An Interview with 'Magic' Artist Paul Scott Canavan


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

Like most Magic: The Gathering artists, Paul Scott Canavan does a bit more than just work on Wizards of the Coast's flagship CCG. He's done art for Guild Wars 2Dungeons and DragonsDestiny 2, and of course, his own game, Pale Tides. But ever since 2017, Paul has created numerous works for the Magic: The Gathering card game.

Magic Untapped traded emails with Scottish artist to ask about his art, his life, and even a bit about the future.

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

Paul Scott Canavan: My earliest inspirations were game manuals! I have always been obsessed with videogames, and I remember sitting on the floor of my bedroom copying the amazing concept art from the manuals of games like Warcraft 2Diablo, and Dungeon Keeper. I started playing Magic when I was in high school, this would be Tempest era, and was blown away by the artwork. Warhammer was another big one - the storytelling and incredible art just invaded my brain and I loved trying to recreate it.

MU: Having worked for many game, video, comic, and other artistic arenas, do you see a lot of overlap between all your projects (i.e., similar creatures, locations, etc.) for you to draw from and build on?

PSC: I have always loved experimenting with my style and tackling different kinds of projects/IPs, so while there is definitely a lot of overlap in terms of the big genres, I really love taking on new things! My favourite cards, for example, tend to be the slightly weirder ones (hey, remember that time I painted a flying shark?) In terms of drawing on previous subjects, that's the nice thing about art - you 're always expanding your visual library and there are always useful lessons to bring to the next piece!

MU: Are there any additional challenges in being of the newer MTG artists?

PSC: When I started working on Magic back in 2017 I was hugely intimidated! There's so much to learn, both in terms of the actual process and the expectations of the fans and art community. I actually ended up building a small community of Magic artists so that I would have people to bounce ideas off and to get feedback! Now that I've been doing it for four years and have painted over 40 cards I am much more comfortable and just get to enjoy myself.

MU: You've been the artist behind many more modern MTG favorites, such as Aurelia, the Warleader. What's your process behind helping visualize and create a character like that?

PSC: Any time I approach a big name character like Aurelia or one of the Planeswalkers I like to reference my favourite depictions of them. When painting Teysa for Revival/Revenge, for example, I had Karla's incredible portrait of her up on my reference monitor the whole time. My style will naturally drive the composition and overall look of the piece, but if I can sneak in some of that energy as a little tribute to an artist I admire, I'm happy.

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

PSC: Most of my cards take around 4/5 days to paint, but that's spread out over a few weeks. A few have definitely taken longer; Skyline Scout and The Royal Scions in particular took around 5/6 weeks of pretty solid work to pull off, the former because I was shooting for a really complex and dramatic perspective shot, the latter because I was super intimidated at the idea of painting my first Planeswalker card (and the first ever dual-Planeswalker card!) It varies depending on the complexity of the card and my mental state - I painted Syr Alin in just 2 days because, apparently, my brain was just very excited about that illustration!

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

PSC: I actually try to really push myself out of my comfort zone on every card, and hope to keep pushing my style in different directions. Robber of the Rich was really fun as I had never tackled an illustration quite like it (I designed it to work nicely both ways up), and in general the sort of "painterly cinematic" look I seem to veer towards is a constant challenge. One thing I do which might be fairly unique is to really try to express the emotions of my characters through the brushwork: Duress and Chain to Memory in particular are super chaotic and scratchy, both being attempts for me to convey how I feel when I'm suffering from depression/anxiety, and I hope to explore more of this in the future!

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

PSC: For the last decade or so of my career I have very much focused on creating digital art. It's such an exciting medium because you can do anything with it, so finding constraints and ways to inject your style/philosophies into the work is really interesting. I grew up with a very traditional art background, however, and am planning to get back into large-scale oil paintings later this year! Once I get a bit more confident in it I hope to do some Magic cards in oils.

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

PSC: Honestly, at this point in my career I'm pretty comfortable tackling most subjects. It sounds daft, but once you've been painting for a long time you start to realize there's no real difference between representing a mountain or a face on the (digital) canvas; it's all just shapes and materials. That said, I am definitely most comfortable with environments. When I started working on Magic I expected to really focus on lands, but Cynthia [Sheppard] really pushed me to work on a ton of different subjects and I am so grateful to her for that!

MU: You're involved with many iconic and notable companies, with your art appearing in everything from League of Legends to DND. Do you have any future projects you are excited about?

PSC: Right now I am dedicating most of my time to my own game, Pale Tides! It's a gothic horror TTRPG which I've been dabbling with over the last few years, and am now really gearing up into production. I doubt it'll be out any time too soon, there's a lot to do, but I am so excited about how the system and world are coming together. Definitely follow me on Twitter (@abigbat) if you want updates on that in future! 

Thank you to Paul 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.