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Catching Up with Magic Artist Adam Paquette


Welcome back.

I have been away, working on secret projects we are unable to mention yet. Some will come to fruition and some will only be discussed if you ask me in real life. As I found myself below the public eye, I have realized that we are in desperate need for more artist content.

We have more art released than ever before, and less content on art than ever before.

That is not an equation that I can balance alone, but I can begin the process. Anyone wishing to reach an artist, I will always be up to help connect the best I can.

Let us become more regular with both our artists and art directors. How does that sound?

Adam Paquette has been also, busy with projects. We should catch up with him.

Mike: First of all, who are you, and aren't you Australian? I heard you lived in Europe? Can you give us an update on who you are and where you are?

Adam: I grew up in Sydney, and started moving around when I was about nineteen - first around the east coast of Australia pursuing different jobs in gaming companies and design studios, and eventually to other countries once I was able to freelance and work remotely. I moved around a lot all through my twenties without really settling anywhere longer than a year or two. In 2016 I was travelling in Berlin, Germany and decided to stay on a short-term working holiday visa. Then I fell in love and have been here since. Winters are rough and make me homesick, but having a base in Europe is so wonderful to have so much art, contemporary and historical, within arm's reach.

Will you be going to Magic Con Amsterdam?

Unfortunately not, I'll be in Sicily, Italy those dates for another project.

You get a lot of landscapes and environments, what do you like about them?

I have always had a connection with the outdoors. I am naturally drawn to spend time at home or in the studio, doing a lot of 'brain stuff', but I was lucky to always have family, partners and friends who dragged me outside and helped me remember how much I loved it. Over the years I have spent more and more time in nature, do a fair bit of hiking and also ran an art education company, Legendeer, from 2015-2020 which took folks from the comfort of their studios out to places like Yosemite, Zion and Banff national parks in North America. We set up studios to work and talk late into the night, and having the power of those natural places around us was really something astounding - it grounds you back in the very basic importance of what you're doing.

Legendeer exploring the Canadian Rockies, 2016

I do love figure painting and character work, but it has never drawn my attention the same way. It seems to always fall back into some reflection of our own psychology and neurosis, our desire for attention, the kinds of social games we play daily. When I connect to a landscape (real or imagined), there is no personal ego at play. The qualities of atmosphere, space, light - they don't have an agenda, they have nothing to hide or to prove. There is just this constant revelation of these timeless spaces within which all the other drama unfolds. I guess it comes down to a feeling of honesty, and of generosity.

Painting trip, Torre de Cerredo Spain, 2014

Oil or acrylic and why?

I started painting in oils twenty years ago and was a purist for a long time. That was dumb - self-imposed limitations for no good reason. A few years ago I splurged on a bunch of good quality acrylic paint and let myself go wild and use it all up in just a few days, just so I could get a real feel for its possibilities. They have such different qualities, especially when you have been painting for a long time and you are attuned to subtle textures, differences in drying times, and ways to apply those surface qualities. I wish I had been more open to different mediums earlier, but it was also great to start with oils and stick with that for such a long time. I see so many artists afraid to step into it because it is misunderstood as too expensive or overly complicated. Of course, it has history, and it has the longest track record of material stability, so it is still king when it comes to paintings intended for sale. All of the finished illustrations I do for Magic are oil, although I sometimes use acrylic for sketching or preparatory color studies. The fast drying time allows me to try out glazes and layering sequences I want to use in the final work, and get a good approximation of how they will look. The pigments in both paints are the same, it is just the binder that changes - so you can get a very good sense of how the final painting will look.

Turning our sights to Outlaws at Thunder Junction, walk us through how you got the commissions. Did you get an email out of the blue, was there a back-and-forth?

Commissioning for Magic has become a really smooth process for me - I have been working with Wizards of the Coast for almost two decades now. I let them know my availability in advance, how many pieces I have time to tackle, and then see what they give me. I always get a nice mix of basic lands and special things thrown in, so I am happy with the variety and mix of stuff I usually work on over any given year.

Trains on each of the basic, how did you interpret the ask in the western setting?

The trains looked so cool in the style guide!

Going back to what I said about the power of the landscapes - I thought about the trips I've taken on trains and what it felt like to move at a certain speed through those gigantic spaces, the silence of the view from the window, the rocking rhythm of the train. More than showing the train itself as the central character of the piece, I wanted to convey the feeling of its movement through the landscape - at different scales and from different perspectives. Once I had sketched out compositions for each land, I decided to build my own 3D of the train in Blender, using the styleguide reference. I placed the camera according to my sketch, and roughly lit and colored the scene without any other elements so I could paint the train with a bit of self-made reference. This actually helps it be less detailed and more impressionistic - without that reference, I would have to do all the perspective construction on the painting itself, which runs the risk of packing too much unnecessary detail into areas that should not be hogging the attention.

3D model of the train made in Blender, reference for 'Swamp'.

Gathering reference for your lands, where did you find them?

I use very little direct reference in my work. I am not against using reference, it just was never a way I worked, and I also happened to have teachers and mentors who were very strong in this way of working. I think people who do more character based stuff have a long history of using models for reference in illustration - either professional models, or just throwing a bit of costuming and props together and taking shots in a mirror. But with landscape work, it is rare I get the chance to shoot my own reference - which means I have to find stuff online. Typically I do this at the sketch stage, and the main purpose of the reference is to ascertain mood and atmosphere. By the time I am working on the final piece, I am mostly working from imagination. If I am struggling with an area, I will usually look for solutions in the work of painters from the past, to understand how they solved certain problems of lighting, paint layering or color. Or maybe I will go into Blender and block something out to see where my perspective is failing. The obvious exceptions are concept pushes, in which case I'm doing a loooot of digging for references. Or if a piece of card art calls for a design that isn't in the styleguide. In the case of Thunder Junction, I watched a few Westerns (The Searchers, 3:10 to Yuma, Open Range) and looked at Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon for some ideas on the more panoramic pieces. The mood of the Swamp was directly inspired by the amazing opening sequence of The Assassination of Jesse James - typically amazing cinematography from Roger Deakins. I find the more that I can work from imagination, the more the formal elements of the painting succeed. Even if there are some superficial inaccuracies, things tend to take on more of a consistent inner life in work from imagination.

Which of these was your favorite?

I like the scale on Forest, but I am really partial to scenes that are as simple as I can make them, so Plains and Mountain are tied for first place among these. The less you have in the painting, the more heavy lifting each shape and piece of color need to do. I find that challenge really exciting, and I think it is what makes great contemporary illustrators like Jaime Jones or Richard Wright so appealing - those visual silences speak volumes.

Mountain work in Progress, March 2023

You often make a pencil sketch and color study and final, why?

My process shifts around a lot, depending on the way I am working for a particular wave of art. Because I am often traveling for workshops, residencies or other events, I switch between digital work and traditional work all the time. Sometimes I am out of the studio during the sketch phase and have to do those digitally, sometimes I can sketch and do studies traditionally but I run out of time and have to finish them digitally.

The one thing I always start with are traditional thumbnail drawings, either with pencil or usually a ballpoint pen. I have worked like this for many, many years in my sketchbooks, which are the core of both my work and my personal art practice. There is a magical experience when I sit down with pen and paper, put a few squiggles down, and I start to see almost fully formed images in my head. They are actually nowhere near as 'complete' as they feel - like a dream which is full of inconsistencies when you try to retrieve it in the morning - but the mood and essence of the piece seem to spring fully formed. I do not have this experience at all if I try to generate ideas digitally.

After the thumbnails, I will usually do a larger pencil sketch to actually translate those very vague and loose thumbnails into something where I can actually see what's going on in terms of perspective, shapes, and design details. This is usually enough to identify possible problems that will come up further along in the painting, and inevitably save time trying to fix them later.

Then I will almost always do a colored digital sketch in Photoshop, which is the one I will send for approval from the art directors because they can clearly understand everything including color, and how it will look in-frame. Then, if I'm working traditionally, I will either jump straight into a larger painting, or ideally do small color studies using the digital sketch as a reference.

This is again about solving problems at a small scale that would be a pain to fix later in the process. Mostly I am looking to understand color mixtures, especially translating glows and strong colors from the digital sketch and translating those to mixtures in oil paint. Subtractive, physical color mixing in paint has a much more limited range of color and tone than what can be displayed on a monitor, so there is quite a bit of strategy involved in achieving those effects. Also, working on a deadline means there are a limited number of painting sessions I can fit in for each piece, so I can't do that much reworking. Because I work mostly from imagination, I am using all these studies to basically create my own references - then I can tackle the final piece more or less in one process with minimal revisions, and just focus on tweaking color and atmosphere as I go.

You used to be all digital for Magic, what changed?

I have been painting in oils for about 20 years now, but I was never able to make the jump with Magic work until I moved to Berlin. It was a matter of timing and confidence.

Because I was moving around so much (I have had twenty-two painting studios since I started working!), and because of the nature of land cards I was often doing cycles of 5 cards per wave, I just never felt that I would be able to keep up with the pace of deadlines if I tried to switch to traditional work.

On top of the workload itself, when you work traditionally you also have to factor in drying time between layers, and the process of photographing and digitizing the finals as well (when you do not live in the US and can not send them to WOTC for photographing). When I moved to Berlin, it was the first time I decided to settle down and have a permanent studio, and traveling within Europe was a lot less demanding on my time than flying from Australia to other parts of the world. I really did not like the double life I was living between working digitally and doing all my personal work traditionally, and decided to go all-in on a few traditional pieces and see if I could make the deadlines. Turns out I could paint way faster in oils than digitally! The stop-start nature of traditional painting means you are forced to step back from your work and let it breathe. When you come back to it after a day or two, it's clear what needs to be done next. When I work digitally, I get lost for hours in the infinite possibilities of that workspace, undoing, turning layers on and off and so on - work that doesn't necessarily contribute that much to the final piece. I still would not call my life totally stable, so I still go back and forth between traditional and digital, but whenever I see a window to do a whole wave on the easel, I will absolutely take it.

What do you end up doing with these paintings?

Hoarding paintings is the last thing I want to do! I have a few precious personal works I will never sell, but everything else is going to have a much better life hanging in someone's house than it will in my storage racks. I try to stay on top of set releases and be ready to update my socials and share the work at auction, but it is honestly quite hard for me to keep up with everything. It is definitely time to employ a studio assistant! In any case, when I get around to doing an auction or a sale, the pieces usually fly out, which is an amazing source of support that allows me to continue with my personal work.

Outside of Magic, what is next for Adam?

Last March, the building where my painting studio was got sold and I lost the space I had been in for five years. It has taken me a year to find a new space, and I'll be moving in next week. I had to scale back my work for Magic during that time and I had to put all personal projects on hold, so I'm beyond excited to finally have a space to paint again!

I will also have space in the new studio for teaching, which I love, as well as a small apartment to host international artists to come to Berlin for art residencies. I absolutely love artist spaces, and building and improving my own space is a huge source of inspiration for me, so I can not wait to get in there and start building that little world. With all the changes coming in the pipeline with AI and the world of digital illustration, it has never been more meaningful to show people the importance and power of making real art with your whole body and soul, so all my energy will go towards making that studio an example of what we painters love and care about.

Some personal work in my last studio just before moving out, 2023

You have often mentioned you have other art, fine art, personal art, as well, anything you are thinking on that will be coming next?

Last month I managed to get away to India and did an art residency together with my partner. Her background is in dance, yoga and architecture, and together we work with live movement and research what we can create at the edge of our two practises. We brought back a lot of studies and ideas from India that we want to continue and scale up into larger work in the new space. I also have a long list of ideas for paintings that have been on the backburner without a studio, so I will be diving into a new body of work there. I have kept off social media for a while now, but there is a lot I want to share, so I'll be spinning things up again in the new space. You can keep up with those projects on Instagram at @adampaquette and @collectiveshaping as well as the Magic work at @adampaquette.mtg

Thanks for the time!

My pleasure!

-Vorthos Mike

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