Set the waaaay back machine to 1994. Many of you will be horrified to be reminded that was 19 years ago. I know I am.
I’d just finished the artwork for Antiquities, Legends and The Dark and the original art director of Magic – Jesper Myrfors – asked me if I’d like to do the cover illustration for the first official Magic: The Gathering card binder. Of course, I jumped at the chance.
The concept was simple: paint a wizard playing Magic and have him surrounded by creatures from all five colors of mana. Okay, easy enough…
I wanted the wizard to have no mana bias so I had him playing an artifact. Bonus: it meant I got to paint the Stuffy Doll!
I remember struggling with the piece at the time. I was still pretty new to painting and making all the different elements work together while meeting the deadline was a tough undertaking. Here’s a little trivia about the piece –
- This was the first and only time I got to paint an angel on an official WotC product.
- This was the first time I painted goblins.
- The card backs were the hardest part because I’m fussy about little details like that.
The piece is a fun bit of history for me but it also shows I was still trying to find my feet with painting. Take a look at the wizard’s hands and arms to see the iffy attempt at blending, let alone whatever’s going on with the Serra Angel’s forehead!
To me, the painting’s greatest significance is as the catalyst for a larger project. I’ll get to that in a moment.
After the binder piece, the next job I did for WotC was 26 (!) paintings for the launch set of the Jyhad CCG (later known as Vampire: The Eternal Struggle, or V:TES). Then came Fallen Empires and I remember when I finished Armor Thrull, I was struck with how much I’d improved since those first few paintings only five months previous.
One day, while on the phone with Jesper, (this was before people commonly used email to conduct business. Hell, it was ’98 before I had the internet in my home!) we got to talking about producing a series of flyers for Magic. These would be handouts for use at the major conventions and there’d be five different designs – one for each color of Magic. That soon became six designs as I pointed out that Artifacts deserved a flyer too.
Jesper was very keen on the idea so I set to work on finding and combining some of the coolest creatures and spells from those first few sets of Magic. I’d flown to Seattle and visited WotC only a month earlier so I was privy to the wondrous imagery in the entire Legends set even though it was still a month or two until it was available in stores.
Balancing a composition filled with a dozen or more disparate creatures only unified by their casting cost was no small task. But I loved it. It was a glorious jigsaw puzzle and it was only the very short deadline for such complex paintings that made the assignment so grueling.
Finally when the paintings were complete, I tried to call Jesper because I still didn’t have a contract, but I had to leave voicemail. Time went by and I heard nothing. Eventually I got to talk to Sandra Everingham who I discovered had become the new art director for Magic. Jesper had quit, and unfortunately in all that chaos, no one had been told what I was working on. No one was expecting the work. There was no contract. Magic was clearly doing so well it didn’t need flyers.
I never did get that contract. And I never got paid the $6,000 I was expecting to receive.
Now, to be clear, I don’t hold any grudges over this. Jesper had bigger things on his mind when he quit Magic and WotC in 1994, and no one else even knew the pieces were being made so why would I be annoyed with them?
But this was a cold hard lesson that I abide by to this day: “Always get a contract“. It sits at #2 right behind “Never work for free. Never work on spec. If you don’t value your work, why would anyone else?”
Anyway, these six paintings have only been seen by a handful of people. They’ve NEVER been seen on the internet. Until now. Running twice a week starting this Thursday I’ll be debuting one of these pieces and we’ll be starting with that “Color #6” – Artifacts.
Stayed tuned. And be prepared for a scavenger hunt to find all the cards referenced in these paintings. It’s quite a few.