"Classic Art Tokens always start with the most important element, the art."
Josh Krause has been living with art for decades. Growing up around art and artists led to a deep appreciation for the work and effort involved. Recently, as a Magic fanatic passionate about how things look for the game, Josh went to work creating an amazing series of tokens using some of the most iconic art on the planet. The Classic Art Tokens project even put an exclusive token on the TCGplayer Prize Wall.
Now, he's back again. Classic Art Tokens: Marble Edition is the obligatory sequel: More tokens, more art, more playmats and accessories to match, and more of everything that made the first edition a runaway hit.
What I love about talking to Josh is how his passion spills over. Both projects are filled with deliberate choices that are almost invisible looking in, and running into him at events like GenCon only heightened my awareness of what goes on behind the scenes.
Just what does it take to make a Classic Art Token? While he's given me bits and pieces over conversations, I managed to get the full story from Josh, starting at the beginning.
"Creating a Token can be a very time intensive process, with locating the art being the most demanding. Whenever I'm in 'Token Creation Mode' I may have a short list or general idea of what Tokens I'm looking for, but most of my searches begin by checking out what art is available," Josh said. "Some museums, like the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, have made it easy by providing high resolution images for anyone to use; other pieces required significantly more effort to uncover."
"While I've done some targeted searches for very specific tokens in the past—Servo was a particularly interesting challenge—most of the tokens come about as a result of scouring the internet for usable images of classic art," Josh explained. "With the art in hand, we can template it and proof it fairly quickly, but finding and matching the right piece of art for a token can, and has in some cases, taken days to weeks of searching."
"As an example, let me walk you through the creation of our Human Wizard token, one of the first new tokens we created for the project."
"This token began its life while I was searching for artwork for the first project, well before the printing of Eldritch Moon and the advent of a Human Wizard token."
"I initially came across the piece while searching through portrait paintings of US founding fathers, looking for good options for Citizen or possibly even Copy tokens. Immediately I knew that I had to make a token out of it, but there were two problems:
The first problem could have been solved by using it as a charge counter, or something similar, but the second issue was much more of a roadblock."
Sometimes, what holds back a project isn't creativity or technology but the intricacies of laws that encompass a global game like Magic. What governs art and creative publications varies from country to country; for Classic Art Tokens to serve players worldwide means Josh has to put in some legwork.
"For the vast majority of countries in the world, the copyright on a piece of artwork expires 70 years after the death of the artist," Josh said. "Things get more complicated the deeper you go down the rabbit hole, but generally speaking, the work of any artist that died in 1945 or earlier has entered the public domain and can be used by anyone for any purpose."
"That only applies to the artwork itself. Whether that applies to any digital images or photographs of that artwork is another matter entirely. In the US, it's unsettled case law, and elsewhere it varies. Even though the piece of art may be 600 years old, some countries will grant a new copyright to any replications of the artwork, such as photographs or scans."
This impacts that all-important hunt for high-quality images. "When you go on sites like Flickr and Wikimedia Commons, you can't go by the Public Domain tag alone, especially if you are planning to use an image internationally," Josh said. "It's not all doom and gloom as some museums have been more generous than others with regards to supporting the public domain. In the words of the Rijksmuseum management: 'If someone wants to put a Vermeer on their toilet paper, at least let it be a good Vermeer.'"
"When a museum requires authorization for the use of an image, that often includes an image licensing fee along with restrictions on its usage, modification and print run," Josh continued, diving back into the art of Classic Art Tokens. "With my deadline to finalize all designs for the first project fast approaching, I didn't have the time nor the resources to haggle with the museum and include it in the project. It went on the pile with all of the other amazing pieces of art that I considered out of reach.
"Then came Eldritch Moon and the search for the Human Wizard token."
"After the success of the first project, I still had the itch for creating new Tokens and had already started work on what would become Classic Art Tokens: Marble Edition," Josh said. "The Benjamin Franklin artwork instantly came to mind, solving problem one, but the main issue remained. With less of a deadline crunch restricting my time, I reached out to the image reproduction team at the Philadelphia Museum of Art expecting to hear the same that I had from every other museum I'd contacted: 'Sure, you can use it, if you pay us more than you can reasonably afford for it.'
"I received much better news instead: I could use the image as long as I credited the museum appropriately. With the art finally secured and copyright issues settled, I started work on the token."
Magic's tokens have gone through many looks over the years, with now dozens of artists, websites and content producers adding their own look to the mix. Classic Art Tokens created a unique template to reflect both the individuality of the project and "frame" the art appropriately.
"Our token template, designed by the amazing Bonnie Bruenderman, went through several variations before we came up with the final design for the first project," Josh explained.
"For Marble Edition we kept almost all of the elements in the template the same, adding the project's logo in the bottom left to mark the tokens as from the Marble Edition Kickstarter."
"Using our updated template, we pasted in the art, updated the token and art text on the card and then added one final touch to make it stand out."
Details like keeping the entire key visible show the care and time each token takes. "We don't break the frame every time we can when making tokens," Josh said, "but when it makes sense for the art and looks good on the token we are always pleased with the final results.
"Start to finish the Human Wizard token took over three months to become a reality, but only about 15 minutes of that was the actual creation of the token. Like I said, finding the art is always the most difficult and time-consuming part of the equation."
Digital design is just the staging; what appears beautiful on computer screens takes printing know-how to execute on paper. "Before we launched Classic Art Tokens: Marble Edition, we ordered a test run of tokens to ensure all of the details came through in print," Josh said. "We were not disappointed: the token looks fantastic in print."
When art, persistence and token align it's beautiful, but it's not always the case. Some of the greatest art will likely never grace a token.
"After launching two Classic Art Token Kickstarters, I've had numerous requests for artwork that is either still under copyright—Picasso, Escher, Dali, etc.—or are held under strict lock and key by their resident museums," Josh explained. "The most requested is definitely Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights.
"It's one of his most well-known pieces and you could easily make several tokens out of the various scenes depicted in the piece—if it weren't for the restrictions and licensing required by the museum. Sure, you can find other digital images on Wikimedia Commons, Flickr, Dover Pictura, Visipix.com and elsewhere, but all of them have issues that disqualify them from inclusion in the project.
"Often, you'll find that the images on Wikimedia Commons are just rehosted images from the museum that the users failed to properly indicate," Josh said. "You can even check in the EXIF data of the image and see the © 'Museum Name' inside the file. Other times you'll find a good image with a reliable source, but the colors are wrong, the image size is too small or some other aesthetic element that detracts from the original piece of artwork that disqualifies it from use. Since we're only dealing with a minimum 600 pixels by 800 pixels image for tokens, you aren't looking for anything massive, but in many cases you'll find an amazing piece of artwork but never find a file that will work."
Another concern Josh contends with is originality: All of the art is public domain, and therefore free to everyone else as well. "Using public domain artwork in a project is an interesting exercise. Anyone can use the artwork, but they can't use the modifications that you make or the other elements unique to your project," he said. "The token template and Marble Edition logo we use, for example, are covered by copyright, but the artwork on the tokens is not. As I've learned quite thoroughly by now, using public domain artwork unlocks the illustration history of the world but is not without its own pitfalls.
"While finding artwork for tokens is always my main focus while scouring the internet, I'm also looking for possible playmat artwork, which is much more restrictive," Josh explained. "While a relatively small image will work for tokens, playmats require significantly larger 3,000 pixel by 2,000 pixel work in a landscape format. Many of the images that I've come across that are large enough simply lose too much detail when cropped for the playmat format."
"In some cases, like our new Vincent van Gogh playmat, you can make it work with a bit of photoshop magic. Generally, the loss is too significant and we're restricted to pieces that were painted in landscape format. Despite all that we've found many, many pieces that would make excellent tokens and playmats."
Like any good follow up, Josh added more options and items to the second round. "New to Classic Art Tokens: Marble Edition are playmat bags and dice bags," Josh said. "Sourcing images for these products follows roughly the same process as playmats so we actually included versions of each for all of our playmat designs."
"The hardest part is maintaining the passion throughout the ups and downs of running a project," Josh continued. "From inception to fulfillment, you have to be able to maintain that same level of intensity and communicate that to others, to light the same fire in their hearts that you have in yours. Coming up with a great idea for a token is the smallest part of the process; you have to have enough drive and determination to get over all of the bumps that come along the way."
"There will always be bumps."
Passion is, fortunately, something Josh has in spades. "Designing the tokens, playmats and bags for Classic Art Tokens is a labor of love," Josh said. "Having played games like Magic for over 20 years, I'm so happy to be able to combine my passion for games with my creative drive."
To see everything in Classic Art Tokens: Marble Edition, including amazing stretch goals that have already been unlocked, head over to the Marble Edition Kickstarter to find your next set of tokens.
I already have.