Thursday, February 6, 2014

Frequently Asked Questions 11

Does it bother you out when your art gets put on a crappy card?

Though I've worked on other card games in the past this question primarily comes from Magic players, and my feelings on the matter are simultaneously simple and complex... which I guess makes them just complex.


Before I delve into the matter, I feel it important to first make something absolutely clear: I do not control the cards my art gets put on. As of January 2014, I have illustrated somewhere in the neighborhood of 110 Magic cards. Of these cards, I have been given the option to assign which cards my art is put on exactly zero times. And I'm not alone. Ask any Magic artist and you'll hear the same thing. I do not know the whys or hows of who gets assigned the art for which card. For all I know, it's determined by a machine that, using advanced algorithms, assigns art using such factors as the dates of our various births, our star signs, and the number of letters in our accountants' names. Or it could be done through trial by stone. Or a dartboard. Point is, where my art ends up within the confines of Magic isn't really within my sphere of influence.

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let me explain to you the complex feelings I have about this: yeah, I kind of care if my art ends up on a crappy card.

The primary reason for this feeling is simply that lesser cards result in less exposure. See, I make this stuff so that people will look at it. If the work ends up on cards that people don't want to play, then obviously there are fewer people taking note of my art — something that is especially annoying when the art in question is a piece I'm particularly proud of.

From the folks who do take note of the work, at best I might hear, "that's some cool art, too bad it's on a crappy card." But despite this qualifying as taking note, truthfully their interest in such work pales in comparison to their interest in work I've done that is on better cards. That's the stuff they get excited about seeing in real life and those are the pieces they drag their friends over to take in. Meanwhile, the art from the lesser cards gets relegated to being filler at my convention table. It's the stuff that people flip past to get to the "good" art.

Inherently the work from lesser cards is less marketable. Far fewer folks end up having any interest in the artist proofs or prints or the original painting. This is not to say that I'm stuck with the art from crappy cards, but if you were to look at my list of available Magic originals, you'd see that most of what's still available are paintings from cards that just don't see a lot of play.

So, clearly I care on some level. But the question of whether or not I care is kind of the wrong one, in my opinion. The real question is how much I care.

The answer (predictably) is not much. When I sit down to make a piece of art, I sit down to make something I'm proud of and am happy with. My goal is always to make something that I'd be happy to put on my own wall should I never be able to sell it. That doesn't always happen, of course, but  even my biggest failures began with a great deal of excitement about how cool this next painting was going to be. What I've never thought was how cool this next card was going to be. The fact that the art is part of a card game is (to an extent) arbitrary to me from the onset.

After the work has been handed in and the cards produced, I'm fairly removed. I'm already on to the next set. Inevitably, however, I find out what's popular and what's not and I'd be lying if I said there wasn't even the smallest twinge of disappointment when I discover that a piece of my art is on a card that no one uses. But being told that my art is way better than the card it's associated with is high praise indeed. At the very least, it's praise I'm not too ashamed to take.

The fans who share such sentiment are not the only ones that, for me, raise up such work. At events, I quite relish meeting those folks who just appreciate the work for what it is and divorce it from its context. Such folks take the time to look far beyond the rules text and the card name, and ignore such things as resale value. If only for a few seconds, they are appreciating what matters most to me, and all else becomes secondary. If only for a little while there is no card. Only art.

It's a smaller audience, for sure. But not a lesser one. And their interest gives even the crappiest card's art some value... which is why I really don't care all that much about the whole thing.


  1. Is/are there any particular piece(s) of which you would say, "Man, I'm really proud of that one - I wish it had been on a better card"?

    1. Excellent question. Most recently, I'm quite proud of the piece painted for Floodtide Serpent, which I'm assured won't really see a ton of play.

      It's at this point, however, that I have to cop to a degree of ignorance regarding Magic, its mechanics and organized play. I learned to play in '94 and then picked it up again for a short time about three years later. Back then, Magic wasn't nearly as complicated as it is now. I doubt, quite frankly, that I could put together a serviceable deck in this day and age (let alone play it well). And so, learning which cards actually get serious play time tends to happen fairly late for me. And because it's not something I'm hugely invested in, such information is typically dropped from my knowledge bank pretty quickly.

      That being said, Bonds of Quicksilver is another one that comes to mind (probably not my greatest achievement, but there's a lot I still really like about that painting).

  2. There is a special box I have with art I particularly admire but do not use in decks. This is my 'Art Box' and I keep it around for inspiration for my own paintings. The Floodtide Serpent was eagerly anticipated. I got one last night in a pack I opened with my wife. You should have seen my excitement, lol. I still don't know what the card actually says. We're not tournament gamers, so, for us, many times, the art decides whether it will see use in a deck. Probably not the best strategy, but it makes Magic fun for me and ensures that games are a visually inspiring event for me (and my decks usually don't do that badly, amongst friends at least). Thanks for that card, by the way. It's fantastic. The serpent has a very cool design.

    1. Thanks for that. I really appreciate your kind words.

      You know, I used to do the same thing with my Magic cards back when I played. I always had a special section for stuff that I wasn't going to use but whose art I really liked. Thinking back on those days when I spent so many hours looking at Magic art, I find it funny that I had no clue that I would one day be a part of the game. Funny how life works out.


I welcome all comments, questions, and discussion so long as you keep it civil.