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7 Questions: Terese Nielsen


Eternal Witness by Terese Nielsen

When I first started Magic, there were a few cards and a few images that stood out to me and helped shape my opinion of the game. Slave of Bolas. Deathmark. Abbey Gargoyles. Nightmare. Blightning. Eternal Witness.

Terese Nielsen is one of the defining figures in the Magic pantheon of artists. With her signature mixed-media style and interesting, sensual portrayals of everything from the expansive paths of the mind to women who gon’ beat your face, Nielsen has created a brand for herself that is both successful in-game and artistically unique.

Blast of Genius by Terese Nielsen

My favorite aspect of Nielsen’s art is the humongous personality that her characters wield. It makes me more intrigued by the card, curious about the game’s storyline, and proud when it’s a female whom I identify with. Have you seen her Leia Solo?! I think I broke into a sweat. Seriously.

No surprise, then, that my favorite Liliana is Nielsen’s. The calm confidence. The athleticism. This is the Lily that hangs in my living room and reminds me daily to be fearlessly badass.

Liliana Vess by Terese Nielsen

Extra $3,500 lying around? What better way to spend it than on the original Dictate of Heliod. Not quite at the plat VIP level? Then perhaps the $75 alternate Call to Mind sketch or the $350 Blast of Genius sketch—in which, I dare say, Ral looks even hotter than in the finished version—is more your speed.

In my Ultimate Cosplay contest, Nielsen’s Basandra, Battle Seraph came in second, falling to Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite in the final round. So many of Nielsen’s interpretations are theatrically inspiring—I would love to one day do Basandra, Eternal Witness, Liliana, Dryad Militant, Sydri, Galvanic Genius, Keening Apparition . . . I mean, the list goes on. Her people jump off the page at you, her costumes are epic, and the backgrounds are lush and lovingly crafted. Read her description of creating Hanna, Ship’s Navigator for Duels 2013.

I hope you’ll relish Terese Nielsen’s answers to these seven questions, some of which were submitted by fans in the Ladies of MTG group. Nielsen divulged that she was glad for this “abnormal” interview, and I think you’ll enjoy her candor as much as I did.

Visions of Beyond by Terese Nielsen

1. How did you develop your distinctive art style?

I call it the “Squirrel-Urban-Dictionary-Definition-Number-6-Style”—the act of being distracted in the middle of—“Wow, something shiny!”

It works like this, but not necessarily this order:

  • I roll my chair up to the painting table.
  • Whoa!! My acrylic palette is growing white, furry, mold!! Ick! I should Twitter a pic of this.
  • Is it poisonous?!! Should I put a mask on . . . ?
  • Ahh! Hurry up and paint something before all of ’em dry out. Do you know how long it takes, and how much it costs to fill a whole freaking palette, with all of these wacky colors you like?! I seriously don’t want to run to Aaron Brothers for paint right now. You’d best just make whatever colors you got, work. I do have some stiff, old gouache in that third drawer down. Wow . . . what if I was back in the old days and had to make my own pigments? How bad would that suck? I wouldn’t let those dry out like this! Typical American. I’m so far removed from anything I consume. I shouldn’t use these anyway. They have nasty chemicals. I think watercolors are more earth-friendly, but I don’t really like using watercolors. They’re sorta wimpy.
  • Is my old Art Center watercolor palette still under my desk?
  • Wait! Why is my toothbrush next to my palette? Hey . . . shove that into that little dollop of gooey, naphthol crimson and see if you can flick specs of it somewhere! Neat!! It looks like blood! I’m not a vampire! I don’t even eat bloody, meaty, bits. So then why do you want your painting to look bloody? And speaking of blood, are we messing with Russia now? Jeezus F! Hey! I should listen to that lecture on Progressive Radio Network while I’m painting.
  • Wait, who messaged me just now on Facebook? Don’t they know I’m working? Who is that person? I should go look at their page.
  • My nails! Wow, that blood-color sorta messed up my shiny “Color Nails” that I just had done yesterday. Better clean those off with acetone.
  • Oh ya, my painting. What’s with that obvious green outline around the edge of that leaf? I should modulate that color a bit so it’s not so predictable . . . will this crayon work?! Mmmm. Oils smell good. I like that clove oil I squeezed on them, to keep them from drying out. Plus, real artists use oil paint, so I should use oils more. I like oils, I do. They slide around on areas and make stuff look all lustery.
  • WTH? How did that daub of thalo blue get on my white tank top? Shit!! I can never keep a white tank clean! Dawn will be pissed! This might’ve even been her tank top. Why doesn’t my Starbucks apron cover everything? Why even wear an apron if I mess up my clothes anyway? I’d better hurry and rinse it out with turp.
  • Oh wow! That color looks great faded out with turpentine. I should do a glaze with that color. What the hell is that annoying thing poking me in my pocket? Oh, that little feather I picked up on my run this morning!! I wonder if it could look cool pasted into this Magic card?
  • Oops, I just dribbled paint on that face. Neat! Should I leave it?

It’s pretty straightforward really. It’d be easy to teach.

Enter the Infinite by Terese Nielsen

2. Do you ever think you’ll step away from the MTG world? If so, what would be the impetus?

The art director would tell me I’m old and he’s sick of me being late on deadlines.

3. Can you throw us a bone regarding something you’re really excited about that you’re working on for a future MTG set? If not, the alternate question is: Who is your favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle? Feel free to answer both if you can and/or are feeling frisky.

Of course. For once, I can be very specific. There are cards coming up with beautiful transitions of vibrant colors. I’ll bet you can almost picture it. Right?

So . . . Ninja Turtles. You know, my older brother Ron and I strolled into a sweaty little comic shop in Lincoln, Nebraska way back in the summer of ’85. We never could resist a comic shop. So we walked in, and one of the first things we noticed on the rack was this sad little black and white rag called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. We flipped through its underwhelming art, and said, “Wow! Seriously?” Apparently they were serious. The best part about the turtles were their names and the fact that they were ninjas.

Confession: In the ’70s, I bought several semi-legit Ninjutsu books, soooooo wishing I could do and be all of that bad-ass stuff. There’s a certain technique for walking across a wooden floor and not making it creak . . . Oh, and those ninja stars! I still have a blowgun . . . just say’n. And if you’re ever at a con and want to know how to tie your dark t-shirt around your mug to camouflage yourself as a ninja, just let me know.

4. Recently, have you at all found yourself gravitating toward one practical medium as opposed to your usual very mixed style? And as an artist, how do you feel about doing a just-digital piece?

Just wondering, are several mediums “not” practical? (winking) I still use a minimum of three mediums. It’s almost always acrylic, colored pencils, and oil. I like how they play together, so it weighs on me emotionally to think of leaving one of them out. Digital? I’ve thought about it. There’s some digital work that really excites me. I appreciate its forgivingness and expediency. For right now, though, I’m happiest completing my illustrations and paintings traditionally. I look forward to the spontaneous “happy accidents” that occur with traditional. I also acknowledge the secondary income for selling originals to collectors. For me, there’s this feeling of accomplishment if I’ve gotten my hands scuffed up and dirty. It could be anything from unearthing a beet from the garden to hunkered under the hood of the old Mercedes fighting glow plugs.

Hanna, Ship's Navigator by Terese Nielsen

5. Where do you find inspiration for all the diverse and amazing people that appear in your work? The faces and bodies of your subjects are so memorable . . . Teferi comes to mind, also Dryad Militant. Was it as exhilarating to paint Heliod’s torso on Dictate of Heliod as it is for all of us to look at?

My sweet Heliod. I caressed his vast pecs with each . . . deliberate . . . stroke. But let’s not forget Basandra, and her robust pecs. In seriousness though, bringing to life unique, beautiful individuals is my life passion.

Basandra, Battle Seraph by Terese Nielsen

6. I remember seeing some awesome gardening pictures from last year. Are you still into that? What’s your proudest green-thumb/out-in-the-dirt moment?

It has to be my 22 lb. sweet potato! I decided to dig it out before it presented itself on my front porch asking for child support.

7. If you were traveling to Theros and could only pack one outfit, what would it be?

I wouldn’t bring anything other than a couple packets of gold leaf and Nyxie dust—to sprinkle where the sun don’t shine. Other than that, I would simply streak around town, yanking exotic drapes off nobles’ windows to cobble together any godlike, runway-dress I might need.

This was one of the funniest interviews I’ve had the pleasure of doing, and not only is Terese Nielsen an amazing artists, she’s also a vibrant and generous-hearted member of the MTG community. I hope she continues to produce her inspiring art for a long time to come—and if you have a Nielsen craving like I now do, get your fix on her website and follow her on Twitter.

Till next time, may Magic be your colorful . . . deliberate . . . strokes.




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