The Art of Magic at Magic Con Chicago and Every Artist You'll See There!

Nick Wolf • February 14, 2024


So you want to meet an artist...

With Magic Con Chicago around the corner kicking off the slate of Wizards-organized 2024 events worldwide for Magic: The Gathering, fans of the game will converge on the Windy City for a three-day odyssey of tournaments, Commander, artists, and vendors. 

It'll also be the first major event for many attendees, and for those who weren't able to make it to North American events in Philadelphia, Minneapolis, or Las Vegas last year, a Magic Con can be an overwhelming experience.

One of the biggest draws of a Magic Con is the Art of Magic, featuring dozens of the game's aesthetic creators. But where do you start? And what do you do when you finally get face-to-face with your favorite artist?

The Art of Magic

Ripped straight from the event's own website, here's a description of what fans can expect at Magic Con Chicago's The Art of Magic:

"In the 'Art of Magic' area you can meet some of the talented artists who have created beloved card art during Magic's lifespan. While there are featured artists that we invite to come to each show, there are also booths available for artists who wish to come and exhibit!"

That's not a ton of information, especially if you're the kind of person who would prefer a more detailed explanation of the concept before you're tossed into the labyrinthine halls of a convention center. 

Every Artist You'll See At Magic Con Chicago

Got all that? 

And keep in mind, from the time of this writing to the actual event on Feb. 23-25, this list is subject to change. There may be additions, and there may be artists dropping out for a variety of reasons. 

When you first step foot into the Magic Con Chicago's convention space inside the McCormick Place Lakeside Center, you'll notice that everything is segmented based on theme. There will be the open play areas, the tournament play areas, the vending areas, a stage for presentations and panels, and the Art of Magic.

Inside the Art of Magic area, each artist will have a booth or table, likely adorned with a variety of prints, original pieces, custom tokens, binders of artist proofs, and most notably, a line. 

At an event like a Magic Con, expect to wait in line for your turn to get some artist facetime. These lines will vary in length, and newer artists or artists with relatively few cards under their name will have quick lines. For artists who have illustrated hundreds of cards, however, like Victor Adame or Chris Rahn, you'll be wishing you remembered to wear comfortable shoes. 

And for an artist like Magali Villeneuve (or John Avon at last year's Magic Cons) who is popular, prolific, and appears only rarely at North American events, it's likely people in line can expect to be there for hours. 

Also, expect to see event staff capping lines and not permitting new fans from queuing to allow for the artists an opportunity to take a break, so if there's a particular artist you're dying to meet, prepare accordingly and arrive early. 

Main Event Horizon

For Bruce Brenneise, Magic Con Chicago will be his first Magic Con as an artist.

That's not to say he isn't familiar with the concept. A perennial exhibitor at Gen Con and Emerald City Comic Con, Brenneise is no stranger to a large expo. How does he describe what it's like as an exhibitor? "In a word: exhausting," he said. "Mostly in good ways."

There's a lot that goes into being an exhibitor at an event of the scale of a Magic Con, and while the doors will open for fans into the Main Hall at 10:00 a.m. (for everyone except Black Lotus VIP badge holders, at least), the work of an artist begins much earlier. "Before the fans even get there, artists are putting a lot of time and thought into preparing their booth and all the merchandise they're bringing with them," said Brenneise. "Then, once the event begins, artists (who are best known for spending their days secluded in their art caves) will need to expend an incredible amount of social energy over the course of a weekend. For introverts, that can be quickly draining."

Fellow artist Phil Stone will be joining Brenneise at Magic Con Chicago, and comparatively, Stone is a Magic Con veteran. Fans saw him exhibiting at all the Magic Cons of 2023, and he's also fully entrenched into the event circuit beyond Magic Cons. There's something special about the big events, he said. "It's hard to describe it unless one has gone to an event like Magic Con," said Stone. "The energy is incredible for sure, and the interactions I get with the attendees is phenomenal."

Remember that while attendees can come and go as they please, the artists are at their tables for the majority of the day, each of the three days. It can be a labor of love. "We do our best to have genuine interactions with the fans despite the brain fog, though," said Brenneise. "I just want to express that all those lovely interactions have a hidden cost as well, and don't be too surprised if your favorite artist's verbal responses might be a bit loopy as a result."

As the attendees pour into the Art of Magic area on Friday morning, it's likely that each artist will have interacted with thousands of fans by the time the event is over on Sunday afternoon. There will be some weird (though hopefully wholesome) anecdotes that arise, and the artists are likely accustomed to expect it. "Oh it's all positive," said Stone, but there's one in particular at a past event that he recalled: "I mean, there was one time where all of us artists signed a a real there's that I guess."

And for Brenneise, being an exhibitor at an event like Gen Con allows him to be able to promote his work on a multitude of projects outside of Magic, like the deckbuilding rogue-like game Slay the Spire. "A couple years before I did my first Magic work, I recall a fan of Slay the Spire asking if he could give me a hug when he found out I had made a lot of the art for the game," he said. "That was both surprising and heartwarming, especially since it was an indie project that we hadn't expected to have such a big impact. Up until then I don't think I'd realized just how much something I worked on could mean to the fans."

Due Respect

With the sheer volume of interaction, there are bound to be situations that fans or artists would want to change, if they could. 

Like any interpersonal interaction at a highly attended event, it's important to remember to be respectful, polite, aware of your surroundings, and conscious of how you're impacting those around you. That all rings true for a Magic Con, especially in and around the Art of Magic area, where there's only so much time in the weekend and (at the moment) 35 artists to visit. 

So what are some tips to make the experience a smooth and positive one for fans and artists alike? "A common pet peeve of convention artists is when a group of people park themselves right in front of a booth for a hang out or conversation among themselves that has nothing to do with the work they're blocking from sight," said Brenneise. "I'm genuinely glad you're having a good time with your friends/family, but I'm also a business that depends on people being able to see my work and peruse it, which they can't do through 4+ people standing in their way."

If Magic Con Chicago takes cues from last year's Magic Cons, there will be ample space to have those conversations away from high traffic areas like the Art of Magic is bound to be. 

Other tips from artists include knowing what you're hoping to buy/get signed when you get to the table, not forgetting drinks or trash on the artists' tables (a surprisingly common occurrence at events of every size), reading the signs that artists display around their table, and being mindful of others who are patiently waiting for their turn with the artist. Another tip from Ken Meyer, Jr., who will also be in attendance in Chicago, is to request any commissions you might be looking for as early in the day as you can. 

Phil Stone added a further tip for attendees. "Having your cards ready is a plus, but even if one doesn't, it just means I get a few more moments to interact with that person," he said. "Also, be patient if there is a line. Some people bring a truckload of cards and can slow things down a bit. Just know that when it is your turn at the booth, you will get the same attention as the last person for sure."

A Planewide Celebration

Over the past few years, Magic Cons have become the de facto Magic event to attend. While regional events still occur and are also in most cases very much worth attending (like the yearly Commander Sealed in Rochester, New York), Magic fans are growing accustomed to circling Magic Con weekends on their calendars as they're announced. 

That's that's true for the artists, too. It's no secret that these events can be a significant source of income for artists, but they also fulfill another goal, too. "(It's the) fan interaction for sure. While I'm signing cards or whatnot, that person is forced to listen to my dumb stories that my wife usually ignores on a daily basis," Stone said with a laugh. "But in all seriousness, I love the back and forth interaction, especially non-Magic related topics."

Brenneise echoed Stone's sentiment. "The best part (of these events) is feeling the love and support that folks can have for artists," he said. "These are honestly gloomy times for all sorts of creatives, and especially when isolated in our studios, it's easy to feel discouraged."

Getting out into the public at an event like Magic Con, "and seeing that there are also plenty of people rooting for us" means a lot to artists, said Brenneise. "Coming up to your favorite artist at a con and telling them how their work makes you feel may make all the difference between that artist continuing in this difficult path or giving it up."