Interview with Artist Nicola (Leonard) Beeson
- Christian Tobehn
Nicola Beeson is responsible for a total of twenty stunning artworks in Magic. Most of them were released in Legends, Ice Age, and Homelands. A fifth of them are lands. Tolaria and Karplusan Forest are beautiful cards, yet outshone by the masterpieces that are Karakas and The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale.
Of course I had to ask a few questions about her art in general and these two standout cards in particular. This is what Nicola Beeson (formerly Nicola Leonard) had to say.
Dr. Exhume: Mrs. Beeson, please tell me about how you came to illustrating.
Nicola Beeson: I've been creating for as long as I can recall. Using wire, clay, paper, paint, or whatever was on hand. It's always been a relaxing hobby for me and my family. I never thought I'd be a printed artist. I studied Visual Communications/Graphic Design and am now a Production Designer. I'm also a self-taught jeweler and started casting sterling silver jewelry in high school. I've had a jewelry business for years and used to juggle that, computer work and illustrating work. I'm also interested in illustrating kids books. I've always painted stuff to decorate my house, or for presents for friends, and then kind of stumbled into painting for Wizards of the Coast. My first job for Wizards was digitizing artwork by Mark Tedin and Anson Maddocks for role-playing books. Then I saw the artwork people were painting and I told Jesper [Myrfors] I can paint, can I paint some cards? And he gave me my first three cards. They were actually for Ice Age, which was scheduled to come before Legends, but then was saved for later. So the first cards you see printed are in Legends I believe.
Dr.Exhume: How did you get involved in Magic: The Gathering?
Nicola Beeson: I met Jesper at a local science fiction convention and asked him if he needed help doing electronic production work on his books, as I was a freelance graphic artist at the time. So he hired me to scan Anson and Mark drawings for their role-playing books. I worked in Peter Adkison's basement, as I didn't own a scanner. I saw all the artwork coming in. It was layed out on a wall shelf, as this was the Wizards home base. I thought, I could do that, and so I asked if I could and showed Jesper my artwork and he gave me a few cards to do. The rest is history. Later on, other new game companies invited me to paint for them also, so I was eventually painting for five different games companies.
Dr. Exhume: Do you have a favorite piece you painted? Is there an artwork you regret these days?
Nicola Beeson: I really love Giant Oyster, because I love the ocean and always wanted to learn to dive. I grew up watching Jacques Cousteau, I now have learned to dive and it is as magical as I imagined, if not more.
Artwork I regret? There are pieces that I know I could paint better now but have become icons, and so I have accepted that. I painted for the joy of possibly being printed and being part of a game could be fun, right? I think every artist dreams of having their work published and appreciated by others.
Dr.Exhume: The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale and Karakas are the two heavy hitters — financially and from the game's perspective — in your portfolio. When you illustrated the Tabernacle, did you already know that you were dealing with a powerful, iconic card?
Nicola Beeson: I did not. I was given the name of the card and possibly the color, although I can't recall. I interpreted the card name and made art that I thought fit. That was how all the cards were made back then. Really relying on the artists creative visions, which made for the very diverse and interesting array of artwork we all love today. I would sketch something up, and fax it to Wizards for approval, and they always said it was fine to go ahead. I like to use Sleight of Mind as a great example because it could really be anything. When you think what is Sleight of Mind, what do you come up with? Is it a thing? A feeling? A place? The possibilities are really endless. I decided it was a feeling and state of being. Being connected to the universe and all the creatures that live here.
Dr. Exhume: Many Magic enthusiasts are still obsessed with cards like the Tabernacle. How does that feel after so many years? Did your view on your artworks change with time?
Nicola Beeson: It's quite amazing. I'm honored that people love it so much. I wouldn't say it's my best work, but its found its way into so many hearts, I can't help but smile. I've always loved the story Brigadoon, and that's what I based Tabernacle on. A mystical place in a quiet hidden valley that appears in the mist every 200 years and some travelers stumble across it.
Nicola Beeson: Karakas for sure! It looks so relaxing and magical. And I love Thailand and temples. Looks like somewhere that Indiana Jones would go on an adventure. And the colors are so dreamy. It is actually based on [the Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar]. I liked to base a lot of my art on real and historical places, because I'm so fascinated by them and there is so much amazing history and culture out there. I grew up reading National Geographic and wanted to travel to all these places. I've been to a few, but not there yet.
Dr. Exhume: What are you currently working on? Even though you — unfortunately — do not illustrate Magic cards anymore, it seems that Magic is still a part of your life? I loved the colorful sunset-Karakas alteration you did.
Nicola Beeson: Oh thank you. It's been fun reimagining the artwork. And giving my Magic friends and family a new perspective, or season, for certain pieces. I don't do too many commissions and don't do them very quickly as I have so many passions that I follow. But when I do get to do a commission I do try to give it my all.
Thanks a lot, Mrs. Beeson!