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Navigating Artist Alley

Your Vintage Magic guide to meeting artists at Grand Prix and other large MTG events.

 

For Magic: The Gathering players, attending a Grand Prix can be the pinnacle of the open play experience. GPs, as they’re known, allow players to compete on a larger stage, hone their skills against other serious spell slingers, and vie for prizes much larger than at your local game store.

But there are other reasons to attend a Grand Prix as well. Without a national Wizards of the Coast convention each year, GPs can feel like mini-cons, a place for the Magic community to gather and celebrate its love of the game. There are vendors, side events, opportunities to trade, and even talented cosplayers dressed as some of the most popular characters from MTG.

Oh yeah, and there are the artists.

The artists are what make GPs truly special.

Like most people who have played the game, there’s probably been at least one time in your life when you’ve picked up a Magic card and marveled at the artwork. It didn’t matter if the card itself was good; something about the art grabbed you, made you take notice. Maybe the illustration contained an entire narrative in a single image. Maybe you thought the art was amazingly beautiful, like Howard Lyon’s “Life’s Legacy,” or deeply disturbing like Jim Murray’s “Macabre Waltz.” Maybe you wondered about the creative force behind that art.

If so, GPs are one of the premiere ways in which to interact with the artists who make Magic: The Gathering so special. Each GP generally features a full slate of artists, ranging from some of the luminaries who originated the game to up-and-coming illustrators who may have only worked on the past few sets. With booths full of goodies, GPs offer a chance to get your cards signed and meet some of the faces behind the names.

 

MORE THAN JUST AUTOGRAPHS

Whether you’re playing in the Grand Prix’s main event or simply there for the camaraderie, be sure to find out what artists are going to be there and make plans to swing through “artist alley.” This is the designated area — it can range from a hallway to a whole room to a section of the main play space — where artists set up their booths. Keep in mind that very popular artists will have long lines, so make sure to budget your time accordingly.

Obviously, the most popular thing to do when meeting an artist is to get your cards signed. But Magic artists usually have a lot more to offer. Many can alter your cards with custom artwork or do a sketch on your favorite playmat. Some will have artist proofs for sale — limited, white-backed copies of their cards on which you can get a one-of-a-kind sketch — while others will have prints, limited recreations, and much more.
 

Artists at Grand Prix events offer much more than just autographs. R.K. Post, for instance, is known for the prodigious variety of custom tokens that he creates, a mere sampling of which can be seen here.

 

“For Grand Prix events, I’ve been excited to bring my new Endless Ranks of the Dead playmats, licensed by Wizards of the Coast,” said artist Ryan Yee. “No other store sells these, and I’ve had tons of requests to create playmats since the first Innistrad set. Now I finally can! I also recently added 20- by 30-inch expedition fetchland posters, which have been getting a ton of attention from game store owners, and they look pretty nice hanging next to each other.”

Prices on these products can range from a few dollars to a hundred or more. Remember also that sketches or alterations can take some time to produce, depending on their level of intricacy. Some artists can do a sketch in a few moments, but complicated alterations or entire playmats, for example, may have to be picked up the next day or mailed to your home.

 

ARTISTS ARE PEOPLE, TOO

Approaching someone you admire, or someone whose work you admire, can be nerve wracking. You might be wondering what to say or how to act. Or you may have noticed that tip jar at the artist’s elbow and wondered how much to give and when.
 

Surrounded by merchandise and her trusty tip jar, French MTG artist Magali Villeneuve creates a custom drawing of an owl on a white playmat for a fan during one of her rare U.S. visits.

 

Never fear! Magic artists are (mostly) normal people who routinely go above and beyond for their fans. If you’d like to do the same for your favorite illustrator, here are a few things to keep in mind:

 

  • Limit the number of cards to be signed. Most artists are happy to sign 10, 15, or even several playsets of your favorite cards. But there’s a big difference between asking someone to sign 30 cards and asking someone to sign 300. For one thing, you want to be courteous to the people in line behind you. For another, you don’t want to give the poor artist a hand cramp — their hands, after all, are their most important tool. Try to limit the amount of cards you want signed to your absolute favorites. If you have a lot of cards that you must have signed, consider asking the artist to make arrangements for a bulk signing order, maybe something that can be done through the mail and not at the GP itself. Remember that if you’re having a lot of cards signed, you should absolutely pay for the artist’s time. Which leads us to…
  • It’s customary to tip an artist if you’re having cards signed. Some members of the art community say that fewer than 10 cards don’t require a tip. Others suggest — and some artists charge — up to $1 per card. My opinion is that you should always tip, regardless of the number of cards you’re having signed. The money that artists make from tips and sales help pay their travel fees and compensate them for their time away from the easel. If there’s no signing fee, you can consider buying something from the artist in exchange for having your cards signed. In lieu of a tip, you can buy a print, postcard, or other piece of merchandise.
  • Bring cash, if you can. It’s important to remember that most artists are self-employed freelancers. While many will accept some electronic form of payment, whether it’s Square or PayPal, cash is always easiest. Plus it helps them avoid credit card fees for processing payments.

 

ARMED AND READY TO GO

Now that you know what to expect when meeting artists at a Grand Prix, it’s finally time to gather the goods and hit the road.

Attending a GP isn’t a fly-by-night affair, so it’s best to be prepared. This isn’t an article about practicing to play at a GP, so we’ll skip things like studying the metagame, making sure your deck is freshly sleeved, etc. Instead, let’s focus on what you’ll need to get the most out of your art experience.

Step One: Prepare. After learning which artists will be at the event, you’ll probably be sifting through your inventory to find the cards you want signed. It’s best to sleeve cards you want signed so as to protect them, but it’s generally not a good idea to double-sleeve them. As any competitive player will tell you, unsleeving a double-sleeved card can be tedious, especially if you’re waiting in front of an artist with a line of anxious fans behind you.
 

Fans in a long line wait to greet original Magic artist Mark Tedin at a Grand Prix in New York.

 

When you’re done with your signing, wait until the ink is dry before replacing the sleeve. You don’t want any smudges.

Also, think about what color you’d like to have your signatures done in. Most artists will have a black permanent marker on hand, and some will even have other colors available. But if you want a particular color, it’s best to pick up your preferred hue in advance of the event. Sharpie® brand pens work particularly well because they dry fast and are available in a rainbow of colors. If you want something truly unique, try Pen-TouchTM’s metallic fine-point permanent markers. Just be sure to give the ink plenty of time to dry.

Finally, don’t forget to get smaller bills for tips or purchases.

Step Two: Use Common Sense. Grand Prix tournaments are big events. Some will host hundreds of players; some will see thousands. With so many fans in one place, the most popular artists will likely have substantial waiting times.

To make your GP experience as pleasant as possible, use some common sense before you go and when you’re at the event. Little things like wearing comfortable shoes and having a backpack can go a long way toward having the most fun.

Above all, drink lots of water. In a big crowd, it’s important to stay hydrated so as to keep up your energy level and prevent nuisances such as headaches.

Step Three: Watch Your Stuff. You’ve no doubt heard this axiom before, but it bears repeating: Keep an eye on your belongings at all times. Magic cards can be valuable commodities, and limited edition artist merchandise doubly so. While most of the gaming community is comprised of wonderful people, there’s always someone who has a story about losing their favorite card or deck when they turned around or asked a friend to watch their stuff.

With GP attendance so high, it’s critical that you keep your cards where you can see them. Backpacks are generally allowed at gaming venues. Do yourself a favor and use one to keep your valuables safe and secure.

Step Four: Say Thank You. Lastly, be sure to thank the artists for their time and for their contributions to the game.

Last year, I was at a large imaginative realism exhibit in New York City. While touring the gallery, I met an artist who had illustrated a book series by one of the world’s bestselling authors. I thanked the artist for his visual contributions to a book that had, literally, sold millions of copies around the world and was one of my personal favorites. He was shocked that I had not only seen the work, but that I had appreciated it.

It costs nothing to tell an artist “thank you,” And those two words can have more value than a $10,000 painting. Creative types — whether they’re writers, illustrators, photographers, etc. — often suffer from self-doubt. A kind word is the fuel that can keep the creative fires burning.

Remember that a Magic Grand Prix is supposed to be fun. Make the most of it by immersing yourself in the art and artists that make Magic: The Gathering such an enchanting place.

 

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