The Magic Art of David Palumbo

The Magic Art of David Palumbo

In looking at my favorite artists working for Magic from a bird’s-eye view, I’ve noticed that I gravitate towards the illustrators who all have three things in common. The first is a strong sense of color. This may be in fact the first thing I notice about a painting; color can almost instinctually invite me in or completely turn me away from a piece of work. In museums, I tend to spend very little time with a painting whose colors don’t grab me. Jesper Ejsing’s color palette, for example, is so satisfying to look at that I could blur the painting entirely and still find pleasure in the abstract image. The second aspect is texture. Now, admittedly, this is more of a bias than a tool for analysis, but I really, really dig seeing the brushstrokes and mark-making in a painting. For me, this ties the physicality of paints to the medium: I like seeing the essence of the objects an artist uses to create a piece of work in the final render. This doesn’t necessarily mean that everything has to be expressionistic: Volkan Baga has very tight rendering, yet his treatment of fabric is painterly in such a way that it could not be reproduced with the same effect in any other art form. Conversely, the reason I favor this Mountain by Nils Hamm so much is because of its looseness. This piece is very much a painting and very much not a photograph. The third aspect is composition. Viewers of this series will know that I’ve explored these three elements once before in my study on Nils Hamm. Composition, for me, has become more of a relative term since then. It’s not just how an artist arranges the subjects within the frame. It’s also how an artist takes into account the presentation of the final piece and the ways in which their arrangement is informed by their imagined viewer. Composing a gigantic piece meant to be displayed on an entire wall, like the go-to example of The Coronation of Napoleon, will greatly differ from illustrating for a tiny Magic card. These are works of two separate scales, and I’ve noticed that I tend towards art that is cognizant of its intended show size. Which leads me to David Palumbo. Today I’m thrilled to cast light on Palumbo’s work in order to explore these three themes again. Ultimately, I hope to get closer to the overarching question of this entire series, which is: what makes a good painting? And how can the life of an artist combine with their visual style in order to produce an excellent illustration, or even a masterpiece? David Palumbo was born in Michigan, but grew up in Pennsylvania surrounded by a family of artists. In 2000, he enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where he learned the ways of the realists and the beauty in figure painting. The latter is an aspect of art that never left him. The majority of his paintings within Magic are images of an expressive body, and outside of the game, Palumbo has bolstered his portfolio with paintings that explore the visual language of the human figure. Now, in order to capture that language, Palumbo resorts to photography. This is the first aspect of his style that I’d like to bring to your attention, because I believe it is ultimately the reason that his cards are so legible. Like many Magic artists, Palumbo will take a series of reference photos before he paints. But his goal isn’t simply to get an idea of lighting and posture. Rather, he is interested in the psychological aspect of getting into character, as it helps inform shape language and composition in a way that is unavailable without a reference. In his own words, from his post on the Muddy Colors blog on this topic, “If the reason that we shoot reference is to get new information that we would not have imagined, living the conditions of the scene can introduce some great details and ideas.” This theory is best seen at play in Moorland Inquisitor. For this render, Palumbo championed a costume, then poured pots of water over his head to simulate a rainstorm. He needed his gear to be dripping to better depict it in the painted form. This level of dedication to his craft is one reason among many that his paintings are so successful. They’re also successful because they respect the medium of a Magic card. Palumbo knows his illustrations will be compressed to just a few inches in area and imagines his figures accordingly. This is what I will henceforth refer to as “legibility”. If art is to be utilized as a mnemonic device for the game, then the philosophy at play here is to compose images that are clear and defined so they can be easily read by its players. I think Kev Walker has always been one of the most legible artists because he reduces the scene to its core elements. David Palumbo approaches his compositions in a similar way. Let’s look at one of his most famous pieces, Totally Lost, to understand what makes a painting ‘legible’. Without knowing the title of the piece, or even understanding Magic at all, you can read this painting. The terrified look in the homunculus’ lone eye is mirrored in his body language as he recoils from the bustling citizens passing by. He is out of place. Palumbo’s colors here mirror his uniqueness to the scene: the homunculus is a distinct brownish-green that contrasts the dark pants and boots around him. Those legs blend together and overlap the creature in the foreground. All of them are mid-step, and your mind completes the rest of their movement, which creates that implied motion. This action is emphasized by Palumbo’s larger brushstrokes: the chunky paint in the pants and around the homunculus all have little movements of their own, which add to the energy of the scene. I asked David how he felt about Fblthp becoming a cult classic in the game. He responded: “It’s so great to see something like that, particularly on a card that I don’t think sees much play. I think the description that they gave me really set a picture in my mind of this very sympathetic, fragile little guy trying not to get kicked in this busy crowd, so I really wanted to hit that note as hard as I could. I also remember when I was working out the sketch for it, I went out to a part of town with a lot of tourist traffic and laid down on the sidewalk to shoot photos across the street of people’s feet and legs. Nobody paid me any attention the whole time.” Again, David’s commitment to his craft helped him better understand the dynamic of pedestrian crowds. The result is a highly legible card that captured the humor of Magic players all over. We can apply these same principals of color, texture, and composition to his other paintings in Magic. Chief of the Edge and Chief of the Scale are a fun diptych that communicate with one another. On the left is a creature who gives your dudes power, so she’s flying around with a sword. On the right is a creature who gives your dudes toughness, so he’s planted behind a shield. Both pieces feature a prominent central figure in front of a crowd that is composed of very loose brushstrokes. This motif is a favorite of his for creature cards. Phalanx Leader, Medomai the Ageless, and Welkin Guide all display darkened creatures atop white-washed backgrounds. Returning to the ideas in Totally Lost, this strong contrast helps the tiny images read very well at card size. David’s loose brushstrokes were not always a staple of his style, though. If you look at his earlier work in Magic, you will find much tighter renders. But over the course of his ten-year career, he has grown bored of the expectation to make everything clean and smooth, and thus has nurtured a more painterly voice full of larger, more expressive marks. This transition began in 2012 with Warclamp Mastiff and has only become more established since. Developing his own visual trademark carried over into his other commercial projects and personal work as well. In 2014, he was commissioned to illustrate a bulk of select scenes for the collector’s edition of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. The theme of dread lives at the core of this story and Palumbo’s looser style helps deliver on that unease. Depicting something abstract, like terror, is at home with a style that is not clean-cut and straightforward. Palumbo has also re-worked the covers of classic novels as part of one of his many personal projects, painting directly on the hard cover with a re-imagined scene from the book within. One of his biggest projects was a cover for an Italian edition of Rolling Stone back in 2013, which depicted a portrait of David Bowie against a baby blue background. And among his personal projects is his collection of female nudes, which harmonize expressionism with the intimacy of figure painting. As far as color is concerned, Palumbo’s palette is very similar to that of Karl Kopinski: lots of earthy tones mixed with dark shades of brown and black. Because of this tendency, he is often assigned white and black cards. A very recent piece, Vanquish the Weak, embodies David’s color choices perfectly and harkens back to one of his favorite artists NC Wyeth. The colors present here match my mind’s eye of how pirates should be colored, which is probably influenced by Wyeth’s work on Treasure Island. The light browns of the wooden ship and the deep maroon of the victim’s sash play into the pirate trope without taking it over the top. Personally, I would’ve liked to see more of this subdued style in Ixalan. For this reason, it is a standout piece among the set. So to tie this all together, I want to return to my original questions. What makes a good artist, and a good painting? I think studying David Palumbo’s work can teach any appreciator of art about how to organize figures within a frame, as well as the importance of making your images legible. His interest in reference photography, and photography itself as an art form, draws from the nuances of the real world and translates them into one of fantasy. And his looser textures help concentrate an image and provide a painterly element to an increasingly-digital landscape. Outside of Magic, Palumbo has displayed his work in gallery shows and made a name for himself independent of commissioned projects. As such, like I’ve said about a few Magic artists before, I think we are lucky to have an artist of this caliber making art for our game. Into the future, look for those loose brush marks, darker, subdued colors, and expressive figures, and you’ll be pleased to find another work by David Palumbo. This channel is a proud partner of Card Kingdom. Use to help support the show! So, David Palumbo writes for the Muddy Colors Blog, which is a big collective of artists—fantasy artists and otherwise—that are writing about art-making, art theory, and about the process that goes behind each of their paintings. So if you enjoyed this video, that’s where I got a lot of my information from, from the breadth of articles that David has written over the past few years there and there are a few other Magic artists that write for Muddy Colors, so I suggest if you want some extra information about art, start with David Palumbo’s articles and just browse the Muddy Colors Blog. Big thank you to David! Thank you so much for letting me do the research and produce this video, thanks for taking a risk on me, I really appreciate it! If you enjoyed David Palumbo, go ahead and leave me a comment in the comment section below with your favorite piece of art by his. That could be in Magic or otherwise—what I was so surprised about in researching this video, is just how many pieces of art he’s done. His portfolio is gigantic, I feel like he’s been painting 8 hours a day for the last 10 years. So, I suggest you type in “David Palumbo art” in Google Images and have a blast. Right, of course, here’s where I also promote my Patreon page. If you’ve enjoyed this video, then, I would like you to consider supporting me there. It helps me keep going and it’s a nice way to say “thank you”. Happy October, everybody! Hook ’em horns. Go coffee! Thanks for watching. Cheers, guys!

Dereck Turner

100 thoughts on “The Magic Art of David Palumbo

  1. Sarkhamy says:

    I think my favorite art comes from Jana Schirmer & Johannes Voss. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and to a lesser extent Angelic destiny are my favorite card arts in the game. Something about the upward angle and the cloud of silver hair that catches Innistrad's sunlight make's Thalia more angelic than any angel printed in the set.

  2. naomi says:

    this was really lovely

  3. Mighty Fiikus says:

    Nice playful editing! Keep it up

  4. Lauke101 says:

    Fantastic video, as always! I love how you take the time to thoroughly delve into an artists signature and influences with so much enthousiasm.

  5. cbeebe007 says:

    Hey Sam, is Quinton Hoover on your to do list?  Unfortunately he is no longer with us, but it would be great to see a tribute to one of my favorites.  🙂

  6. Donovan Simmons says:

    Could you do a "Magic Art of" video about Nic Klein? I love his works!

  7. Jeffrey Cayton says:

    Also a big fan of Anthony Palumo! Cultivate and Insidious Will are some of my favorites.

  8. Nate Pan says:

    In this serie, you only did focus on artists that struck my eyes, through my early days in Magic and the following journey. The one you notice at the bottom of the small cardboard stuff. Awesome work as always. Thanks !

  9. Casey Barclay says:

    These videos and your dedication to them are wonderful.

  10. Jesse Upperman says:

    When I first discovered this channel I had just started playing this game and never gave the art a second thought, now my turns take a few minutes as I pause over every image appreciating the little things in each piece. This series is one of the best.

  11. PalPlays says:

    The magic art of Daarken?

  12. J Bell says:

    Your vids are so I'll bruh! Keep dropping bombs

  13. Joshua Kelley says:

    Fblthp!!! =D

  14. Neal Crabtree says:

    Awesome video

  15. konrad schulz says:

    Out of all the youtubers I subscribe to and check up on, you are by far the one I look forward to the most! There is no one else out there who makes videos like you. So thank you for the amazing content!!

  16. Tomasz Gorski says:


  17. Xavier Hetherwick says:

    Tyler Jacobson is an artist you should do.

  18. j smith says:

    "dudes" has never sounded so articulate. nice job.

  19. Doge The dog says:

    Do jason chan next

  20. BetimGecaj says:

    The Art of Slivers! Also in and out of that context: the art of Anthony S Waters!

  21. Equinox Paradox says:

    I'd literally pay money to watch a "Magic Art of Steve Argyle", holding mah breath here.

  22. Johansen says:

    I would love to see you make a series where you have conversations with the artists. You could talk to them about their backgrounds, influences, a conversation about their most popular art and the ones they love the most and why. I think of all the MTG youtubers, you are uniquely qualified in your analytic ability, attention to details, work ethic and presentation skills. In the way your videos can be seen as sort of a tribute, I'm sure a conversational version would appeal to other artists, MTG players and art fans in general.

  23. Ezra Szanton says:

    I love the point about art being a mnemonic device for the game, I hadn't thought about it that way but it makes so much sense!

  24. Gino Angulo says:

    hook 'em horns? you in Austin?

  25. cmanheman09 says:

    You reside in Texas? If so that's awesome, same here man! Sweet video as always!

  26. Richmond Boswell says:

    Do you use After Effects for your transition editing? Its very smooth. Well done.

  27. Poya Fallahi says:

    This channel has been a source of bonding with my mother who is a professional artist and graphic designer. I get a lot of enjoyment out of seeing her smile and nod along while you narrate the particular methods and styles employed while breaking down what sets each piece apart. She doesn't really get MtG and isn't especially interested in the fantasy setting but she definitely understands and respects the art and artists involved with bringing the cards to life. These videos are like a bridge between our interests, serving as a common ground where I can relate to her and her to me. Keep up the great work!

  28. Fer Cruz says:

    It's about to get another Sam's video. This one of the best channels ever created, hands down.

  29. Maxzerazzi says:

    Can you please make a video of Aleksi Briclot's art?

  30. Finn Thpjac says:

    Please do Rob Alexander next

  31. Marshall Lonigan says:

    Wayne Renolds? That would be a great vid.

  32. Marcello Coppedé says:

    Please make a video about rebecca guay 😀

  33. weirdproq1 says:

    one of my favorite MTG artists is Phil Foglio, with his comical art. My favorite one of his is Master Decoy because of the vibrant pink grass and the zebra unicorn. it's very odd, and I like it. I also like Kaja Foglio's work as well, as it looks nearly the same.

  34. MaeseEidos says:

    Palumbo is one of my favourites. I would love a video about Christopher Moeller.

  35. marcmarc1967 says:

    I think the transition from "tight renders" as you call them, as seen in Deft Duelist shown at 6:42, to the two somewhat more abstract cards shown at 6:02 is the reason I have grown less fond of magic art over the last 10 years. The newer art looks great at full size, but shrunk down to a 2-inch square most of the detail gets lost.

  36. Rykzor says:

    Chris Rahn and Aleksi Briclot would both be amazing topics. Really love your work.

  37. Paul Dudley says:

    The Magic art of Ron Spencer! 😀 please! .. also this series is amazing

  38. Elesh says:

    Omg you have to Igor Kierluk at some point. The way he uses colors combined with the intricate, yet subtle backgrounds and popping vibrant subjects is just amazing. I think you should at least consider him for a video.

  39. Brandon Watson and the IKB Sound says:

    Agreed about your thoughts on Vanquish the Weak within Ixalan

  40. ligtnin1 says:

    You should make podcasts where you just discuss paintings from magic… Like a reaaaaaally long one. that would be so cool to just chill and listen to

  41. Evelyn Hewett says:

    I love cursed minotaur. It's sculptural and atmospheric and it was the first intance of his art where I stopped and took note of him.

  42. ALet338 says:

    Does anybody know if it is possible to get a comprehensive art book of all the art in the game? I think it would make an awesome coffee table book, and I would have killed for that kind of imagination fuel as a kid

  43. Crazyeight says:

    Damn, you probably never gonna read my comment. But I think your videos have by far the greatest quality among any videos I've ever saw on YouTube. This is some great stuff. Greets from Germany.

  44. Thomas O Hewitt says:

    You should make a video on Veronique Meignaud!

  45. L S D says:


  46. Dustin Trips says:

    Really love your videos on the Art of Magic the Gathering. They are very in depth. You have a knack for this, are you by chance studying art?

  47. blade6321 says:

    Wow. Absolutely wonderful, my favourite piece would probably be the one of the priest and the shadow at 7:12 ( ), the use of light and shadow is unparalleled.

  48. Sephyrias says:

    I'd also like to see a video on
    – Steve Argyle
    – Aleski Briclot
    – Min Yum

  49. boitahaki says:

    Make one of these for Clint Cearley!

  50. Space Cowboy says:

    Please do a video about Raoul Vitale!

  51. Alex Reynolds says:

    Seb Mckinnon?

  52. Teddy Holthaus says:

    I love these videos (great job on them, by the way) and ever since seeing her art, I have loved Magali Villeneuve's work. If you seek an idea for a new video. I ask that you at least consider this great artist. Thank you!

  53. MACK1870 says:

    Do a video about stasis

  54. ThatEmoEmu says:

    John Avon?

  55. Max Whitworth says:

    No Rebecca Guay?

  56. FishHookFPC says:

    Hey, love the series! Would love to see you tackle James Paick some day: his basic Plains panorama in Scars of Mirrodin was one of the first things that caught my eye about Magic art and Embermaw Hellion is GORGEOUS, especially in foil.

  57. Bobby Austin says:

    That's one of the first mountains I ever saw, and still one of my favorite

  58. KaSalad says:

    the amount of work behind this video is insane, subbed

  59. thefancytomato says:

    Would you ever consider doing a video on Rebecca Guay? I love her work, it feels distinctly hers whenever I see it.

  60. Paweł Franciszek Niemiec says:

    Wow, your channel is my YT find of the year! Crazy awesome job! Thank you.

  61. Noah Wysocki says:

    My favourite Magic art by David would have to be Ordeal of Nylea. There's a forcefulness to it that really communicates the feeling of triumph the character, presumably Nylea, would feel in that moment before her blade hit home.

  62. ytkob says:

    i cant get over vanquish the weak and human frailty.
    this guy seriously knows how to make a skull spooky and intimidating
    and ordeal of nylea is jaw dropping too

  63. LuciusemJ says:

    I just really have to say I love your voice. It's so calming to listen to!

  64. Gabe Young says:

    I personally LOVE the art on old lands, like from weatherlight.

  65. Fischer Brown says:

    What a cool video. So many of these cards I want to use because I love the art so much. Totally lost is my favorite

  66. GregTom2 says:

    Waiwaiwait what was that about female nudes?
    I'll keep a mental note to look it up sometime.

  67. Makhno Bakunin says:

    Do you have a degree in aesthetic philosophy? this was very well written

  68. Sahl says:

    These videos are incredible, thank you

  69. Matthew Campbell says:

    Petition to get Fblthp his own legendary!

  70. Andrew Huff says:

    These are such a joy to watch, love the appreciation for Magic’s art and artists, and the mood is so calming. Could watch these forever ❤️

  71. Parker Han says:

    I love these videos about the art. They are so informative, thoughtful, and professional looking and sounding! We need more of this kind of content on YouTube!

  72. Brad B says:

    Could you do Jason Felix Plz

  73. Angga Dwipayana says:

    this is dope! please make more of this study series, it's realllllyyy help me grow as an artist. Thank you so much 🙂

  74. BDconrad says:

    1:59 What is this piece called? I love it!

  75. Wind Wanker says:

    I can't be the only one that looked up "David Palumbo female nudes" right after he said something about it.

  76. Mark Faulk says:


  77. Chadwick Garman says:

    I really like artists whose work could have been in the old card frame the new digital style looks so bad

  78. The Council of Eight System says:

    Flavor Text on promo wrath of god: "Ftphthp had always hated crowds."

  79. George Barbari says:

    Please god keep making these. Watching these is truly inspiring as a digital artist. They are like an inspirational kick in the ass.

  80. Matthew Sawczyn says:

    These animation transitions are amazing

  81. Fishbones says:

    i like your glasses man. have you tried any wood frames?

  82. Dave Coronado says:

    yea. Like his stuff.

  83. Sebastiano Zezza says:

    Sei italiano?

  84. Bea B says:

    Your videos are amazing; you are one of my favorite youtubers, and the mood you create is so calming, I've begun regularly watching your videos whenever my anxiety starts spiking
    Thank you for making these videos.

  85. Anthony Avon says:

    Goal 1: Work for MTG.
    Goal 2: End up in one of your videos.

  86. trumpetperson11 says:

    I really love the new Gaea's Blessing
    he did the art for, I know its a little different that much of his recent work but I just think it looks so great.

  87. Doubledasher says:

    1:08 Hey that’s my favorite mountain art as well

  88. Jas Bataille says:

    You're better than any art teacher I ever had. Man!

  89. Jas Bataille says:

    Also better than most editors. I'm an editor.

  90. pierty878 says:

    wow – 8:20 – 8:26 you sound like you're rapping. I've noticed how the delivery of your script tends to subtly fall in-beat with your background music before, but it's definitely most noticeable here.

  91. Drew Longbrake says:

    Fblthp was just spoiled to have his own card in the next magic set: War of the Spark!!.. that card art is super nostalgic to me. Back in return to Ravnica I pulled a foiled version of Totally Lost in a pack and there was always something about the art that I really enjoyed. The card wasn't very good but I've always held onto it because of that ease of legibility. Always great videos, Rhystic!

  92. therumblerx says:

    It's funny how for the longest time I didn't do any research on the artist who created on of my favorite cards for its art. Public execution shows the fear and horror of the crowd but also the twisted ones who enjoy the execution. Visually pleasing and simplistic art with deep emotion is why I like Anthony palumbos work, brother of David Palumbo.

  93. RaisedBySirens says:

    i dont want this series to ever end…

  94. Apocalypse Chime says:

    6:41 I bet that was a bomb in limited

  95. Cragscleft says:

    6:04 I swear Sam has an inner rapper who wants to come out 😉

  96. Anna Starks says:

    Jason Chan anytime soon?

  97. daniele anyday says:

    Rhystic, are you a fellow art history major ?

  98. Anonymous Crab says:

    My magic cards have been in a cardboard box for a while now, so your videos give me a large sense of nostalgia, but thanks for that.

  99. Edmund Yong says:

    I'm binge-watching your videos. they are so great!

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