As some of you might already know, I've been doing interviews with MtG artists for a couple of years now. These interviews have been published on www.svenskamagic.com in Swedish. The downside is, of course, that most people can't read them. From now on though, that will change.
All interviews will still be posted on SvenskaMagic in Swedish, but they will also be posted in English here. Thanks to Björn "Beakid" Andreasson for generously agreeing to this.
First out is the talented Cynthia Sheppard. Enjoy!
INTERVIEW WITH CYNTHIA SHEPPARD
August: Hello, Cynthia. Thanks for accepting this interview!
I already know you a little, but would you like to introduce yourself to my readers?
Cynthia Sheppard: Heya! I’m a 29-year-old artist working from my studio just outside of Washington, DC in the United States. I make paintings for Magic: The Gathering as well as other games (Call of Cthulhu, Elder Sign, A Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Hex, etc.), and books, too! Check out more on my website, http://www.sheppard-arts.com and blog, http://sheppard-arts.blogspot.com/
Au: You come across as a very accessible person, and seem to have a great deal of contact with your colleagues as well as fans. Is this true? If so, is this an important quality for an artist?
CS: I think it’s important to stay connected to both your colleagues and your audience.
Most of my close friends are professional artists, and a few of them also work for Magic. I love it, not just for the camaraderie (they’re totally amazing people), but for idea sharing, too. Sometimes we give critiques, or ask advice when we’re stuck on a painting, and that kind of collaborative insight is essential to any creative person. I also really enjoy talking with Magic fans, especially if they’re interested in the art. I hope to stay somewhat accessible at conventions and via social media, but it’s been getting harder and harder to keep up with messages, especially in the wake of Commander!
Au: You are fairly new to Magic the Gathering. What was your first contact with the game?
CS: I remember the game started showing up at my school when I was in sixth grade (1994?), and quickly got banned because kids were beating each other up over valuable cards. That made me curious about it, then I saw the art, and was really enamored. Fast forward 16 years, and I realized I wanted to make some of that art, so I signed up for a portfolio review with art director Jeremy Jarvis. Shortly thereafter I got my first assignments in the Innistrad block.
Au: In my opinion, a lot of your work has a certain goth quality to it. Since I have the somewhat unfair advantage of having access to your Facebook pictures, I also happen to know that you used to look a bit like Shadow Alley Denizen back in the day (well, minus the fangs, dagger and crows). ;) Were you ever a goth?
CS: Yes, I was the quintessential goth chick in high school. I wore long black Morticia Addams-style hair for a number of years after school, too. I guess I grew up relating to that ideal of dark beauty, so even though my personal appearance has changed I still occasionally paint characters with that in mind.
Au: That's cool! I used to have a mohawk, black coat and combat boots in high school. Good times!
Regardless of gothic past, Jeremy Jarvis has certainly given you a fair share of vampires to illustrate. I have to say that your take on these nocturnal creatures is among the most beautiful and vivid in the game. Do you enjoy painting vampires?
CS: I’ve been drawing vampires since I was a teenager, and yes, I still love it! They’re complex, tortured creatures, which allows for a huge range of emotion to come through, and keep things interesting from painting to painting.
Au: Most recently, you did Jeleva, Nephalia's Scourge from Commander 2013. I fell in love with this card immediately and built a Commander deck for Jeleva the moment I saw her. The artwork is simply stunning! Can you tell us more about this piece?
CS: Jeleva uses mind games to taunt her victims, so I wanted her attire to leave most of her shrouded in mystery, except for the important stuff: the burning eyes, hungry mouth, and the hands that are grasping for you. From a personal artistic standpoint that choice also worked out in my favor; I love painting faces, hands, and flowy fabric, and the design let me do just that.
Au: Speaking of Commander 2013, you also did the new artwork for the legendary classic Rubinia Soulsinger. As I have previously told you, I think you did an awesome job! She truly looks like an alluring faerie queen. Please tell us how you gave Rubinia new life!
CS: Thanks very much! I started by thinking about who she is- a collector of creatures, one who conscripts souls into her army, basically- and thought she should have a powerful and demanding expression. Her clothing and surroundings were designed to have elements of all three of her colors of mana, blue, green, and white, while also having a gossamer quality suitable for a legendary faerie.
Au: I think you succeeded extremely well in illustrating your thoughts. She definitely has a commanding presence!
Have you seen Rob Alexander’s original artwork for Rubinia? Rob is one of the most experienced MtG artists still around, so if you had seen the original, did you feel any pressure reinterpreting his work?
CS: There is always some pressure when reinterpreting a classic card; I did look at Rob Alexander’s original illustration, though I was more focused on reinterpreting the character than the art itself. Wizards wants the artists to put their own spin on things, and in some cases they ask specifically that you don’t imitate older artwork.
Au: Recently I did an interview with a friend of yours, the incomparable Adam Paquette. Adam has mostly done land cards for MtG, while all of your work is character based. You do characters extremely well, very lifelike and expressive. Would you call character work your specialty?
CS: Well, first off, I’d say Adam is one of those artists who can pull off anything. ;) He’s great. Character work is definitely more my specialty than environments, but I actually enjoy doing both, and hope to branch out more eventually. Again, tracing the lines back to my childhood, I grew up wanting to be a portrait painter like my father, so I tend to put a lot of effort into creating expressive faces and gestures.
Au: Question from my wife: "your characters have such strong expressions. Do you think about who they are, take your time to get to know them before you paint them?"
CS: I act out all my characters in a mirror, male, female, doesn’t matter. Sometimes I get really into it. While I was painting the bared fangs on Bloodcrazed Neonate, as an example, my jaw would hurt from actually making that face while I was painting.
Au: Haha, I will never look at Bloodcrazed Neonate in the same way!
One character, which coincidentally looks like he could be quite a character, is Young Pyromancer. This guy looks absolutely insane! He sort of reminds me of Howard Wolowitz from the Big Bang Theory transformed into a crazy pyromaniac. How did you come up with the look for this guy?
CS: Young Pyromancer is a Chandra fanboy. People have gone totally nuts over that since I posted about it on my blog! I called up my memories of me and some of my friends in high school (as a goth, of course) and some of the alterations we used to do to our appearances to look more like our music idols- ripping sleeves off shirts, pinning fabric patches to things, dyeing our hair- and cobbled his outfit together that way. His expression is saying, “Ha! Look what I can do! Just like… her.”
Au: Awesome! I love the concept. :)
Thank you for the interview and the exclusive photo, Cynthia. See you online!