Q: I have some questions regarding the art used on Magic cards.
About how large is the average painting before it's fit onto a card? How many paintings are done for a set on average, and is every painting used? What types of media are used to make the paintings? How long do the artists work on their pictures, and what are they given to work with to determine what to create? And lastly, what are the qualifications for becoming an artist who creates for Magic: The Gathering?
A: From Jeremy Jarvis, Magic Art Director:
I'll try to knock these out for you one at a time:
1. About how large is the average painting before it's fit onto a card?
I would say the average is around 8 1/2 inches x 11 inches. That's just a guesstimated ballpark, as our freelancers are allowed to work at whatever size they see fit. In general, most illustrators work at the smallest size they can (for the sake of deadlines) weighed against the ability to achieve the level of detail and finish that is required/expected.
2. How many paintings are done for a set on average, and is every painting used?
One painting per card in the file. We are not in the habit of over-commissioning art for the sake of over-commissioning art. Now, sometimes that card file changes... cards are dropped and replacements added... or just changed enough to render the art we commissioned no longer appropriate. When this happens we have to re-commission a new and appropriate painting and the 'old' one is moved to 'The Graveyard' where it lives until we can find a new, appropriate home for it on an upcoming card. One of (what I consider) my own best paintings still haunts The Graveyard from this exact sort of card change in the Ravnica block.
3. What types of media are used to make the paintings?
We don't dictate how or in which medium our artists work, so long as the end result is of the quality, and look/feel, that makes Magic what it is. We certainly have illustrators creating card art in oil, acrylic, gouache, watercolor, the increasingly popular acrylic gouache, digital (Photoshop and Painter are usually represented), and various mixed media techniques. In years past there have even been some less traditional card art examples created with sculpture and photography.
4. How long do the artists work on their pictures?
Easy. 'Til they're done. :)
Honestly, this is as wildly varied as each piece of art created by each individual painter. Some guys/girls can crank out a top-of-the industry illustration in literally a day. It takes others 2 weeks. It depends on the artist and the image. I would say, on average, a realistic ballpark would be 3 to 5 days for a painting.
5. What are they given to work with to determine what to create?
For each card there is an art description (which is fleshed out from a card concept, which is derived from the mechanics of that given card in the file). That art description might be as general as "design us a cool flying thing that 'feels blue'" or as specific as "Show Glissa in the Razor Fields being attacked by two Ogre-Dragon hybrids. She should look capable, but the threats need to appear very real". I made that up just now... don't bother guessing the card.
For world-specific sets, there is a style guide that gives visual design parameters and examples and written world detail as a jumping-off point for the illustrators (and writers).
6. What are the qualifications for becoming an artist who creates for Magic: The Gathering?
The only qualification is the work. I don't care if an artist went to a pricey art school or a state college, or is a high school drop out. At the end of the day the work is either good enough, or it's not. Illustration is a competitive industry, with a lot of people fighting over a finite amount of work. The answer to your question, if I'm being honest and pulling no punches, is surgically simple: The way to get work is to be good enough to win it from someone else.
Good lord, you guys are going to force me to learn to type. :)
P.S. For any of our readers/players/fans who think they might have the chops to create original illustration for Magic (or any of our brands at Wizards), here is how to go about getting your work seen:
Send an email with your info and either jpegs or a link to your website to firstname.lastname@example.org.
All of Wizards of the Coast's art directors use this resource to find new talent.