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An Interview with 'Magic' artist Zina Saunders


Magic: The Gathering artist Zina Saunders joins Magic Untapped for a Q&A.

For years, Zina Saunders has done pretty much a little bit of everything in the art world. She has done editorials in the Los Angeles Times, advertising for Broadway plays, animations in Mother Jones, political satire, and even helped her dad illustrate bubblegum cards when she was a kid. And, early on for Magic: The Gathering, Zina even found time to do artwork for 29 cards.
Zina was able to take some time out of her busy schedule to answer a handful of questions from Magic Untapped about her career and her art and to let us know a bit about everything.
What inspirations and influences in your life drove you to becoming a professional artist? 
My father, Norman Saunders, was an illustrator who painted at home, so from a very early age I spent hours every day in his studio, drawing pictures of horses and pretty ladies while he painted trading cards like Mars AttacksBatman, and Wacky Packages.
During your time as a Magic artist, you've created artwork for 29 different cards including Auspicious AncestorKaroo, and Arrogant Vampire.  Which has proven to be your favorite over the years and which do you recall giving you the most trouble?
I can’t really pick a favorite card; painting pictures is sort of like having kids, I think: you love them all, for different reasons. As far as troublesome, I don’t recall really having any problems painting the Magic cards.
You produced artwork for the game under two different art directors (Sue Anne Harkey, who was on during your tenure through Weatherlight, and Matt Wilson, who took over for Tempest).  Was there much of a difference between the two?
They had very different styles of art direction. Sue Ann was very warm, and very collaborative.  Matt, who I worked with for a shorter period of time, was more “strictly business”.
How long did you typically spend on a piece?
As I recall, a few days.
Have you ever tried a more "out of the box" approach to a card where you try a new perspective or style?
With other clients and in other industries, I did. I worked on Magic and other role playing card games and trading cards in the mid-90s, and those clients were looking for my realistic but colorful look and my ability to do good portraits. After the 90s I went on to do a lot of editorial and political illustration for magazines and newspapers like The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times and The New Republic, as well as theater posters for Broadway plays. I did a lot of experimenting with those clients. I also spread my wings quite a bit with my Overlooked New York website, and other series that I created as personal works. Then, in the past 10 years, I was doing quite a bit of animation for clients like Mother Jones and The Final Edition.
What was it that caused you to stop producing artwork for Magic: The Gathering and, given the opportunity, do you think you would ever make a return to the game?
It’s very common that when there is a change in art directors, the new person likes to put their own stamp on the art by using artists that are “their own”, so I think a combination of that and my evolving career meant that I went on to other things.
Do you have a favorite art medium? If so, does it make fantasy artwork harder or easier to create?
I am doing large abstract paintings in acrylic nowadays, so I’m not doing fantasy stuff at all. Although I suppose you could say that abstract painting is taking “fantasy” to its furthest extreme!
What kinds of things are more tricky for you to create (landscapes, people creatures, etc.)?
I’m very lucky that I find them all pretty easy to do. It’s actually harder for me to do abstract stuff, because it requires me to rely on my inner vision instead of my ability to paint realistically.
Finally, what have you been up to in the years since your departure from being an active artist for Magic: The Gathering?
Like I said, my illustration career moved into doing editorial, advertising and book covers, as well as animations. A few years ago I stopped doing illustration entirely and I currently do gallery paintings.

Thank you to Zina for participating in this interview.

Evan Symon

Evan Symon is a graduate of The University of Akron and has been a working journalist ever since with works published by Cracked, GeekNifty, the Pasadena Independent, California Globe, and, of course, Magic Untapped.