Savor_the_Flavor

Sitting down to chat with Magic art director—and illustrator—Jeremy Jarvis.

Art Appreciation: Jeremy Jarvis

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Welcome to Mimic Week! All this week on magicthegathering.com, the regular columns will appear as usual… but with a twist. Your eight regular writers, plus at least two guest authors who've written for the site before, are hiding in the ten regular column slots—maybe even their own—under a clever pseudonym: The Mimic! Can you figure out who actually wrote each article? Tune in Monday, July 28 for the answers!


The letter M!y job is primarily about words, so it’s very refreshing to talk about images. From time to time, we run artist interviews on Taste the Magic. When I looked back at many of those interviews, I realized that we spent a lot of time talking about the artist. Today I’m going to try something different.

“Art Appreciation” is a new segment in which I talk with artists about their art for Magic. I’ll choose a number of illustrations by the artist and ask one question about each piece. The questions will all be about the art itself and will ask why the artist made some of the choices he or she did.

For the first installment of “Art Appreciation,” I decided to start at the top with Magic art director Jeremy Jarvis.

Adarkar Valkyrie (Coldsnap)

There are a lot of angels in Magic. What did you do with this piece to differentiate it from all of Magic‘s other angels?

Well, in trying to figure out a gag for her, some angle to approach her mechanic from, I asked the card’s concepter what, in his mind’s eye, was the reason for the mechanic. How did ice / graveyard / creature snatching / vigilance all tie together? There wasn’t really an answer; the design was just a good angel, so that’s what I tried to paint. I ended up deciding on the “keys” gag from the graveyard mechanic. Keys are a symbol of both binding and freeing, so if your creatures return to play under her command, she freed them from death. If your opponents’ creatures return to play under her command, she conscripted them. It sounds stupid to verbalize it like that, but that’s what led to the visual of the brass-y keys between her swords, which kinda determined the brassy color for her costume and in the end determined a lot of the design and palette decisions for the painting.

Assquatch (Unhinged)

This is the only art in Magic‘s history where the creature is flipping off the viewer. What prompted you to put this into the illustration?

Because he’s an ass. Hahahaha. No, seriously, that’s pretty much it. The art description simply asked of the assfolk version of that famous photo. I pitched the fake polaroid frame, to keep the caught-in-action vibe, and since the interesting part of that photo is that the “sasquatch” seems to have caught the photographer catching it, I kept that, but in the assfolk’s awareness he has decided to respond. Kind of a “celebrity responds to the paparazzi” vibe.

The more interesting story is that once I pitched the sketch, and it was approved, I actually called [former Magic Art Director Jeremy] Cranford to ask if they had noticed the bird finger, to make sure it didn’t just “slip through the cracks.” He said yes, so I painted it. Then Brand rejected it, demanding the flip-off be photoshopped out, which was disappointing. Then someone in Brand researched the PG-13 rating through the MPAA website, which is the rating we say that Magic is, and saw that you get one flip off (at least at the time). So they loosened up and printed it as is.

Cerebral Vortex (Guildpact)

What led you to use actual brains in this illustration?

Did I? I don’t think those are actual brains. The concept asked for two wizards being cast down a vortex of arcane energy as a way to represent “a violent swirl of information.” I didn’t really feel that would read well, so I pushed the concept in a way that I felt held on to the Izzet’s mad-scientist vibe. The brain motif is just to convey “knowledge” to the viewer. In my mind, it’s just a halo of glowing energy... that happens to look like brain texture. The “smeary heads” of the wizards are to communicate the downside of the spell... the painful overload factor. If there wasn’t a clear visual for the knowledge aspect of the spell, it would just look like two dudes getting their brains fried, which would betray the card. Ergo brain halos.

Dauntless Dourbark (Lorwyn)

It’s been said that drawing treefolk is very hard to do. Was it for this piece? If so, why?

Well, yes and no. It’s easy to paint a tree with a face glued to it, but that sucks. The difficulty with treefolk are: trees are tall, and the card frame is wide. They just don’t fit well in the frame.

You can push them back in the image far enough to see how tall they are, but then they don’t look big, which is part of what is cool about treefolk. The anatomy issue... Do they splinter at their joints? How do they move? They shouldn’t look pliable or rubbery or they aren’t intimidating, and they shouldn’t look cracked or busted or they look damaged.

So it’s just a design challenge. You just try to walk the lines carefully. He’s not just a straight trunk with a face on it; the silhouette is pretty gnarled and asymmetrical, but still humanoid enough that it’s not a total mess. The face is more or less a twisted knot, but there are eyes and a nose, so you have something to lock on to. We don’t see all of him; he’s fairly close to the camera, but the barrel “buckler” on his smashing hand gives some scale (and the little axes embedded in it as an homage to Jesper’s Boggart Loggers illustration). My favorite part of this one actually isn’t Dauntless himself, but the treefolk in the background wielding someone’s chimney as a bludgeon.

Deflection (Eighth Edition)

The choice of deflecting the spell through the mouth was an interesting one. Why did you choose to paint it this way?

The hard part of painting redirection spells is that energy is pretty amorphous, and for the concept to read you need to see that it’s directional... coming in one way and being rechanneled another. The mage puking the spell up basically frees his hands... One to catch the spell, the other to point where he’s now aiming it.

Plus, honestly, this was my first Magic card assignment. It was my put-up-or-shut-up chance. I felt it was important to bring something fun, a little out of the box, and still within the tone of the game to the table. I did three sketches: safe concept, less safe, and puking. Luckily, Creative appreciated it, and went with the fun one.

Fat Ass (Unhinged)

I understand that this is the first piece of Magic to be accepted into the Society of Illustrators annual show and catalogue, a prestigious book. How do you feel that this is your Magic piece to get this honor?

Juried shows and catalogues are always such a crap shoot that it feels amazing to get anything in. Having said that, I like Fat Ass a lot, it was fun to paint, and the picnic basket / silverware motif to his gear still makes me smile, but I don’t feel that the painting is really very indicative of my work, or of Magic art. But you know what they say, “any publicity is good publicity,” though I’m not sure Nick Hogan would agree.

Galepowder Mage (Lorwyn)

This is an interesting vantage point. Why did you choose to paint from such a low perspective?

Because he’s in the air. That’s half of it. The other half is that he’s a 3/3 creature represented by a single kithkin! I had to find ways to make him seem formidable. The original concept asked for a pair of kithkin, somehow magically in the air, working in tandem. I took a few cracks at that and gave up. I just wasn’t coming up with anything cool. Wings on them sucked, glow-y wings on them sucked, winged boots sucked (and seemed like equipment), holding each other amid a swirl of swirling magic powder REALLY sucked. So I gave up and went a different direction. One dude, a veteran mage (some grey hair and face paint), battle ready (scale armor), powerful (manipulating the jars in formation, white irises), and a magical mount. Keeping the camera low so he’s looking down at us was the last touch just for some intimidation.

Here’s the better question: what the hell is that mount?!

While we were concepting “Peanut” and “Jelly,” before we had cemented in the idea of Elementals being animal amalgams, I pitched a drawing as an idea of what an elemental might be. It’s basically a section of busted wall, containing a stained glass window, that walks around on chicken legs! The real gag was that we could us these guys in Lorwyn to quietly tease Shadowmoor by the warnings or omens or imagery portrayed in the stained glass! Now, normally when I pitch my shenanigans the response is mixed. I’m consistently my own biggest fan, one person will hate it, and everyone else seems iffy or cautiously optimistic. I’m used to that. This time EVERYONE... all of Creative, all the other concept artists... just looked at me like I was an idiot.

I let it go, and we went a different (and admittedly better) direction. But that idea of an inanimate thing walking around on real “chicken legs” still tickled me, so I worked it into this piece.

Oh, and funny story: I got dumped shortly after I finished this painting! Though I’m sure one thing had nothing to do with the other... or did it?!

Krovikan Mist (Coldsnap)

Why did you choose to put a victim in the illustration along with the creature?

Ah ha! I didn’t. Those pink-ish clouds in his tummy are to represent him drawing power from other illusions. Most of them are actually recognizable from other illusion cards. But I’m not telling. That would be no fun.

Liege of the Pit (Time Spiral)

If you look close inside the cavity of the demon, you can see baby heads. What’s up with that?

Good question. I don’t know. Honestly, it was just a creepy abstract visual that I kinda free-associated. The working title of the card was “Lord of the Abyss.” For some reason, that heart made of a fruit-like cluster of screaming baby heads sitting in that huge hollow chest cavity said “abyss” to me.

Lightning Greaves (Mirrodin)

Most of your art is very dynamic, whereas this piece is very static. What inspired you to show off the boots devoid of any context, rather than being worn?

Because I failed. The boots aren’t being worn, because then it’s still just boots, with some legs coming out of them. They still don’t look fast... unless you show someone running in them, kicking up a trail of smoke, which is cartoonish, or maybe their feet and legs are a blur, in which case you can’t see the boots. So I figured better to try to design some cool, solid metal boots and show them clearly.

THERE IS A GAG, however, apart from some subtle motifs in the boot design to imply “fast.” (Those pipes are supposed to quote both motorcycle exhaust pipes and winged boots a la Mercury.) The idea to imply speed was that the boots are so fast and so powerful that they are in constant motion, so much so that they vibrate when sitting still. But I didn’t want to show “blurry” boots, so the camera is supposed to be “in sync” with the boots, so the background is distorted. If you look closely, the background is triple-imaged on itself, side to side. That’s barely noticeable at full size, much less card size. It was an idea, it just didn’t work, so the piece seems stagnant.

Minamo, School at Water’s Edge (Champions of Kamigawa)

What was the hardest part of illustrating a building set on a waterfall?

Oh my god, rendering all the moving water. That was three solid days of carefully rendering rushing water. I actually still love that painting, but it was miserable working on it for a while.

Molting Skin (Saviors of Kamigawa)

You made the conscious choice to keep most of the previous face intact, allowing the viewer to see the “before.” What inspired this choice?

To fake some narrative sequentialism. Since we can’t see “hurt guy” then “not-hurt guy” in a single image, I cheated some and left his deep-cut nose bridge and open howling mouth intact... tongue, teeth, and all. We don’t see him sloughing damaged “skin,” we see him sloughing his former self, injuries and all. It also seems more fantastical, a bit less ordinary. He’s not just peeling off a sunburn, after all.

Mossbridge Troll (Shadowmoor)

It was your idea to have the Hideaway lands in Lorwyn contain creatures which would break out in Shadowmoor. What did you do to help communicate that this creature was previously hidden in a land?

Well, his arms that were the “trees” at the end of the bridge still look pretty much the same. They still even have some rock embedded here and there from his former imprisonment. You can actually see the remains for the busted bridge in the background.

Prodigal Pyromancer (Planar Chaos)

Is there any self-portrait in this piece?

Nope. It’s not me. I actually used a fellow Wizards employee for reference. Josh Fisher was one of our product engineers at the time, and just seemed kinda right to me. I didn’t bother with exact likeness, but there’s definitely some of Josh visible in the illustration.

Prowess of the Fair (Lorwyn)

Who do you feel is holding the swords in this illustration?

Two other elves are crossing swords in a ceremonial battle in front of some sort of “ref.” I hate this piece. I had to draw it AND paint it in eight hours as an emergency, hell or high water, last-ditch effort re-commission. It looks like Brian Froud had a stroke and threw up on a sheet of watercolor paper. I almost didn’t put my name on it.

Psychogenic Probe (Mirrodin)

So much of the power of this piece comes from the face of the victim. What role did the victim have in the composition of this piece?

Okay, this one IS me. I still lived in Nashville at the time, and I was on deadline, and we got a heavy snow and were snowed in. I was desperate and had my roommate take pictures of me, on the couch, with a kitchen towel wrapped around the top of my head, screaming.

Reverse the Sands (Champions of Kamigawa)

You don’t often paint symmetry. Why did you do so in this illustration?

You know why I don’t normally paint symmetry? Because that means using rulers or stencils... and everyone knows that watercolorists and rulers are enemies in the wild. :) In this painting the symmetry seemed important to help the viewer focus on what’s NOT the same. The gag is the white mage healing while being “stabbed” and the red guy’s life draining away while holding the offending swords. Everything else is a framing device for that, so the more it’s a “grid” the more focus is drawn to what’s not. If that makes sense.

Scuttlemutt (Shadowmoor)

What exactly is this creature composed of?

Ha! He’s actually made of a lot of the crap from the magical mount shown in Galepowder Mage. It’s not supposed to be any sort of direct link, but one idea we pitched around to explain scarecrows was that they were kithkin constructs made with some wood from fallen treefolk. So I wanted to keep a lot of the elements feeling kithkin-ish.

Sins of the Past (Ravnica)

Is this person the caster of the spell or the victim?

The caster.

Here was the art description:

Color: Black
Action: This is a sorcery that allows you to remove a spell from your graveyard (the netherworld) and bring it back to "reality" to be use it one last time -but- when you do this you’ll have to remove the CARDNAME from the game and you’ll never have a chance to use it again. That spell will be gone forever and never to be used again.
Notes: probably wants to be a symbolic or abstract piece.

So I chose to show it with a dark elf mage channeling bone over his shoulder into a huge arcane blast of power... while the top of his head ashes away, forever erasing the knowledge of how to do so.

Now, does this literally happen to a planeswalker when he or she uses this spell?! No. or, yes. Maybe. Honestly, I don’t care. Most of my spell concepts are an attempt to find a visual metaphor for the spell that will read on a card and produce a strong painting.

Walk the Aeons (Time Spiral)

This composition has a lot of implied action. Why did you choose this point in time for the illustration?

I’m not really even sure at what point this happens. The pendulum represents a time-apparatus (like in a grandfather clock) and the back and forth of players taking turns if you want to be really literal. I was simply looking for a way to show that back-and-forth being manipulated.


I would like to thank Jeremy for taking the time to do this interview.

Letter of the Week

Dear Doug Beyer,

One of the things I’m really enjoying about Shadowmoor and Eventide is the introduction of so many new races/creature types. One of them that you haven’t touched much upon yet is the noggle. I’m writing in because my friends and I have been discussing the noggles and I have two questions. One, what Celtic mythological influence do they stem from? And two, haven’t we seen them before? Weren’t the donkeyfolk from Unhinged really noggles?

Curious to hear what you have to say,
-Steven

Steven, I’ll start with the easy question first. The noggles are creatures of Scottish mythology also known as neugles, nuggles and nygels. Traditionally they are water spirits that take the form of a horse. The distinctive feature about them is that they have an odd tail that curls like a wheel over their back. Any unsuspecting victim that attempts to ride the horse finds that he cannot dismount and is taken to the sea. The creatures do not always drown their rider, though, as they are often merely mischievous. Noggles had a peculiarity for messing with water-mills and were often blamed as the reason for a mill malfunctioning. Obviously, the donkey/horse creature was merely an inspiration for Eventide‘s concepting team, and the creature that shows up in the set is quite removed from the noggles of lore.

As to whether the donkeyfolk of Unhinged fame are noggles, it’s far less clear. The Un-sets break all lot of rules including those of flavor continuity. The Creative team doesn’t bother to answer questions such as whether Richard Garfield actually exists within the Magic multiverse. If you put them side by side...

Cheap_Ass Noggle_Hedge_Mage
smart_ass Noggle_Bandit

...you’ll see that there are some similarities and a few differences. Both have a donkey head and donkey arms and legs, but the Unhinged donkeyfolk seem to have much more human proportions while the noggles are much more squat. I will go out on a limb and say that the donkeyfolk from Unhinged are not from the plane of Lorwyn / Shadowmoor.


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