Hiya! Welcome to Arting Around. This week I was lucky enough to interview Magic artist Anthony Palumbo and he offered fantastic, warm, deeply personal answers. I’m passing the good fortune of the interview onto you, dear readers. Enjoy!

Matt Jones: My buddy Kadar and I started putting together a cube from the many foils we acquire during matches of our Brooklyn team draft league. Once we got going on it mana fixing became a big problem and Cultivate (from a non-TDL donation) became one of the most vital cards in the cube. I’d pick the damn thing because the art is so beautiful. There’s a real kindness there. A lot of Magic cards are brutal, monstrous, aggressive. Your illustration for Cultivate is gentle, warm, and loving. Can you talk about what instructions you got for illustrating Cultivate, your thought process going into creating it, and share with us any early sketches of the illustration prior to completion (if you’ve got any laying around!)?

Anthony Palumbo: Thank you for the kind words about Cultivate. This was the first Magic card assignment I ever did, and really my first ever professional freelance illustration job. At the time (2009), Jeremy Jarvis was the sole art director responsible for assigning cards to artists, and he took a chance on me. My brother and fellow Magic illustrator David Palumbo introduced me to Jeremy at a bar during San Diego Comicon, where I was trying to meet people in the fantasy/science fiction publishing world and show off my portfolio. My portfolio consisted entirely of gallery-oriented oil paintings with no obvious connection to fantasy illustration, and after looking at my paintings the actual words out of Jeremy’s mouth were “Okay… I’m going to take a chance on you…” I knew he was going out on a limb with me, and I’ve always felt grateful to him for it. Because he saw that my background was in realistic figurative painting, my Magic card assignments have always centered around this. So a close up of a hand wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for me. The art directors take their artists’ strengths and natural tendencies into account, and I tend to get assigned cards with a stillness and quiet to them, as opposed to violent action. That ability to keep over 100 artists’ strengths and weakness in mind simultaneously and assign the right card to the right artist is what propelled the quality of Magic card art to the top under Jeremy’s watch, in my opinion. For Cultivate, (pulling some quotes from the assignment) I was asked to give an impression of a “lush” and “hearty” “pattern of new growth” emerging from the “dry barren earth”. I only had one strong image in my mind of what the card would look like, and I tried to do my best. The feedback Jeremy gave me about this sketch for my first Magic assignment was “So far so good! <<APPROVED>>” I came to understand that Magic card feedback would be short and to the point. If it was more than six words long, it probably meant the artist was in trouble!


MJ: Wow. That response was amazing. Thank you! Question two: since Cultivate, how has your life changed?

AP: My life has changed since then in almost every way possible. Cultivate marked a major career change, being my first illustration assignment from a big company. Prior to that, I’d been living off of sales of paintings in art galleries. The gallery money was very uneven and unpredictable, and I’d been thinking about branching out into freelance illustration work as another source of income. Since I started six years ago, Wizards has provided a steady flow of card illustration jobs. Not a gushing torrent, but a nice steady predictable trickle giving me a cushion of much needed financial stability, while leaving me enough time for other art jobs and personal projects.

My personal life also changed majorly at the same time as that career change. I had just met the woman who I share my life with now, Winona Nelson. We met at an artists’ workshop just before I started working for Wizards. We were living on opposite coasts when we met, and immediately knew we couldn’t let this one get away. Winona had a job as concept artist at a game studio in San Francisco, and I went out there to live with her. She saw the combination of freedom and poverty I enjoyed as a beginner freelance illustrator and was like “I want some of that!”, so a couple months later we drove back across the country to live and work as freelancers out of my more affordable hometown, Philadelphia. Winona shifted her art portfolio’s orientation from video game concept art to fantasy illustration and Jarvis started giving her assignments for Magic. We shared a house with my illustrator brother David at the time, and for a few years it felt like we were a three person Magic: The Gathering art studio. (Dave eventually fled and lives a few blocks away now.)

MJ: Anthony, I can’t believe how amazing your story is. Seems like your journey has actually been, ehem, magical! I don’t actually know how to follow up the last question. Your answer is so complete. I think I’ll just toss out a really easy one, end on an artsy note. Of all the cards you’ve illustrated which is your favorite and why?

AP: Thank you, Matt! My favorite card I’ve painted is my Angel Token. It was the angels of artists like Chris Moeller and Brom that most attracted me to Magic card art in the beginning. The assignment description was what I always envisioned my ideal Magic card assignment to be, from before I even started painting Magic cards. It asked me to paint the Angel as “A beautiful harbinger of glory and protection.” with shiny armor, and aside from those words I was given the freedom to design pretty much whatever I liked. So much fun!


I really enjoyed asking Anthony questions. Here are some lines that stand out from his answers:

“…the combination of freedom and poverty I enjoyed as a beginner freelance illustrator…”

Freedom and poverty. Super interesting, as an artist, to read about another artist talking about his life like this. I’ve been lucky enough to have a steady job working for another artist since 2001. The pay is pretty good and the hours are reasonable but I am not free. The job carries over into my non-job life. Any chance at meaningful studio time after work at my day job is an uphill battle. I get to have nice things, can afford my studio rent fairly easily, and can buy all the supplies I need, but my time to use the resources I can afford is stretched thin. It’s nice to read that Anthony has made his decisions re: career, can talk about them, and shares them with us here.

 “…after looking at my paintings the actual words out of Jeremy’s mouth were “Okay… I’m going to take a chance on you…” I knew he was going out on a limb with me, and I’ve always felt grateful to him for it.”

Everyone deserves a chance. Jeremy at Wizards did a nice thing to take a chance on Anthony and it’s paid off for them. The Angel Token alone represents the value of Jeremy’s decision to give Anthony work. So good.

“We were living on opposite coasts when we met, and immediately knew we couldn’t let this one get away.”

The inclusion of Anthony and Winona’s love story was totally unexpected. It’s very sweet to read it here and I’m grateful that Anthony shared it with us.

See you next week with another interview with one of Magic’s fantastic illustrators.

Matt Jones (born on at the beginning of the 8th decade of the 2oth century) is an artist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. Matt’s played Magic since Revised. Lately Matt’s game has become more about hanging out with friends and shooting the shit and less about competitive tournament play. He writes the weekly Arting Around column on Hipsters of the Coast, interviewing Magic illustrators and occasionally adding his thoughts on the art of various cards and sets.

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