Articles

Looking to the Stars

Pat Morrissey-Lewis has had as varied a career as any Magic artist, including a stint as a planetarium show illustrator.

 

Pat Morrissey-Lewis is sitting at her booth at the DCU Center in Worcester, Mass., during a Star City Games open event when a fan approaches with a book wrapped in plastic. “Oh look, he’s got a copy of The Gathering!” she exclaims, referring to the Kickstarter-funded art book that reunited many of Magic: The Gathering’s original artists for the game’s 20th anniversary.

As one of the artists who worked on Magic’s early expansion sets, Pat is of course featured in the book. In it, she chose to re-imagine her painting for the card “Warning” in the Ice Age set. The grandiose sweep of the mountains with archers poised to blow a giant horn in the original has been replaced with a close-up of a single drummer ready to strike a blow that will reverberate through a series of caverns and tubes.

 

“Warning”: Pat’s re-imagined version of the Magic card “Warning” appeared in The Gathering art book. (Image courtesy of Pat Morrissey-Lewis)

 

“Once again, the whole theme of sound traveling over a distance to warn people came to mind,” Pat says of the new piece. “Aside from horns, drums are carried over a distance also. I imagined a large bowl-like cave with vents to carry the sound up and out.”

In many ways, both versions of “Warning” are emblematic of Pat’s art career in that it has produced something that is all around us. Pat’s paintings shout from the covers of dozens of fantasy and sci-fi books, from multiple games, and even from public places that you may have visited, notably the Smithsonian’s Albert Einstein Planetarium. Her illustrations aren’t limited to collectible card games; in fact, you may have encountered them without even realizing it.

 

A Lover of the Liberal Arts

It’s little surprise given her association with planetariums later in her career that Pat’s early love of art was heavily influenced by her childhood visits to local museums. It was there that she was awed by almost every school of painting, especially the Pre-Raphaelites, whom she cites as a particular influence.

Though she worked with pencil, pen, and watercolor in her youth, it was around the age of 17 that she began to study oil painting and got the chance to begin emulating heroes like Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John William Waterhouse. It was also around this time that Pat began her lifelong love affair with science fiction, which has become irrevocably intertwined with her body of work. Originally contained exclusively to her personal projects, it wasn’t long before Pat was able to mix these two passions into commercially viable work.

 

“Magic Night”: “Magic Night,” one of Pat’s personal works, blends two of her passions: fantasy and a tremendous view of the night sky. (Image courtesy of Pat Morrissey-Lewis)

 

“Many years ago, I was working as an artist for a local planetarium doing the artwork for their productions when the director suggested I go to the local science fiction convention,” she recalls. “I had been painting science fiction for myself on the side. It was at an early Worldcon that I saw that other artists doing covers, prints, and magazine work. The more conventions I attended, the more I was able to network with publishers, and it snowballed from there.”

In this case, though, “snowballed” might even be a bit of an understatement. To skim through Pat’s portfolio is to experience a who’s who of some of the greatest fantasy and science fiction authors of the 20th century — all of which have had Pat’s artwork grace their book covers. There’s Robert Heinlein and Clifford Simak, Ursula K. LeGuin and Mercedes Lackey, to name just a few. And then there’s legendary Pern creator Anne McCaffrey, for whom Pat produced no less than six covers.

“Anne McCaffrey bought [one of] the paintings that I had illustrated for her book,” says Pat, who considers this one of the highest compliments that a publishing artist can receive.

 

“Arrows of the Queen”: A painting that Pat created for the book Arrows of the Queen by renowned fantasy author Mercedes Lackey. (Image courtesy of Pat Morrissey-Lewis)

 

It was also through her extensive convention networks that she heard about a little collectible card game called Magic: The Gathering.

“I knew some of the other artists at the time, and it was suggested that I send in my portfolio. I received a call for an assignment soon after,” Pat says.

Beginning with Fallen Empires, Pat embarked on a multi-year collaboration with Wizards of the Coast that had her working on some of Magic’s earliest expansion sets. What is perhaps most interesting about her Magic work, though, is that the cards she produced are all wildly different. Unlike some artists that get pigeonholed into doing only one type of card, Pat produced lands, creatures, people, and spells.

“Having a variety to do was very exciting,” she says.

 

Pat’s artwork for the Magic card “Spectral Bears” from the Homelands expansion.

(Image courtesy of Pat Morrissey-Lewis)

 

A Woman of Many Talents

Apart from her publishing work and her work for Magic, there’s another place that Pat’s artwork once appeared: planetarium shows. If you’re of a certain age and grew up seeing artificial displays of the night sky in Baltimore, Philadelphia, or Hartford, Conn., or at the Albert Einstein Planetarium at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., then chances are good that you may have seen some of Pat’s work.

“I worked freelance for a planetarium show producer for several years, and during that time I worked on art for many shows,” Pat says.

But producing artwork for a planetarium show isn’t as simple as setting down paint to canvas. Before most planetariums switched over to digital equipment, many used projectors that looked like lens-studded basketballs attached to intricate metal harnesses. Producing art for these crazy looking contraptions was a special skill.

 

“Planetarium Mouth”: A 360-degree painting for an educational planetarium show about the human body. When the viewer sits in a round planetarium room, this image is projected all around the viewer to make it look like he or she is looking out of the mouth with the throat at the rear. (Image courtesy of Pat Morrissey-Lewis)

 

“Having ‘grown-up’ in the planetarium field I was well aware of how all the machinery worked — what projectors would do what job,” Pat explains. “It was actually tricky, and if you weren’t familiar with the systems, you wouldn’t be able to pull it off, especially 360-degree views painted on a flat surface. The art was always very weird looking.”

While Pat believes that all of these planetarium shows have “come and gone,” some of the artwork that she produced for the Smithsonian was recently rediscovered in a storage area behind the planetarium dome. The long, narrow paintings depict planetary landscapes from the solar system. During a planetarium show, they would be projected around the base of the dome to create the effect of looking at the stars from the surface of another planet. The paintings are now being archived at the National Air and Space Museum’s Center for Earth and Planetary Studies.

 

Matthew Shindell (left), curator in the Space History Department at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, and Lois Rosson, a graduate student studying the history of science at UC Berkeley, display a painting used in planetarium shows like those produced by Pat. Pat’s paintings for the Albert Einstein Planetarium are now archived at the Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Laura Turner/NASM)

 

Just like producing planetarium art carried certain spatial requirements, producing art for the publishing industry presents its own challenges. There are format and typeface considerations; working with the publisher and the author to find a good scene to represent the book without giving away any critical plot points; and the monumental task of drawing in a reader with a single glance.

There are several upsides, though: “The opportunities are, of course, getting to read a book for your job! Many a day I spent at the beach with book in hand ‘reading for work,’” Pat says with a laugh.

And, of course, there’s the work she did for Magic, which continues to find an audience more than 20 years later. Pat has begun to attend tournaments in the Northeast and hopes to visit even more in the future. In Worcester alone, she had original works, prints, and artist proofs for sale. Plus she does private commissions, information on which can be found through her website or by contacting her via email at foxartlady@yahoo.com. Card signings are arranged by Jack Lewis Stanton, who can be contacted through his Facebook group.

So what’s an artist to say when she looks back on a long and varied career?

“It’s been a long strange trip!” Pat exclaims. “But the best!”

4 comments
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» This Week in Magic says:

Jan 22,2017

[…] Looking to the Stars […]

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Jeff A. Menges says:

Jan 19,2017

Great write-up! Thanks for going below the surface.

Daniel Chang says:

Jan 23,2017

Thanks Jeff, looking forward to having one spotlight your work too!

Pat Scalisi says:

Jan 23,2017

Thanks Jeff! I'm glad you liked the article!

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