Welcome to the Mirror Gallery. Occasionally on Hipsters of the Coast we like to give our writers the opportunity to venture outside of their usual column to cover something extra special. This bonus edition of Mirror Gallery sees Kristen interview Justyna Gil, whose take on Aurelia has set Twitter alight recently. 

This week’s bonus edition of the Mirror Gallery is trying something a little different—we’re going to look at an artist that not only has an impressive portfolio of work, but who has created an impressive fan piece for Magic: the Gathering. We’ve seen artists in the past who have added this kind of work to their portfolios prior to joining the Wizards pantheon (like the fantastic Livia Prima) and this week’s artist shows similar promise. Let’s meet Justyna Gil. 


Good morning Justyna! Welcome to the Mirror Gallery here on Hipsters of the Coast. Let’s stick to tradition with Donny’s usual opener: Who are you, where are you from, and what do you do?

Hello Kristen! Thank you so much for having me here, it’s a real honor and I’m feeling really excited about it! I’m just a girl from Poland still in her twenties. For around . . . almost three years, I’ve been working on mobile free-to-play games and occasionally doing illustration commissions.

Poland has a big fantasy export in the Witcher series of Books and Games, soon to be a Netflix show. How big is Witcher in Poland—is it as big an influencer on pop culture as I’d imagine?

To be honest, I haven’t read the books nor played the videogames, but I have seen the old 2001 movie (that dragon is really something!). I tried once to read the books, but the writing style was not to my liking (or maybe that dragon was still too much of a trauma for me). The games helped raise the global awareness of this brand, especially Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Rather than being an influencer on pop culture, it suddenly became a national treasure and export product. All over the internet you can find proud Poles happily recommending Witcher, and even Barack Obama was given a copy of The Witcher when he met with Poland’s Prime Minister back in 2011. Now, with the Netflix show around the corner, some people are taking it way too seriously, and they expect that the show will be on an even keel with the games. Luckily, there are rational people out there as well, who keep a healthy distance to the foreign show and know that Netflix makes tons of original productions every year and some of them are good, and some are bad. We’ll see I guess.

From looking at your work on ArtStation, it’s clear that you’ve honed your talent over many years. Have you always been an artist at heart? Did you study art professionally?

Well, to be honest, it’s been a rather bumpy road. Since my father gave me my first tablet back in 2004, I’ve been drawing mostly anime/manga stylized works and fanarts, but only during holidays—I was thinking about my education too seriously, you can say! 

Art was simply a hobby for the longest time, which is why I started Architectural Engineering studies back in Poland. After two years I received a Korean government scholarship and moved to Seoul for five years, where I studied both Chinese Language and Literature & Western Painting at Dongguk University. 

Wow, quite the change! I’ll bet that was a jump in at the deep end?

Yeah! Knowledge of Korean was obligatory to start attending classes, so along with other grantees we’d been acquiring that language for a year in advance. It definitely helped us not only to communicate with natives but also enhanced the experience of living in a high-tech city like Seoul. The whole experience was inspiring, and made me yearn to be drawing again. You simply can’t walk away from those glittering and mesmerizing graphics that Korean games are using, especially when they’re everywhere you go.

It sounds like your time in Korea was unforgettable. The Korean gaming industry is huge, and it’s definitely had an impact on art and design in that sector worldwide. What came next?

After graduating I decided to try to pursue an illustrator career, rather than becoming an ambassador which was initially on the cards. Since that day, I’ve been working on mobile games and constantly trying to improve my skills by taking CGMA or Schoolism courses. Recently I started Watts Atelier online classes, and I cannot recommend it enough! MtG illustrator, Lucas Graciano, is also teaching there.

Lucas is super talented, right? His recent Island art for Throne of Eldraine is something to behold. 

The Process

It sounds like you’ve been diligent in your learning process which clearly shows your passion for illustration. Where do you do most of your work? What’s your process—digital, canvas, sketches?

Right now I’m working mostly digitally using my ol’ good Wacom tablet and Photoshop, though I usually do pencil thumbnails before starting new art. Back at University, I was learning how to paint with traditional media such as oils and acrylics—it definitely helped me understand ways of ‘Old Masters’ and made me wonder how can I achieve that ‘traditional feeling’ using digital media.

That sounds like a good goal to aim for—many artists have shown that with the right techniques digital can display the same amount of skill as traditional painting. 

If you’ll allow me to say, your portrait studies are breathtaking. You have captured lighting and human emotion in a truly engaging way. Who inspires you? What portrait artists would you say you learned most from?

Why, thank you! I love painting people, I guess just from those dozens of portraits you can say I’m more of a character than environment artist. When I paint them I imagine what type of personality they have, what do they like, etc. I would say I learned the most from John Singer Sargent and Richard Schmid.

Richard Schmid has become somewhat of a standard for teaching painting, right?

For sure! I’d recommend his book Alla Prima. It gives a lot of insight to the painting process.

What kind of work have you done so far, commission wise? 

So far I’ve done all sorts really. Recently, marketing art and GUI work needed to publish short adventure games in a semi-realistic style. I’ve also been working for the Austrian Mint preparing realistic illustrations for their upcoming projects. On top of that, I’ve worked on some comic books, concept art for an RPG game and of course lots of personal commissions. 

That’s quite the variety. What did you enjoy the most?  

I guess I did it all only to find that I still need to search for projects that will bring me joy. That’s why recently I started working on my portfolio and coming back to personal pieces after almost four years. My hope is that once I finish compiling my portfolio, I will be able to tell you about the work I enjoyed the most—I’m certainly enjoying the process of discovery.

Magic: the Gathering

So, I guess we should probably move on to the piece of art that took the internet by storm recently. What drew you to Magic: the Gathering?

It would be none other than my boyfriend, Piotr Dura—right now he’s also drawing art for MtG. He showed me the world of Magic: the Gathering and made me realize what a great game I’ve been missing! 

We started collecting artbooks and cards, and sometimes found time to play games on Arena. I’m still asking him about which format is what, how this or that card works.

Magic is very complex. There’s a reason they say it has a low floor and a high ceiling!

Right! I don’t like losing but I have to say he’s always winning over me, or at least 9 out of 10 times, so I do have some way to go with refining my game.

You’ll get there! You have to lose to figure out how to win after all . . . we’ve all made that journey. What drew you to Aurelia, specifically?

I really loved the Chance for Glory card and all of the artwork for Aurelia—from Aurelia, the Warleader to Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice, and the other cards in between. I was enamoured with her design. When I’m looking at beautiful artwork like these, it makes me want to create something pretty, too. My first thought was that if I was to paint Aurelia, I needed to bring forwards her ‘white’ characteristics (peaceful, glorious, victorious—you name it), rather than showing her in the fervor of battle like many pieces before. I was lucky enough to have Piotr as my ‘Art Director’, and I am really grateful for all the feedback he’s been giving me during the process of painting Aurelia.

Well, I have to say that you managed to follow through with what you intended. It was interesting to see the process with Aurelia—at times, the backdrop would have been more ‘Red’ than you set out for. Can you talk us through the process?

First, there was a pose—I knew that I wanted to show Aurelia being somewhat triumphant, but the setting and mood was still to be decided on. Aurelia was pretty neatly sketched out, whereas the background was less detailed. Somewhere along the process I took a liking to a peaceful sunrise environment and went with it. As you can imagine, I went with coloring the character first, and then started to worry about her surroundings, which resulted in few alterations of colors and light adjustments on Aurelia.

Would you say you’d be a proud member of the Boros, then?

I guess it would be either Boros or Selesnya—I liked playing deck with combinations of those colors on MTG Arena.

It’s clear from your Aurelia art that you’re very talented, and would be a great fit for the MtG brand. What are you aiming for right now, where do you see yourself in five years? 

Right now I will work hard on building my portfolio by night, and working in the games industry by day. Hopefully after some time I will be able to show more personal works and try my luck at applying to Wizards.

I wish you the best of luck with the future, Justyna. You’re definitely on the right track. What kind of Magic set would you most like to work on if given the chance?

There are so many wonderful sets from MtG that I would be forever grateful to work on. Their worldbuilding skills are just top-notch—just think of Theros, Kamigawa, Ravnica! I’m also a big fan of powerful beasts, so Ikoria sounds like an ideal choice, too.

I have to say, Ikoria intrigues me. I’m a big fan of the Witcher too. I wonder if the set will evoke similar themes or ideas. Maybe it’ll just be like Monster Hunter though! Speaking of beasts, one final question—are you a dog person, or a cat person?

Although I don’t own one, I am definitely a cat person. Hopefully I will be allowed to draw one on a card, just like Chris Rahn

Thanks for taking the time out to talk to us, Justyna. It’s been a pleasure, and I know I’ll be following your journey with a lot of interest. Aurelia is one of my favourite cards too, and your art really captured my eye. I’m glad I decided to check out your portfolio! Finally, where can people find you?

Thank you so much Kristen, for having me here! Right now I’m working simultaneously on two more fantasy pieces (with a strong relation to MtG), so hopefully you will be able to see new stuff sooner. It’s been a blast talking to you, thank you and the whole crew at Hipsters of the Coast. It’s amazing how MtG brings everyone together 🙂

You can visit my ArtStation page here. 

And so concludes our time with Justyna. I hope you enjoyed the dive into her impressive portfolio—it’s clear that her Aurelia artwork resonated with many recently, and if you hadn’t had a chance to explore it before now—please, enjoy.

Kristen is a lover of both Limited and Commander, and can most often be found championing the Boros Legion when called upon to sit down and shuffle up. Based in the UK, she works as a software developer, and her love for the Legion is second only to her appreciation for Lord of the Rings and Mass Effect.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.