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Magic: The Photoshopping
Magic: The Photoshopping
Creating a set of custom 'Magic' cards using images from the Library of Congress

Nankivell, Frank A. , Artist. Let in the light / Frank A. Nankivell. , 1905. N.Y.: J. Ottmann Lith. Co., Puck Bldg., March 8. Photograph. View Original

Magic: The Gathering was introduced in 1993. I was six years old at the time, and while some of my older friends and kids in the neighborhood collected, traded, and battled cards against one another, the game's nuances were too complex for me. But I always remember the artwork being the coolest part.

As an adult, however, I've learned to appreciate the subtle (and not-so-subtle) complexities of the game, and the unique abilities and stories behind every card. And the artwork is still just as much a part of the game as each card's mechanics.


Magic: The Gathering has become the game my friends and I play most frequently when we're all together. Even on our annual camping trips, we'll buy boosters and draft ahead of time and play in our tents at night.
Over the past few years, my friends (who, admittedly, are much better at MTG than me), have been perfecting a version of BANG! EDH, but with a medieval/fantasy backdrop to better fit within the existing MTG universe. ​
Now that we've agreed on what seems to be the best set of rules and abilities for each role, I thought it would be fun to design custom cards for our group using images sourced from the Library of Congress.

library of congress
puck logo

The Library of Congress has a vast collection of public-domain imagery. One of the most common publications to come up in visual searches is 'Puck': a political satire magazine. It was the first of its kind published in the United States. Think of it as the late 19th Century's 'The Onion'

Period indicators likes certain words or the bandolier of bullets in this image for example had to be removed before the images were ready for cards. "The yellow peril" / Keppler

Retouching with Photoshop's Content-Aware, Spot Healing Brush, and Clone Stamp

Photoshop has made retouching easier with every release, but as anyone who uses it daily will tell you, if robots rise up Photoshop will mistake us for wax figures and vice versa.
The precision of the Apple Pencil paired with an iPad Pro powered by AstroPad allowed for more natural retouching movements and helped speed things up.

Invincible., ca. 1887. Photograph. View Original

train art

Not all images were depictions of medieval times. Since most editorial images I was finding were from the time of the Great Depression, some included technology like trains or modern-day settings that had to be cropped out if not retouched.

Keppler, Udo J., Artist. "O death, where is thy sting?" / Kep., 1913. N.Y.: Published by Keppler & Schwarzmann, Puck Building. Photograph.

Crawford, Will, Artist, L. M Glackens, and S. D Ehrhart. Signs and divinations / Will Crawford., 1908. N.Y.: J. Ottmann Lith. Co., Puck Bldg. Photograph.

wizard book
queen art
Finding a Variety of Art Forms and Styles

The covers of 'Puck' were ideal source material, but I wanted our card artwork to have as much variety as the actual game. To accomplish this, I used a 19th Century oil painting for the Queen.

Chapman And Hall, George Baxter, and Louisa Seyffarth. Jenny Dean's interview with the queen / printed in oil colours by G. Baxter patentee from a painting by Mrs. Seyffarth. Great Britain, None. [London: chapman & hall, strand, between 1837 and 1840] Photograph.

The entire set is made of 20 cards, including 5 Castles which I chose to make Full Art lands to take advantage of some interesting castle imagery.

Click each image to see the artwork in more detail and read through the rules we've established.

book of riddles
mana symbols
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