put players in when I was running role-playing games in college. I also like painting snow scenes, so Ice-Age and Alliance were a lot of fun for me.

I often mention “Citanul Druid” as my pick. From Antiquities, this painting has always struck me as a solid success in getting what I had “in my head” down onto board. It has a good sense of lighting, time of day, shadows, and textures all come through in this little painting, which still hangs in my house.

You’ve published ‘The Gathering’, an art book with works of the original artists involved with Magic: The Gathering. The book was a success on Kickstarter, and it’s now available for sale online. What can you tell us about this project?

That is a whole, long story in itself.

I have a long history with books on a few levels. I’m obsessed with old ones, I’ve worked in publishing for over 30 years, and I’ve put together more than a few myself.

Full Steam Press is a project that was just an idea when the 20th Anniversary of Magic came around, and the opportunity to do something with it seemed too good to pass up. It was going to be good for the fans, good for the artists, and perhaps even good as an historic record concerning the game. It took a toll on me though, creatively and physically. Learned a lot.

[Click here to learn more about The Gathering: Reuniting Pioneering Artists of Magic: The Gathering]

Giant Turtle © Wizards of the Coast

The Gathering: Reuniting Pioneering Artists of Magic The Gathering raised about $150,000 on Kickstarter

I saw on your Facebook page you attend many game related events. What feedback do you get from the players?

Feedback I get is often— “I love the old cards, when the images were painted, and styles were diverse” But I’m sure that’s not the same feedback that a new artist who is working digitally gets across the aisle.

People are attached to their memories of when they were learning the game. Those early impressions are strong. So depending when you started has a great impact on which art you like.

The people that come to my table either love the old stuff and linger to remember those early days, or realize I worked on almost nothing they recognize, and move on.

The most commonly asked question is “Why don’t you work on Magic anymore?”  I’d love to. It has become an integral part of my creative fibre. I don’t make that decision though. If the call came, I’d answer.

But I am thrilled that I am still welcomed and sought-after as part of the creative team that has worked on Magic over the years.

East Jetty Tower © Jeff Menges

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

Hmm. It’s been a long, winding road, but an incredible and enjoyable journey. Recently it has come to my attention that some of the brilliant artists working on the game today found Magic or were exposed to it when they were children, say 20ish years ago.

They are now in their early 30s, and they have memories of my art the way I recall paperback book covers and record sleeves that influenced my creative choices. THAT is influence I never imagined my work might have. It is both humbling, and amazing. I hope I can continue to add to it for some time.

Jeff at GenCon 2017


Thank you for reading!

We want to thank Jeff for taking the time to talk to us, and for sharing his vision. Remember to follow Jeff on Facebook!

Meet us next week for another interview!


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: