Here at the Invitational in Atlanta, we have six talented alterists in attendance. With the popularity of Magic card alteration on the rise, I sat down with our lineup this weekend to get a feel for their opinions on some questions I have about the alterist community.
First, let’s meet our roster:
Ron Faris has set up shop in Atlanta once more!
Ron Faris (RF): Ron started altering cards in 2010 and has quickly become one of the most popular artists on the Open Series, having painted for years before. He has a degree in Computer Animation and started altering while looking for extra cash in between jobs. He is best known for his fantasy art alters. You can see his work at BlackWingStudio.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter at @BlackWingStudio.
Leif Paulson (LP): Leif started altering Magic cards in the spring of 2012, just over a year ago. He had a friend who was also an artist named Josh Richter altering Magic cards, and with a background in miniature painting decided to get in on the scene. He is best known for his extensions. You can see his work at www.Facebook.com/EvilNerdINC and follow him on Twitter at @EvilNerdINC.
Cat Clinton (CC): Cat started altering Magic cards a year ago but only recently started doing it full-time, having left her previous job. She got into it because she saw someone at her local store doing it and, having played Magic for a while before, decided to try it for herself. She is best known for extensions and clean, full-art styles as well as cartoon alters. You can see her work at CatClinton.tumblr.com and follow her at @CatAltersMtg.
Chris King (CK): Chris started doing alters about four years ago. He was running comic book conventions and a friend of his suggested painting on cards and selling them, and he has been doing it ever since. He is best known for his unique wood items and 3D sculpture tokens and life counters in terms of Magic, but outside of Magic he’s a classically trained mural artist with 500 murals in his career. While he isn’t on Twitter—which he attributed to generational differences—you can see Chris’s work at http://magicalteredcards.webs.com/apps/photos.
Lindsay Burley (LB): Linsday started altering two years ago. She got into it because although she couldn’t paint at the time she wanted to alter cards for people, so she got into 3D items. These days, she’s best known for 3D Commanders, life counters, and tokens. You can see her work at 3Dalters.weebly.com and follow her at @3Dalters on Twitter.
Blake Meade (BM): Blake started late 2010, but was always into art. He graduated in Art Education and after teaching for a short time, decided it wasn’t for him. When he stumbled across Magic alterist Card Kitty on the Internet he decided to get into it himself. He is best known for extensions and character art right now, but admits he’s still trying to find his niche. You can see his work at http://bamalters.blogspot.com and you can follow him at @BAMalters.
Leif Paulson's altering booth, Evil Nerd Inc.
Altering has picked up in popularity in the last few years. Why has the popularity exploded for altered cards?
RF: I feel like it’s largely to do with Star City Games. SCG has given us so much more exposure than we had. From articles on the website to the exposure of booths at events, it makes alters more visible. For people who have never seen an alterist before or never knew how to get in touch with us, it makes us more available to the public. I think having us be available to more people is education, teaching what alters are, how they’re used, and so on. Also, various Magic forums have helped a lot too. It’s great!
LP: I think that’s a question with a couple answers. Number one, the community in general is growing, so individualization is popular. With the increase in the size of the community, the foils have gotten more expensive too, so altering cards has become a popular alternative to expensive foils. Also, I’ve seen a rise in restoring cards. The game has been around for twenty years and cards are constantly being uncovered and need restoration.
CC: I think Magic is more popular now than it’s ever been, too. And the art has always been part of the game. It’s a great way to have a unique deck and show originality and individualism. This is really the only card game where people really care about the art this much. People love seeing the art when it’s spoiled almost as much as the cards! So I think that has a lot to do with it.
CK: that’s a subjective question, but my opinion is that everyone loves a custom piece. It’s like getting a tattoo. It’s why you drive the car you do or wear what you wear. It’s a brand. It’s expansive. People see someone else with it and say, “That’s cool. I want that.” Plus, people have their own ideas. They see a card and it inspires an image. I’d like to go get that painted on a card. We help people find their own ideas. And it makes the game that much more interesting. I mean, imagine Magic without art. The whole event is diminished! It adds an atmosphere, an ambiance. And alters add to that. It makes it personal for each person.
LB: Because there are more opportunities for people to sell cards at events, like the Star City Games Opens. There are other websites like DeviantArt that also promote the altering community.
BM: Magic as a whole has exploded over that last few years. Grand Prix attendance, Open attendance, and even the Classic in Louisville I attended were all huge. People just want to have something special to them. It’s a great thing to get into because of how popular Magic is right now. And I don’t think it has hit its peak yet—there will be more players, and with more players come alterists.
How important is the Open Series to your business?
RF: Very important is what I’d say. Not even necessarily for the financial aspect, but the face to face is very important for the alters I do. Through email I get a lot of business, but the appearances get people involved in altering that wouldn’t otherwise have gotten involved. I definitely did alters before, but the volume has increased exponentially since I started doing the Open Series circuit.
LP: I would say that the events are very important to getting your face out there. Most alterists do most of their business online, but if you don’t come to the events you don’t have the exposure or the chance to interact with the community.
Cat Clinton is a new addition to Alterists' Alley.
CC: This is my first event and I’m excited to do more, so I’m not sure how it’s going to affect things. I also top 64’d an event, so don’t discount the skills!
CK: I typically only go to the Invitationals. These are great events for me. It’s also great that I can sit with Ron and Lindsay at big events like this, and meet new folks like Cat at big three-day shows like the Invitational.
LB: It is very important to me. It’s where I get most of my business from. I am able to come to the events located around my area easily.
BM: Right now it’s very important; it’s the main source of income. And also I love the Open Series because I get to travel and meet people. Without the Open Series, I wouldn’t be able to do this full time. And coverage like this article helps us as well!
How do you feel about altering high-dollar cards? What’s the most expensive card you’ve been asked to put your art on?
RF: I’ve done a couple pieces of power. The Time Walk is the most expensive I’ve done, but I’ve also done some Grim Tutors. I actually really like it. I’ve had the discussion before with other alterists. I feel like the opportunity to take these high-dollar cards and individualize them and make them one of a kind is a huge honor. When I work with money cards, I want them to be personal and special. And most of these people who get these alters done they aren’t trying to flip them. It means a lot to them to get these done and make them their own.
LP: I don’t have a problem with altering high-dollar cards, but I prefer to work on cards that are not in the best shape, i.e. gradable… but I will do it if requested. The most expensive card I’ve altered is Mishra’s Workshop or Beta Tropical Island.
CC: I’m doing a Mana Drain today, so it doesn’t really faze me. It doesn’t freak me out. The art isn’t going to be more complicated just because it costs more. The folks that ask me to do an alter on those cards see the quality of the stuff I do, so they know they’re getting a quality product. Never been a big deal. I’d do Power for sure.
Chris King does some of the most dynamic alters in the business.
CK: So far I’ve done a Tundra and a whole lot of 40 or 50 dollar cards. I put a snow speeder from Star Wars on it, and it was real nice. I don’t really have access to the high end cards to paint them. I would love to paint high dollar cards if someone brought them to me, but the fact is I get paid for my art and not the card. Doesn’t matter if it’s a basic land or a Black Lotus. The thing that gets added for me is that I enjoy it more for the higher dollar stuff.
LB: High-dollar cards I feel should be altered if they’re heavily played, like when Eric Klug rescues damaged cards, but I don’t think people should take near mint power, for example, and alter those. The highest card I’ve been asked to do was a Black Lotus, they wanted me to make it 3D… and I told them, “No.” I don’t want to do that to Power or dual lands or things like that. I did do a 3D Jace, the Mind Sculptor once.
BM: So far, just a few dual lands. I did a Tropical Island and a Volcanic Island recently. For the longest time, I thought it was so cool. But I saw that Eric Klug did an April Fools prank where he did a Jackson Pollack Black Lotus. I’m not sure if I’d turn down the money if offered, but it’s a consideration now for me. And now I appreciate the old stuff more. It’s like customizing a Rolls Royce; you just don’t do it. From a personal standpoint, extensions and whatnot are okay in my book, and from a business standpoint it would certainly be tough to turn down the opportunity.
How do Magic artists feel about your work?
RF: Every artist I’ve ever talked to really loves it. I’ve talked with some artists about doing extensions and asking them what their mindset is. For example, I asked Dan Scott about Spell Crumple and what the rest of it would look like. Some are really flattered by it. Steve Argyle and I talked for a while about a full-art Liliana that I made. I’ve heard rumors about artists that don’t like it, but I haven’t met them.
LP: I’ve had limited experience with them. I’ve only met Clint Cearley and Steve Argyle so far. Both artists I’ve shown my alterations and asked about how they feel about them. They both approved, and Clint complimented me on my work. So I feel if they like it then I’m doing well!
CC: I have only just met Steve Argyle yesterday, so I’m not really sure. That’s to be determined in a couple hours—I was actually going to alter a Deathrite Shaman and get him to sign it for me! I’m excited for that.
3-D Cards' Lindsay Burley and her partner, Anthony Wilson.
CK: I really don’t know, I’ve never asked them and they haven’t approached me to say good or bad anything. There isn’t a lot of communication between artists and alterists.
LB: How they seem to me is that they like it. The first time I meet an artist, I’ll make a 3D piece for them of one of their cards and normally they like it!
BM: I talked to Clint Cearley in Cincinnati, and how he got into Magic art. He traded for a piece, which was really flattering. Overall, I don’t think they take too much offense, especially if it’s an extension. It’s flattering sometimes that they just want to see more of the art! And if we paint over the art, they aren’t offended for the most part because it’s often a play off the original art or a nickname or something related to the original. Everyone has their own feelings, but mostly people appreciate it. I have yet to meet an artist who is anti-alter.
Where does the alterist community go from here?
RF: Up and out, really. There are several of us in the community always pushing the boundaries of what we can alter. It’s going to be exciting what new styles and objects we can do and change. It’s a very exciting time to be an alterist, especially where I am in the community. As we get new folks doing alters, it just keeps growing. The more people we get doing new things and trying new stuff the better it is for the entire community. There’s nowhere to go but up!
LP: I think the alterist community is a breeding ground for other work, like doing art for CCGs and the like. Many of the artists, like me, are using the experience to grow our portfolios and trying to grow. I think the ultimate dream for us is to work for Wizards of the Coast or similar companies. It’s a great segue to being an artist for fantasy game companies.
CC: I think Chris King has opened my eyes to all the different things you can do with altering. You can do anything! Binders, playmats, tokens. The main problem is the rules around tournament legality to really know where the lines are, but other than that the sky’s the limit.
Blake Meade is another alterist making waves in Atlanta.
CK: Somebody somewhere is going to figure out how to one-up everyone. But before I started, no one else was doing relief sculptures for tokens. The next generation is going to take it up a notch. Or something else is that Wizards of the Coast takes that idea and makes it mainstream. Something like that.
LB: I think the next step is to just keep staying at Star City events and local shops. If we show that we’re a helpful community and don’t mean any harm, then maybe Wizards will let us start going to Grand Prix or World Magic Cup Qualifier events and stuff. But we have to show that we’re good people, and not just in it for the money.
BM: I think it can only get better. Obviously, some people have a foothold already. It’s going to be more competitive, and then quality will take over. It’s going to grow, but the ones who are the best at it will stand out and those people will have a consistent clientele. I think it’s important to be supportive, because it is a really healthy community, but we are here to make money as well. But I am excited for the future. They also don’t have alterists at GPs currently either, and it would add another dimension to those events too. It’s a proven model at SCG Opens, so I think that’ll be happening soon.