Today I have the great pleasure of introducing to the community the incredibly talented Sorcery: Contested Realm TCG Alpha artist, Elvira Shakirova!
Elvira is one of three artists who earned broad recognition for her artistic talents in the genre of Magic the Gathering card alters (the other two artists commissioned for Sorcery are Marta Molina and Caio Calazans). She has a vast portfolio of alter cards, and a large fan base all over the world. This is one of her breakthrough opportunities in full size traditional painting for a Trading Card Game (TCG).
Thank you so much for this opportunity, Elvira...
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: The story you shared with me about your background is very unique and interesting. Tell us a little bit about where you are from, and how your early interest in drawing evolved to the beautiful paintings you create today and are pursuing as a full time profession.
Elvira Shakirova: I was drawing from very early age, but I never saw it as an actual serious job then. After school I got into university, studying physics, then dropped out, because no amount of sci-fi could make me understand which way does a nut bounce off of a helicopter blade. Then I got a job as a layout designer in a magazine and didn't think of my future much, when my boyfriend's mum decided that this won't do and told me that I'm going to art school. She is a very formidable and determined woman and I know she had my best interest at heart. I'm very thankful for her care and support then, without her I don't know what I would be doing now. Then I found out about Magic the Gathering and all awesome boardgames with amazing artworks, and my next boyfriend told me about magic alters and if it's something I would be interested to do. So yeah, everything in my life so far is just a series of happy coincidences and kind people pointing me in right direction.
Elvira Shakirova Card Alters (I couldn't pick just ten!...)
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: You shared that your work started to become more visible to fans through doing alters of Magic the Gathering cards, but that you hope to expand beyond that. What are your goals as an artist in the near term and longer term?
Elvira Shakirova: Haha this is like a question “what you want to be when you grow up?” I'm not sure yet. I wish I had more time in a day to pursue all my interests. I definitely want to continue and expand doing illustrations for games, but also take more time for personal work. I'm working, though very slowly, on a series of paintings. Would be cool to see them in a gallery some day, I guess.
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: How did Erik discover you for the Sorcery project and present to you the opportunity to evolve your mtg alters work into creating your own card art?
Elvira Shakirova: He found me in the biggest mtg altering group on facebook. I just scrolled through all our chat to the very beginning, he DMed me at the start of May in 2019, asking if I would be interested in painting ten illustrations for his new game. I was so happy, I called my mum right away and then spent some time deleting extra exclamation points and emojis from my reply to Erik:)
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: Have you done commissions beyond alters in your career? Is Sorcery your biggest project to date?
Elvira Shakirova: Sorcery is my biggest and still growing project, yes, but I did do other commissions before. The most out of the box one was a children's book I illustrated for my friend, it's about a baby orangutan, who got an iPad for his birthday and started neglecting his best friends because of it. I loved the story and working on those vivid images, though I realized that picture books probably were not my thing.
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: All of your works have a very beautiful color composition and certain ‘warm and inviting’ kind of character to them that makes them very visually appealing in my opinion. Can you share who some of your artistic influences and role models are, and if some of those elements draw from certain artists’ styles that appeal to you?
Elvira Shakirova: For the colour and lighting I think the most influence came from Nathan Fowkes, I follow him on instagram and for a few months when I had schoolism subscription I watched his lessons there, he has this unique ability to paint air. I love his plein air watercolour sketches, they're literally air between objects, not objects themselves. I always think of going back to that course and really giving it my all. It just sucks that I can be focused and productive for 6 hours a day, tops. And I always need all of them for work, when I also want to study, do personal work, go to plein air, go to figure drawing class, finally learn how to paint in Procreate (I bought an iPad couple years back and all I use it for is to watch tv-shows when I travel!).
Nathan Fowkes Art
Also I have addiction to buying reference photo packs, and my absolute favourite come from Howard Lyon, he's got a Patreon and a store at Artstation, I'm so grateful that he takes time from his work to make those photo sets with all those costumes and great lighting and a huge variety of poses.
Howard Lyon Art
As for other role models and artists I admire, I think my taste is all over the place, I love Joaquin Sorolla's buttery brushwork and warm sunlit colours. De Laszlo's and Sargent's portraiture, and Sargent's charcoal portraits are incredibly on point, no line out of place.
I'm a big fan of Gaugin, and symbolism in all of it sometimes naivete.
As for other painters, it's more even difficult, I love all of them it seems, from clean, soft, embellished tones and edges of Bouguereau and Zinaida Serebryakova, to bold rough brushwork of Nicolai Fechin. I actually follow a lot of twitter accounts with old masters' paintings. It's nice to scroll through usual twitter mess and suddenly see a beautiful drawing by Sargent:)
Isaac Levitan definitely has a special place in my heart with his gloomy landscapes of simple unremarkable but captivating beauty I grew up around. No other artist ever painted landscapes that were so pointedly russian.
I seem to always dash between wanting to follow Leyendecker's or Bouguereau's clean and clear shapes and tones to complete mess of expressionism. Maybe someday I'll find my own style somewhere there in the middle.
I follow a lot of contemporary artists, my instagram feed is mostly their accounts. I think I'd like to single out Rebecca Leveille, I watched her style change, from subtle and precise with soft watercolours, to bold brushstrokes and lines in oil, and I love it all, she masters everything, a great source of inspiration.
[One of the joys of doing these interviews is discovering the artists that inspired our favorite Sorcery: Contested Realm TCG artists; many of which I am just hearing of for the first time. It is always very interesting to see how those influences translate into the personal style of the Sorcery artist, and how you can often find similarities that manifest into their Sorcery work. Please take the time to explore the embedded links from the many great artists who inspired Elvira. They were too numerous to include examples for all, and I did not want to distract too much from Elvira as the focus; but they are all worth exploring!]
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: Congratulations on receiving an Avatar opportunity for Sorcery, as I presume this will be very relevant in the game! Your “Elementalist” artwork is very beautiful with its colorful composition, and very creatively done with the duality of the two character forms in the composition sharing a body form and dress with unique elements that work masterfully for both forms. Those creative choices are really incredible. Can you tell us a bit about the artistic direction Erik gave you for this piece, and the approach that you applied in your creative vision for it?
Elvira Shakirova: Thank you! I'm very happy to have painted an Avatar. Erik always gives a lot of artistic freedom, he only tells what the card does and what he wants to see on it in general terms and if there's something specific he needs in the image. The rest is up to the artist. It's very cool and kinda scary too, that's a lot of responsibility to get it right. With this Avatar Erik wanted the face of the character to be partly hidden and the illustration itself be very vivid.
[It is remarkable that such simple art direction can yield such an incredible result. Erik must have been overjoyed when he received this one from Elvira. This is one of the hallmarks of Sorcery TCG art direction. Erik intentionally provides very high level artistic direction to fully encourage and enable the artist's creativity, and artistic integrity to their own personal style. The results are magical.]
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: In researching your work, I discovered a few pieces that I had not seen in card form yet on the Sorcery website. If you are able to speak to these, can you select one or two that you are particularly happy with and provide some context for how you approached these? Or if you cannot provide details yet, can you more generically say how many pieces you have done for Sorcery thus far to give fans an idea of what we can look forward to?
Elvira Shakirova: One of those not yet on the site is the Occult Dream Quest. I had so much fun working on this one! From making reference photos, when I taped my phone to a lamp stand to get the right angle, to drawing all sorts of things at the witches workplace. I like painting little funny things where I know the image will be covered by textbox or card name. In this case there's a spider crawling out of one of the drawers, books on the shelf contain Demonology 101 and Witch Weekly. I also like the saucer with eyeballs and a spoon. It's also the last one I did in acrylics and coloured pencils before switching to oils.
Another one I'm very fond of is Blaze, where under the textbox I hid a cute baby goat running away from the fires:)
[I believe Elvira has done over 20 paintings for Sorcery before Alpha release, and has been commissioned to do several more for the future Arthurian Legends set! You can find more of her full art image scans on the Sorcery Art Gallery page; including some we have not yet seen in card form as of this writing!]
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: I noticed in most of the pieces that I have seen thus far you have used female characters, and I am wondering if there is a story behind if/why this is a preference for you that you may share? Additionally, the character looks similar across several pieces, and I wonder if this is inspired from an inner reflection and representation of yourself, or perhaps another person or an imaginary “creation” that you like to integrate into your work?
Elvira Shakirova: Haha ouch! Well, the explanation is very simple and is aptly captured by Sarah Andersen here:
I almost always make my own reference photos, and though I try to give my characters different distinctive faces, it does not always turn out that way. Luckily my wish to paint more men came true this year, and I've painted a whole lot of them. Hopefully there will be more in the future, I'd also love to dig into my own culture, and sneak some of tatar looks into my work. I hope all that is in the near future!
Actually there was one card that was originally supposed to have male characters, the Selfsame Simulacrum. I had this sketch with two warriors back to back surrounded by enemies, had my friend at the gym pose for the reference, and barely a day after Erik approved the sketch, a card with a similar look was a spoiler in an upcoming MTG set!
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: How can fans find your work and support you? Do you currently, or plan to in the future, sell original paintings, prints, artist proofs, or other products?
Elvira Shakirova: Well, I have an artstation, and there are prints here: https://www.inprnt.com/gallery/nextdoorgalaxy/
There's lots of plans for altered prints and artist proofs, it's kinda spinning out of control, but all very exciting.
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: Is there anything I didn’t ask that you would like to share with fans?
Elvira Shakirova: Oh, there's so much I wish to share, but I can't just yet. You'll just have to wait and see for the next set!:)
[Well, as luck would have it, Erik just approved Elvira and I to share her first ever reveal of one of her paintings for Arthurian Legends when we do our Live event on the Sorcery: Contested Realm Fan Page Group on Facebook and on the Collector Arthouse YouTube Channel (to be live streamed on both platforms simultaneously). It will be on Saturday, January 14th, at 1:30 pm EST, and you can set a reminder notification on YouTube at the direct link here.]
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Mike Servati @ Collector Arthouse and Collector Arthouse on Facebook, signing off...