Aesthetic Exploration: Magewave

The aesthetic I chose was magewave, a composite aesthetic that has taken years to develop, borrowing from many different themes, and solidifying itself into a truly unique aesthetic (that happens to now be one of my favorites.) Wizards have always evoked a very specific image, one of knowledge, power, and fantasy, and in contrast to witchcore (a much calmer theme that romanticizes the small actions and quiet life, similar to cottagecore,) magewave evokes a much more active and lively theme, often depicting snapshots and moments rather than an overarching life. Although magewave came to life in the latter half of the twentieth century, earlier evidence comes through in wizards such as Yen Sid from Fantasia (1940) [1]

and Gandalf the Grey from The Hobbit (1937) helped transition the image of the classic wizard into modern media. Magewave really solidified in the mid 1970s with the help of Gary Gygax’s game Dungeons and Dragons in 1974. Other instances include Merlin from Sword in the Stone (1963) [2], Tim from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and what I think is a huge inspiration and sticking point for the aesthetic, Terry Prachett’s Discworld series; Prachett’s novels truly depict wizards as incredibly powerful beings, while also being very bizarre and showing the true randomness and chaos of wielding magic, nothing sums up both Terry Prachett and magewave than this quote from Lord and Ladies

“What is magic? There is the wizard’s explanation… wizards talk about candles, circles, planets, stars, bananas, chants, runes and the importance of having at least four good meals every day.”

Common themes found in magewave are often:

Cluttered library/lab


Familiars (such as cats or birds)

Long, flowing robes (often whipping around from all the magic being cast)

Tall pointy hats

Magical prowess and performance, often of elemental magic like lightning or fire

Bright color pallet, emphasize on blue, purple, and gold

Magewave evolved from many aesthetics, including maximalism (the cluttered spaces), wizard/witch core (magic and the concept of wizards), fantasy (see previous aesthetic), acidwave (the overly-saturated color pallets and scenes that do not let the eye rest, also since magewave is often depicted on posters right alongside a black light lava lamp.) Artists that helped popularize the aesthetic include David B. Mattingly, Don Maitze, and Charles Vess. David B. Mattingly is an illustrator, well-known for illustrating a majority of the Animorphs book covers, while also showing many wizards and mages in action, casting magnificent spells and conjuring mythical creatures, Mattingly also has a series of wizards doing mundane things, like sitting in the kitchen (“Wizard in the Kitchen”) [3], riding the subway (“The Subway Wizard”) [4], and holding keynote speeches (“The Wizard Convention”). 

And while these last few examples don’t quite fit the action-packed image of previous pieces, I love them so much I had to mention them. Don Maitz has a much more traditional style that fits into magewave, with pieces such as “The Wizard’s Touch” [5] and “The Wizards Approach” [6]

these are typically what you might see if you are thinking of a crazy wizard poster you saw one time that made you laugh. Charles Vess is an illustrator who has a more traditional fantasy style, with his cover for The Comic Times (1980) [7], 

Vess has also worked with Neil Gaiman to illustrate stores in The Sandman series. Charles Vess has a clear inspiration that he mentions, one of the artists that inspires his work is Alphonse Mucha, and popular art nouveau illustrator from the early 1900s.


[1] Jedi, Figment. “Yen Sid/Gallery.” Disney Wiki,


[2] Muppets, Legalize Anything. “Merlin/Gallery.” Disney Wiki,


[3] Mattingly, David B. “The Subway Wizard” David Mattingly, Accessed 30 Jan. 2023.


[4] Mattingly, David B. “The Wizard in the Kitchen.” David Mattingly, Accessed 30 Jan. 2023.


[5] Maitz, Don. “The Wizard’s Touch.” Don Maitz Imaginative Artwork, 2002, Accessed 30 Jan. 2023.


[6] Maitz, Don. “The Wizard’s Approach.” Don Maitz Imaginative Artwork, 2002, Accessed 30 Jan. 2023.


[7] Vess, Charles. The Comic Times, Edited by Dennis Cieri, vol. 04, no. 04, Jan. 1980.

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7 Comments. Leave new

  • Abigail Schefer
    March 21, 2023 8:41 pm

    I have never heard of this aesthetic! I like how it feels vintage but still uses bold colors and imagery.

  • I really like this aesthetic as you’ve shown more of it than most of us typically see through video games or movies. The inclusion of wizards carrying out everyday tasks in the modern era is an interesting juxtaposition with the castles and dragons they typically accompany. I hadn’t noticed how pervasive the gold, purple, and blue color scheme was until you pointed it out, but many images in this style feature muted colors like this as if lit by candlelight.

  • Connor Jameson
    February 5, 2023 11:50 pm

    It’s very interesting to see the changes that have been made by the artists from the beginning in the early 1900’s and the characters that have been developed since then such as Gandalf. I wonder if this aesthetic will continue to rise in popularity?

  • Chin-Hsuan(Andrea) Wang
    February 4, 2023 12:24 am

    It’s so impressive and amazing! Thank you for sharing your observation of this unique aesthetic.
    Love the posters that show wizards in the modern lives. It’s so inspiring on seeing how the artist thought of wizard’s role or daily lives in the mundane society!!

  • Thank you for putting a name to a great aesthetic. I love airbrushed wizards on creepy vans and pieces like Maitze’s. Its cool to see Mattingly’s mundane takes as well. I would be curious as to you opinion on ‘real life wizards’ like Edison who was called the Wizard of Menlo Park, and coincidentally a cluttered creative mind who made a living with lightning and fire.

    • Hi George, I love the concept of real life wizards, as it brings a lot of whimsy and interest to creators and their work. However, I don’t think Thomas Edison is a good example, seeing that he was more capable of patenting creations rather than actually inventing them. A better real life example from the time would be Nikola Tesla, who I think encapsulates the ideology of a wizard much better, with his pursuit if knowledge and helping others. A more modern example could be Adam Savage (formerly working at Mythbusters, now on the Tested Network.) Or looking to the more artistic side, you could look to Brian Froud (the inspiration and main artist for Jim Henson’s “The Dark Crystal.”)

      • I also suggest looking at David B. Mattingly’s wizard portfolio on his website, especially his piece, “The Wizard of Fourth Street.”


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