In a continuing effort to showcase some of the great work that is coming out of the Alter community, I reached out to a new member of the SCG Open artist showcase circuit, Ashley Jordan. Displaying her art on her website, Alternate Dimensions, she has brought her unique style and approach to alteration to Magic players across the globe.
After finding some time in her busy schedule, I was able to ask Ashley some questions about her history with the game and the challenges inherent to illustration within the confines of a Magic card.
Ashley, you’ve been altering Magic cards at a few recent Star City Open events. What is the experience from the other side of the table? What do you find most challenging or rewarding about being an attending artist at an Open tournament?
Being an attending artist at the Star City Games Opens is definitely rewarding, and is a whole different experience than playing at an event. I used to play in Opens and Grand Prix’s before I started altering cards, but now the events that I go to I usually have a booth at, so I’m not able to compete very often. Working with Star City Games as an artist, I have had much more success in promoting and selling my card alters than I was ever able to do on my own. Another aspect of going to events that I enjoy is being able to see and talk to many of the same people and being involved in the Magic the Gathering community.
Speaking of the Magic community, as an artist what sites and message boards do you frequent? Which places would you recommend for others interested in the more Vorthos side of the game?
For the most part I keep up with Star City Games articles and videos and look at other alterists’ work on the Facebook alter groups. I know there are a bunch of forums and threads about card altering and artwork on mtg salvation. Most of the information I have I got from talking to Magic the Gathering artists and other card alterists at events.
As with every artist, you have a unique style to your alters. Can you describe how you approach alteration? Is there anything that you consciously try to include in your art?
My style is pretty different from any other card alterists that I have seen. I tend to be orientated towards expressionist and post-impressionist avenues. I also work primarily in freehand, the only works that I really prepare sketches for would be custom playmats, where a definite plan has to be in place because the markers tend to be really unforgiving. For card alters, I usually come up with a general idea of what I want to card to look like, and then add style and detail as I go along. Sometimes I will look at reference pictures for commissions that have detailed figures or characters that I am not as familiar with. I also include metallic pigments in my paints to give the cards a faux foil finish, which is something I haven’t seen many people do.
Which came first for you, playing the game or altering the cards? Did the art on the cards make you more interested in playing?
I started playing Magic the Gathering a little less than a year before I considered altering cards. I began painting on cards before I knew that card altering was already a thing; it just seemed like a natural progression of combining my artistic background with my new hobby. I can’t say that the original artwork on the cards was the reason I started playing Magic, but I sometimes (a lot of the time) base my deck around favorite cards and sometimes place preference on cards that look better as opposed to play better. Although most people would say that is a terrible strategy if you are trying to win, I can’t help it!
The art on the cards represents the work of over 500 artists. If you compare your style to an existing Magic artist, whose approach would you say is the closest to your own?
My style isn’t that close to a lot of Magic the Gathering artists, especially a lot of the newer cards that are made with illustrator programs rather than oil or acrylic paintings. I don’t know if I paint similarly to Nils Hamm, but I like his work so I would like to think that we are a bit comparable in style. The way that he designed Baleful Strix is how I would like to create artwork for the cards if I am ever in a position to do so.
Artists often marvel at the skill of other artists. Are there any artists that have done work for Magic that you ask yourself “How did they do that?” Any piece in particular that prompted the question?
Another one of my favorite artists, Terese Nielsen, often has really interesting details on her characters and has some really great original ideas. Her rendering of Birds of Paradise and Bassandra, Battle Seraph have intense detail, color, and originality that just impresses me.
The art of Magic has changed over time. Starting out as a set of disparate images representing as many styles as painters, it has become much more cohesive with the stylistic elements being imprinted in each image regardless of artist. Which do you prefer, the earlier or more current period of Magic art?
Personally, I prefer the varied artistic styles of the older cards. I think that the attempt to make the sets more cohesive makes the card artwork look generic. I would like to see more artistic freedom in the upcoming set releases.
How have you been able to utilize what you learned in art school in your alteration efforts?
Many of the painting techniques that I learned are applicable to altering, even if it’s a small card instead of a huge canvas painting. Concept design, painting application, design choices and artistic rules like proportion, scale, perspective, shadowing, color use, etc are all relevant to card altering. I’m happy to find a way to use my education, since jobs in the artistic fields are a little limited and hard to find.
In your recent interview at SCG Open New Jersey, you indicated that much of your work at art school was done in large scale (6’x8′). How challenging has it been to work in the comparably tiny confines of a Magic card?
Switching from large scale paintings to small cards was a challenge at first; I don’t think that I ever used such tiny brushes before! It really caused me to focus on details, and I do like how the timeframe to finish a card alteration is much faster than finishing a large canvas painting. Most of the card alters that I make take anywhere from one to three hours to complete.
Magic collectors and players can be an eccentric bunch and artists sometimes get some very interesting requests for commissions and alterations. Have you done any alters that some might consider a bit…. odd?
I have had commissions for many odd card alters, but some end up being fun to do. Some of the more different commissions that I have done are personal portraits on lands, My Little Pony characters, and a Taco Bell card. I also had a request to alter Armada Wurm in a graphic way that I denied, because this is a game that a lot of young kids play. I try with some of the cards that I have done before events to be clever with them, like adding Super Mario Brothers Boo ghosts on Cavern of Souls or turning a Boros Charm into the House of Targaryen Sigil from Game of Thrones.
In addition to your work on alterations, you are also an aspiring illustrator working towards one day getting a piece published for Magic. Have you already submitted a portfolio to the art team? What do you know about the process to get a piece printed in the game?
I would love to someday create some artwork for Wizards of the Coast and plan on making some fantasy paintings for a portfolio. Finding time is the only issue, because I want to finish my commissions before I start additional work. I’m also a more traditional artist and don’t work with illustrating programs very much, so making a portfolio is a long ongoing project. Once I finish one, however, I plan on submitting it! From what I understand, the process of getting something printed is based on submitting a portfolio and having a review with the Wizards of the Coast art department, then getting approved for one or two cards per set.
You know, we have a gallery here on OMA for aspiring Magic artists to show off their work. Any chance we might see some of your work posted there in the future?
Yes, I will definitely look into picking some examples of my work to put in the gallery!
Do you have any projects or appearances that you want to make readers aware of?
I believe that my video interview with Star City Games was already mentioned, but that video can be found on my website, and all of the upcoming events that I will be going to can be found on that website and on my facebook.
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