When I think of the early years of Magic: The Gathering one of those thoughts is about Dan Frazier’s artwork. His fabulous works displayed the artifacts of Magic perfectly and were stunning pieces, displayed with transfixing swirled backgrounds. His most notable works are the Moxen, which are five cards of Magic’s Power Nine.
This man who was a cornerstone for illustrations to come in a hobby we all love, caught me off guard by thanking me for bringing my daughter to the event. He explained he was a teacher once and had seen parentless students fade into oblivion and was glad to see my daughter and I spending quality time together at the event. While we spoke I was confused by the contrast between what I had expected and who I was actually speaking to. One of the early kings of Magic art and a humble man that finds the simple things in life most important.
Paper Champion: Dan, thank you for taking the time for this interview. I’ve enjoyed your artwork from my first days of playing Magic. It seemed like Magic’s creation in the early days was very much flying by the seat of it’s pants. In your opinion, what is it about the game that made it survive for 25 years?
Dan Frazier: I have no clue. It was certainly different from the other games out there. But unlike chess or other board games, it was not static. There was always something new. All these editions and expansions provided a huge income stream.
PC: Do you have a favorite color card to illustrate?
DF: Not at all. They have not asked me to paint one in over a decade. There are so many new and talented artists that blow me away.
DF: One time they asked me to do a Mox Crystal. Most of the females seemed to be depicted as babes in their 20’s and in a brass bra. So did an old black lady in a respectful manner. It ended up as the Enlightened Tutor.
PC: Is there anything you have stuck into your Magic art that people don’t seem to notice? Family, friends, hidden pictures?
DF: Well, nothing hidden. But I did use a lot of my friends as photo references. One time my mom had me take her to the ophthalmologist. Her eyes were dilated. I had her pose looking down into a 200 watt bulb. She was a real trooper for Oracle en-Vec.
PC: What memorable fan responses have you gotten from your work?
DF: One time a fan showed me a tat on his skull. It was the Mox Sapphire. He wanted me to sign it so the signature could be tattooed to his temple. I did it on a paper instead.
PC: What is something the Magic community deserves to know about the artists side of the hobby?
DF: If I told you, I’d have to kill you. Sorry it was in the contract.
PC: What was the best advice you have ever received?
“The Book of Larry”. Larry Smith was the Art Director for Dungeon Magazine. He is a natural teacher and always seems to care about the young artists (no matter how old they are). I had done a few pieces for him. I was at Gen Con a few years ago. He was going through the art show and talking to several other people. He was making observations about the art that was hung. What I overheard made a lot of sense and I remembered it.
Another year Larry actually took me on my own tour of the art gallery. His comments and later conversations were always interesting and frequently insightful. His comments and later conversations were always interesting and frequently insightful. Those bits of info, plus any good quips, rules and comments have stewed for years in the cauldron of my mind. Some have been contaminated with my own thoughts, or have become very integral to my own thinking.The result has become what I call the “Book of Larry”.
The illustration must tell a story.
If the Illustration is part of a story, it must be true to the story.
Be wary of excessive gore and cleavage.
Don’t rely on cliche’s.
Make the art believable.
Realism first, then add fantasy
In most good fantasy illustrations, 90% is real and 10% is fantasy.
Negative space is as important as the “stuff” you paint.
Leave plenty of border for the title and other cover graphics.
A painting is only as good as its weakest element.
Your characters should “live” in their environment, not just be propped up in front of a background. (i.e. lighting, perspective, mood)
Characters in situations should show the emotion of the environment.
Details must be historically or functionally correct.
Work out the composition first, then worry about the detail.
Control your palette.
Don’t annoy the Art Director, or call him at lunch time.
Don’t send your portfolio unless your art work is at least as good as the art you have seen in their recent publications.
Include a S.A.S.E envelope for a return letter.
Don’t send original art work.
In a cover letter, don’t include a critique of yourself. (Don’t make apologies, “These are not very good photo’s, but…..”)
Don’t send laser prints for this very reason.
Send tear sheets, color photo’s or transparencies (4”x 5”) rather than slides.
Send only your best work, even if it’s just one piece.
Make sure some samples are relevant to the market
Never miss a deadline! Be early and if possible.
Detail and focus draw the eye.
Have a plan for your career but keep it flexible.
Keep an eye on trends in the industry, cons are good for that.
Don’t send bimbo art unless you know ahead of time it is acceptable.
If pieces of art in your portfolio are available for their use, let publisher know.
Tell them what you want and when you are available.
What ever you send should look clean and professional.
Develop a network of artists and friends in the industry.
Fantasy illustrators must be graphic story tellers.
PC: You have been approached by Death and he tells you you have enough time to paint one last picture. What do you paint and why?
DF: Easy, I’d do a portrait of him in the style of the old masters. Yes, I can paint, and one painting done in that manner can take months due to drying times and everyone would like to know what Death really looks like.
PC: Who is an artist that you feel deserves more credit in the M:tG art community?
DF: Another easy one. Jesper Myrfors. He was the Art Director in the hard early days. He pushed for the name of the illustrators to be printed on the cards. That act, provided fame and fortune to hundreds of artists. It gave them a way to make a living doing prints, signatures and alters.
PC: As one of the original artists for Magic, how do the younger up-and-comers view you and your artistic style? Is there a separation between the original 25 artists and the artists now?
DF: I do not know how they view me. I was very lucky and only moderately skilled. These new guys are awesome. There skills and talents are hard to believe.
PC: What non-Magic related projects are you currently working on?
DC: I enjoy creating still life paintings. The old masters used to paint objects lying around including lunch like bread, cheese and wine. I decide to do the same. I started with a Thanksgiving apple pie I had to immortalize. I ended up doing donuts, fries, hamburgers and ice cream. I learned a lot with this series.
I was extremely lucky. I have been given the rare opportunity to travel the world. I get to paint or draw whenever I want. My days are my own to spend as I like and I live in the house that Magic built.
Thank you for your cooperation Dan. It was an honor.
If you would like to contact Dan Frazier you can reach him at the mailing address below or his website www.danfrazier.com
4853 Fountain St.
Boulder, CO 80304
Aiokii has been playing Magic: The Gathering since Fallen Empires was released in 1994 and has been a Planeswalker ever since. Tending to gravitate towards hand melting discard decks, he has a knack for creative Tribal decks, often catching adversaries unaware. Aiokii is also a moderator on Reddit Budgetdecks an you can contact him on Twitter or Facebook.