The Magic Art of Terese Nielsen

The Magic Art of Terese Nielsen


“Show a close up of a face that has just received all the knowledge in the universe. The expression is that of seeing the immensity of the infinite that both awes and terrifies. It is agony and ecstasy at the same time. At the edges, the face is beginning to fracture into geometric pieces, and the further out from the face that we go, the pieces are turning into all manner of birds, beasts, and creatures that wriggle and crawl, flowers, trees, vines, and symbolic script. The pieces are spaced more and more apart from the face as if the face is exploding apart revealing the infinite void.” That was the art description written in 2012 for the card “Enter the Infinite”, a daunting request most fitting for the style and flair of Terese Nielsen. Born in the heart of rural Nebraska, Terese Nielsen discovered the value of art early in life. The harsh and snowy winters kept her and her older brother flipping through stacks of blank paper and exercising their curious young minds. Her brother, by the way, Ron Spencer, is another name you likely recognize from the fantasy art world. Terese credits the deep impulse to avoid boredom at all cost as the initial driving force to create art. This impulse would soon grow into a passion, one that would inform the decisions regarding her career. In 1991, Nielsen graduated from California’s Art Center College of Design with high distinctions. Now, if you admire Nielsen’s work, you must consider her influences. When we look closer into her style, you’ll see she is tapping into the work of some of history’s greats. Artists like Gustav Klimt, who informs her use of gold as both a medium and a hue; Drew Struzan, the hand behind the posters of our favorite films, will inspire the way Nielsen theatrically organizes figures on a page; J.C. Leyendecker, whose tight angles and graphic novel style will guide Nielsen’s portraits, and finally the remarkable Alphonse Mucha, whose two-dimensional layering and floral motifs will influence the aesthetic of Terese’s paintings. But other influences include Arnold Friberg, who illustrated scenes from the Book of Mormon. Consider this piece, titled “Abinadi Delivers His Message to King Noah” looking specifically at the jaguars, as well as the color work and religious imagery of the people gathered around the centered prophet. You’ll see the essence of Friberg’s brush emerge on cards like Blessed Orator, Luminous Guardian, the costuming of Mother of Runes and Mundungu, and even the jaguar from Natural Order. Nielsen also takes influence from fantasy artists Boris Vallejo and Rowena Morrill, both of whom’s work embody storytelling through erotic figure painting. The same goes for Frank Frazetta. Now, keep these artists in mind as we look deeper into her body of work. Four years after graduating, Wizards of the Coast caught wind of Nielsen’s work and ushered her into Magic with the commission of “Stop Spell”; a card they told Terse would be pretty powerful. Stop Spell, originally a red card, would soon become Force of Will, a blue card, and the most powerful counter spell ever to see print. This commission, which Terese calls very auspicious, would be exemplary of her style from the very beginning. 20 years later, with the printing of Eternal Masters, Nielsen was commissioned to revisit her old friend in Force of Will. This time, however, Wizards would insist on a female character with dark skin. The illustration combines colored pencils, acrylics, oils, and airbrush, and uses a reference of her daughter Kristi for the woman’s face. It would go on to sell for $21,000 on eBay in March of 2016. Now, let’s talk technique. Nielsen’s core values, ones we see to some degree in every piece she produces, are growth, fun, feminine power, transformation, and the expression of the creative voice. She is equally interested in beauty, an aspect apparent in all of her figures. If she paints women, they’re idealized, strong, sexual, but lacking the male gaze, which is a difficult line to hover. Her men are just as perfect: huge muscles, strong physiques, and sporting carved noses and chins. Nielsen also loves circles, and her paintings often invoke geometric spirals to tell stories. Look at Silverskin Armor, for example. Not only does this piece pay homage to Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, but it shows the steps required to wear this invasive, metallic exoskeleton. The story is there in the small bubbles hovering around the idealized female figure as well as scraped into the spherical background. These same shapes greatly distinguish her Guru basic lands from the rest, a collectable series that many players covet to this day. It is precisely the compass-like trajectory of the eclipse that makes these lands so special. Like I said before, Nielsen is known for her representation of powerful feminine figures. Her angels are exemplary of this philosophy. Akroma, in both her forms, is clearly in charge of the scene. As is Angel of Jubilation, who softly dominates the frame with her skybound wing, then contrasts the direction of movement with her earthbound sword. But probably the strongest example of feminine power comes in Basandra, Battle Seraph. Nielsen stated that of the very few Magic pieces she has hanging in her home, Basandra is one of them, and for great reason. The piece was selected to appear in Spectrum 18, and was one of her favorite pieces from 2011. We see a flaming Byzantine Halo adorned in gold behind Basandra’s head. The same gold, reminiscent of Klimt, is used again to adorn the edges of her armor. Her fiery red hair matches the deep crimson of her wings, which widen beyond the card frame and simultaneously overlap the frame within it. The cat-o’-nine tails whirling around her legs only hint at Basandra’s potential, while the flame brewing in her left palm makes it explicit. She is proud, confident, and sexual, and starkly contrasts the religious iconography that comes with being an angel. This same strength carries over into all of her figures. The ethereal aspect of nature is omnipresent. All of Terese’s work invokes, in some way, the spirit. Her characters are fighting something, usually outside of the frame. We can see the emotion, they wear it on their sleeves and in their fur. This struggle will manifest in their gaze. We look at Terese’s art, and her art looks elsewhere. We get lost in these characters’ worlds, in their battles, in their ongoing fight against the forces pushing back against them. It’s not just the colors and the collages that draw us to Nielsen’s paintings, but the deeply-rooted human story they are telling within them. One of life, love, loss, and the ongoing endeavor to find balance. For Nielsen, balance is found in community. She states “Over the last 20 years, the Magic community has become my family, and I treasure the friendships. My work with Magic now gives me a deep sense of meaning and fulfillment that continues to expand and evolve.” Terese is delightful and responsive. She signs cards for players, attends GP’s, and to date has altered dozens of the card that inaugurated her to the game. She even produced a small, 4 by 4 inch painting of the greatest thief in the multiverse for The Meadery’s Charity weekend. Her fanbase is wide, deeply-rooted and well-deserved. I encourage you all to reach out and thank Terese Nielsen for her contributions to this game. And, while digging through old Magic sets or watching the preview seasons of upcoming ones, keep an eye out for those geometric backgrounds that bend the rules of traditional painting in favor of showcasing the ethereal and highlighting the core elements of movement and dramatic emotion. They’re telling Terese’s story, one by one, in some form or another. Thanks for watching! If you enjoyed this video, you know what to do by now. This is normal promotion space. Special thanks to Terese Nielsen for responding to my e-mails but also giving me the go ahead to do this video. I really put a lot into it and I am appreciative of her permission. I’m also appreciative of these people right here. These people are the ones supporting me on Patreon. So if you’d like to join the crew, I would like you to be a part of that group. I would like to hit 50 Patrons. Is that doable? 50 Patrons? In two weeks, before I release my next video? We’ll see. Alright, that’s it follow me on Twitter: @rhysticstudies. I have a banana phone. And this is for coffee. Thank you so much for watching. Cheers!

100 thoughts on “The Magic Art of Terese Nielsen”

  1. "…their fight against the forces pushing back against them" XD like what patriarchy? just say their enemy's! Their suppose to be warriors right! Do warriors fight forces or enemy's? Other than the social justice I simply loved the video

  2. Abenidi (uh-ben-uh-die) , I love Friberg as well. Now thanks to you I can love Terese Nelson. Great video

  3. The music at the beginning is chilling. You should make it public, I'd totally buy it if it was available.

  4. Why did that Force Of Will go for $21,000 when I can order one for $80 now? Sounds like that guy got ripped the fuck off. Even if it was autographed. Doesn't she still do autographs… wouldn't it be cheaper to bring an $80 card to a convention to ask her to autograph it? like wtf….

  5. Forgive me if this was already mentioned but I'm pretty sure Hanna is based on Nielsen herself. Appearance wise at least, not sure about personality.

  6. Hey, thank you so much for being the antithesis of the typical "HEYYYYYYYY WHAT'S UP, YOUTUBE!" overenthusiastic youtuber.

  7. she is such an amazing lady! I never met her… yet. But I purchased some proofs from her store and she always write nice notes along with the signed cards. She also takes the time to greet me on my day of birthday on facebook.

    She's an amazing artist and an awesome person.

  8. maybe this was already noted: the three core elements I see in her work are 1)old master-style articulation of form, 2)Mucha stained glass reference, and 3)a playful understanding of abstraction. Her male forms often get the Michaelangelo treatment. the muscles are voluminous, and the poses are dramatic, muscular, and gentle. They remind me of the sistine chapel poses. Her females often get the Mucha treatment, with softer, more subtle inflections in tone/color/value. Her more Mucha-like paintings also use a heavier outline, which has a little comic-book flair to it, but I think is more a reference to the lines of a stained glass window. Her use of gold leaf as well has its roots in religion, in the illuminated manuscripts of the middle ages. Her roots are in religion, and her use is subtle, and I think that's why her stuff feels spiritual without feeling specifically christian, and we are all the luckier for it. Her use of abstraction is sort of the bonus. It has its roots in sacred geometries and greek metaphysics, and alludes to the metaphysical, the things that are so incredible that we can't see them clearly or describe them without models. A friend and I talk a lot about the change in MTG art over the years, and how the contemporary art feels a little more like "general fantasy art". Part of that is that more contemporary cards DEFINE everything. Every detail is accounted for, and the backgrounds are fully fleshed out. The contemporary art attempts to look like a photograph. Terese's work doesn't do that. She has an understanding that Magic (spells, incantations, the MATERIAL of magic), as an occurence in the world, can be alluded to but never fully described. she doesn't do as many "energy beams" or "magical orbs" as other artists. Instead, she uses the geometries and 2-d backgrounds of her pieces to IMPLY that magic has occurred. The viewer has to imagine into her work. I'm thinking of Hunter's Insight. It's not a "painted photograph", it's a collage. The viewer has to look at it and make connections, and piece together what is happening in that spell. compare that to a card like Canyon Minotaur, which is a very competently done piece, and there's really nothing for a viewer to do with that painting. No one can tell you it's not a minotaur in a canyon, but it leaves nothing for the viewer to DO. Terese uses abstraction not to directly illustrate magic, but to allude to it. She's saying "I have seen this magic, but I can't recreate what I saw. I will do my best, and you'll have to imagine into it to get the whole picture." It reminds me of the older card frames (you did a fucking great video on that!): more flavor, if less function. For all their faults, both in art and graphic design, the older cards felt like there were artifacts FROM another world, where contemporary cards feel a little less, well, magical. Terese's art looks like the documentary work of a wizard who traveled the planes, and her cards are her field notes and spell book from her travels. Compare that to the work of Jakub Kasper, while competent and proficient, looks like it's from a world with computers. The colors are made to live on a computer. If you read this, I think you're doing great work, really well researched. Consider doing one on the art of Drew Tucker, and maybe Brom, the internet's favorite Goth Anime Legs Uncle.

  9. You have a keen mind and described her work perfectly throughout. I am so happy I stumbled across your channel. Subscribed and keep up the great work!

  10. In the artwork you display from The Book of Mormon, the prophet in the center’s name should be pronounced: “Uh – bin – uh – dye,” not “Ah – bi – nah – dee.” Just an FYI. Love your work, keep it up!

  11. I've got small autographed prints of my ten favorite MtG cards hanging on my wall. She is responsible for four of them.

  12. Love the care you take with pronunciation! Although surely Frank F didn't pronounce his name as a speaker of Italian would…

  13. Her art is much more of the lines of Jeffrey Catherine Jones then Frank Frazetta witch I would argue is her brothers influences

  14. I have a printing of Terese's Liliana Untouched by Death framed in my room and visitor unfamiliar with MtG thought it was some piece by Klimt – his influence on Terese's art is really noticeable.

  15. New to the game, and I bought Blast of Genius because I love Ral/Niv-Mizzet/Izzet Guild, and the art looked absolutely amazing. Needless to say, I absolutely adore her art and am glad WotC introduced me to this brilliant woman.

  16. Out of all MTG artists, you featured so far, I found this one the least interesting. To me, her work feels uninspiring and nonintriguing. It looks like she tried to capture the cover at the expense of the core.
    I am not trying to hate on her work, just to complement the overall picture of the public opinion on her work.

  17. I LOVE your "artist" series. Some of the best MTG content on YouTube, and the best MTG art-related content, full stop. I know people have cried to the heavens for a Rebecca Guay video (I am one such) but I would love to see a Richard Kane Ferguson video, my favorite artist from my younger playing days. About Nielsen's art; I just love her color saturation, everything pops and it works very well for a format where people view the art on a tiny piece of cardboard. But of course Nielsen's art really stands out for it's strong and
    instantly recognizable style, which is refreshing in an era where MTG art has become more and more homogeneous and indistinct.

  18. 5:43 funny enough, the description you give (and the art shown) actually does closely reflect the Biblical understanding of angels and spiritual beings, though it bears almost no resemblance to contemporary "Hallmark-ish" imagery. The ancient Hebrews had a much fiercer, wilder, more intense understanding of spiritual beings than the modern church is willing to admit.

  19. Could be totally wrong, but I also see a Maxfield Parrish influence in her works. Similar poses and framing.

  20. very much disagree with your interpretation of 'the male gaze', I would say it's not Feminine. Nielson has a masculine perspective in portraying the female form, (and all her work). She doesn't portray it as silky or soft but aggressive and powerful. however it is clear she still looks through the lens of the male gaze regarding woman as an object. Truly amazing artist.

  21. gotta say. not sure how on earth enter the infinite's art at all matches the prompt. "agony and ecstasy"? "awe and terror"? its literally just a blank stare. bad piece to open the video on imho, already poisoned the well with my view of this persons art. the prompt is more artful and evocative than the actual painting

  22. Great video, one of your best analysis IMO. Terese is such a great artist!
    I would love to see a review on Richard Kane Ferguson and/or Mark Tedin.

  23. By the card frame i never paid much attention to the original eternal witness but after this video and seeing in high definition it might be my favorite Magic card of all time.

  24. 6:38 it's terrible how quickly and ruthlessly they turned on her, and for what? Liking a couple of tweets, following "bad people" on Twitter.
    I am so proud of this community /s

  25. Her and her brother, Ron Spencer, went to my church, Ron often used magic art in lessons, pretty cool, got to know them pretty well

  26. I actually wrote a paper on Terese for my drawing class this semester. Kinda wish I seen this video first, but my paper came out fine. lol

  27. I went to go watch her bio on the WOTC channel and it's not there anymore. Why would they remove a bio of such an amazing artist?

  28. Awesome channel, any chance we can get some links to the artists mentioned in the video, the influences, would love to check some of them out but some of the names are hard to guess at spelling

  29. It's so sad to listen to 6:41 after what happened to her, I might not agree with her political opinion, but firing her because of that is completly anti-democratic

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