Milk and Cookies with Matt Cavotta

Posted in Savor The Flavor on February 16, 2011

By Richard Whitters

Welcome to Milk and Cookies version 2.0! Back when Savor the Flavor was known as Taste the Magic, author Matt Cavotta (a Magic artist himself) would occasionally sit down for a friendly chat with one of Magic's artists, a recurring feature he called Milk and Cookies.

I'm a bit new to this so I'll begin by telling you a bit about myself.

My name is Richard Whitters, and I am the lead concept artist on Magic: The Gathering. This means I am a lonely man ... because I am also the ONLY in house concept artist in the company. Of course, when a new setting is on the horizon I conscript other talented concept artists from all over the country, and sometimes the world, to help me for three or four weeks (which we lovingly call a "concept push").

I also get to do some convention trips. I've been to San Diego Comic-Con, New York Comic Con, and Gen Con, and my job is reviewing artist's portfolios, giving (hopefully useful) feedback, and looking for artists who I think may be suited for Magic or Damp;D. My favorite part of this is when I get to tell someone, "OK, you are ready for work!"

In addition to those duties, I'm now going to be popping up on Savor for Flavor every six weeks or so, and I'll sit down for Milk and Cookies with some long-time Magic artists and some of the new blood as well.

I hope you all enjoy it!

I've decided to start this new run of Milk and Cookies off with the man who came up with the original idea: the one and only Matt Cavotta.

So, rumor is you started out in toy development?

Actually, I started out in toy utilization. That was exclusively my gig until about the age of three or four, when I moved on to the field of scribbling. It wasn't until the age of twenty-something when my dreams of rock stardom were sufficiently crushed and I moved back into the world of toys and scribbling.

The toy design thing was never a full-time gig, just spec jobs here and there, hoping to catch some lightning in a bottle. I've had a bunch of nibbles, and a few minor hits (some plush sports toys for toddlers, Halloween costumes, and a new thingy-doo that's in development now that I'm not allowed to talk about yet.)

Alpha Kavu | Illustration by Matt Cavotta

The scribbling thing is no news here. I've illustrated 172 Magic cards and counting.

Matt has also helped me do concept work in the past as well. He has the perfect mix of style and a twisted mind.

Your Mom was an artist as well. Was that a big influence on you?

It was an influence in that there were always art supplies around, and there was never any parental directive such as, "Stop wasting your time drawing that crap. There's no future in it! Bone up on your math and become a [insert less interesting, more lucrative job here]."

Oh, and she was my high school art teacher and I also went to the same college that she did.

What got you interested in illustration and fantasy art?

Same old story, brother—Damp;D. Drawing my characters...drawing the characters of everyone else I knew. Damp;D was the first place where drawing and playing came together. "You got your peanut butter in my chocolate!" "No, you got your ...." You know what I mean: awesome + awesome = a sweet colored pencil rendering of a gnome warrior in jet-black plate armor.

Jaya Ballard, Task Mage | Illustration by Matt Cavotta

How long have you been working as a fantasy artist?

I've been actually "working" at it since my senior year of college, way back in 1993. I managed to trick some small publishing companies into paying me to draw monsters. They will remain nameless, as I do not want anyone unearthing the shameful product of that dark and early time.

Siege Mastodon | Illustration by Matt Cavotta

I didn't manage to find any of Matt's "shameful" artwork, so he must have done an excellent job of hiding it.

Who are your artistic influences?

It all started with Jeff Dee, Damp;D stalwart of the early 80s. Though I can't say that his style has influenced mine, I absolutely will say that his art gave me my first, "Hey, I want to do that!" moment.

Anubis | Illustration by Jeff Dee

In all the years since, I have been influenced by too many awesome artists to list. If you held a gun to my head, I'd have to say that it all boils down to the great one: Richard Whitters. What do you expect me to say when you're holding a gun to my head?

How long have you been illustrating Magic cards?

I've been illustrating Magic cards since 1994. Of course, these were just fake cards that I made up to tickle my own fancies or to enter into goofy card design competitions in Inquest magazine. My first ever real Magic painting was Subterranean Hangar, done back in 1998, for Mercadian Masques.

Subterranean Hanger | Illustration by Matt Cavotta

Was it tough "breaking in" to Magic?

Yes. And it's even harder now. It took a couple years of submitting art and talking to a string of art directors before Dana Knutson decided to take a shot on the sketchy greenhorn from Ohio. At that time my artwork was not good. It must have shown some promise though, some little hint hidden in between all the timid, clunky marks, to have compelled Dana to have faith. I am glad that he did, because everything changed after that.

Etched Oracle | Illustration by Matt Cavotta

It's just as tough now; I can say that for a fact. Most of our new artists start out doing modestly sized interior art for Damp;D (so they don't explode from high pressure "deep end of the pool" syndrome), but once we have someone we tend to stick with them a long time.

What is your favorite piece you've done for Magic?

Define "favorite!" You're asking me to single out one of my creations above all others. The rest of them are going to be sad ... or, worse, violently disgruntled.

Sensation Gorger | Illustration by Matt Cavotta

Well, since you won't decide, I have. I've gone through every Magic card you've done, picked out my favorites, and scattered them throughout this article. If out there in Internet land has a favorite piece of Matt's I've missed, post the name of the card in the forums. I'm sure he'll be flattered!

You also wrote Taste the Magic from its origin in 2005 until 2007. What did you enjoy most about that?

At the time, Magic had no forum for the exchange of ideas beyond the tournament reports, limited pointing, Standard metagame, etc. In essence, no voice was given to the Vorthosian masses. I most enjoyed being the one to do that. There are a lot of cool things about Magic that have nothing to do with playing cards. I was proud to wave the banner for all of those things.

Hoarding Dragon | Illustration by Matt Cavotta

You've just started a working on Magic in a completely different capacity. Can you tell us a little about your new position?

Back in July I started my new job here as Senior Creative Art Director for Magic. What that means is that it's my responsibility to steward Magic's visual identity in all of its expressions, from the game to packaging to web presence, advertising, events, and all the rest. Jarvis still pilots the ship with regard to commissioning art for Magic and setting its illustrative tone, but now we have two madmen on hand to spread the fiendish plot of awesomeness out onto all things Magical.

Firemane Angel | Illustration by Matt Cavotta

Can we hope to see your art on cards again soon, or are you consumed by your new position?

At the moment I am consumed, but I don't plan on letting myself be a meal forever. The 2012 core set will be the first set since Masques to have no new art from little ol' me.

I will, however force Matt to doodle with me as much as I can. We cannot allow those talented hands to go unused!

What about your rock and roll career? When will we see you in concert again?

Ah, the early 90s, my blissful days of rock-n-roll dreaming. There was a day in 1992 when I had decided to quit art school to tour with my band. Luckily, I did not formally withdraw from school that day, because it was on the exact same day that our talented front man decided to do some quitting of his own. 'Twas a sign—that chartered busses, deli trays, and groupies were not to be my future. Instead—the glamour of paint fumes, gamer geeks, and goblin warriors. Good times. Good times.

Ashenmoor Gouger | Illustration by Matt Cavotta

I've never heard Matt play, but I have heard it said that he "makes GWAR sound like Enya." I think I'm kind of glad we're not doing a podcast.

Well, that is it for this interview, folks, and I hope you enjoyed it! See you all next time.

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