Welcome to our weekly interview series #43, There's No Magic Without Art!
This week we talked with artist Randy Gallegos, who has been working on Magic: The Gathering for nearly 25 years, and illustrated more than 150 cards.
Here's what Randy told us.
Hi Randy. You've been working on the game since the early days. Tell us a little about how you got into art, and Magic more specifically. Were you familiar with the game at the time?
I had not played Magic prior to starting to work with them, but I did have a good friend who was playing. While in my last semester at art college, that friend called to tell me that then-Art Director and also OG Magic artist Jesper Myrfors was going to do a card signing at a game store in San Francisco, not far from where I lived in San Jose.
I did not have a portfolio ready yet, so I took a bunch of paintings with me to the store. After he was done signing I asked him to have a look and he did. He told me "The Dark" had just finished assigning but he hired me for their next game, Vampire: the Eternal Struggle (then called "Jyhad").
This was 25 years ago almost exactly. By the end of 1994, I'd been "promoted" to Magic, my first set being Ice Age, which released Spring 1995.
Give us a brief description of your painting process for Magic cards, and how it changed throughout the years.
In the early years when the internet was still fairly useless, I would do quick and rather ugly sketches in Sharpie and fax them in for approvals. Upon approval (by phone), I would then draw out the composition and paint over that drawing in acrylics.
Around 1998 I shifted to oils, which has become my medium of choice ever since, sometimes with an underpainting of acrylic still. Once the internet became more useful, I could create more detailed drawings and scan them to email them in for approval.
Also, once WotC started trusting us to send in scans I could more reliably work larger without having to worry about shipping my original art to them and risk it being damaged in transit. For the first 10 years or so, I mailed in my artwork for them to shoot. We'd get our originals back after the set released!
What's something unique about working on the Magic: The Gathering Intellectual Property (IP)?
While most IPs exist in a universe, and you get to see expansions of it over time, Magic's existence as a multiverse means that they can basically create entire worlds from scratch almost every year. Over time, this has generated a mind-boggling amount of variety of locales and characters and creatures.
It is always thrilling to be part of a new set to find out where the game is going next. It's usually a huge surprise (except, obviously, when the game returns to a prior world). Most IPs might struggle to turn out one great world, but Magic manages it every year. It's pretty amazing.
I love the work you did on Guildpact Informant . What can you tell us about this work?
War of the Spark is a Planeswalker-heavy set, including a number of incidental cards featuring Planeswalkers in them. When that occurred, as it did for this card, there was an interest in portraying the Planeswalker without making them the point of the card. For Informant, the point is the faerie.
So having it central in the art even though she is dwarfed by the larger Jace, meant that we chose to crop Jace off the card. This decision was in conjunction with Art Director Dawn Murin. The original painting features more of Jace, as my original sketch had more of him.
Though we knew we'd be cropping in tighter, I decided to paint more of him anyway because why not? The card appears exclusively in the Jace Planeswalker Deck, but at the time I had no idea that would be the case, I thought it was a standard WAR card.
Was there any art description that made you scratch your head, thinking, 'how on earth am I going to paint this?'
Search for Tomorrow was a tough commission. The elves of Time Spiral were emaciated, making them visually unattractive from the start. Their world was spent and barren. I was to portray one of these elves temporarily passing through some sort of portal into another world to steal a plant or flower or sapling, to bring back into its world to begin to replant.
I went through a few rounds of compositions which were rejected; in retrospect I think all of them were better! I also kept being pushed to make the elf more and more emaciated. In the end it was a weak visual and I know I certainly felt that better solutions were passed over.
To follow up on that, what makes for a great art description?
Art descriptions go from iconic character images (like Planeswalker) to scene-driven, to very specific scenes that look like a film that was paused in the middle of a random scene.
The first category tends to produce art that is enjoyed more for itself, down to images in the third category, which primarily serve the function of aiding storytelling. But often that third group of images are less successful on their own.
What was the most challenging card to paint?
See above! I did have the satisfaction of meeting up with the Art Director a year or two later socially, who admitted that they had run me through the wringer on that piece. The AD's words were more candid than that.
Of the art you made for Magic, can you name some favorites?
Is there any Magic related story you'd like to share with us?
I have not been a serious Magic player over the years. I learned to play in advance of starting to work on the game, and have played casually here and there over the years.
I don't really build decks anymore--when I play I might borrow someone's deck or use a pre-constructed product for some kitchen table Magic. But, even when I build decks, I never built one with any of my own cards!
Where can our readers find more about your work?
A wide range of my greater body of work, including progress shots, can be found on Instagram @randygallegos
Playmats, tokens and other Magic related items can be found at my newly-reopened shop gallegosart.com/shop which also links to my blog, which has longer breakdowns of many of my Magic and other artworks.
Thanks for the opportunity to chat!