Ben Thompson


Where Did the Magic Go?

I have been contacted recently by a number of individuals wishing to know if I am the same artist responsible for such Magic: The Gathering cards as Chainer's Edict, Bottle Gnomes, and many others. The short answer is “Yes I am”. The longer answer tends to come in response to the question that invariably follows: "Why don't you feature any of this work on the website?

I wanted to take this opportunity to address this recurring question head on, lest the wrong conclusions be drawn by those who have wondered the very same, and have not yet asked.

Dust Bowl
My very first MTG assignment,
completed during my senior year of art school

An artist's website is designed with any number of goals in mind. Many structure it in such a way as to feature their most recent work, retiring pieces in turn as they become outdated. Others will use it as a sort of catalogue of all work to date, employing less editing and instead going for overall volume. Still others use it as a launch pad through which they will attempt to attract new work, choosing only those pieces most likely to attract the roving eye of the Art Director.

When selecting the work that I was to feature on my own site I carefully considered what approach would work best for begin hitch quickly leads to the most simple of questions: why have a site at all?

Bottle Gnomes
A fan favorite. Also a tongue in cheek reference
to the original Battlestar Galactica series...

When I first embarked upon my career as an illustrator in 1999, the idea of having enough quality work to fill a portfolio was daunting enough, let alone an entire website chock full of all those thumbnails and detail views to get lost in. I had already spent much of my time in art school glued to the websites of artists I admired, bookmarking and saving for future reference enough artwork to fill a fairly sizable museum. To have a site of my own that would showcase the best I had to offer was to put myself among them. I would become a part of the "club".

This early site would be filled with much of the limited work I had done at the time and, if I am to be honest with myself, sacrificed a fair amount of selectivity in favor of having a "full" site. I believe (though I have no proof to support my assumption) that this decision cost me some credibility early on. Please understand that I by no means am I saying that one should not attempt to build a site until they have amassed enough quality work to fill it to bursting, but rather that that your site should feature the very best you have to offer even if the very best totals a mere handful of pieces.

Chainer’s Edict
The version seen on the cards features
no blood and a different color on the centaur

Ok. So, this is all very interesting and instructive...but what about the MTG artwork we asked about earlier? Simply put: it no longer represents the best of what I can offer as an illustrator.

While it is true that I have a full time position at a studio, and the having of such means that I am far less dependent on a steady stream of clients and the wild devotions of multiple art directors, I still maintain a modest flow of freelance work. I am always conscious that the quality of the work I do now justifies the work I hope to get later. Sifting through the body of work that I have amassed in the last 13 years, it was readily apparent that while my style had undergone some changes over the years, the quality of my work as a whole had vastly improved (thank God!), and if I were to maintain a sense of consistency going forward some tough decisions would have to be made.

Sinstriker’s Will
While not among the most popular of cards,
this was probably one of the most fun to paint at the time

Let it be known that this is not a popularity contest. It is no exaggeration to say that MTG is by and far one of the most fun and rewarding licenses an artist can work with. It is an invaluable stage for the up and coming on which to make their debut, and it is a breath of fresh air for the established artist who wants to spread their wings and experiment. I enjoyed every one of the just short of 70 paintings I did for the brand, and learned more than can be recounted here along the way. These lessons extended beyond the technical, into art director relationships, multitasking my way through multiple assignments, how to ship an oil painting while still wet, and how when absolutely necessary to ask for more time on a given assignment.

At the end of the day however, I am and will continue to be judged by my weakest piece. Art directors are not interested in how much fun you had painting a piece, how you managed to salvage it triumphantly after multiple false starts, or even how it was your first painting using the color yellow in a way that didn't immediately make you want to tear it off the easel in disgust. There is no place to share these valuable pieces of information on your site, and even if there were they wouldn't read them.

I had fun painting Magic: The Gathering cards, I managed to salvage more than a couple after some fairly horrific false starts, and there is indeed one that features the color yellow that still brings me a sense of pride when I think of it. Though they are all collectively a part of my own artistic journey, there isn't one that I would put up with confidence and expect it to represent the quality of my work at this point in my career.

Volcanic Hammer
My most re-printed card, and popular print to date
also my quickest oil painting, having been completed in a single day

My contract at my current studio does not allow me to take on MTG work at this time. If and when I find myself able to do so, I would love nothing more than to return home to this most welcoming of families and set to applying my abilities to new and exciting cards that would find themselves more at home in the gallery of work on this site. Until then I continue to appreciate the interest in my work both old and new, and strive to achieve the highest quality my current abilities allow.

The link below provides a complete list of cards and images for all of the MTG work I have done to date. What was your favorite image and why?

Gatherer Artist Page

header image: J.C. Leyendecker
body images: Ben Thompson

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