An interview with 'Magic' artist Randy Gallegos


Magic: The Gathering artist Randy Gallegos joins Magic Untapped for a Q&A.

Since his Magic: The Gathering debut in 1995, Randy Gallegos has been a constant source of artwork for the game with card art to his credit such as Sway of the Stars and Earthcraft. Recently, Gallegos took some time for some Q&A with Magic Untapped to chat about him and his long and storied career including his early influences, to how he got started, and to even dove into a bit of Magic lore.

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

Randy Gallegos: In order, Star Wars and '80s video games got me excited as a kid about sci-fi and fantasy imagery. A little later, discovering the Red Box was a bit of a revelation and the "Four Horseman" era (Elmore, Parkinson, Easley, and Caldwell) of D&D art really moved me more towards high fantasy and realism, but I was still mostly in 8th/9th grade at this point and not thinking about art as a potential career. It didn't occur to me that art was even a profession, nevermind that I was consuming art made by professionals. It just didn't click.

In 10th grade, it was purchasing fantasy illustrator Michael Whelan's Works of Wonder art book that finally showed me what a career might look like, since his work was both amazing and it was presented in the context of a freelancer showcasing their work for publishers (even if all the art in that book was for one publisher). From there, I started moving wholeheartedly in the direction of being a fantasy illustrator.

It's hard for people to imagine anymore what life was like pre-internet. Finding inspiration, kindred minds, and finding a path in the world was much harder back then!

MU: You made your Magic debut in 1995’s Ice Age, a set for which you illustrated several different cards. What was the process like back then and how has it changed in the two-plus decades since?

RG: Nine cards, even! The process was so different. For my first assignment for Magic, I received it on a phone call with then-art director Sandra Everingham. She went down a list of colors and card titles and based on the titles I picked a few that sounded interesting. In a couple of cases I was told some basic idea of how the card worked (so that "Melting" for instance didn't portray a creature melting or anything), but that was it! As well, I did nine in that set. I can barely do more than two anymore these days given the quality of the work.

I'm now producing in the same amount of time per project. Work was also relatively tiny compared to now, but they really were produced much faster. And finally, we used to pack up the art and ship the originals to Wizards for them to photograph, after which we wouldn't get them back until the set released. There was no digital art back then that was production-worthy.

MU: Has your artwork ever inspired a change to the cards you drew for, i.e., a changed description or a new move?

RG: I don't think so, but it's hard to know because we rarely ever see the actual mechanics of the card, so if something was changed as a result of the art we'd likely never know. I want to say that Sway of the Stars may have had the seven life total mechanic affected by the seven glowing motes in the art--if that's true it's something I would have read about the card like 15 years ago, so I don't entirely trust my memory.

MU: You’ve done the artwork some 200 or more Magic cards so far. Which of your cards have been your favorites so far and what is it about them that makes them stand out?

RG: My three favorites, art-wise are Soul WardenBalance, and Inspiring Cleric. Which is funny because they have a lot in common, but a lot of it was just a kind of quiet, dream-like/trance mood.

I'm surprised at the longevity that a few really old cards have had: notably Giant Spider and its near-infinite reprints, Shock (or, "O.G. Shock" as players refer to it), which managed to get resurrected in reprints a few times even after some better illustrations replaced it, and Dance of the Dead, which for never being reprinted, has a lot of fans.

MU: Has there ever been any unusual art requests you have been given for a card, or a card where there was little description on what was wanted?

RG: The Ice Age art was the high water mark of freedom except for one card further: the card that became Counsel of the Soratami was assigned to me as "Pick something from the style guide and paint something cool." The card mechanics, which are fairly generic, were then paired with it.

The art for Search for Tomorrow, I don't like at all. The description, coupled with the design of the Time Spiral elves (extremely emaciated), had me going through multiple revisions, a few of which were better images. I think time ran out and we ran with where we were, resulting in art I was unhappy with. A few years later, the art director over drinks admitted regarding that illustration, "Yeah, we f*(#ked you." I appreciated that admission because it had weighed on me a lot until then, and a bad piece can quickly sideline you as an illustrator in the game, with so many amazing artists jockeying for a spot within it. But, I survived.

MU: What is the most challenging color to make art for?

RG: That depends on the artist: the five colors of Magic allow for a lot of affinity options. In my case, red cards are not my jam, and as a result you'll note I don't do a ton of them. Red has an aggressive, "bad ass" vibe that is not where I live in my art most of the time.

Artifacts can be difficult, in that they can be kind of boring. I do like still life painting though, so I think I've come to an appreciation of them. Still, trying to get a human element into those illustrations is a common way artists try to enliven them, for instance by showing a hand holding the object.

MU: Was there ever any artwork that couldn't have been used because of a card being tested out or otherwise?

RG: Oh sure, the Magic vault has been referenced by artists many times. I've got a few pieces in the vault, some of which entered the vault of unused art so long ago that they'll never resurface due to quality issues between old and new art. I think they are much better at managing their pipeline than they used to be. At least in my case, I haven't had a piece go unused since maybe Lorwyn block.

MU: What projects (Magic or otherwise) are you working on now that fans will be able to see at some point in the future?

RG: At this point in my career, Magic is the main place I'm doing illustration, and I'll have more new art out next year, although there is a little break after Eldraine before my next illustrations appear. I spend a lot of my year now working on personal projects and traditional gallery art. My favorite personal project these days is my Hearts for Hardware series of video game related still life painting.

But Magic has been a constant outlet for my art for my entire career, and I will always make room to work on the game for as long as they'll have me.

You can find some of Gallegos' most recent Magic: The Gathering artwork in the game's most recent set, Throne of Eldraine, available now.

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.