Since 2014, Canadian artist own Jason Rainville has been illustrating countless Magic: The Gathering cards. Along with his work in League of Legends, Warhammer, and Dungeons and Dragons, Rainville has amassed quite the portfolio of fantasy artwork.
Jason recently spent some time with Magic Untapped to talk about his career, his influences, what's coming up, and, of course, everything from pirate captains to minotaurs.
Magic Untapped: What inspirations and influences in your life drove you to becoming a professional artist?
Jason Rainville: Like most artists, I've always tended towards creative activities ever since I was a child. Through my teenage years, I was influenced by popular media, culminating in my experience of three properties: the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Total War franchise, and the video game Age of Mythology. The former brought well-made fantasy stories to my attention, and the latter two kindled passion for myth and history. To this day I still strive to incorporate the universality and "legitimacy" of myth and history into my fantasy work.
MU: You made your Magic debut sometime before 2014’s Khans of Tarkir. How did you get into creating Magic art and how have your skills evolved since then?
JR: I actually started my Magic the Gathering career at the tail end of the Theros setting. The first card art I worked on was Unquenchable Fury, part of one of the special [Battle the Horde] Minotaur deck. I also created the promo art for Spawn of Thraxes. I think my first piece that's actually easy to find though is Spontaneous Combustion for the first Conspiracy set.
As for how I started with Magic art, I actually answered a call for concept artists by Wizards of the Coast. I submitted my work to attempt to become a character and costume concept artist. I didn't get that job, but I was offered Magic work instead! I'm actually often frustrated about how I feel like my work hasn't evolved since then. But looking at it with an objective eye, I'm happy about how I'm much more conscious about how and where I add details. I feel like my card art is more focused, less cluttered, and I'm often very much more consistently satisfied with how they turn out.
MU: You’ve done the artwork more than 80 Magic cards so far. Which of your cards have been your favorites and what is it about them that makes them stand out?
JR: From an execution point of view, some of my favorites are still to be released! I just finished two planeswalkers over the summer that I'm both very satisfied with, and a legendary creature that should be out soon hopefully.
For the ones that are released, I often say Oracle of Dust is one of my favorites because of the quiet, daylight horror that the Zendikar setting allowed us artists to explore. The seemingly peaceful nature of the humanoid Eldrazi contrasted with the dusted heads of the Zen to carry laying around it I feel properly tapped into the unsettling nature of the world.
I can't neglect talking about Admiral Beckett Brass though! I asked my Mom, probably my biggest fan, if she would model for her. My Mom has always been very supportive of my creative endeavors ever since I was a child and I felt like it was appropriate to include her in my work.
MU: What projects (Magic or otherwise) are you working on now that fans will be able to see at some point in the future?
JR: I just completed a new Dungeons & Dragons cover illustration. I think I can talk about that fact at least right? I of course can't say anything else about it except for the fact that it was right up my alley, and as with the other two I had a great time working with the art directors to create something but I'm very happy with.
I also created my first concept art for Wizards of the Coast in the spring. I can't say anything else about it, only that I hope something is made of it!
Outside of Wizards of the Coast I've recently done some work for League of Legends, and the new black library book the Sabbat Worlds Crusade contains my first Warhammer art.
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?
JR: I think we're the most open-ended ones that still remained a challenge was the Negate card featuring Jace. All that was required was a close-up of Jace with a magical effect around his eye but trying to make it striking, iconic, or unusual was difficult.
The best I could think of was trying to render it as tightly and as detailed as I could to try to set it apart from other work. But eventually I happened upon a weird idea; what if the card was meant to feel disorienting? I tried a bit of a psychedelic kaleidoscope effect where the image was rotated around the canvas centering on one of his eyes doing the casting. I think the effect worked!
MU: What is the most challenging color to make art for?
JR: I think it has to be black. Figuring out what hues to use is actually pretty easy. Blue, red, and green cards are pretty self-explanatory. White and black are also sort of easy, since I find that a high key desaturated yellow, blue, green works well with white, whereas desaturated but dark purple and green work for black.
The problem with black though comes in the printing. If your values (how light or dark your colors are) are too dark then the image becomes almost incomprehensibly black when printed. Too light however, you run the risk of it not appearing to fall within the black color family. The trick is complicated to explain, but it involves carefully crafting your values so that you can express a range of light and dark while also keeping things dreary enough that it's recognized as the right flavor.
MU: Was there ever any artwork that couldn't have been used because of a card being tested out or otherwise?
JR: I have some of my favorite cards waiting in the wings because of the Masterpiece series being discontinued. I had one card in Ixalan that was simply cancelled that I can't show the sketches of, and two cards in Ixalan that were completed but never used. I can't say more except that my one and only land is currently in limbo, and I'm not happy about it! I understand though, plans change and I was compensated of course. I still think that I did good work and hope to show it someday.
Artwork for Hieromancer's Cage / Jason Rainville
MU: What kinds of things are more tricky for you to create (landscapes, people, creatures, etc.)?
JR: Architecture. Characters are probably my specialty, and I can do well enough with background landscapes and creatures. But architecture is one of those things that I can technically create, but I don't think create well. As you can imagine Ravnica was not the most pleasant experience for me!
Google SketchUp has made things easier, but as with most things the tool is only as good as the one who uses it. I still feel like I need a lot of time studying how to implement architecture into my work in pleasing ways: The composition, how it's lit, how it might be affected by fog effects, et cetera. It's a whole subject that I feel like I've neglected and I hope to get better at it soon.
Magic Untapped thanks Jason Rainville for taking some time out of his busy schedule to accommodate this interview.