An Interview with Randy Gallegos


Randy Gallegos has been a featured artist on Magic: The Gathering cards longer than many of today’s players have been alive. As if making the Magic card art for 22 years wasn’t enough, he maintains both which features his exceptional fantasy art as well as, a site devoted to artwork of the classic gaming variety.

Randy graciously shared some time of his time with me to answer a few questions.

Paper Champion: Randy, thank you for taking the time for this interview. I’ve enjoyed your artwork from the first days of my Magic playing hobby. You have created artwork for nearly 150 Magic cards over that span. What is the secret to your longevity?

rg_balanceRandy Gallegos: I wish I could tell you! Though I’ve missed a number of sets along the way, I’ve had one of the longer total spans during which my art appeared in the game. I only know that I do my best to give the Art Director as little grief as possible, including being on-time, and not complaining or pestering when I’m skipped on sets. As the level of craft has increased over time from when I began in Ice Age, I’ve also had to continue bettering my own work–this however, is naturally what every artist should want to do, I would think.

PC: Over the years, has doing art for Magic had an impact on your art style?

RG: Yes in the sense that I’ve done a lot of art that I would not have created on my own, and also in that the style guides and world-building have greatly influenced the look of my work as it appears in the game. There is a ton of work and talent involved in the world-building part behind the scenes, and I do think being exposed to that side of the Magic universe has helped me grow quite a lot. Of course the friendly competition with all the other illustrators also keeps me on my toes.

PC: Do you have a favorite color card to illustrate?td135_bantCharm

RG: Not necessarily one, but I do find that I prefer W/U/G. I’m not big on the adrenaline of Red and while I’ve had some success with Black, I think it’s hard for me to do the truly nightmarish with conviction–there are others who have a mind for the darker side.

PC: Wizards of the Coast has tapped you to illustrate one of their newest cards. Take us step by step in the process of creating art for a Magic card.

RG: Often there is a heads-up from the Art Director so they can be sure that we have room in our schedule. If so, an email shows up with title in-progress, color and a description. That description varies a lot from a detailed scene carefully described to a concept being conveyed. A world-specific style guide is also part of the mix, so we artists can create visuals with continuity. I’m sure many of your readers have come across examples of these Art Descriptions as a number of artists have posted them here and there.

PC: Dance of the Dead is one of my favorite cards you have illustrated. Tell me a little about it.

danceRG: Well, it was from my first set, painted I think in December of 1994 when I was like 20. It’s small, 7×8” and in acrylic, which I used almost exclusively until 1998 when I changed to oils. In those days you got a color and a title and that was it. I wanted to have some kind of rhythmic flow to the characters and used their weapons to mimic the opening of an asian handheld fan, often used in dance. That’s not intended to be obvious at all, but it got my mind moving towards a composition. I’m pretty sure I did all 9 of my Ice Age pieces in a month, while working part-time (but I quit that day job by the end of the project and went full-time in illustration). These days I might only want to do 1-2 Magic pieces in a month, working full-time, as I have a lot of things going on in any given month now.

PC: What is something the Magic community deserves to know about the artists side of the hobby?

RG: More often than not, the artists don’t know the game very well at all. I played from 94-97 or so, but in-between Magic assignments most of us are doing any number of other things, so while we appreciate those who go deep in Magic lore and strategy, often fans talk to us as if we understand these things. Often, we don’t know much about what they are trying to tell us!

I would imagine most of the artists have learned the game at its basic level at some point just so we have context for what we’re illustrating, and a special few have gone on to play competitively, but mostly we are fans of the art and the artists of the game, ourselves.

PC: What was the best advice you have ever received?

martyrofsandsRG: It was more of a warning. Comics artist Dan Brereton visited a class while I was in art school. It was during my last semester at the California College of the Arts. I had a few of my big final projects there. He had some kind things to say about my work, but he did warn me that with the style of painting I was pursuing, I was going to have a pretty hard time making a living as an illustrator with the level of pay and fast deadlines. He was definitely right about that, and though I’ve had the opportunity to transition to digital over the past decade, I’ve held on doggedly to painting, even switching to oils which is slower-drying still. I’ve had to find ways to adjust and speed things up around that, without compromising my aesthetic through too many shortcuts.

PC: Who is an up and coming artist you enjoy that you feel deserves more credit in the M:tG art community?

RG: This question makes me realize I am very much getting out of touch with what the younger folk are up to. I can’t think of anyone offhand, though I’m sure there are plenty–in fact, I think the problem is that it seems like more than ever people are heading into illustration and the arts. The last grads I had an eye on have already transitioned into well-known and accomplished professionals in their own rights over the past number of years: people like Rob Rey, Jeremy Wilson and Rovina Cai–these are all artists I would’ve mentioned before, but they are all well into amazing careers doing stellar work. There are simply so many artists now! They move in and out of various visual fields, too, so whereas when I was younger you had more artists with very long illustration careers, now people go for periods in illustration, then maybe do film or television or video game development and so on–they disappear for awhile. Then they might pop up again in illustration and back around.

PC: What non-Magic related projects are you currently working on?

heartsforhardwareRG: I have a few lines of work I pursue: figurative, more fine arty pieces, a series of still life paintings of old video game hardware called “Hearts for Hardware”, and I’ve begun showing a series of landscape paintings inspired by the winegrowing region of Sonoma County, CA where I moved to last year. I end up going back and forth between all these things and more. It adds a ton of variety to my work compared to earlier in my career, but means I have to manage multiple bodies of work each with different clientele.

PC: What do you do for fun? Do you play Magic or other games?

RG: I took up jogging about ten years ago at the half and full marathon level (though mostly at the half-), have an ongoing, very slow hobby of studying Japanese language, and with whatever time is left, play video games. I watch very little film and television, don’t read fiction for enjoyment (I listen to audiobooks while working sometimes, though) and use that time for these other things instead. Only so much time for leisure, unfortunately!

PC: Thank you for your cooperation Randy. I expect to see more of your great artwork in Magic for years to come.

Swing Last,


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