Grand Prix Warsaw was a great opportunity to play Magic but also to do other things. During the event it was possible to meet with two Magic illustrators: Jesper Ejsing and Jeff Miracola. Although both had their hands full of work while signing cards and playmats as well as drawing on them, they found some time for a little chat. We hope that in the interview published below we managed to catch the spontaneity of it and it’s bright tone as both artists were in good moods and made a lot of jokes.
Polish version of this interview, is here.
Emil Marcinkowski: Could you describe yourselves as artists?
Jeff Miracola: Oh boy, that’s a really tough question. Why make me go first? (laughs) I love to draw monsters. I’m always drawing monsters so definitely I’m a fantasy artist, and I’m a lot more focused on drawing various creatures than people or environment. That’s what I love to do. That’s me as an artist. Monsters, monsters, monsters. I seem to find a way to put them into everything I do. (laughs)
EM: Are there any specific things about your technique? How do you make your art?
JM: First I do pencil sketches for all of my paintings, and then I transfer that pencil to my canvas or to the board that I’m gonna paint on. Then I use acrylic paint to paint up an underpainting, for black and areas of color, and then I use oil paints. So pencil drawing, then acrylic paint and then an oil paint on top of that. Those are the materials that I use and how I paint.
Jesper Ejsing: And that’s the mark of the professional, three different medias in one.
JM: Yeah. Three different medias in one thing. (laughs)
EM: What about you, Jesper?
JE: What kind of artist am I? I don’t know how to describe it except that when I first got into doing fantasy at all it was from role playing games. I played RPG’s in the eighties, and back then there was actually one kind of illustrations. That was the inside of the Dungeon & Dragons Rulebook. I remember that were the only mental images you had of a fantastic world.
And immediately, I was compelled to do my own illustrations. To show the other guys the world that we were playing in and how my character looked like. So I drew him, and the weekend after, he had a new weapon. I had to make a new drawing with a new weapon. I was constantly changing it.
Ever since then what have kicked me while doing this kind of very trivial kind of illustrations is that I’ve embraced as my mission creating a window into my world of fantasy, and the window was that little painting. So whatever I can do to drag the viewer, the spectator into my world, that’s my mission. It’s also my job to do that right. There are many ways you can do that. They are ruled by all those technical stuff, but the main goal is to show a fantastic world. That is the only world that we don’t have the camera to go to and take pictures. That and dinosaurs. And I’m not a dinosaur painter.
EM: Though you still have programs like Photoshop so taking pictures not necessarily must show the real world.
JE: – But then again Photoshop is just another media for painting. It’s just an extension of your mind anyway (Jeff nods with agreement). Like oil and acrylics and pencils and all that stuff. If you don’t know what you’re doing, if you don’t know how to tell a story, if you don’t have any idea of what you’re going to show, it doesn’t really matter what you are using. It’s still going to be crap.
EM: Because art is created in our minds.
JE: – Actually I think that is really important. Notice how little of the drawing is the actual sketch. Anyone can move a pencil. Going back and further is not that hard. As soon as you learn to crosshatch, the technical part of the illustration is like 5% of it. And of course, there are techniques that will make stuff easier but in the end, the 95% of it are the decisions you take within the drawing. (Yeah – Jeff repeats that all the time) I think we can say that in a little Magic painting there’s like about thousand questions to be answered and every time you answer correctly, it gets better. Every stroke is a question: should I go this way or that way? The technique is not the answer for it. Don’t you agree?
JM: I think everything he just said is bullshit. (and both laughs)
JE: It’s artistic bullshit.
JM: Yeah. Just erase everything he just said. (both laugh)
EM: There was another topic raised here. We’ve mentioned Photoshop and other medias. So do you prefer digital or traditional techniques.
JE: I prefer traditional.
EM: Why do you stick to it?
JE: Cause he’s old.
JM: Cause I’m old. Yeah, I guess I’m old and I don’t like to learn new things. (both laughs) No. I actually do digital art for all of my clients that want me to illustrate children books. The bulk of that stuff is digital but that is a very different style from my fantasy art. It’s almost like it shouldn’t be called Jeff Miracola. It’s very different. Like what Disney drawing would look like. I do that all in Photoshop.
As for my fantasy art, I never wanted to do that digitally. I’ve always used traditional for it. It’s not that I don’t know how, because I do, but it’s just a choice. I love the smell of paint. I do. I love the physicality of holding brushes. I love having original paintings, the original work, to touch and feel it.
EM: Just like some people who say they can’t read on a computer because they have to feel the book, the cover, to touch it and have that physical contact with it.
JM: Right. I like the tactile, texture, touching it…
EM: Okay, what about you Jesper?
JE: Earlier I was badmouthing digital all the time. But now I’ve been painting digital for a year, and the reason why is because I was going to do concept art for a computer game. The illustrations I’ve produced were sketches. Then there was final arts, and they were only gonna be used digital. I felt it would be retarded to make acrylic paintings only to be scanned and then used as a reference and changed all over again. I had to learn how to paint digital, though, which, if we compare to what I said before, isn’t that different because it’s only 5% of the illustration. So it took me two weeks before I could make something that looked acceptable and now, after a year, I think if I showed you my digital and traditional works, you wouldn’t be able to recognize which one is which. If you are not an artist yourself, you are unable to figure it out.
There is a difference though. The difference is within me. I’m proud in some way of an illustration, when I did it and I can feel it. When something succeeds in a real painting, it is like a triumph. If it succeeds very well digitally, I kind of feel like I’ve cheated. And if you follow that thought, you got to understand that it’s much more benefiting for an artist to be doing stuff that you are super proud of instead of doing the other thing that is good for work but not satisfactory.
Digital painting is also extremely fast. So I think the best way to go is actually, like Jeff and I like to say: you have your projects that you really think matters to you, you do them like you love to do. Then you have another style that you use, more digital in form. I use it for World of Warcraft CCG or Kaijduo, that’s a Japanese card game, and for some things like the playmates. Doing stuff like that – it’s not that I’m not enjoying doing it. It’s just a different finish, a different outline and not as artistically rewarding to me.
JM: And I think it is a smarter way to work as an illustrator nowadays. Especially in this industry. Working digitally is working smart because so many art directors and editors now want to change your work. You get a lot of changes, a lot of revisions. If you work traditionally, your changes have to be made over the traditional art or you have to scan it and make your changes digitally.
JE: Mostly in stuff like Magic it’s not that hard because you would have had a long run of sketches approved and all that before. When it’s job like a concept art that is constantly being reviewed by other people, it’s just stupid not to be able to change anything in ten minutes and send it forward. So I really think that way digital is fantastic but artistically I don’t like it. It’s not that I don’t like the outcome. I don’t like doing it. Artistically. Is that a crazy difference?
JM: No. I understand it completely.
JE: There’s also only one more little thing that I think is a difference. When you use brushes and paint in acrylic, you really want to make sure that the stroke you are doing is good and what you are painting now is the exactly what you want because it’s almost unchangeable. If you’re doing it digitally, you can try stuff. You can say: “Should the sketch be like this? I’ll just try that. Hmmm, no!” You can erase it and try again. When you paint all digital you choose a color and it is that color. When you paint that in oil it’s: “Oooh, it gets muddy.” So, what the difference is when you are painting traditionally, is that you will have to think beforehand. When you are painting digital, you have to choose. I think in the end I sometimes get tired of choosing and just end up with this or that. When I paint, I really, really choose… I try to choose right. So I think that my traditional stuff is stronger than my digital in that way.
JM: I guess I could see where your digital work could have the tendency to get overworked because you are thinking too much. You’ve got too many options available to you. You know, like you said, I can change the sky to this color, that color, this color… oh, now I can add this filter to that filter and I could do this. There are too many things you can do. You can end up in a situation when you are working on a digital painting and you like it in five different ways. You like it warmer. You like it cooler. You like it like this. You like it like that. And you don’t know what to do. But what the traditional painting is, it is more spontaneous, it’s more rough and certainly you can appreciate that.
JE: There is also one last tendency. When we are making the painting, we are able to sell it afterwards and selling an original is fantastic. You make more money of the illustration – that’s one thing. The best though is that there are people out there who save money to buy that thing from you, and place it in the most valuable spot in their home, and that, to me, is really fantastic. You can’t do that with digital stuff.
So you can trade your art. I trade with other artists sometimes at conventions and other events alike. I have a little collection of stuff that I really like. You don’t get that kind of connection with artwork from a digital at all. Digital is more about meeting your deadline and refining illustrations.
EM: That’s another question I wanted to ask you. How do you cope with deadlines? Do you have any problems with that?
JM: I’ve been doing this now for 20 years. I might have missed the deadline once or twice.
JE: Hope I don’t have to answer too. I’ve been doing this for 20 years also. I might have hit a deadline once or twice (both laughs).
JM: I’m one of those artists that are absolutely fanatical about not missing my deadlines.
JE: You are? That’s impressive.
JM: Yes. I am fanatical about it. I will pull all-nighters for three days in a row. I will not sleep just to meet my deadline. Even though I know that most of the companies that I work with pad their deadlines, meaning they tell me it’s due on this date, but in fact it’s really not due until two weeks later or a week later. But when they tell me to get it done, that’s when I get it done. And that’s purely a business decision. In my mind, it’s good for me to get on well with my art directors. I want them to be happy working with me, so I meet my deadlines. That’s just something I’ve always done.
JE: That’s why Jeff is really a professional. (Jeff laughs) That is the mark of a professional. I think my more sloppy version of this is…
JM: I wanna hear this (both laugh).
JE: I think it’s so difficult to plan ahead. Magic is okay. It takes like three days maximum altogether. But there are paintings where it could be like anything from one week to three weeks. So if you take in a lot of work and it takes you more than one week, it might ruin everything. So you have to shuffle deadlines and I am really, really bad at saying this takes this, this takes that. And then, you know, one of your kids is sick again. Your wife says: you’ve got persons to attend to.
I also have a certain tendency. I can be half into painting and find out I don’t like it. For some reason there’s something I don’t like and I am not able to finish it. On such occasions I would rather call the editor and say: “Can I have a week or two weeks more, because I really want to start all over again.” And if I do that, the second try is always better. I produce an artwork that I’m proud of and the first attempt is left for the rest of my life. Now I spend way too much on one cover. I had two weeks, so now I have got two other covers lined up behind me, and you know… So I think it’s all down to planning. Then again, I’ve got an extreme charm that I can use. (Jeff laughs)
JM: Yeah, it’s the charm. That’s what it is. As for me I don’t have that.
JE: I didn’t say that.
JM: Or it doesn’t work for me.
JE: For some people meeting deadlines, it’s the right thing.
JM: I need to or otherwise they won’t use me again. I got no charm. (both laughs)
JE: Don’t you think it sometimes kills your creativity a little?
JM: Sure, you are racing to meet the deadline. So for sure. As a matter of fact, I’ve just recently finished up a painting for Lucas Film that they’ve told me I’d have two weeks for. It took a week getting the approval of my sketch and then they said now I had a week to do it. They implied that I had two weeks to do the painting and that included the approval process. I thought I had two weeks and now I had to get it done in a week. Every single element in that painting I painted as a separate element. And then I put it all together. That was the only way I could meet that deadline. But I think it would have been a much better piece if I did have that two weeks.
JE: Although I know a certain artist… Do you know Paul Bonner? We shared a studio in Copenhagen for a couple of years. He doesn’t do deadlines. He doesn’t do out assignments. People ask him: “Can you do paintings on this list?” “Yes”. Then they wait until he stops. And sometimes he spends a month on painting, and if he needs to spend two, he spends two. Bonner says: “I never care about money”. It has never been an issue for him. So he doesn’t need much, but then again nobody cares with what he is saying.
EM: As we came to the topic of creativity, there must be some things that inspire you. What are those because sometimes when you work for a long time especially when you are doing artistic things, you can feel blank.
JM: Other artists. Other artists this is what inspires me the most.
JM: Seeing the work of others always gets me like just jazzed up and ready to enroll to do anything at all.
JE: So you can actually write that Jesper inspires him.
JM: Jesper really inspires me (both laughs). I think that every artist goes through this. I mean we all hit the wall creatively. We have creative blocks just like writers have writer’s block and all you gotta do is crack open a book or a comic book. So yeah, all you do is open up an artbook of another artist or something like that and you see that this artist is pushing the subject matter much further than you are. And that really drives you. It’s like a friendly competition in a way. You admire the work of other artists but you are also competing against them too in some ways. They did a monster that is really tough and badass like this and now you wanna do one even better. So that’s how I get an inspiration. From other artists.
EM: Was there ever a time when somebody made something so good that you’ve stopped and decided not to go in that direction?
JM: No, I don’t think there was such a moment. I don’t stop doing what I’m doing but I do look at other artists and I go: “You know what, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do something as good as that.” I know that might seem weird to people like Paul Bonner. All other artists admire what he does and Brom is another guy that if he decides to try paint those pale skin figures that he does, he paints them. You’re probably not gonna pull off as good. But you pull off in your own way. I never stop something because somebody else is doing it better.
JE: I think that also when you got inspired by another artist, it’s mostly because you see one specific thing in that painting that makes you think that perhaps you are better. So when I see stuff actually made by another artist, it’s like: “Wow, how can they do it so wild, so reckless. I wanna do that”. So I pick a little issue, little thing in their painting, I wanna be able to use that within my own style and way of painting.
My biggest inspiration in choosing colors and painting light is the Hildebrant brothers. Their sense of color was just incomparable to me. But their drawings, they are mediocre. Some of them are really sloppy. And when I showed them to another artists: “This is my inspiration”, they looked at it saying: “What, this? And what it is?”
You pick stuff and you always see stuff in other artists that you lack the most. Then you try to emulate it. I also always look at people like Sanchez. Oh, his skills are incredible. I wish I could take that and use it myself. In other words, by looking at Hildebrant and Sanchez I wanna be able to do stuff like them, though I do my own paintings. I think that’s what inspiration could be in a very practical way.
EM: Lets head on to a different issue. What do you think about gamers’ communities. Especially Magic community. You meet those people during conventions, Grand Prix’s and other events. How do you treat them? How do you view this kind of activity?
JE: I think I never had a distinction between me or them because I have always been a gaming nerd myself. I have been waiting in every single line of every single artist that ever visited Denmark. I’ve been to Comic Con that’s held in America for all those years just standing in the line for my favorite artists to show them my portfolio and get them to say what’s cool or bad. I’ve been doing all that stuff. So it’s a huge triumph to be at the other side of the table now. And I know exactly what everyone coming up feels like and it’s even better that you’ve been on the other side. In Denmark we have a huge fandom of LARPers. Live roleplaying is dressing up and fighting with swords. People like that, they are their characters. If you criticize their costume or the character, they feel like it’s criticizing them.
JM: Like with cosplay.
JE: Yeah. And I think that shows how much gaming nerds put into their hobby, which I think is not the same kind of emotions like with sports enthusiasts for example. To many people it seems intimidating, cause they’re so into this. But to us it’s like: “Of course they’re into it, cause this is fucking great.”
JM: And also because of doing these paintings for 20 years, the word loyalty pops up in my head. Loyalty, loyalty, loyalty. I’ve seen the same people, same players for many, many years now. And they are still playing this, though sometimes they left the game for a while and then they came back to it. And it’s their sense of loyalty, their sense of family and they’re some of the best fans that an artist could ever have.
JE: They are really loyal.
JM: Yeah. They are very loyal and they really just love the game. They love your work in it and they show you a lot of love. It’s really cool. I don’t get the same thing from some of the other products I work on. Speaking of Magic players specifically, they are very, very loyal. It’s very nice.
EM: Could you share a story about meeting with players? There must have been something that comes to you when you think about meeting with your fans.
JE: When I was in Barcelona a year ago, there was a guy from Turkey, collector, he only collects artist’s proof and he wanted to buy one of each of my cards, signed, all of them. He was very particular about getting every one of them. I’ve talked to him while he was choosing all these and it came out that he flew from Turkey just to meet me and have the cards signed. He was not gonna play. He only collected those. That really impressed me. That was like: “Oh Jesus, he could have done it all for me”.
JM: Yeah. He told me that earlier and I got the same thing. I had a few people that have come up to events just to get me to sign something. And they’re not there to play. They are just to meet the artist. That’s strange to me because I wouldn’t fly anywhere to meet me. (laughs) That’s impressive. I think I am reminded of that when I’m signing cards for someone. I look up and they’re so happy. You see the smile on their face, they are so happy about getting the cards they get signed. It just reminds me what it’s all about. It’s pretty cool, that I really made their day, you know. It evolves my mind that a signature of mine or a little drawing I do can make them so happy and they will see me two-three years later and they’ll say: “Hey Jeff, do you remember this drawing you’ve made that I collected?” I don’t remember. I can’t possibly remember but they remember and it’s important for them. And that’s really, really cool. Makes you feel good. Makes you feel like you’re actually, you know, affecting people’s lives.
JE: Yeah, that’s a connection thanks to art. It is more than words. That’s why we’re doing it.
EM: And the final question. We’re in Poland and I’m speaking with you on behalf of a Polish website so what do you think about Poland. How do you like it here? Did you have time to maybe learn something or see something that inspired you?
JE: But there’s one thing so far that really have stunned us… (laughs)
JM: That what I was going to bring it up. We did have a one-armed, really crazy taxi driver.
JE: He didn’t understand anything of what we said. And we didn’t understand him. And what he did was just going…
JM: Where he was taking us? He didn’t know where he was taking us… or I guess he knew but he didn’t tell us. But yeah, that was pretty crazy. So far that was my experience in Poland: crazy one-armed taxi drivers (both laugh). I’m sure it’s going to get better because later today…
JE: I’m not sure. (laughs)
JM: Later today I’ll probably go to see the Old Town area and I know that there is some sightseeing scheduled for me on Monday but I know back home in the States a bunch of people, when learned about me going to Poland, were actually very, very jealous.
JM: Yes. Because they would love to come here. The city that I live in, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has a huge Polish population. Polish and German.
EM: And what about you Jesper?
JE: I knew nothing about Poland before coming here. I knew almost nothing. So I didn’t know what to expect. So far it looks like Copenhagen in many ways, except the old buildings, though the people… the way they talk, the way they communicate… we, Northern European guys, are more reserved and very polite, so everyone here looked like Danes to me. And I’m looking forward to meeting a real cab driver. Not like the crazy guy.
Danish illustrator born in 1973. Inspired by Tolkien and Dungeons & Dragons RPG he decided to become a fantasy artist. He studied Danish literature and Art History but aborted education in favor of professional career. Beside Magic his illustrations can be found in souch products like mentioned above Dungeons & Dragons, Runebound, Pathfider among others. He is also a writer. One of his books („Jarvis – the Sorcerer’s Apprentice„) has been translated into English. He worked as a colorist in comic books as well.
Magic players may look at the effects of his work on the cards such as: Advocate of the Beast, Beast Within (from Duel Deck: Monster vs Heroes), Cudgel Troll, Reliquary Tower, Tooth and Nail (Modern Masters version), Vendilion Clique (Judge Promo version), Deep Analysis, Domestication, Hedron Crab, Naya Charm.
Many of his works can bo found on tumblr.com. Although his official webpage is inactive at the moment and his blog is rarely updated, his articles and works can be also found on MuddyColors blog, which gathers a collective of fantasy artists. Look there if you would like to see how Ejsings’ graphics are made. His last entry can be found here:
All pictures come from MuddyColor blog, which we encourage you to see. Video of Jesper Ejsing is available only in Danish or with German subtitles.
American freelance illustrator, born in 1971. Since childhood he has been interested in art, which became a means of escape for him from the surrounding violence – at the time he lived in one of the most violent neighbourhoods of Milwaukee. In the 90ties, soon after he has finished education, he started a collaboration with Wizards of the Coast by making illustrations for Magic: the Gathering trading-card game. Since then he worked with such companies as: Klutz, Hasbro, Inc., Electronic Arts, Inc., ImagineFX Magazine and many others. Beside Magic he also made graphics for other card games such as among others Deadlands, World of Warcraft, Battletech, Judge Dredd. He also prepared sketches and concept arts for video games and toys e.g. from Batman Beyond series. Recently his portfolio has been enriched by illustrations for the children’s books.
Magic players may look at the effects of his work on the cards such as: Acidic Sliver, Might Sliver, Auratog, Firespout, Frantic Search, Manamorphose, Naturtalize (9th Edition), Overrun (from Tempest expansion), Raging Goblin, Underground River, Donate, Firestorm, Honorable Passage, Manabarbs, Shaman en-Kor, Thrashing Wumpus, Wipe Away, Bubbling Beebles, Bouncing Beebles, Equilibrium, Topsy Turvy, Wizard Mentor.
Below you can find a link to his webpage, where you can also read Jeff’s blog:
All pictures come from a portfolio on the artist’s webpage, which we encourage you to see if you’ve liked those illustrations. Video and additional information about the picture from it can be found on Miracola’s blog.