At the artitst's own request, here's my interview with Adam Paquette from August this year. This is for you, Adam. Merry Christmas! :)
INTERVIEW WITH ADAM PAQUETTE
August: Hello, Adam. Thank your for accepting this interview!
I'm fairly certain you're from Australia, but apart from that I don't really know anything about you. Please tell us something about yourself!
Adam Paquette: I'm fairly certain of that too - although the more I travel, the more I wonder! Whenever I read or listen to interviews with other illustrators and concept artists, one thing that strikes me almost every time is how as children, those artists were very influenced by things like comics, movies like Star Wars, action figures, games and so on. This stuff wasn't really a huge part of growing up for me… and I always wondered if I could 'cut it' in the industry without the deep passion for these things that my friends seemed to have. But what I did have growing up was a lot of time in nature - my family spent a lot of time in the Australian bush, and I also grew up in an area with lots of walks and big trees. I also had a pretty alternative family growing up with a lot of different interests in spirituality, psychology, and native cultures. The more time goes on, the more I am growing into my love of painting these things - organic landscapes, wise characters and ancient, mythological things. I find it interesting how different people can arrive at the same point in such diverse ways! My childhood home was full of amazing stories, people visiting from far away places and beautiful objects collected from sacred places around the world. I hope one day I can raise my own children in such an inspiring place!
Au: Sounds like a great childhood!
Wizards of the Coast is one of the major players on the fantasy gaming market. How did you end up working for them?
AP: Before I worked on Magic the Gathering, I did about two years of work with D&D. The Magic staff obviously see a lot of this art coming in and occasionally have artists migrate across (or do both). In my case, I met Jeremy Jarvis at a painting workshop I attended in the US. I told him I'd really like to work with Magic, but I was worried that I could only tackle environments and couldn't handle the character and creature briefs. He was kind enough to bring me on board exclusively as a land-guy, and then work my way into the other stuff. The first job I actually did was concept art for Innistrad, and then came the cards!
Au: I've seen some work on your website that looks a little different, but the work you've done for MtG certainly has a touch of impressionism. Have you studied classical art?
AP: Glad that influence comes across! I never studied in a formal setting, but traditional painting is the 'other half' of my art life. Its what I love deep down, and probably where I'm headed more so in the long run. One of my big aspirations is that whatever illustrations I am working on, I can bring to them something of the maturity and depth I find in great classical painting. If you're too heavy handed with that influence your art can begin to look arrogant and it takes the fun out of it, but at the same time I think great entertainment should also come with something of the human spirit of curiosity and mystery. Sometimes I feel like I have been successful in this, and other times I feel that the pressure of the job doesn't leave time to sit with an idea the way you can with personal art. Magic is definitely one of those clients that gives you a huge amount of ownership over your conceptual process, as long as you stay within a few set boundaries. The more confident I become with painting, the less time I spend worrying about making things look pretty, and the more time I spend making sure they are inspiring and full of life! Here in Australia, our best period of art making were the 19th century Australian Impressionists like Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts and Sydney Long - some of whom studied in France with Monet, etc - and so they have all had a huge influence on me growing up.
Au: You've mostly done land cards for MtG. Considering your style is very atmospherical, I can certainly see why you were assigned this work. Are you happy with this though? Let's say you could be your own AD, would you do anything differently?
AP: At Magic, we are working on our illustrations quite a while in advance of the release of each set. So a lot of the work I have been doing the past year is actually character based as well. Land cards were my launch pad into this work, and they continue to be my real joy and comfort zone. I'd probably be happy doing them forever. Having said that, I made a conscious decision to expand my figure work and nail that long-term thorn in my side. I had an awesome and patient art director who gave me the freedom to take that track and I'm very happy I did. It has been (and continues to be) a great challenge, and its deepening my art making in ways I didn't expect. It also translates directly into the work I'm doing on my own time in oils. I guess I'm at a point now where I feel comfortable painting almost anything (except maybe spaceships!) and thats a great feeling - not to be limited by your own blind spots. Now I get excited almost no matter what brief comes in!
Au: Let's talk about some individual lands... Haunted Fengraf is my favorite piece of art from all of Dark Ascension. That cemetery just looks so eerie and beautiful. Can you tell us something about it?
AP: Awesome! Well that painting started with two trains of thought. One was that at the time I had just bought my first real camera - a Canon 7D - and I was researching all about different zoom lenses and so on. Amongst all that browsing I started looking at pictures of the moon people had taken with telescopic lenses, but with buildings or trees in between the camera and the moon. When cropped down it had the effect of making the moon look gigantic! I finally understood how all that worked, and I wanted to paint something with a gigantic moon in it!! Looking back now, I realise that doesn't actually make much sense with the way I actually painted the environment -- but by that point I was in love with it, so who cares!? The other inspiration was that after I visited Wizards in Seattle, I took a trip to stay with some friends down in the California redwoods. Those trees stuck with me for a long time… So Haunted Fengraf was Innistrad thrown in a blender with redwoods and a supermoon. Give it a shake (or was that 'Rattle'?) and the rest is history!
Au: You did the alternate art for Command Tower for Commander's Arsenal, a really gorgeous piece. Where you asked to reference Ryan Yee's original tower or did you work independently? What do you think about the original art?
AP: I wasn't asked to reference, but I was familiar with the painting and knew it was going to be its new baby brother! Ryan and I are part of a small group of Magic artists who give critique and feedback via email, so we are very familiar with each other's work. I love his paintings, and I don't think anyone handles wispy, translucent, ephemeral stuff quite like he does!! That painting was one of those ones that just flows, probably one of the quickest ones I've ever done, and one of my favourites too.
Au: Question from my wife: "if you were to build a house in one of your lands, where would you build it?"
AP: What a great question! Actually pretty easy to answer too… I have always been torn between living in the city, and living in the country. I love the complexity, crowdedness and emergent nature of the city. The way these beautiful unexpected spaces emerge from all the chaos and garbage of these places created by human minds. At the same time, nature is so vast and mysterious, and continuously rearranges itself to promote diversity, abundance and life. My favourite painting for Magic… ever… is probably the Basic Forest from Return to Ravnica. A rooftop shanty amongst the tree-city canopy? Best of both worlds! It's actually kind of sad to think that with all of our combined intelligence and imagination, we've never been able to create built spaces that harmonise beautifully with nature in that way. I hope one day that this generation of amazing artists can step outside the four walls of the canvas and begin to create some of these beautiful places for real.
Au: Recently, you've done some non-lands as well. One card that is pretty famous among players is Varolz, the Scar-Striped. That sure is one sinister-looking troll. Are you happy with the way he turned out?
AP: He was my first real character card - so he will always have a special place in my heart. I think part of his sinister vibe probably comes from how scared I was when I got that brief! I'm pretty sure Jeremy just figured it was time for me to step up to the plate, so he didn't mess around and gave me an important character to work on. I've been doing lots of characters since then, and recently, you could say some 'VIP's'. So, I guess I passed the test! I love the fungus on Varolz. See, another character torn between the city he loves and the nature he longs for! That's me showing my hand again...
Au: The members of our community were absolutely amazed with the art of Colossal Whale when they first saw it. Really epic, I like it too. Was it your first sea monster?
AP: It was! It was also an exercise in scale. Originally I just had the one ship in the foreground, and the whale in the background. I pushed the whale bigger…and bigger… and he just didn't look HUGE enough. Then I stuck that smaller ship in the middle, and pow - Colossal Whale. I feel like I captured something of an old fashioned sea-tale in that one - probably one of the pieces where something of my classical painting and poetic side had its say. In the research for that piece I read a lot of essays about the symbolism in Moby Dick, and how for some people the whale was a symbol of the vast and sometimes scary experience of being alive - the immensity of it all. Sea monsters are like those experiences in us that rise up mysteriously from the deep parts of ourselves, seemingly fill our whole world, let out a thunderous roar that shakes our foundations and then disappear just as quickly back into the silence they came from. All we are left with is a sense of awe and wonder and a renewed gratitude for being here, and alive!
Au: Fascinating! Thanks for sharing that with us.
Speaking of monsters, this fall we're off to Theros and the world of Greek mythology. Will we see you there?
AP: With bells on! Not only did I do plenty of cards for Theros, I was also a part of the concept team that developed the world. I can't wait to see how some of my favourite artists in the world have interpreted all those chaotic pencil scribblings we came up with! If you can't find me in the cities of Theros, its probably a safe bet you'll find me in the forest!!
Au: Thanks for doing this, Adam. Best of luck in the future!
AP: One last thing… for anyone out there who loves the art they see on games like Magic, and who maybe - just maybe - would like to do this for a living some day… I just want to encourage you to follow your heart and give it a go. I've met too many incredible people who decided not to pursue illustration because they were intimidated and thought they could never learn to draw. That is my worst nightmare! If there's one thing I can honestly say I hope comes from my art, its to inspire others with that spark of creativity to dive headfirst into their art, writing, music, or whatever - no fear! That journey is bigger than any reward!!
Thanks for the interview!
This interview was orginally published in Swedish on SvenskaMagic.