"Tokens are a fun way to share my other work with people," says Aaron Miller | TokensForMTG: Best custom tokens for your game!

"Tokens are a fun way to share my other work with people," says Aaron Miller

13. 2. 2019

Dear readers, in a long-standing tradition of our blog, today we are bringing you something special – another in a series of interviews with the Magic artists. With the launch of the new TokensforMTG page, original tokens from professional MTG illustrators will be offered, and one of them, Aaron Miller, was so kind to answer a couple of questions for us.

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Aaron Miller is a renowned fantasy artist, whose work can be seen in brands like Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons or Star Wars, in products of many gaming companies, and he received many accolades for his oil and digital work, including having his work presented in Spectrum, being awarded at the biggest gaming convention GenCon, or exhibiting in galleries across the US.

We are honored – and very thankful to Aaron – for giving us the opportunity to present you the following interview.


The name Aaron Miller is a relatively fresh addition to Magic artist army. But you entered the scene with a thunder in Theros, with amazing atmospheric arts like Chained to the Rocks, Fabled Hero or the majestic Ajani, Mentor of Heroes. So allow me my first question – how did you become an artist?

That’s quite a loaded question. Almost like asking how the universe began. There are so many little things that contribute to one becoming who they are. There was no one moment that was the deciding point from non-artist to artist. There are actually more roadblocks than welcome mats for someone to become a professional artist.

We’ll take a shot at this anyway. I’ll make mention of what I think were the highlights along the way. Let’s see, there was the constant drawing in school, I had a project that I recall that I just had to create an illustration to go along with each written page I had to work on. There was the opportunity to meet a sculptor that showed me how he worked. From then I had planned to be a sculptor. I took the art program offered at my high school. Which lead to more drawing and painting than the sculpture class shown in the brochure. Which then lead to making the decision to go to an art school after. I think we can see a trend here. While I mentioned roadblocks I think the one important roadblock that never existed was a parent placing one before me. And for that I’m very thankful.


How did you start working for Wizards of the Coast, and how did you come to know Magic:the Gathering?

Let’s answer the second question first. I had known about Magic probably not long after it came out. I know I had seen some cards at the local comic shop. No one I knew played the game. So, that certainly didn’t help. The first cards I saw I didn’t much care for the artwork. At the time I was infatuated (and still am) with the 18th century salon and academic paintings. That’s a high bar to measure up to, even today.

Years later, and I mean about a decade, I decide I’m going to become the illustrator I wanted to be. I took a class in the summer that was filled with instructors who worked on Magic. After seeing their work (Donato, Dan Dos Santos, Scott Fischer, Rebecca Guay, and Boris Vallejo just to name a few) I was bound and determined to finally work in the industry I had always wanted to work in. This was not an exclusive decision to work on Magic, just fantasy illustration. When it became clear that the book cover market for illustrators was dwindling to a mere trickle, gaming art was my best option. And Magic was and is at the top. I’m grateful to be part of a warm and welcoming community of amazing artists.


How would you describe your painting style? Is there somebody or something that influenced you greatly in your painting?

I tend to work more realist style that leans towards impressionism. Think Sargent or William Merritt Chase. I’m always trying to improve, the idea being all the things I’m influenced by are combining to create who I am rather than any one particular artist. I am attracted to the more painterly approach over hyper realism. I want my work to look like a painting and not a photo.


Where do you draw your inspiration? Do you have a favorite type of scene to paint?

When choosing a scene I tend to the long lasting moment rather than the short burst of action. I want to create work that I feel I resonate with. A painting that make me keep looking. And that is usually carried by the mood of the piece.

I draw my inspiration from other artists, fashion, nature, graphic design, architecture, big cities, traveling, art museums, history, and my friends.


If you had to choose your favorite work done for Magic, which one would it be? And on the contrary, do you have a least favorite piece, or the most difficult you have ever done?

My ongoing joke is my favorite piece is not released yet. Ha! And it’s still pretty much true. But, for images that are released I choose Tuskguard Captain. I love the character and the creature. I love the mood I was able to create and the overall design. I am really fond of Veteran’s Sidearm as well. It’s hanging on my wall. It doesn't bother me one bit that no one has picked that up.

My least favorite has to be Stratus Walk. Being more comfortable in the process I would totally take the art in a different direction. And most difficult was the Module machine set. I’m not really the guy you go to for that kind of description so it was a real challenge that I worked very hard on.




How do you feel about the card signing events at Grand Prix events? Which card do you sign the most often?

I love going to GPs. The event organizers design their events now to put us in the position of having to generate enough income to pay all of our own expenses even though we are called guests. On the plus side, I thank the fans for preferring a flat fee over tips for signatues which seemed to just make more fans unsure and feel awkward. Now, with expectations clear it seems everyone is happy and we can just have some fun. I enjoy those weekends even though the days are extremely long. Meeting fans is fun and hanging out with fellow artists is just the icing on the cake. The funds we make at GPs really help round out an already difficult career to be in from a financial angle. I can’t express how amazing it is that the fans are able to participate in this. I think the card I sign the most is Ajani, Mentor of Heroes.


How does an artist's "normal day" look like? How long in average takes you to complete a typical MTG art?

We don’t have normal days. Everyday can be different. But, a somewhat typical day might start out with a bit of espresso and small breakfast and a little bit of World of Warcraft. Shower up and get ready to tackle the day. If a project is already underway then I just sit and paint all day. If not, then it could mean I’m sketching, scheduling a model shoot, googling for hours looking for references, shooting my own references, going to the art store, the fabric store, or even the toy store. Typically I assign one week to dedicate to a magic painting.


Do you have a funny story to share, one that you remember fondly?

At GP Omaha I thought I was talking to a fan for a long while. Some guy that told the grandest of stories about his sad life. He was a musician that wanted me to work on his album cover. He dropped so many famous names and places. Being from the city I can tell someone who’s spinning yarns so while I nodded and agreed my bullshit meter was in the red. Not long after the GP I started getting collect calls from this guy in prison. Fun times.


Back to Magic. You entered the scene with Theros, and since that, you had a couple of arts in almost each expansion. Which world did you enjoy the most?

That is not a fair question. I love every single world guide I get. But I think I was the most intrigued by Ixalan. I really enjoyed the twists to the fantasy/historical references. Such as the explorers from elsewhere being the vampires.




Your favorite piece of Magic art, and your least favorite one?

There are countless favorites. I have a real fondness for Wayne Reyonlds’ Wild Nacatl and Chris Rahn’s Ajani Steadfast.

Not sure I want to call out another artist so I’ll stick with Stratus Walk. ;)


What is your favourite meal?

Homemade pasta with a cream sauce my wife makes with prosciutto.


Do you have any dreamed-of goal which you would like to achieve in your work?

My goals are still a bit skill based. Struggling less on my current difficulties and replacing those struggles with those that aren’t even within reach. I have a plan for exploring the four alchemical elements.


One more question: when did you decide to make your own tokens for the game, and what was the impulse for doing that?

It was my first GP, GP Chicago years ago. I met RK Post for the first time and while at his table I saw he had a few tokens. I didn't really know what they were so I asked. I just loved the idea of making these fun cards that anyone can use for their games. Not too long ago someone commented that these items are "lifestyle" items. They don't really change the games people use them for, they just make them more fun the same way you can customize a character in some video games. 

So I chatted with RK about them for a while. And I knew I was going to make some. I spent nearly 10 years in the design industry and it felt like a fun way to put all that knowledge to work for me this time. It was such a fun way to show folks that use them some of my other artwork.


Thank you very much for answering your questions, Aaron! We wish you all the best to your future work and life and we are looking forward to many great illustrations from you.


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