Hello there, I’ve been asked by several people, several times, how an everyday guy like me wound up working as a Magic, the Gathering illustrator, well, here’s the story:
A little context, I was born in México, 27 years ago, that might not mean much to some but it pretty much means playing life in hard mode.
I have always drawn and I was good at it, all I did in school was draw instead of taking notes… Sound familiar? Well, most of us are like that but to take the leap from that to being a professional working on your dream job requires work, and time…
I went to art school like most people who plan on pursuing a career in the field (duh) but unlike most people I came to hate it, it wasn’t really what I expected, I met some really cool people though. At this point working as a Magic illustrator was beyond my wildest dreams. 2010 rolled in and a good friend of mine suggested we went to comic-con “they did portfolio reviews there”, again, the simple idea of getting comic-con tickets was a wild one but we did it, we set our minds to it but we got Thursday and Sunday badges (it got hellishly harder the subsequent years).
Anyways, we were at comic-con now and I was determined to get a job at Wizards as a M:tG Illustrator, why not, it’s easy “I was the best painter at school”. Well, I was living in a bubble where being the best was nothing compared to San Diego’s best, not by a long shot, when I showed my portfolio to the Wizards AD’s it looked a little like this:
I had a long way ahead, needless to say I did not get the job.
A wise man in youtube told me that in order to succeed you either needed a big-ass carrot to chase or a dog chasing your ass, well, at this point I had both, the prize was big, and I had narrowed myself too much that I had no real-life skills to support me, adulthood and responsibilities were knocking at the door, art is all I had, but I was doing it the wrong way.
Then I got to this point you guys are in, I went asking around every MTG artist I knew how was that THEY got into the business, well, I did not get the answer I was expecting because of course none of them were in my same situation, the truth is that I wasn’t ready for the real answer, art isn’t easy, getting into the industry is HARD, and it’s going to take some work to do. I was halfway then, I had a set goal and knew Wizards were there reviewing art at San Diego, all I had to do now was get better, easy!
I was lucky enough to come across Noah’s endless rambles on the net, an ordinary guy who was my age and was already doing what I wanted to do, that infuriated me but was the right fuel I needed to get better, if he got really good in the span of a year or so then so could I. I read all his posts on how to get good, the amount of time putting into study and practice, the power of observation and how to take from the “old” masters and apply it to your work, there was no cheating here.
First was to specialize in the thing I liked the most, you need to learn one skillset at a time, one by one (that’s why I think multitasking is Bad Stuff).
For him it was environments, for me was figure drawing, characters. I had to get everything right, anatomy, light, colour, movement and everything to make my guys believable, I spent countless hours dissecting other people’s art and practicing. Really, again, practice, there is no way around it.
I started to get some illustration gigs by 2013-2014, but no magic still, I was close though. I graduated my mouse to an Intuos 5 pro and my crappy laptop to a less crappy laptop with my first paycheck, but that was it, I was out of college, unemployed and cut from my dad’s financial support. In 2013 I went back to CCI with a book that looked a little like this:
No Magic though, I did however met art director Mark Winters who wasn’t directing Magic still at that time, I asked him to take a peek at my portfolio and give me some crit. He did, “you’re close”.
It is rare and valuable when someone tells you the exact things you need to do to get better, and he did, "polish that anatomy, get your values right, use the right colours for the right mood you want to convey, avoid tangents, and have your character work his way around the environment in a believable way", that sounded way obvious but I wasn’t doing it, it’s funny how we all know what to do to get there and achieve our goals but it isn’t until someone comes and points it out that we snap and just get it done, “want to lose weight? Proper nutrition + exercise”. Just Do it.
I did it, by the time I went back pestering Mark ten months later he was directing Magic, and I had gotten better, I won me an ImagineFX schoolism class, I chose “Design with colour and light by Nathan Fowkes”, I was ready, well, not to Mark…yet. He gave me an assignment, three pieces to test my skills, he said “Make them as good as you can, take.your.time” I did them in three days. I was hungry, this was the thing I had been waiting for, and this was it, all or none, no screwing around this time.
By the end the three pieces looked a little like this, and got an acceptance E-mail that I save in my inbox ‘till this day. I am forever thankful to Mark for taking time out of his schedule and helping me out.
And well, you know the rest. I’ve been lucky and blessed to do what I love for a little but over a year now, having met all these wonderful people and mostly to give my part to the game I love, Magic. If I could boil the whole rant to a few lines of advice it would be this, Don’t give up, I see too many people giving up way too early, if you’re stuck change the formula but keep going towards the same goal, and when you do reach it take time to celebrate your accomplishment, be proud but never settle and be ready for more.