The creative process behind each piece of Magic art is unique to the image and the individual crafting the illustration. From the art description to the final product, the Art in Focus series reviews every step involved in crafting the art of Magic the Gathering in the artist’s own words.

This week we shine the spotlight on Mother of Runes by Terese Nielsen from the recently released Duel Deck: Elspeth vs. Kiora.

Take it away Terese.


Before I start any piece, my art ritual always begins in my little library nook within my studio.

I will oftentimes just sit quietly, sipping something warm and staring deeply at some ethereal zone several galaxies away.


I’m not sure how much time passes, but afterward, I find myself drawn to reach for particular books to cradle and pour through. In these moments, I’m looking for anything… a composition, a color palette, an energy, a symbol, a style, or a way to handle a face, or a particular area… I’m never sure.

Regardless, little mini Post-Its start peppering the pages of many of the books, and soon the floor is heaped with a compost of inspiration. Out of these fertile elements sprout several tendrils. Somehow I come out of this meditative process knowing the next step in designing the piece.

For this new iteration of Mother of Runes, as much as I would have savored the opportunity to illustrate a matriarch, kissed by time and surrounded by books… one whose power and influence “protects all families”—that was not what I was asked to do. My job was to portray “a beautiful young noblewoman, wearing a brightly patterned dress, standing before a stone wall inscribed with runes.”

Setting: No specific setting
Color: White spell
Location: Non Setting Specific
Action: A beautiful young noblewoman, wearing a brightly patterned dress, is standing before a stone wall inscribed with runes. In her hand is the center of a sphere of white energy she is offering to the viewer. On the wall behind her, the runes within the radius of the sphere are glowing, and at the edges of the frame, there is a sense of darkness that is being driven away by the protective light.
Focus: The noblewoman, her expression of calm and confidence.
Mood: Triumphant. Good triumphs over evil!

This description sounds gorgeous to illustrate, yet it’s entirely different from the original illustration.  In honor of Scott Fischer’s version, it was my deepest desire to imbue the new “young” mom with the energy of our beloved, older matriarch. I reached for an essence of ageless, noble, beauty.

Mother of Runes

As a side note… Mother of Runes was the last piece I created in my California studio before packing up my home of 20 years (where we raised four children) and moving to Nevada.

In many ways, art pieces are journal-like. I can look at most of my paintings and remember what was going on in my life then, and what mood circled around me at the time. When I think back on the creation of this piece, I like to think there’s an essence of me, as I, too, am stepping into my older matriarchal years. I wanted to anoint this young noblewoman with a soulful countenance of lifetimes of experience and wisdom.

So, while creating this piece, during my creative ritual of leafing through tomes of artistic reference, I came upon Fredric Leighton’s exquisite painting, “Pavonia,” and stopped and stared for quite some time. There was an essence in his painting that that I wanted to bring out in this piece.


When considering the composition, I wanted to stay away from a static, predictable, straight-on “offering” to the viewer. I opted for a twist I had her turning toward us, as if the energy came through her, supported by the history of the runes behind her. An inherent “read” of a woman turning back toward the viewer, looking over her shoulder, can be a “come hither” look.

I very much did not want that look, and knew I would be walking a careful tightrope to be able to weave in all of the elements I wanted, without falling into a trope, suggestive, appearance of beauty.

After mulling around the straight-on poses that I didn’t want, and feeling like I wanted somewhat of a looking-over-the-shoulder pose, I grabbed my Olympus and daughter Kristi, and started shooting photos and moving lights around. I then deliberated over them to choose the various parts of several shots that I felt were the most effective and dramatic.


I designed the sketch using the photos and Leighton’s painting as a springboard. After the face, hands, and general pose were worked out, I designed the runes and Klimt inspired clothing around that. The runes loosely echoed Egyptian hieroglyphs mixed with symbols from the earliest recorded history through the Middle Ages.

The sketch was completed and submitted. The only request from the art director was to pull back a bit from the Egyptian feel of the runes, which I resolved in the painted stage.


Original Sketch – 10″ x 7.5″ – Graphite on Tracing Paper Parchment

The sketch was then printed out on velvet fine art paper, wet stretched, and stapled onto a piece of drywall. After it was done drying, I taped off the edges with painter’s tape and then immediately washed and splattered in the basic background colors and textures, as well as loose colors within the figure. 

I continued to apply textures with an old toothbrush, and glazed in values and color variations with the airbrush. At this point, all the white of my paper was covered.

I then went back in with a dark colored pencil and reestablished my drawing, tracing, refining and carving out edges and details. Then richer and more intense colors were worked in and built up, still mostly with acrylic.

This process is very much a back-and-forth, push-and-pull with color, value and details using acrylic, airbrush and colored pencil. I continue to toggle between these mediums, building up details, colors and values. When it came time to render the face, I pulled out the palette of oils for the smooth, soft, detailed transitions.


Towards the very end, the elements of 23K gold leaf and gold paint are added. It’s the final decorative, ornamentation… the areas I wanted to ‘pop’ and elegantly lead the eye through the piece.

Oftentimes the gold can be just a bit too “ shiny,” so I’ll use a light-handed glaze of oil to gently knock it back and harmonize the piece a bit.


Mother of Runes – 8.75″ x 6.75″ – Mixed Media & Gold Leaf on Velvet Paper

After all of that, somehow I end up with a painting that is ready to submit for publishing and payment. Our reveries together come to an end, and yet the dance we have shared in my studio will always be a part of me.

This was even more meaningful when I caught wind of the new flavor text. I couldn’t have resonated more deeply when I read, “She will not touch a weapon, yet she is the greatest protector her people have ever known.”


Original Art Auction

The original sketch and painting for Mother of Runes are still available. Due to the flood of inquiries regarding the art, Terese will make the pieces available on Ebay so that all collectors will have the opportunity to own them.

The auction for the original painting will go live a week from today, on Thursday March 5th. The auction will run for a week and end on March 11th, Terese’s birthday.

The original sketch will be listed two days after the close of the original art auction on March 13th, Terese’s daughter Kristi’s birthday (the model for Mother of Runes and Sydri), and will end March 19th.

Both the original art and the sketch will come with signed certificates of authenticity along with #1 (50) artist proof for the painting and #2 (50) artist proof card for the sketch.

Thank you Terese Nielsen for sharing this story with us.  Check back next Thursday for more Art in Focus.