Good morning friends and folks; I can hardly believe I’m writing this, but today is nearly five years to the day that Welcome to the Mirror Gallery debuted on Hipsters of the Coast. In the 1827 days since the very first piece was published, I’ve written more than 400 articles for Hipsters across a variety of columns, with the hefty majority falling into this long-form labor of love I’ve built over half a decade. As I already have a regular Reflection piece built into my yearly lineup, I thought it would be fun to do another mailbag style article. I’ve only ever done one of these back in 2021 and it was a lot of fun. If you all, my readers, are one thing it’s inquisitive, and I love being asked to think. Here’s what you all wanted to know:

John Dale Beety asks: “Which artist has ‘leveled up’ the most over the course of their work with Magic: The Gathering?”

Two artists leap to mind. The first is Ryan Pancoast. I’ve watched his work since I first started really paying attention to Magic art in 2017, and he was one of the first artists I bought process work from. The period of Shadows Over Innistrad to Kaladesh marked a major point of departure upwards for Ryan, and dozens of cards later, nearly every piece he paints is a set highlight, and some, like Discover the Impossible from last year’s Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, are firmly in the conversation of the best Magic pieces of all time. 

A person glides across pristine water in a canoe, with a school of rays swimming just below the surface. Below the rays are the faint rooflines of traditional Japanese buildings.

Discover the Impossible by Ryan Pancoast

The other is Victor Adame Minguez. I first met Victor back at a Grand Prix in Washington DC, both when he was first starting with Magic and when I was coming back to the game. I remember when I first wrote about Archon of Falling Stars during Kaldheim, I knew what we’d see moving forward would be especially exciting, and Victor has not disappointed. Now working almost exclusively, traditionally, his paintings are high notes of every release he’s a part of, and he’s solidified himself as one of the game’s very best.

Ryan Sainio asks: “What article do you think back to often and then realize it was 2+ years ago?”

When I read this, I clicked back on my author archive to find 38 pages of articles…and naturally I had to roll back through them. I think one of the most important articles/series I’ve worked on is the Magic Artist Wishlist, which I started back in May of 2020. Of that first Part I and Part II, more than half of the artists have since gone on to work for Magic, and I’ve found myself going back to those articles quite frequently. It’s also been over two years since my first preview cards, and I just had the pleasure of doing my fourth preview (TK) earlier this week; these are very much high points in my writing career, and I do go back and read them now and again

A knight atop a horse is reaching down towards you with a church collection plate in hand. Their face isn't visible, and tall cathedral spires rise up around them.

Charity Extractor by Matt Stewart

And of course, I can’t forget a pretty cool basic land collaboration with my fellow Thursday publisher. We should do that again real soon my dude.

FamilyTheGathering asks: “What ignited your passion for art?”

I took an Art History course my first first semester of undergraduate study at the University of Maryland: College Park called Art and Society in the West from the Renaissance to the Present, and taught by Dr. Steven Mansbach. It was the stereotypical big college lecture hall class, dark with a slide projector and made up of images and the professor talking lecture style. I know this is some folks’ literal definition of hell, but for a small-town kid who hadn’t seen a lot of these works before, especially as it pushed into Modernism, it was revelatory.

(Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851), “Rain, Steam and Speed – the Great Western Railway” (exhibited 1844), oil on canvas, 91 x 121.8 cm (The National Gallery, London. © The National Gallery, London)

It was here I was introduced to the artists which shaped my understanding and passion for art. Chief among them was JMW Turner, who is still my favorite artist to this day. I remember ordering my first artbook of his work off Amazon, and going to the National Gallery to see a landmark exhibition which happened to be there during my class. I had no idea this unassuming elective course would ignite a spark to be realized nearly a decade later, but here we are!

VeggieWagon asks: “What was the first piece of Magic art that you remember sticking out to you? Also, what song should we duet at karaoke?

I’ve talked about this piece a few times previously in different context, but it was Donato Giancola’s Doomsday Specter.

An armored, winged humanoid rider sits atop a flying wyrven. It has long, pointed teeth in a mouth agape, and it's appearing out of a ripple in the air. It's flapping leathery wings as it flies towards the viewer.

Doomsday Specter by Donato Giancola. Traditional.

This was a card that lived in Joey’s binder for a long, long time, but it was on the booster box and promotional material for Planeshift (as an aside if you’re not Veggie Wagon, Joey taught both Brett (Veggie) and I how to play, and we’ve been friends since grade school). I started playing during Onslaught so there was still a fair amount of the set floating around, and I remember being absolutely captivated by it.

As for karaoke, three options: “The Other Side” from Greatest Showman, “If I Had a Million Dollars” by Barenaked Ladies, or any Disney duet, so long as you sing the high part. 

Keia Bee Blair asks: “If you could design a set, what would it be based around?”

This question sparked a long forgotten fiction I noodled with for an article with previous Hipsters writer Urchin Colley.

It is a story of two worlds, one above and below the clouds, and The Four who rule its peaks that rise into the sky. The Bottom, that which exists below the Cloud Veil, is a place none go willingly, and yet all life had to have begun there. When a fifth Great Being is born into Highspire, it threatens to upset the balance of the Four, and reveal the secrets below the clouds.

“We do not fear the fall. Only what might be below it.”

Mdbdart asks: “Why don’t you include your cats more often in your articles?”

That’s a fair point. Here’s Groot and Thorin, and they are the best boys in the world. 

A grey and black cat sit next to each other by a window.

Groot in the Grey and Thorin Oakencat in the black

V3cna asks: “ If you were to paint the ultimate dragon, what qualities would it have?”

First, let it be known that I cannot draw or paint a lick; I can do words about pictures, but only in that order. 

But if I could, I’d love to imagine a set of dueling dragons. One would look like those found on Innistrad- sleek, slender, with translucent wings like stained glass and incredible speed. They could become wholly invisible, and when paired with that speed and stealth, would be quite the fearsome foe.

The other would harken back to the Elder Dragon War, and the land wurms that roamed Dominaria following. It would be an incredible behemoth of a dragon with great leathery wings, and those classic Otarian flat teeth we see in the wurms from that era. Instead of fire I see them using sound as a weapon, a supersonic screech of sorts. I’m not sure the backstory but a banshee of a dragon sounds cool!

I like the dichotomy of these sorts of things- thanks for the great question!

Nick Wolf asks: “Now that events are back, do you see them becoming important as a revenue stream for artists? Do you think we’ll see more artists start “touring” the various events in North America/around the world?

Because all artists work differently, I think this is one of those situations where mileage varies greatly from person to person. For some, these large scale events have the potential to create lifestyle-changing opportunities. And yet for others, time outside of the studio still isn’t justified, or necessary, or wanted, no matter how many folks attend a given event. I do think we’ll see a bunch of new faces out and about though, and I myself am very excited for the return of these events. I hope lots of artists are too. 

Tim Patton asks: “Favorite Color? Favorite Artist Proof You Own? What’s your ‘grail’ card in relation to artist proofs?”

Lightning round: My favorite color in Magic is Red, my Favorite Artist Proof I own is impossible to choose so this sounds like a nice to to show off my “Proof Power 9” from last year:

A 3x3 stack of Magic: The Gathering artist proof backs, each depicting fantasy characters, ranging from Dune sand wurms to Liliana Vess of MTG.

And I’d say my grail card would be tracking down a sketched Myr Quadropod from Christopher Rush. I’ve never seen one blank, not to mention sketched, and I’d love to pair it with the original painting.

Sam Luton asks: “Is there a comprehensive list for contacting artists more updated than this?”

Unfortunately no, and there is unlikely to be another even though this one is nearly ten years old. As useful as that might be, there were a fair few artists that were not a fan of the article, and that pushback coupled with the sheer undertaking and constant need for update makes it a pretty difficult project.

Pete Venters asks: “Current Magic sets come with amazing CGI trailers. What older sets would you like to see receive one of these trailers?

I love this question, and know exactly what I would want it to be. As I mentioned earlier I started playing Magic in 2002, so the stories of Kahmahl descending from the Pardic Mountains, the pit fighters of the Grand Coliseum, and Ixidor sculpting reality as the Mirari runs wild are the stories of my childhood. I’d LOVE to see those two blocks and six sets, Odyssey-Torment Judgment and Onslaught-Legions-Scourge, come to life in animation and tell the stories from the novels and the cards.

A male mage is calling forth a human shape out of a rising pile of earth. He's clad in a long vest, with a spikey hair. In his hand he holds a metallic staff with glowing lights on it.

Ixidor, Reality Sculptor by Kev Walker

Dan Lo asks: “Who is your favorite artist to hang out with at signing events and why is it Justine Jones?”

I’ve had the great pleasure to do shows with both Justine Jones (MagicCon Philadelphia and the upcoming MagicCon Minneapolis) and Andrew Mar (Commandfest Orlando 2021). I enjoyed my time next to them immensely, and honestly can’t thank them enough for the opportunity to work side by side and help get great art out into the world. I’m so looking forward to Minneapolis with Justine, and whatever is next on the horizon.

Will Smith asks: “How do you store your painted [artist] proofs?”

I actually just use my normal process; Dragon Shield Perfect Fits into Dragon Shield Matte Clear and in a 2×2 binder. I do have a handful of painted proofs in the new Frameamajig frame and plan on moving more into these. Their Kickstarter is coming very, very soon; make sure you sign up!

Vorthos Mike asks: “Your follower count hasn’t risen with your exponentially rising relevance yet, why?

Mike gave me the option of a softball or the 100mph fastball, and I took the high heat because I like a challenge. 

This is a hard question for me, and one I have thought about as I float around the 1K follower mark on the socials, and have for some time. Mike knows this already because we’ve worked together for quite some time now; I’m very much a behind the scenes kind of guy, but at the same time have no problem stepping out from behind the curtain. I write for the Everyman, and from what I know about my audience a lot of them are the casual crowd who are not constantly on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram. My writing is about meeting people where they are, and as hard as it was for me to believe, that means often off social media.

Increasing follower count will ultimately come down to me needing to spend more time interacting with folks across communities within the larger scope of Magic. Let it be known to other creators and fans in Magic spaces, I am ALWAYS down to come on a podcast, collaborate on an article, or just jam out on something art-related. I love talking about art and flavor, and will always find a way to make it work. 

But you do not need to follow me on social media to enjoy what I might have to stay. I appreciate every moment spent within my paragraphs, and and endlessly grateful for those folks that come back every week. 

Wrapping Up

That last question creates the perfect point of departure to both end this article and embark on the next five years of the Mirror Gallery. As the world changes, in-person events return in full force, and online spaces evolve in a post-COVID world, the constant has been you all, the folks that have read my work and come along for this wild ride. There will be many more twists and turns in the years ahead, and just as the Mirror Gallery looks much different than it did back in 2018, it’ll likely look different when I’m writing the tenth anniversary article too.

I want to reiterate that I love my little place here in Magic, and am so appreciative to the folks who helped me get here. And I meant what I said earlier; if you want to work together in art-related endeavors, drop me a message. If we’re at the same event, please come say hi- just swing around the corner of the table. I’m never too busy for a hug or a handshake, and I truly want to meet you. I’m going to keep at this for as long as I possibly can, and I sure couldn’t do that without the folks that support what I do.

Thank you all, for everything, and I’ll see you next time. 

Donny Caltrider (he/him) is a Senior Writer at Hipsters of Coast writing about all things related to the art of Magic: The Gathering and the larger imaginative realism genre. He has an M.A. in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University and enjoys telling stories about art, objects, and the intersection of fantasy with real-life. When he’s not writing for Hipsters or working with artists, you can find him traveling with his wife, petting his two cats, and watching the Baltimore Orioles.

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