Magic in Miniature II - Celebrating Magic's Art and Artists

Jubilee Finnegan • April 17, 2024

Art by Justine CruzRhonda Libbey | Nana Qi

Magic in Miniature

On April 13th, Gallery Nucleus in LA County's Alhambra hosted the opening reception for Magic in Miniature II, a gallery of Magic artist proofs. Curated by Magic superfan and agent Donny Caltrider, the exhibit features over 300 individually crafted pieces from Magic artists. A glimpse at the gallery's offerings is a trip through history, with seminal artists like Jesper Myfors displaying their works alongside newcomers like Rhonda Libbey. On the opening night, dozens of Magic fans showed up, each one dazzled by the various styles and mediums on display.

Entering the gallery space instantly brings a viewer into a whole new kind of Magic social space. Guests gathered around a tetraptych by Martin Ontiveros with magnifying glasses provided by the gallery space. They were dazzled at the delicate display of craft, each proof's minimal canvas space masterfully wielded by the artists.

Another group discussed the various legendary creatures depicted by Andrew Mar. Here, there was a strange confluence in subject matter as these patrons of the arts discussed complex artistic techniques alongside their Olivia, Crimson Bride Commander decks. Conversation flowed neatly from one subject to the next as Magic itself became the subject of high art.

This was the second time Magic in Miniature took place. After a roaring success last year, Caltrider announced that this year's showing would be bigger and better, a promise which he certainly delivered on. For the uninitiated, an artist proof is a special printing of a Magic card provided by Wizards of the Coast to artists. They'll receive around fifty copies of each card with their art, the major difference being an all-white back and lack of a holofoil stamp.

These first appeared alongside the Collector's Edition run of the ABU sets. The idea was to give artists a way to display their art on Magic cards while distinguishing them from game pieces. The thing is, if you give an artist a blank white space, they're going to do some art on it.

Artist proofs now serve as collector's items for Magic art fans. Some artists sell these proofs either with or without art on the back. If you ever attend a MagicCon, you're likely to see an artist's binder of proofs alongside their prints and autographs. Considering Magic artists have such packed schedules, they'll often be unable to offer artist proof commissions. Setting aside the time to handle smaller sketches is difficult when they have more pieces to tackle for the next Magic set.

To artist proof collectors, that just makes the time when commissions are available all the more exciting. Anyone who's attempted to snag a commission slot from Ryan Pancoast knows the feeling.

On the MTG Artist Proofs Discord server, Donny Caltrider noted that this was the artist proof debut of multiple Magic artists. Danny Schwartz, Carissa Susilo, Jeannie Paske, BarelyHuman, and Carly Mazur brought their very first sketched artist proofs to the show. Mazur's section of the exhibit was of particular note following Rhystic Studies' video on her Mystical Archives's Faithless Looting.

Carly Mazur

Mazur's Faithless Looting proof brought her iconic style to a miniaturized canvas. The art depicts a skull with the same hooded robes as the figure on the card. Tiny touches on the bone give the skull a realistic texture, with tiny grooves and cracks around the teeth giving it a haunted feel. This is immediately contrasted by the river of red liquid that flows from the skull's mouth. Is it wine? Or is it blood? The color is uninterrupted, a perfectly flat block of crimson that flows from the middle of the canvas to the bottom, an incision cutting through a gothic scene.

While some pieces stayed close to the original art on each proof, some artists strayed wildly from the original subject matter. One piece featured Godzilla firing a laser of radioactive energy at a strange bunny/serpent hybrid. Other artists choose to create a tiny story in their already-tiny paintings. Bridgette Roka's art showcased five femme fantasy creatures, each representing the five colors of mana.

Brigitte Roka

Magic has seen its fair share of characters meant to embody the color pie. The Soul of X cycle from Magic 2015 comes to mind as a prime example. However, Roka's series takes a distinct approach. Uncoupled from traditional expectations of fantasy art, her series embodies the colors of mana in more social forms. Red mana is a goblin-esque being with a flashy pair of glasses, hinting towards a party scene or form of jeweled artifice. Blue mana wears an outfit that combines business attire aesthetics with a swimmer's jumpsuit, her stern demeanor representing blue's professionalism through action.


Omar Rayyan

As more and more legendary creatures take center stage in Magic, it's no surprise that these were among the most popular pieces. Omar Rayyan's iconic style showed off Kellan, the Fae-Blooded, a character he got the chance to depict in Wilds of Eldraine. Other common subjects included Rowan Kenrth, Teferi Akosa, and Karn.

During my visit, I got a chance to chat with a friend of mine I'd met through Magic events. He excitedly showed me the proof he'd purchased: a portrait of Quintorius Kand by Christopher Burdett. He wore the Lorehold scarf released alongside the Strixhaven set. These kinds of interactions popped up all over the opening gallery. Magic fans would feel an instant connection to a piece, born of love for the artist, the subject, or style, and would be able to connect it to their own love of the game.

Artist proofs are a tricky thing for some artists. When Universes Beyond first rolled out, Jason Rainville noted that artists don't receive proofs or the ability to sell prints for these sets. However, this hasn't discouraged artists from doing exciting things with their artist proofs. There was a clear desire to push boundaries in the pieces on display. Artists would use new mediums, like holofoil stickering of layers of paint to create depth.

Bright colors evoked images of 70s pop-art. The Scarab God danced across five separate proofs. These pieces were reminiscent of the most bold Secret Lair releases. Magic in Miniature, much like Secret Lair or the recent showcase treatments, wasn't just giving artists a new venue to show off their work. It was giving them the ability to throw off the proverbial training weights and go wild. This is likely why we saw so many first-time artists at this event. Who can resist the allure of a gallery showing of your most self-reflective work?

Serena Malyon

At the front of the exhibit, when first rounding the stairs into the gallery loft, one piece in particular was the first to catch people's eye. Entitled "The Yargle Connection," Serena Malyon used acrylic gouache to depict a hybrid of Kermit the Frog and Yargle, Glutton of Urborg. This Kermit/Yargle hybrid is perched on a wooden log strumming a banjo. One can only imagine what the song would sound like. Some confluence of Jim Henson's voice and Yargle's croaking screams quickly became a running joke around the gallery.

Magic art is famous for its ability to transport players into new worlds, but the subject matter and medium makes it less likely to receive mainstream critical acclaim. Artists consistently put out some of their best works on Magic cards, and Magic in Miniature gives them a place for those efforts to be recognized. Things like "The Yargle Connection" aren't treated as an off-handed jokes; they're a display of artistic prowess and participation in a vibrant community.

Malyon's choice to combine Magic fandom's weird fixation on Yargle with Kermit the Frog is a unique combination that represents her individual choices as an artist. It comes together to create something truly unique and truly magical.

Magic in Miniature II is on display at Gallery Nucleus in Alhambra, CA from April 13 to April 28, 2024.

Jubilee Finnegan (they/them) is a writer based out of Southern California and student of Chapman University. They've been playing Magic since Throne of Eldraine and haven't stopped since. Their work has been published in Chapman Calliope, The B'K', and Beestung Quarterly. You can find them on Twitter @FinneyFlame or Instagram @JWFinnegan.