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!