Angels: They’re Just Like Us but Cooler and with Wings was unquestionably the most intense and awesome assignment I have done for Magic: The Gathering in my 27 years of illustrating for the game.
The challenge was for me to paint a Secret Layer drop almost entirely of Angels. There were to be nine new illustrations in a deck containing over 100 cards. And I was to be the only new art in the entire set. No pressure…
I remember when I started back in 1995, all I wanted to paint were Angels. Serra Angel by Doug Schuler was my favorite card to play in the game. (Eventually I got to paint her!) But I started as the guy who painted gross stuff, like POX and Malignant Growth, lol. This was a time before Planeswalker type cards, and angels and dragons were the thing to paint for sure. Everyone wanted to paint them. It took me YEARS to get my first Angel assignment for the game, which was a painting with Akroma in it, but not ‘the’ Akroma card.
And I thought the angel assignments would start rolling in after that. Alas it wasn’t to be the case. It would take a year before my next real angel assignment would come in. ‘Pristine Angel’. And she came to me at just the right moment.
I had reached the point in my skillset, where I felt I was plateauing. My painting chops had grown hugely since my start in 1995. I was good at fulfilling an assignment. No doubt. I would check all the boxes of the art description and do a solid job of painting faces hands, monsters, whatever the AD wanted. MTG was happy with my work. They kept assigning me more work. Woo-hoo! But I yearned to push somewhere new. I wanted to not just satisfy the client, I wanted to satisfy myself. I wanted to break out of my box. And as a matter of fact, I wanted to break out of their box, literally.
For Pristine Angel I extended the art vertically. If you look above you can see the horizontal format of the art that was standard. The way I looked at it, so long as I gave the AD everything they wanted within that little box, anything I did outside the rectangle was for ME. This is a huge distinction and was transformative. It forced me to take ownership over the final painting. No one was telling me what to paint outside the box. So the question I asked myself for the first time in ages was, “Dude what do YOU want to paint?”
This is where the more abstract sensibilities I’ve become known for came into play. I was looking outside genre for inspiration. Thinking about design, and not just a narrative illustration. Tough to see but I was looking at totem poles, and down at the bottom obviously you can see some wrought iron fence in there. But I did the negative, rather than heavy black fencing. I was just having fun.
And I guess the folks at Magic could see me having fun, and larger than that, the fans could see me having fun. It is strange but the moment I started making the art as much about me, as  the client, is the moment folks started noticing me. “Woah, what the hell is Fischer up too?”
Next up was Serra Avenger.
And at this point I was in my full abstract bliss. Again all the while giving the client what they needed inside that box. But outside the fence, was my playground.
And suddenly MTG started printing vertical format art! Which is standard in MTG sets today but was quite the novelty in the 00’s. But I’d like to think I was an influence on that. After all I gave them a ton more realestate, that was going to waste, lol!
Next up WAS ‘Serra Angel’! Which was a return to MTG for me, after nearly a decade in the book publishing world. And wow, to paint the card I loved playing in the 90’s as my come back! Safe to say I replied YES before even reading the entire e-mail.
And though I did extend the bottom a little, it wasn’t nearly as far as before. (I really wanted her entire body within that rectangle this time.)
Followed by Kaalia! Though I guess she is technically a ‘Cleric’ and is sort of half Angel half demon. I still put here in the Angel art camp!
And on the darker side, the fallen angel Zariel.
Then, most recently I was asked to paint Giada, Font of Hope, who is an ’emerging Angel’.
At this point you can say that I’d been training a good decade for ‘Angels: They’re Just Like Us but Cooler and with Wings’. I believe I had a couple months to turn these paintings around. Safe to say it was intense! (Eventually I will be doing narrated videos of these paintings but if you are itching for some quick timelapse, check out my Instagram.
First up was my first Triptych ever. Bruna, Gisella, and Brisella. These three are special cards in the game of Magic. Bruna and Gisella are individual cards, BUT, you can meld them into one card. So printed on the back of their individual cards is one half of the monstrosity known as Brisella!
So naturally I painted them in a Triptych. Oil with an airbrush underpainting beneath.
Archangel of Thune. My personal favorite of the paintings I did for the Secret Lair. She’s a big one at 24×36 and oil on panel.
Detail shots:
The 4/4 Angel Token card. Small for me these days at 16X20 and is Acrylic and oil on panel.
Court of Grace. Also a family portrait, with daughter Sarah as the Archangel, Radiant. (Fun tip, she was also the model for my Serra Angel card above. And that is the same Angel Radiant in that card. Turns out ‘Serra’ is a place, not an Angel’s name.)
And the final angel in the set was the secret card Sigarda’s Aid.
And here we are at the end of my Angel quest… at least for now.
My eternal thanks to AD Tom Jenkot for the once in a MTG career gig. (I can’t imagine getting that many angels at once again, but you never know! I’m game Tom!)