Welcome to our interview series number #48!
This week we talked with artist Cliff Childs, who illustrated more than 70 Magic cards since the Innistrad set.
Here's what Cliff told us.
Hi Cliff. How did it all start for you?
I've always been into art and more specifically leaning to the fantasy genre type stuff. During college I started down the concept art for games path but one of my co-workers had introduced me to MTG illustration and luckily I've been involved in that scene ever since.
What did you know about Magic at the time?
I've never played it before. The only thing I knew about it was that it is some type of strategy based card game. I didn't realize the art side of it was so huge.
Give us a brief overview of your painting process for Magic cards.
I like to go straight into color and try to at least indicate all of the necessary elements and to nail down the lighting and silhouettes. I've found that the more square card format and small print size is more challenging because it's more about making everything super readable.
What’s something unique to illustrating for Magic: The Gathering?
I think the settings and the lore can be really unique. I love the idea of using a historical time period as a base and then adding other, almost elements of an alternate universe, into the theme and then topping it of with a bit of magic. For the most part they are very fantastical but grounded to a degree.
Cavern of Souls is a very popular land you painted. What can you tell us about this assignment?
Haha I didn't even know the significance of this card, I had only seen it as what my art commission had described so I was very surprised after the release! If I had know the value maybe I would have taken a more careful approach but I just remember it being a fairly straight forward cave-like scene that was thoroughly enjoyable to paint. Definitely one of the easier cards.
I love the work you did on Sulfur Falls. What were your sources of inspiration for this card?
Oh yes I believe there are two Sulfur Falls I've done. I remember thinking it would be cool to see crystal clear water with fiery effects behind it for one of those cards and then just rolled with it. And for the other I was definitely inspired by that colorful mineral build up that you might see around geysers or hot springs. I wanted it to look as if it was building up but downwards with the flow of the water and very slowly painting the architecture red and orange.
Was there any art description that made you scratch your head, thinking, ‘how on earth am I going to paint this?’
There were a few yes. Maze's End definitely stands out. There's all these pillars with all these symbols with a large ring and a centerpiece and pathways and people and the world of Ravnica behind it and... yeah I think I let myself complicate that too much. In retrospect I would have indicated a few things more and just focused on the foreground architecture haha.
To follow up on that, what makes for a great art description?
Probably a shorter description with a single focus. I think being able to centralize on a single or just a few things allows for a little bit of freedom for lighting and composition and usually makes an illustration easier to read.
What was the most challenging card to paint?
I would probably say Mizzix of the Izmagnus because I wasn't painting any characters at the time so I didn't really have my usual process. Characters are generally a bit more time consuming and come less naturally than land cards.
Of the art you made for Magic, can you name some favorites?
Sure, I can name quite a few that were just pure fun to illustrate and that I was quite happy with the end result. Engulf the Shore, Long Finned Skywhale, Meandering River, Nephalia Drownyard, and the latest Watery Grave were all some of my favorites but I think Sandstone Bridge and the Treasure Cove/ Treasure map double illustrated card stand out the most.
Is there any Magic related story you’d like to share with us?
Well, I have yet to go to a Magic convention but I plan on it in the future. The usual thing that happens is I will have a friend or coworker and they will come across some cards and ask me if I'm "That Cliff Childs". But my favorite is when I told a certain person to send whatever cards you want and I'll sign them and received literally many hundreds of cards. I bit the bullet on that one and spent some time over many days with near carpal tunnel and decided I would have to either charge a small fee or have a limit.
Where can our readers find more about your work?
I have been in the video game industry for a little while. I have some work on God of War, Titanfall 2 and Apex legends on Art Station for now as well as some select Magic Art. I plan on expanding my game and MTG portfolio as long as possible as well as anything else that may come.