An Interview with 'Magic' Artist Dan Scott


Magic: The Gathering artist Dan Scott joins Magic Untapped for a Q&A.

Artist Dan Scott has been creating artwork for Magic: The Gathering cards since 2004, having made his MTG debut with Champions of Kamigawa.

He graciously took some time out of his busy schedule to indulge us with some answers to questions we had for him for this Q&A interview.

Magic Untapped: What inspirations and influences in your life drove you to becoming a professional artist? 

Dan Scott: My first interest in creating art came from comic books. I used to draw comic book characters all the time. At some point I discovered Dungeons and Dragons, and that opened me up to fantasy art and fully rendered paintings as opposed to just line art.

That was the initial basis of my interest, but I remember we were visiting one of my mom's friends one summer day. She had a son who was four or five years older than me. He was working on a painting of the imperial spy droid from Star Wars. I thought it was so cool and immediately wanted to start doing paintings myself.

Kids at school used to offer me money for my drawings and eventually I started making paper airplanes, drawing designs on them and selling them. That was when I realized I could actually make money creating art and I knew that's what I wanted to spend my life doing.

MU: How did you get your start with Magic: The Gathering?

DS: Back in college a friend showed me this fun new game he had just picked up. I immediately fell in love with it. I thought the gameplay was really fun and loved the colored mana casting system it used. I was really inspired by the fantastic art in it and realized that with practice I could eventually be a good enough artist to do work for the game. I submitted samples several times before finally catching the art director's attention back in 2003. I've been doing art for the game ever since.

MU: How long do you typically spend on a piece?

DS: It can vary widely based on how many characters there are in the piece and how complicated it is, but most pieces take about 30-40 total hours.

MU: We understand you attended GenCon earlier this month.  How was it?

GenCon is always a great time. It was great to see old artist friends I've made over the years and meet new ones. This year was even more special because it's the first time I had been back since pre pandemic.

MU: Of course, when at conventions and shows, fans and Magic players love to flock to artist for autographs and art alter requests.  What's that experience like on your end and what advice do you have for Magic fans now that large-scale events are ramping back up?

DS: One of the main reasons I enjoy doing shows is to get to meet the fans. As a freelance artist most of my time is spent in solitude so it's great to talk face to face with people who enjoy your art. The interactions are always really positive. I'm so glad we're starting to have big events again and hopefully soon we'll be able to get fully back to normal.

MU: Have you ever tried a more "out of the box" approach to a card where you try a new perspective or style?

DS: From time to time an art director will suggest a more abstract solution to a card or an idea will strike me. Cards like Ponder and Future Sight come to mind. It seems like blue spells tend to work well with this method.

MU: Do you have a favorite art medium? If so, does it make fantasy artwork harder or easier to create?

DS: My favorite medium is probably oil paint. However, all my Magic work so far has been done digitally. I'm just not fast enough with oil paints to be able to create art on a deadline while dealing with potential in progress changes. My hope is to find some time to practice oil painting more so maybe some day I could get to that point. I'd like to do some traditional oil repaints of some of my existing digital Magic pieces to help get me back up to speed.

MU: Can you tell us a bit about your process?  That is, how to you go from idea to a finished art piece and does that process change depending on the work being done?

DS: Once I get the art brief I usually look through the style guide to get a feel for the setting and gain inspiration. It's easy because the style guides are always full of amazing art and interesting descriptions.

I'll open up a digital file at the proper aspect ratio and start making quick gesture thumbnails with a thick brush. I'll create a new layer for each new thumbnail idea I have. Once I have several thumbnails I'll choose my favorite and start refining it.

At this point I may even take some reference photos or search up some reference on the internet. These can sometimes spark an idea for a new sketch or a different perspective.

At this stage I'm just doing line art. Maybe it's my comic book roots but I just feel more comfortable starting off with linework. When I have a relatively tight drawing I'll change that layer to "Multiply" mode in Photoshop and start painting my grayscale value underneath. Once I've figured out my values I'll submit that sketch for approval.

Once the sketch is approved I'll transfer it to grayscale paper to do a tight physical grayscale sketch. I'll scan that sketch in and start applying colors in Photoshop. At this point composition, values and colors have all been solved and it's just a matter of putting in the time rendering everything so it looks nice and polished. As I render I tend to start with the background and move forewards rendering elements in space until I reach the parts that are closest to the camera. This helps me keep consistency with color and lighting.

MU: You have credited to your name the artwork for a number of well-known and well-liked cards such as PonderSolemn SimulacrumDaretti, Scrap Savant, and others.  Which of your card arts do you cherish the most?

DS: Ponder will always be one of my favorites because it was an abstract concept that the players really responded well too. But many of my favorite pieces were on cards that don't get a lot of attention. Cards like Fathom Mage, which I did the alternate art version of, Pristine Skywise, and Archelos, Lagoon Mystic.

MU: In addition to traditional Magic cards, you've also done artwork for an Archenemy Scheme card and a couple of Planechase Phenomenon cards.  Did you take a different approach when creating the artwork for these and, if so, what was out of the ordinary?

DS: I did add a bit more detail because I knew they would be physically larger and the detail would show up. Aside from that, not a lot of difference.

MU: What was it like creating "non-Magic" artwork for a Magic set, such as when you illustrated the Dracula-inspired cards Van Helsing's Holy Ward and Search the Count's Castle for Innistrad: Crimson Vow?

DS: It's always fun for me to do things I haven't gotten to do before. But really that's one of the things I love most about doing art for Magic. Each setting is so different and unique so I'm constantly faced with interesting new challenges that keep it fresh and exciting.

MU: What kinds of things are more tricky for you to create (landscapes, people creatures, etc.)?

DS: I actually really love landscapes, which is kind of funny since I've only done two lands among the hundreds of cards I've illustrated for Magic. People and creatures are fun too, although I'd much rather get to create a creature that doesn't exist in reality than paint a real life animal. Architecture is probably the thing I struggle with the most because it just isn't quite as interesting to me.

MU: What projects are you working on now (both Magic and otherwise) that your fans should keep an eye out for?

DS: I have some pieces coming out soon for Magic that I'm really excited to see in print. And I'm currently in the process of getting a space set up to do oil paintings. So hopefully some time in the future you'll get to see some traditional oil paintings from me.

Thank you, Dan, 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.