I have been to a few Grand Prix, but I have never seen queues this long in front of the Artists booth. It's not much of a surprise, though, considering that we invited two superstars over: Svetlin Velinov and Johannes Voss.
According to the Gatherer, Bulgaria's very own Svetlin Velinov is just one card short of a triple digit number of cards he has drawn. This doesn't include cards that haven't been released yet, so there's a pretty good chance that at the next event he will be attending, he will have cracked the 100 cards threshold.
Quite a few of the cards he created have seen some tournament play and that is part of the reason why so many players wanted to get their copies of Abrupt Decay, Goblin Rabblemaster, or Thundermaw Hellkite signed by the artist.
The Artists Booth was very popular with players on Saturday morning.
Svetlin Velinov's Creative Journey
While Velinov was very quick to point out that he always wanted to be a painter, he first had to overcome a major obstacle: the vision of his family. They wanted him to become a musician, so from a very young age on, he was practicing on the piano.
Despite him winning some medals at an early age, he realized at the age of 8 that he wanted to follow a different path and that's when he started to really focus on painting. Fortunately, it didn't take too much convincing; his family was supportive throughout the way and they encouraged him to follow his dream.
His path wasn't as straightforward as you might imagine, however. He first started to work as a Graphic Designer in an Advertising Agency. His bosses were really supportive of his dream and they allowed him to work on his portfolio when he wasn't too busy.
Eventually, he stopped working for the agency and he signed with the studio Imaginary Friends that is doing a lot of work for various gaming companies. At the same time, he started to make a name for himself, showing off his portfolio whenever he could so people would start recognizing him.
He went freelance after his involvement with Imaginary Friends and considered his next steps - "In Bulgaria, there aren't that many Comic Cons or similar events where you can show off your work."
That's when Wizards of the Coast came along and they started to ask him for artworks for Magic: the Gathering. "I was really lucky", a smiling Svetlin Velinov admitted. "I never asked for a job, but I still got one."
Svetlin Velinov never got tired of signing cards for hundreds of players!
Six years later, he is one of the most popular Magic artists and he has also made a name for himself as a fantasy artist. When I asked him about his plans for the future, he told me that he wanted to get even more involved in the (video) gaming industry and create more stunning artworks. His favorite genre are action role playing games, so if you're a developer of such a game and you're still looking for a gifted artist, make sure to send in your request soon before Svetlin Velinov will be all booked out!
The New Kid in Town
Johannes Voss on the other hand has "only" drawn 14 cards, but with Restoration Angel among them, the clear favorite of players that have approached him this weekend, he has also scribbled his fair share of signatures. I asked him whether he already got tired of seeing the card. He declined, but added that he would have loved the artwork of Commander's Authority to be a bit more popular. While he took great pride in the story that's being told in that one picture, players often don't look at the cards the same way. For them, it's mostly about the playability of the card and that's why the Angel is so much more popular with them than the Enchantment.
Johannes Voss would be creating art live on site on Saturday!
So popular in fact that he started searching for local printers to be able to meet the demand for the print of this particular artwork. While that plan ultimately didn't work out, he is still having a great time. One thing he enjoyed the most this weekend was seeing some of the foil versions of cards he has drawn.
"I honestly don't know they are doing this - the foil version of the cards look absolutely stunning!", he said.
Shortly after that, the event organizers shut down the line so Voss could get down to his main job on Saturday: working on the artwork for the Grand Prix Liverpool playmat. Thanks to the help of a projector that mirrored Voss' computer screen on a wall, players could see live how the artwork came together and how Voss put his imagination to work and turn it into a piece of art.
Johannes Voss's Imprisonment
I learned that Voss and I had something in common: We both studied computer science, but neither of us finished studying. While it took me a little longer to come to the realization that this wasn't what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, he came to that conclusion a lot earlier.
After dropping out, he asked himself what he really wanted to do. One of the things that he could imagine getting into for a career was drawing, so he locked himself up in a room and practiced for 3 full years! During that time, he burned through his savings account and he lived off just 200,- € a month!
Once he was satisfied with the progress he'd made, he sent an e-mail to Wizards and showed them some of the artworks he had created during his self-imposed imprisonment. Fortunately, he was making a very strong case and he immediately got signed. That was around the time when Scars of Mirrodin was released and ever since, he has been living his dream of becoming an artist and bringing Magic to life!
Johannes Voss practiced non-stop for 3 years to launch his career!
While he also worked on some other popular franchises, Voss said that he enjoyed working on Magic the most. "It's nice to focus on one thing at a time.", he explained. He then went on and emphasized how much he enjoyed being a part of this whole community: "There are people that travelled wide and far and many of them really look forward to seeing the artists on site and getting their cards signed. It means a lot to them and that's something I keep in mind when I'm working on the new artworks. So even when I'm not really feeling like it, I'll give it my all to make sure that I can produce the best possible result. It is a very strong motivation for me."
So there you have it - showing your appreciation to one of the artists on site can be a big difference maker and ensure that future artworks for Magic will look just as stunning as the cards that have already been released. Expect to see a lot more from this young artist in the upcoming releases; while he wouldn't give away any details, he told us that the cards will definitely be worth the wait.