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Magic: The Gathering tournament in Italy features Illustration faculty

Ever since he was a student at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD), Associate Professor of Illustration John Matson has incorporated fantasy illustration into his work. This lifelong fascination has led to a fruitful career as a fantasy illustrator and educator, most recently manifesting in an invitation to attend a Magic: The Gathering tournament in Italy as a guest illustrator.

Inspired by the hand-drawn fantasy and science fiction movie posters of the 1970s and 80s, Matson has carved a niche for himself among other fantastical illustrators. “It was a movie poster for Raiders of the Lost Ark, the original one by an illustrator named Richard Amsel,” he says. Growing up during the veritable Renaissance of the science fiction and fantasy genre in the 1980s, Matson connected with the photorealistic yet fantastical movie posters and book covers of the day. “To this day, I still buy books for their cover,” he laughs.

Illustrating for Wizards of the Coast, the game publisher who created the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering, was a dream come true for Matson. He made his first foray into the world of game illustration right after school at a convention, where he and his friend had originally intended to break into the world of comic books. “Coming out of school prepared me to put my best foot forward,” he explains. “Excellence counts, craftsmanship counts. It made an impression on them and I got to work for Wizards of the Coast!”

Now, this relationship has resulted in an invitation to illustrate at the 4Seasons Tournament in Bologna, Italy. Matson will autograph cards, sell his own work and perhaps most importantly, connect with the players. “The game needs to be produced, they need artwork for the game, but the game is nothing without the people who are buying and supporting it,” he explains. “Having that connection with [the players]… I’m so appreciative.”

In 2019, MIAD hosted “Story & Craft – A Magic: The Gathering Exhibition” featuring the work of fantasy illustrators who had created artwork found in the card game. “Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought, as a student here, about the popularity of that kind of work,” says Matson. “It was always my passion … to see that Magic: The Gathering show in a gallery, it was just amazing.” The exhibition was the first of its kind in the Midwest and only the second in North America.

As an instructor at MIAD, Matson synthesizes his years of professional experience as a fantasy illustrator with his current commitments to create engaging courses for his students. “You can’t help but get inspired and awed at the level of talent that MIAD attracts and nurtures and sustains,” he says of his students and colleagues. After returning from Italy, Matson plans to use the experience to bolster his curriculum.

Keep up with John on his website and learn more about MIAD’s Illustration major!


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