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The Magic Art of Kaja Foglio

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Artwork is just one aspect of Magic that truly makes it special. Wizards of the Coast continues to hire immensely talented artists to physically and digitally create iconic pictures to represent the game. As the game has matured, I find that the talent of the artists and quality of each piece has only gotten better. That being said, it was the game's early artwork, when I started playing Magic in the mid-to-late 90s, that gripped my attention in the first place.

This week's piece is a homage of sorts to my favorite early Magic artist: Kaja Foglio. Her artwork inspired my imagination with the use of bright colors and iconic central figures showing big emotions. A quick Scryfall search yields over 60 unique pieces of Magic artwork created by Kaja Foglio; nearly every one, with very few exceptions, came out in the 90s. These larger-than-life illustrations remain some of my favorites to this day.

Kaja Foglio's Most Recognizable Magic Cards

If you want to browse Kaja Foglio's most iconic pieces, the easiest way I found to do that is to search for her art on Scryfall and then sort by price. At the top of the list, you'll find her most impactful (and likely recognizable) cards.

Mishra's Workshop defines an entire deck strategy in Vintage (and sometimes Vintage Cube). Just because that's the most valuable card Kaja Foglio illustrated doesn't mean it's my favorite. In fact, I like the other three cards in the top 4 much more because they carry that distinct style I alluded to earlier: bright colors and a memorable central figure bringing it together.

Eureka is brilliant both in color and in theme. It depicts a vivid light emanating from a small creature (worm?) holding a sign that reads, "E=MC2." This inclusion may seem cartoony in context, but I love the external reference to the real-world phenomenon of Einstein's discovery of relativity (the Eureka Effect). Similarly, the card Shahrazad depicts the eponymous character, who told the 1,000 tales of Arabian Nights in order to survive each night. We don't see so many of these real-world references nowadays, but that makes me appreciate cards like Eureka and Shahrazad even more.

I always appreciated Field of Dreams, not to be confused with the baseball movie, not for the card's ability but for the intriguing art. The central figure appears to be holding the classic theater masks (smiling and frowning), and I wonder what the circular, white frame represents in the art. If I ever meet Kaja Foglio, I'll have to ask her about this beauty one day.

As for other recognizable cards by Kaja Foglio, no list would be complete without mentioning the Ice Age art for Swords to Plowshares.

Don't get me wrong--I love Jeff A. Menges' original depiction of the card in Alpha. I just feel like Kaja Foglio added some color and a delicate, feminine touch with her illustration. The central figure is a female knight whose sword is magically turning into a group of peaceful doves. The symbolism in this transformation is sublime. Let's not forget about the halo of light around the woman's head--this reminds me of a saint's halo seen in a church stained-glass window. We don't see too many religious subtleties like this in Magic these days, but back in 1995 this wasn't uncommon.

Another classic by Kaja Foglio is the original artwork for Mishra's Factory. She completed all four seasons in partnership with her spouse, Phil Foglio.

While Mishra's Workshop's picture was uncharacteristically dark and difficult to decipher, these four pieces for Mishra's Factory are much easier to visualize and appreciate. The shape of the factory remains abstract and amorphous--almost natural, like a giant tree--but the colors representing each season really brings the locale to life. These are true works of art, and I wish Wizards of the Coast would do more cards with seasonal variations in the future (e.g., Extremely Slow Zombie from Unstable).

Some Less Familiar Cards

If I'm going to write an article about Kaja Folgio's Magic portfolio, I can't skip over the classics I mentioned above. That said, she has many other cards that see far less play but deserve the same recognition for her usage of colors and prominent central figures. One of the things I love most about Kaja Foglio's art is how distinct and emotional those central figures can be. The expressions on their face gives them a realism that conflicts with the cartoon nature of her illustrations. This conflict creates an interesting, fantastical piece that drives a sense of familiarity and recognition that causes her work to stand out.

Let me see if I can bring this sentiment to life with a couple examples. First, consider Amulet of Unmaking, from Mirage.

The woman in this illustration is shocked by what she's found. You can readily see that with one glance at the art. Even though she looks a little like a cartoon, she still has an element of realism because her facial expression is so recognizable. You know what it reminds me of? Have you ever seen the seven universal facial expressions of emotions that the FBI publishes?

Kaja Foglio's central figures display emotions just as recognizable as some of the pictures above. By being universal, it makes her characters easily relatable despite being painted with a touch of cartoon style. The woman in Amulet of Unmaking is surprised--you can identify it almost immediately.

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Then you have a card like Bird Maiden, where the central figure is clearly displaying happiness.

Once again you have bright colors with a cartoon figure displaying very open, transparent emotions. You can sense the joy of flying that the Bird Maiden is experiencing in this picture.

You can see a different emotion altogether in her art for Mirror Mirror, from Unglued.

The woman in this picture does not like what she sees in her mirror. Her facial expression borders on contempt, perhaps with a touch of disgust. You can see that in the shape of her mouth and the angle of her eyes and eyebrows. There's just something about Kaja Foglio's ability to bring emotions to life in her characters that I really enjoy.

Three Personal Favorites

I could go on and on about my favorite pieces by Kaja Foglio. In the interest of space, I'll share three more personal favorites--pieces that really strike me in some way.

First, there's Rainbow Vale from Fallen Empires.

This two women in this picture aren't the central focus of the art. Instead, the focus is on the fountain in the foreground and the mountains in the background. What strikes me here are the colors that Kaja Foglio decided to use for this piece. The water being blue is natural, but the blue shading in the mountains and the fountain gives this piece a cold undertone that you wouldn't expect in a card that mentions the word "rainbow." She could have been more literal, and drew a vast rainbow in the sky overhead. Instead, she kept the artwork in the blues and greens, creating a sense of peace, highlighted by the expressions of the two women nearby, without shoving it in your face. It's difficult to articulate in clear words; I would just love to have this art on the wall in my living room.

Next, I want to showcase Elven Lyre, another beauty from Fallen Empires. It's such a shame cards from Fallen Empires are so underpowered--the set had some of the best pieces of art from the early years of this game!

This is yet another piece where the central figure readily catches your eye. She's a beauty, that's for sure, but there's a complexity to her that you register when you look her in the eyes. She's looking at you while she plays--is she trying to lull you to sleep? Is she checking to see if you like her song? Why is she looking at me rather than her instrument? Also, if she was so purely innocent, why is there a snake wrapped around her arm? Normally, I would associate a snake with deception, so it gives me more reason not to trust this person. The simplicity of the background accentuates the figure and her instrument even further. The result is a piece that catches my eye and causes me to do a double take every time I see this card.

Lastly, there's Daring Apprentice, one of the first cards I remember appreciating for its artwork back in Mirage.

This card really stood out to me as a kid, and when I look back at it today it's no surprise why. The colorful piece does a fantastic job depicting an interaction between a mortal and her genie. Only in this case, the genie doesn't appear to be at the mercy of her mortal master. Instead, it appears the woman on the right is in a bit of a bind after rousing the much-larger, menacing looking genie. The facial expression on the woman says it all--you can almost hear her nervous laughter as she attempts to assuage the genie to avoid an uncomfortable interaction.

Wrapping It Up

In summary, I think it's a combination of Kaja Foglio's unique style, liberal use of colors, and relatable emotions that make her one of my favorite Magic artists. In addition to these characteristics, I also appreciate that many of Kaja's central figures are influential, strong women--a nice diversification from some of the early game's art.

Speaking of diversity, I also think it's really cool that many of Kaja's female figures have diverse backgrounds. Many of them appear to be of Middle Eastern or African descent. Often you see characters depicted wearing something similar to what Jasmine might have worn from Disney's Aladdin, even in the same cartoon style. This is a unique touch we don't see from other Magic artists, making Kaja Foglio's art some of the most recognizable pieces.

Because these pieces resonate with me so much, I've readily identified her as one of my all-time favorites. I only wish she was still creating for Magic!

 

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