Welcome back to our fortieth interview in our series There's No Magic Without Art!
This week we had the pleasure of talking with artist Richard Wright, who has illustrated 75 Magic cards since the original Ravnica set.
Here's what Richard told us.
Tell us a little about how you got into art, and Magic more specifically.
I always enjoyed painting and drawing. One of my earliest memories is finger painting at nursery school. I guess everyone is into it at that age but I just never grew (up) out of it. Once I started attending proper school I didn't find the other classes very interesting - it all seemed too much like hard work.
After school I went on to study Art & Design at art college. My first job was as a graphic designer, but I still wanted to be an artist so I would spend all my free time painting and eventually was able to find work as an illustrator for Games Workshop. I then worked at a video games company and that's where I started learning 3d software and also photoshop.
A few years later, two friends of mine were doing illustrations for Magic The Gathering. They had a lot of cards to do so I asked if I could help out with some of the environment cards. I think this was probably around the time of the first Ravnica set. The guys at Wizards liked my work and started sending me my own cards to work on. So I got into it by chance really.
Were you familiar with the game before?
No. I'd heard the name but didn't really know anything about it. I think that helped me to not be intimidated by all the other amazing artwork and just do my own thing.
Give us a brief description of your painting process.
I read the brief while looking thru the World Guide. The World Guide is a 200+ page pdf full of amazing art that the team over at Wizards puts together for each set. Then I begin collecting reference photos of skies, locations, props and also photos that have the right mood or lighting. I also look thru other artists work for inspiration or to use as a benchmark.
At some point while looking for reference I begin messing around in photoshop - maybe just a quick sketch to quickly figure out the composition or using photos as a starting point. There's usually a few false starts but eventually something clicks and I work this up a little further until I'm happy enough to send to the Art Director. The final image is usually a combination of 3d, photos and paint.
You've mentioned that it's easy to fall in love with an idea only to find you hate it the next day. Considering the tight deadlines, there's not always time to step away and come back to a painting later. How do you learn to deal with this as an artist?
I don't think I've learnt to deal with it completely and it's very frustrating. I want each picture to be better than the last and it doesn't often work out that way. So I try and tell myself it's just a picture and to not take it too seriously. You have to balance wanting to do the best you can with not going crazy. It gets easier with each piece. And the failures are forgotten as soon as I start a fresh piece with a new chance to redeem myself.
The new basic lands you did for Guilds of Ravnica are reworks of the same lands you did for the original Ravnica set. What was it like to return to this setting so many years later?
I was excited and at first thought - Cool! This is going to be fun! Plus, I won't really have to do any sketches, just change the lighting and mood - But once I started I realised I didn't really like the old paintings. So it was sort of frustrating. I couldnt really change the composition or fix anything, just alter the mood. In addition the old PSDs were all on one or very few layers. In the end though I had a lot of fun. It was an interesting challenge.
I love the composition of Kraken of the Straits , with the boat in the corner and the image off-centered from the sea level. How did you come up with this image?
Thank you. A lot of the credit should also go to the Art Directors and Writers. For this and any of my other images. The brief they send out along with the world guides help so much. For this painting I read the brief and could already see what it was going to look like. I was probably remembering something stored away from watching a movie or tv show. I modeled the monster and also the boat in 3D to figure out the composition and framing and then looked for reference photos where the camera is half in and half out of water.
Mana Confluence really captures the "mana" aspect really well, and I also really like this perspective. Do you recall painting this one?
I vaguely remember doing it and that it was a struggle to show the other worldliness of Nyx and still be able to see the waterfalls. Took a few attempts to find the right balance.
What were some of the most challenging cards you painted, and why?
They're all challenging in their own way. At least the first time you tackle a new subject or location. Anything that you haven't yet painted and solved the problems or found a technique or cheat for. I did one recently which isn't out yet and it was 5 cards joined together to form a panorama and that was hard work because the file size was enormous and zooming out to see the whole thing meant all you could see was a really thin letter-boxed image.
On the other hand, what were the smoothest paintings, from the art description to the final piece?
Daze. The sketch was so easy it was like I was following instructions. It came together really quickly without any of the usual struggle and just needed a polish for the final.
Of the art you made for Magic, can you name some favorites?
Daze is my favourite probably because I didn't really invest too much time or effort - it almost feels like someone else's work. Usually the more effort I put in the more disappointed I am with the result.