An Interview with 'Magic' artist Ron Spencer


Magic: The Gathering artist Ron Spencer joins Magic Untapped for a Q&A.

Very few artists can claim to have worked on nearly every Magic: The Gathering era from the original Alpha/Beta to now. But, then again, not everyone is Ron Spencer.

When not working on artwork for Dungeons & Dragons, helping create toys, or working on one of his many other projects, Ron still makes the time for at least one piece of Magic card artwork a year. Magic Untapped had the opportunity to ask some questions to Aurora, Nebraska, native about his art career, Magic: The Gathering work, and (of course) the game's iconic Sliver Queen.

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

Ron Spencer: Comic books started my early fascination with art.  The works of Wrightson, Corben, Frazetta, and Giger, to name a few, which serve as continuous inspiration.  Also, it’s immensely fun to draw!

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

RS: Depending on the piece, usually two or three days.

MU: A few years into the game, your sister, Terese Nielsen, also became a Magic: The Gathering artist.  How was it for you to see her not only join the ranks along side you, but also excel as she did?

RS: It’s always interesting to watch a person progress in a field they enjoy.

MU: You’ve done the artwork on many Magic cards. Which of your cards have been your favorites and what is it about them that makes them stand out?

RS: Terror because it was my first card for Magic: The Gathering and it perfectly depicts the emotion of being terrified.

Rootwater Diver is another favorite because it turned out as initially envisioned.

Highland Giant features an appearance by Thor.

Sliver Queen since she was a monstrous creature that the art director let me design with complete creative license.

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

RS: The early sets of Magic: The Gathering, from Alpha through Visions, afforded continuous opportunities for experimentation.  Many of the other later RPGs and CCGs also encouraged different approaches to their subject matter and artwork as well.

MU: In some of your art (especially early on) you became known for hiding people’s names somewhere in the artwork.  For example, the name “Mike” can be seen hidden your artwork for the card Goblin Grenade, as can the name “Josh“ in the art for the card Order of the Ebon Hand.  Who are these people and are there some hidden names and other Easter eggs in your MTG artwork that nobody has picked up on yet?

RS: Josh and Mike were employees and players at the local hobby store.  Their names were the first to appear in the card art.  The name, “Andy” is in one of the Urza’s Legacy pieces and this was the last name to be hidden on a Magic: The Gathering card.  In addition to the names, trilobites are included whenever possible.

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

RS: Most of my work is a mixed medium of marker, colored pencil, ball-point pen, and acrylic paint.  Because my work is done on a smaller format then this combination of media allows me to still achieve an acceptable level of detail.

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

RS: There are no easy assignments or topics as each piece poses a set of challenges.  If a project was easy to complete, then there was a lack of effort on my part and numerous glaring mistakes in the finished piece.

It inspires my unending gratitude to those who have an interest in my work.  From the designers to the players, “Thank you!” for the many opportunities to work with you and to create art which are sources of enjoyment throughout the world.

Thank you to Ron 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.