Hipsters alumna and Commander Advisory Group member Kristen returns for a special feature: an interview with Justyna Gil, artist of her preview card Kindly Ancestor from the upcoming Innistrad: Crimson Vow set. Long-time readers may remember when Kristen interviewed Justyna before she began contributing art to Wizards—today they catch up to talk about horror films, the artistic process, and close-knit family ties.

Would you believe it’s been two years since I interviewed Justyna Gil here at Hipsters of the Coast? Since then it’s been a busy time for us both. When I found out Justyna was the artist for my free preview card courtesy of Wizards of the Coast, I felt it only fitting to drop back to Hipsters to catch up with Justyna.

Interview with Justyna Gil

Kristen: Good morning Justyna! Welcome back to the Mirror Gallery here on Hipsters of the Coast. I knew as soon as my preview card was one of yours that we simply had to catch up here at Hipsters.

Justyna: Hello Kristen. Thank you so much for having me here again, it’s a real honor! I am very excited about the upcoming card reveal for the Innistrad: Crimson Vow set you’re about to show.

Dawnbringer Aurelia by Justyna Gil

If you’d like to introduce yourself, where you’re from, and what you’ve been up to since we admired your brilliant Dawnbringer Aurelia piece just over two years ago, that would be a great start.

I am a freelance fantasy illustrator based in Poland. My main focus is imaginative realism with an exceptional emphasis on color and light. I greatly enjoy creating vibrant illustrations full of life. The Aurelia piece I did back in 2019 was a gamechanger for me. I decided to start working on a portfolio, I quit my day job and even did a mentorship with Donato Giancola at Smarter Art School, founded by Rebecca Leveille Guay. My work got noticed by Magic: the Gathering Art Directors and soon after I was offered my first card illustration commission 🙂

Veil of Protection by Justyna Gil

We can’t ignore the elephant in the room, the pandemic that has shaken the world. How has it affected your ways of working? What have you done to find inspiration and tranquillity during these rough times?

Frankly speaking the pandemic has not affected my work at all. But what has, was moving in together with Piotr Dura just as I started freelancing for Magic. Sharing workspace with someone who is a great artist is both exciting—I can see and learn how his illustrations come to life!—and terrifying (there’s no way I am showing him my newbie stuff). It would be great if he could help me with my commissions but Piotr is a strict teacher. What’s a better way to learn than the hard way? That said, I am still learning how to paint.

Ah you’re too modest, Justyna. You bring a lot to your half of MtG’s artist power couple!

Did you pick up any new hobbies or skills during the lockdown? I’ve done a lot with my culinary skills—I’ve learned to cook a lot of Japanese food and now I’m itching to go visit once it’s safe again. I really miss traveling.

I miss traveling, too. Hopefully we can meet one day in Japan, as it is my long-time top travel destination. During the lockdown I came back to using more traditional media. Painting with a physical brush is setting my mind at ease. I’ve also started listening to audiobooks while working—though only during the rendering phase, and not the creative one when I am searching for ideas.


Audacious Reshapers by Justyna Gil

I was super excited to see your first Magic cards in the Strixhaven Commander decks, with Audacious Reshapers being a really fun and skilled piece. What was it like working on a brand new plane with Strixhaven?

I remember that I got that assignment pretty late and had only three days for sketches. With every new set, artists get a worldguide with all of the details and concepts for a new plane. I wanted to read the whole book, but focused first on Lorehold and Prismari campus, which is where my cards were taking place. It was essential to quickly grasp the main design ideas behind these two schools and their students.

Since the illustrations I was working on were intended to be on extended art versions as well as in the regular frames, it was crucial for me to include some fun details. After the release I made these fun infographics that explain the hidden details in my artwork.

Those infographics are great—I love when artists include so many easter eggs.

Arcane Endeavor by Justyna Gil

Your other work we’ve seen so far has been on the Adventures in the Forgotten Realms set, which has some reference material in the wider scope of things but is still decidedly not “Magic“. Were you excited for Innistrad to be your first familiar Magic plane?

I was actually hoping I would be allowed to work on some of the iconic characters from Baldur’s Gate while waiting for the AFR art briefs. While Wizards have covered a lot of my favorites—like Minsc—there are still plenty more to bring to life. There will be a place in Magic for iconic characters like Imoen one day, I hope.

I remember that I was pretty excited once the e-mail with Innistrad toplines came. Though I am very grateful for the opportunity to add my two cents to the immense illustrative archive of our vampiric plane, I must admit that I found it refreshing to finally work on more bright and cheerful illustrations with Kamigawa and Dominaria on the horizon.

Well I’m sure many readers will be glad of the confirmation that we can continue to look forward to your art this year.

Innistrad: Crimson Vow

Crimson Vow Marketing Art by Justyna Gil

With Olivia looking glamorous, your Wedding Invitation art, and “husbando” Sorin, you’ve clearly left your mark on the set. What a way to kick things off. So how does it feel to be leading Crimson Vow’s preview season with your stellar Marketing Art? It must be quite an honor to be chosen for this!

For the teaser Marketing Art I was approached by Art Director Elsa Monnier, and it was indeed a true honor to work with her, as I am a fan of her previous projects done with WotC. However with great honor comes great responsibility (especially when dark illustrations aren’t my thing). I was afraid of what kind of reception the Olivia teaser would receive. I hope that Magic players at least got excited by it a little and are now fully enjoying the Preview Season with lots of amazing artworks and great card mechanics. And the story! I wonder myself what will be waiting for our red-haired bride next.

Sorin the Mirthless by Justyna Gil

Innistrad is of course a plane about the Gothic, and classic horror tropes. What are your favorite horror works, whether they be movies, books or art?

The horror genre is not my favourite one, however I recall that Roman Polański’s Rosemary’s Baby and his The Fearless Vampire Killers—if we are allowed to add a bit of comedy to the horror genre—were quite enjoyable. I have just found out that Francis Lawrence’s Constantine is considered as a horror. It’s one of those movies which I’ve rewatched at least three times.

Together with Piotr we have binge-watched Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House and Midnight Mass on Netflix. For sure I will keep an eye on Mike’s future works—I am curious what his next project will be.

Constantine (2005, Warner Bros. Pictures)

I haven’t checked out Midnight Mass yet, but it’s on my list. And as for comedy and horror, I think they go hand in hand sometimes, especially when examining and re-examining the tropes and conventions. Like any average Brit, I’m a big fan of Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead. Innistrad is a plane rich in tropes. What are some of your favorite pieces of Innistrad art? Are there any that inspired you?

Blood Artist by Johannes Voss, Twins of Maurer Estate by Darek Zabrocki, and Mind’s Dilation by Iain McCaig are a few highlights.

Preview Card: Kindly Ancestor // Ancestor’s Embrace

Kindly Ancestor by Justyna Gil

Ancestor’s Embrace by Justyna Gil

Now it’s time to reveal the art for the preview card today, and we’re in for a treat: it’s a double-faced card.

Kindly Ancestor is a 2/3 lifelink for three, and it passes on its blessing from the graveyard, where you can use its Disturb ability to grant lifelink to another creature you control via an Aura, Ancestor’s Embrace. While this thing is unlikely to make waves in Standard, I really love it for Limited. Lifelink is great when racing, but often not worth a whole card without some other benefit. Kindly Ancestor provides a solid body with a way to give your evasive attacker—or even your chunky finisher—a boost of utility in the late game.

Can I just say—I’m blown away, particularly by the reverse art on the card. It’s truly stunning.

Thank you so much, Kristen! I am keeping my fingers crossed that this card that will be used in many formats! If not, I hope that Magic community will find the art pleasing to the eye.

Your work on Kindly Ancestor // Ancestor’s Embrace feels pastoral and reminiscent of 18th Century Romanticism, which of course crosses over quite often with the Gothic aspects we come to expect of Innistrad. I’m reminded of the likes of William Holman Hunt’s “Our English Coasts”. Were there any inspirations for your work here?

Thank you. I mainly did follow the worldguide that Magic team has provided artists with. Once I received the art briefs from the Art Director, I immediately knew that I would portray my grandmother on the Kindly Ancestor card. She was the kindest soul I have ever met.

Ah so this piece was inspired somewhat by your Grandmother? Did she knit or pass down things to you too?

Yes, we were pretty close. I was raised by my grandparents, and we have formed a very close bond over the years. My Grandmother used to darn clothes at work as well as knit scarfs. Unfortunately, she passed away last year, so this illustration was one of many ways to express my gratitude for raising me and to say ‘see you soon’, rather than bid farewell.

It must be incredible to have that connection to a piece of art you’ve created. Thanks for sharing that story, Justyna.

Artistic Process

Art Title: \\ [Paranormal Warmth]
Art Description:
***DOUBLE-FACED CARD – Linked to (Benevolent Spirit)

Color: White, aura enchantment spell.
Location: Kessig

Intent: One of several spirits that, when the card flips, lends its powers to a living creature. A girl recieves a magic ghost-shawl from her grandmother as a form or protection.

Action: A Caucasian teenage girl SHEPHERD wraps a ghostly SHAWL abour her shoulders. It should be transluscent and sparkle with white magic. Maybe she wears it outside while tending her flock at night, while resting by a fireplace, or while visiting her grandmother’s grave

Focus: The shawl.
Mood: Cozy protection from the darkness.

Art Title: \\ [Benevolent Spirit]
Art Description:
***DOUBLE-FACED CARD – Linked to (Paranormal Warmth)

Color: White, spirit creature.
Location: Kessig

Intent: One of several spirits that, when the card flips, lends its powers to a living creature. This grandmother gives the shawl she knits to a girl as a form of protection.

Action: A White-aligned SPIRIT in the shape of an elderly Caucasian woman is KNITTING a SHAWL. Both the spirit and shawl sparkle with white magic. Maybe she has a spirit cat, too. She could be sitting atop her gravestone, in front of a hearth, or somewhere else cozy.

Focus: Grandma’s ghost.
Mood: Serene. A friendly, motherly presence.

What was the process like to create a double-faced card?

This exact card was commissioned on October 27th, 2020, which is a little over year ago now. I got two art briefs from Zack Stella that were linked to each other. There are many ways to tackle a double-faced card. I intended to create two different backgrounds and link the cards via colors, atmosphere, and of course the magical shawl. Though if you look closer at the Ancestor’s Embrace art, you can spot a path in the background, leading to the graveyard presented on the Kindly Ancestor card.

Double-faced cards that tell a story are some of my favorite examples of the way Magic art can tell a story. I think it’s safe to say that the refinement of your skills since we last spoke has helped land you an instantly recognizable style; I can confidently identify your cards when I see art on them, and your mastery of lighting and texture is honestly just super impressive.

That’s a high praise, thank you! I am constantly working towards creating better illustrations so that I can finally proudly show my mum the Magic cards I worked on.

Have you added anything to your artistic process or studied anything new since we last spoke that has helped you refine your techniques? It looks like you’ve been quite busy.

I have learned 3D! Blender can be a real life-saver sometimes 🙂 Also, I have added a bits of traditional media to my painting process. Since I usually do small sketches and scribbles in notebooks, I took them one step further and worked on graphite drawings.

I found that oil painting can be very relaxing after day at work so with Crimson Vow’s set there will be a particular oil repaint that I am very fond of.

Looking Ahead

You’ve added a lot of work to your portfolio since we last spoke, and we’d be here for quite some time if we covered it all. Instead I’d like to ask what has been your favorite project to work on? You seem to be in high demand at Netflix, Middle-earth Enterprises, Rhino Games, and CDProjektRed to name a few.

I am always open to new opportunities and forever grateful for the ones that I was given. Hopefully, I will be able to show you what I’ve been working on in a year or two. Shhh, spoilers. One of this year’s highlights was working on a cover for my favourite fantasy author—a dream coming true.

On a side note, I have just finished a project for Austrian Mint which was pretty exhausting and time-consuming. I decided to slow down a bit and spend more time on learning and finding joy in painting again. There are other important things that need some time, as well. Olivia isn’t the only one getting ready for a wedding this year.

Keeping busy as ever; I’ll keep an eye out for your projects coming to fruition. Congratulations on your engagement to Piotr!

I think that brings us to the end of the interview today. Can we expect to see your art regularly going forward? I’m still waiting on an Aurelia card with your name on it, haha.

You’re not the only one then, Kristen! It would be simply amazing to portray my favourite angel. It’s been a crazy ride since I joined Magic in April 2020. Up until now I have worked on 33 illustrations for them. I would like to officially thank all Art Directors (Ovidio Cartagena, Zack Stella, Andrew Vallas, Taylor Ingvarsson, Cynthia Sheppard, Colin Boyer, Matt Cavotta) for believing in me and letting me work on the great game that Magic undoubtedly is. If you’re reading this, please know that I am always eager to illustrate cards which I or other players can use, particularly if the cards are a fit for my commander decks, haha.

Thank you so much for sitting down to chat today Justyna. It seemed only fitting we catch up here on Hipsters after chatting all the time ago. I can’t believe it’s been two years! Would you like to add anything else or let people know where to find you and your art?

Thank you, Kristen, it’s been a pleasure! It’s amazing how MtG brings everyone together. My portfolio can be found on ArtStation. I am also on Twitter and Instagram—hope to see you there!

And thus concludes our interview with Justyna Gil today. It’s been a pleasure to catch up with her and enjoy her Magic art. Now to enjoy the rest of Crimson Vow preview season. Will you be attending?

Wedding Invitation by Justyna Gil

Kristen is a member of the Commander Advisory Group, Writer, and Streamer. Her work can be found across the magic-verse: at Card Kingdom, EDHRec and here at Hipsters. She’s way too into Boros and loves drafting as much as she loves EDH. 

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