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The Gen Con Art Show


As I sit in a coffee shop in Portland, OR, taking a break from the SVUHQ, the art area, and Marcel’s incredible cooking, and with my eyes bugging out over TSG’s Cube, I realized that Gen Con is also this week. I realize that Gen Con is also this week, and it's about time for another primer in my Vorthos art world. It would be wonderful if I found a good way to archive information relevant to Magic players on uncertainties they'd have with artists. Maybe that's part of good Magic writing: You repeat yourself every three years with new information. College textbooks might be onto something.

Gen Con, as a convention, is among the first that opened its arms to artists. The artist alley is one of the hallmarks of the show, chock-full with awards, a major artist acting as guest of honor, and part of the spectacle that is tens of thousands of geeks in one location. Artists do need to pay for their booth spaces, but with the massive amount of foot traffic being in the middle of an exhibit space provides, seeing a decent rate of return isn't terribly difficult. Maximizing your profits, though, is an entirely separate conversation. Today, we will discuss some quick bits of information that you can pull up on your phone in the Magic area before you stop into the artist alley.



First of all, when you arrive in the art area, look for Diesel LaForce, Steve DeHart and Barbara Fisher. They run the art show and have done so for years. While they aren't the loudest art workers, their talent is substantial. I even helped out one year simply to gain experience in the art field as a volunteer. Fellow Vorthos 3D alterist Drew Sitte (@AlteredCity) informed me that I could, and I gave it a try. He's a Gen Con standby, always volunteering somewhere and meeting up with art-minded people. He will also be at the Gathering Magic party, which I hear will be the party to attend if you're anybody this year. I hope they have nametags because, as for the anonymous-Twitter-account people—yeah, I struggle with those cats, too.

Diesel, Steve, and Barbara don't wear nametags because, well, they've been doing this for years, and if you're in the art world, you just know who they are. They're like the Fenners for Spectrum: synonymous.

Who Are They?

Image via Facebook

Diesel is a former in-house Dungeons & Dragons artist. He was masterful in making many of the original dungeons. I'd kill to have one of his original artworks found in one of the D&D supplements. He now makes a ton of super-cool sculptures and functional geek items, including jewelry. I dig his stuff, but if you want the real bonus value, ask him about when Wizards bought out TSR, moving it from Wisconsin to Renton, WA. Hear the stories? They're real. They're raw. They're real raw. (All of this is depending on if you can catch him for a moment to talk shop! He's always running about fixing artist issues.)

Barbara Fisher is an artist, making a ton of gallery work across Tobacco Road and the South. She used to be on the legal team at Wizards of the Coast. She has some incredible stories about early Wizards, including when artists moved from royalties to flat commissions.

Steve DeHart is a chef, and frankly, I don’t know that much about him. He’s the quiet one who handles a lot of the Gen Con tech issues in the art area. When the kiosk to take payments goes down, he's all over it, triaging and radioing all the appropriate folks at the Gen Con headquarters on site.

Say hello to them, and if you're feeling great after an artist experience, thank them for being advocates to the artists and art.

Who's Coming?

There is a comprehensive guide—and the official one here—as to which artists are attending Gen Con. Our boy Ed Grabianowski (@theRobotViking) made the first one, but these are almost out of date as fast as we can write them. Often, it's widely inaccurate due to artists changing plans the last minute, travel plans gone awry, or simply bad information. I was building my own, focused, Magic-only version, and while Googling, I found this handy guide and made a few changes. Sorry I can’t cite you; I don’t know who you are, but this list is fantastic. I made a bunch of changes, but it definitely is a great template.

Confirmed Artists Who Have Done Magic Pieces and Who Are Attending Gen Con 2014

Artist Gen Con Location Magic Art MagicCards.info Link Comments
Aaron Miller Art Show Ajani, Mentor of Heroes, Fabled Hero, Chained to the Rocks Click His alter game is on point. Check out his examples.
April Lee Art Show Lotus Petal, Aluren, Intuition Click
Benjamin Wootten Art Show Fiery Temper promo (only card!) N/A Ben does a lot of illustrations for Pathfinder now.
Brian Snoddy Booth 933, Flying Frog Productions Volcanic Island, Hull Breach, Temple of the False God, Exploration Click He will be hard to find. You’ve been warned!
Charles Urbach Art Show Darkslick Shores, Ghor-Clan Rampager, Savannah MTGO Click Charles might have something for his Savannah MTGO work . . .
Christopher Burdett Art Show Loathsome Catoblepas Click Check out his Star Wars art.
Christopher Rush Booth 673 (with Steve Arygle) Black Lotus, ABU Lightning Bolt, Mana Leak, Brainstorm Click He needs no primer.
Dennis Detwiller Booth 713 Flood, Goblin Rock Sled Click Get that Rock Sled!
Drew Baker Art Show Karakas MTGO, Library of Alexandria MTGO Click Drew has some great canvas prints of his MTGO boom-boom artwork.
Franz Vohwinkel Art Show M11 Voltaic Key, Fire // Ice, 8E Blood Moon, Magus of the Moon Click Has canceled the last two years, but he confirmed at Grand Prix Portland that he will be there.
Fred Fields Art Show Mutavault, Mystic Gate, Scapeshift Click Fred has oodles of past landscape pieces. He might have some silly-great artist proofs left. Hint hint.
Jason A. Engle Booth 2633 Avatar of Slaughter, Nevermore Click Ask Jason about all the Innistrad work he did; he really shined there with conceptual work.
Jeff Easley Art Show Pulmonic Sliver Click He’s also done a ton of super-iconic D&D art.
Jeff Menges Art Show Bazaar of Baghdad, ABU Swords to Plowshares, Moat, Thawing Glaciers Click You might want to specify where you want him to sign the cards, particularly for a play set; he'll sign in random places sometimes. He did The Gathering Kickstarter book.
John Stanko Art Show Stranglehold, Desperate Ravings, Viscera Seer Click Ask John to explain his “digital originals.”
Mark Poole Art Show Ancestral Recall, Fastbond, ABU Counterspell, Library of Alexandria Click He will do alters for cash.
Monte Michael Moore Booth 108 7E Pyroclasm Click
Nene Thomas Booth 1927, Nene Thomas Inc Antiquities Hurkyl's Recall, Stormbind, Underground River Click You might want to bring your own pen—she doesn't always have a sharpie on her. If you’re thinking of doing a play set, have it all done in one pass; her signature can be sorta random. Sometimes it's "NeNe", and sometimes it's "NeNe Thomas" or something else.
Omar Rayyan Art Show Tarfire, Windbrisk Heights Click Omar no longer has any originals, but if you can afford a watercolor sketch on an artist proof, do it!
Paolo Parente Booth 1827 for Dust Tactics, also Fantasy Flight Games area Misdirection, Armadillo Cloak, Fling Click I’m not sure of his exact location; talk to the Dust booth.
Peter Mohrbacher Art Show Animar, Soul of Elements, Brimaz, King of Oreskos, Swan Song, Gavony Township Click Pete just finished his second Kickstarter and painted an Erebos 4"×4" traditional painting for the Mariah Minneapolis auction. He may make more . . .
Ralph Horsley Art Show Boseiju, Who Shelters All, Fire-Lit Thicket, 10E Hurkyl's Recall Click Ralph always has a ton of originals. Make some time to talk to him; he has captivating stories about each piece.
Richard Thomas Booth 1103, Onyx Path Publishing Red Elemental Blast, Blue Elemental Blast, Black Vise, Channel, The Rack Click Check the booth to see when he will be available—he does a lot of panels and can be tricky to catch.
RK Post "Hall F" Ichorid, Unmask Click He will do alters for cash. No definitive location given.
Ruth Thompson Booth 1318 Order of the White Shield Click Ruth’s art style is incredibly difficult, but it’s quite incredible.
Scott Murphy Art Show Brood Keeper Click Scott will probably be doing a lot more in the future.
Steve Argyle Booth 673 (with Christopher Rush) Deathrite Shaman, promo Bloodbraid Elf, Liliana of the Veil Click He will do alters for cash. He has a few special announcements for his minions. Ask him for details in person.
Steve Ellis Art Show Hunting Wilds Click Steve is somewhat rare to see at a show!
Steve Prescott Art Show Roon of the Hidden Realm, Fauna Shaman, GP Goblin Guide, Runed Halo, Zealous Conscripts Click If you can afford one of Steve’s originals, pick it up. They’re exponentially more vibrant in person—if that’s possible!
Terese Nielsen Art Show, Artist Guest of Honor Force of Will, Nimble Mongoose, Visions Natural Order Click Expect to wait in line. She usually has a twenty-card limit per pass through the line. She does not do in-line alters and won’t have the time to do so.
Tom Fleming Art Show Urza's Saga Dark Ritual Click Ask Tom what his job is now; he has a pretty interesting post-Magic career . . .

A semi-complete list of the card art can be found from Aaron Rasmussen (@MTGskeptic) here.

Christopher Burdett – He loves him some rawr.

An FAQ for the Gen Con Art Show

Who are the must-visit artists this year?

  • Ben Wootten, who lives down under
  • Tom Fleming, who doesn’t go to many Grand Prix
  • Richard Thomas, if you can track him down!

When is the best time to visit the art show?

I would go the first thing in the morning. Some artists come in late, but that’s the best, as they have time to talk to you without lines. Also, if you bring coffee—maybe one of the foursome things—you will make artist friends.

Do they accept credit cards?

Yes, Gen Con has a payment kiosk.

Outside of Gen Con, it’s now odd when an artist doesn’t have a square reader. Granted, if you offer cash, saving him or her 2% to 5%, the artist will generally be appreciative of that!

Can I pay artists in cash?

Yes, you can, but not to the artists directly. All purchases have to be run through the register, which Diesel, Steve, and Barbara handle with some helpers. It’s actually illegal to do a deal under the table. Tips are generally okay for little things such as a signature.

Can I use other forms of payment?

Checks, money orders, cashier’s checks, and wire transfers are to be avoided. There’s risk in shenanigans and fees. Skip that when at a convention. Wire transfers should only be for giant online purchases in remote international locales.

How much, generally, are prints?

It depends on the artist, of course, but you should be able to find a low/medium/high category with a print in the $10–$15 range for an 8"×10" and moving upward from there. I would advise to always go 11"×14" or larger. Smaller pieces don’t carry the same weight or importance on your wall. It’s harder to frame something that isn’t crazy-impressive, thus, it’s kind of a waste. The $20–$40 range is about right, and anything above $40 goes into collectible range for value.

I want an artwork that has value, but I don’t have hundreds or thousands of dollars for original art; what should I buy?

You’re in luck, as Gen Con has Terese Nielsen, and she has numbered prints at $40 and $100 that are quite impressive. I rarely buy prints, but when I do so for other people, I always go with numbered ones. If you have to pick and choose between numbered prints, always go with the one that will be framed better—that is, the one that has the better paper.

Prints are fine, but how can I acquire a “unique” artwork from a digital artist?

Oh boy. This is sticky. So, limited edition prints, as I said, are a great option for even digital folks, but you’re right: What if the artist makes two or two hundred print runs; where’s the value? Ask them! Pete Mohrbacher, for example, only makes a set amount of large-canvas prints of his Planeswalkers or Theros gods. Others, like John Stanko, have canvas prints made of digital images and then paint over the top of them, making unique, single copies of originals as they see it. For Stanko, the reasoning is that his original intention is then made real, and the colors are all final-print corrected. Canvas prints often can’t pick up the darkest darks, resulting in a matte boring black–gray that's textured. In short, ask the artist.

Should I tip?


Do I have to tip?

No, you do not.

How much should I tip?

It depends, and it keeps changing. Buying an artist proof used to mean a quick doodle on the back with a signature for $5. That’s long gone, which is good for the artist.

  • For signatures, $1 per play set is not expected, but it is very appreciated.
  • For signatures in a stack, a few bucks is not expected, but it’s shitty to offer nothing. Artists have to smile and be cheerful with you, but cripes, don't be that guy. You know that guy. F that guy.
  • For alterations, tipping is uncommon, as the cost of $10/$20/$40/$80 indicates you care.
  • For purchasing print, not tipping is okay.
  • For an original artwork, honestly, not trying to get it for $50 less is the tip. Just pay, and that's gravy.
  • For art advice/critiques of a portfolio, buy something small and then throw in $5.
  • For lending you cards for a tournament while your alteration dries, you better tip $5 to $10.

Are any signatures worth more than the others?

In this group, none of these signatures is considered especially rare. There’re only a few artists with rare signatures, and none of them is here.

Will artists who made artworks for Alpha have any Alpha original art with them?

No. It’s either sold, lost, or stolen. It’s often a sore subject to have to explain that to hundreds of players for artworks made over twenty years ago. Be mindful of that.

What if I have to play in an event and I gave my stack for the artist to sign?

Plan better.

What if I have a play set of Lilianas altered with pandas and chinchillas and they aren’t dry before I have to play in a side event?

Ask Steve Argyle, or any artist, if he has a couple of cards that you could borrow to play with.

Do you have any good ideas for alterations?

Aaron Miller has a pretty good mockup page that could get your mind turning on this sort of thing. He also has white tokens that you can ask for anything. Since he works traditionally and his line work is quite good, whatever your thing is, he can make happen on a Magic card or as a token. I'd be really mindful of what's important to you and then relate that. Extensions are nice for landscapes or environments, yes, but they're also incredibly impersonal.

When should I ask for an alteration?

Ask when there isn't a line or if you're the first person of the day. Pick it up later that day, too, not right away. You might get some extra something-something if the day grows boring and it's the only thing to do for one of the hours over the multiple days. If you see an unfinished play mat, it isn't the best time to drop off a $30 alteration.

Do artists have any real cards, with Magic backs?

It’s rare for artists to hoard cards or go out of their way to purchase them, as they have artist proofs. So buying one and having it altered is very rare. I only know of Steve Argyle who does it consistently.

Why are artist proofs no longer a uniform $5?

Because when you raise prices according to rarity and they sell faster, one would be stupid not to do so.

When could I ask for a throw-in? Is that ever okay?

It may be okay when the item is over $100. Absolutely ask—especially if you do so the first day of Gen Con. If the artists cover costs early, it's all gravy then!

It may also be okay when you buy an original artwork or sketch. I've seen people ask for a small print or, more commonly, an artist proof. One of the Palumbo brothers actually numbers them all and gives the 1/50 proof to the original art buyer. If you’re smart, you should be asking the artist to write, “This artist proof was given at the purchase of the original art at Gen Con 2014.” Adding a date to it helps, too. It adds provenance, proving a paper trail when things changed hands or you have an insurance claim on your hands.

Can I ask to take a picture with the artist?

Absolutely. Post it to social media channels, too, and tag the artist. This is especially true with an alteration or an original art piece. That’s free advertising for the artist and drives more sales.

What do the artists do all week when not in their booths?

They do what you do: grab drinks, meet up with friends, be merry, and have a good time. Also, art directors are there, so they could be obtaining commissions and hustling themselves. If you see an artist out at a bar or eating dinner, it’s polite to not disturb him or her to ask for signatures. Even if you’re a fanboy or fangirl losing your mind, relax. You could ask when he or she will be in his or her booth the next day.

Can I arrange a sale/deal/alteration/situation via social media?

Yes, I've seen a bunch of Twitter deals go down. Facebook is a little more difficult, but if you only have minutes to sneak over, do it that way, and ask to pick it up! The artist might even prepare the slips for payment with the art show kiosk if you ask nicely.

Will you be there?

I will not be there this year, but you’re always welcome to ask me questions at @VorthosMike when you’re literally in line. I’m always happy to give advice on this if you’re unsure about something.

Any other advice?

If you like an artist’s art, tell the artist! You’d be surprised how often players walk up, ask for signatures—politely or not—and then walk away. For every person who tips or picks up something small, there are a dozen who are downright cold, oddly rude, or transactionally unfriendly.

Enjoy Gen Con!

Next week, we talk compositions.

- Mike

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