Hi all, I'm in the process of making my first Ars Magica character, a Merinitae magus whose reason to pursue magic is to create pieces of art that wouldn't be possible to create by mundane means (paintings that smell like what is displayed, statues that sing, moving mosaics, etc). However I'm finding difficulty understanding how to go about this since I'm not familiar with the game's magic system.
My idea is that the character is skilled at crafting the art piece by himself (he has ranks in craft (painting) and craft (sculpture) as well as the free expression virtue and +3 finesse), and then would specialise in magic that adds extra effects to the art piece. I thought about specialising in Muto and creating spells that would allow me to change properties of the paints or materials used in the art piece, but it seems like there is no way to make a permanent Muto effect (so I wouldn't make permanent changes of shapes or colors). Furthermore, I had this idea of enchanting paints that instead of painting color they would paint odors or sounds, but it seems like Muto Imaginem can't change a sense into another... I could create a Creo Imaginem spell with a duration of Ring and that seems like it would be permanent (painting a ring that smells like flowers on the backside of a portrait for example), but then I would be spreading out my spells ranks a bit too thin, since I would also need Muto, Rego, Herbam and Terram for other artistic endeavors.
If anyone more knowledgable in this than me could give me some advice on what Forms and Techniques to specialise in for this sort of artistic magic that would be great!
Difficult question, because Ars Magica is a smörgåsbord of options, and yet there is no free lunch ...
You probably want to read the chapter on the creation of beautiful things under Jerbiton in HoH:S. Many Jerbiton have a similar objective to yours, although most of their craft magic uses magic to make mundane art, without augmenting them with actual magical effects. Thus they use Rego to make the piece, and once made it is permanent and non-magical. Because it is magic, they can use their spells and finesse in lieu of any craft skill.
If you want a permanent magical effect, you need vis, and normally that means an enchanted item. Adding smell or sound is a simple Imaginem effect, or maybe less simple if you have something truly spectacular in mind. It can be made constant, or made to trigger as if you start a tape recording. This is expensive though. It takes a season and then vis.
Muto magic can do a couple of neat tricks that surpass what mundane craftsmen and Rego craft wizards can do. You can for instance make a material soft and malleable, to wrap it around something else in ways otherwise impossible. When the magic expires, the material will take its original form, but not its original shape; thus you can make impossible wonders without vis.
I think these are the most obvious options. I am sure there are more.
The Artist section at the end of Art & Academe may be worth a read.
The Merinita Inner Mystery of Glamour might be worth a look as well.
The Verditius Mystery of Automata might be an idea as well, for your singing statues and such, although it is resource and time intensive. It's even potentially available to a Merinita Magus because the secret was leaked.
My first instinct is to go for enchantments, for the kind of things that you want to produce, however the Merinita mysteries offer interesting durations that give options about doing lasting effects with spells alone that may be more satisfying to an artist than having every creation he makes depend on a lasting, undamaged circle.
As to your questions on arts and Forms, I would likely gravitate towards Imaginem the most, possibly some Ignem for heat and light, and Creo/Muto/Rego. Herbam and Terram can have uses as well, but they are less essential I think.
A different approach to "magical" art supplies would be the alchemical reagents of the Experimental Philosophers, from Art & Academe. You would create formulas in the laboratory using Philosophiae rather than Hermetic Magic, but you could make some limited extraordinary effects without vis - paints the colors of flickering fire; a varnish that makes the painting damage-, stain-, and sun-resistant, a scent additive that lingers for years. It's expensive in XP and time, but the results are very difficult to replicate without a lot of vis; and as the final products are technically mundane, there are no restrictions of their sale. And you can buy a decent tractatus on Philosophiae with mere silver from a common bookseller, which is useful because you will be wanting a lot of them.
It also gives your GM a lot of adventure hooks, because formulae can be found from philosophers and alchemists throughout Europe, and the Order of Solomon have even better techniques if you can manage to get a practitioner to share.
I think as a new player, it's important to check with your Storyguide about what books are available, what rules he's using for Magical Crafting, and crafting in general. The two extra books you may want to look at - as others mentioned - Arts And Academe, and HOH: Societates, the Jerbiton section. I recently designed a magical artist, so I have some ideas if you want to talk about ways to do it.
The big choice you have to make is if you want to use magic to CREATE art (Finesse rego crafting) or use magic to change how you create art (using Craft skills to create art while using magic to enhance it).
My Favorite Example of the latter
Casting Muto Herbam to turn different colors and grains of wood into paint, then Craft:Painting to create a work of art - when the Muto Herbam spell runs out, the paint turns back into wood, effectively allowing you to paint with wood.
First of all thank you for all the insightful replies!!
I feel that examples like reccoonnmask's or Fishy's are the most feasible ones, at least as a starting point. There is a spell in the core book that allows you to turn a stone into clay for a duration so I could look into creating spells like that one for other kind of materials. Maybe add Muto spells with Ring or Until durations to add extra flavor.
If you have any other ideas please feel free to share!
Honestly, one of the easiest ways to do this is to take Touched by (Realm), using Imaginem. Now you can make artwork that has special effects without using any vis. If you want to focus on a particular type of artwork, you can use the narrowed versions of Touched by (Realm) that allow a single Form with a single Craft for a Minor Virtue.
I know it feels like a big bypass, but it handles so much so simply if you're willing to invest in a Craft. Such a Craft could pair well with a Verditius's magic, though, as they use Craft in the lab.
The Hermetic route I would probably take would be to use a lot of D: Ring Imaginem effects and incorporate circles into my artwork. Paintings could be circular with circular frames. Sculptures could include circular stands, etc. Then you could do all sorts of lasting CrIm, MuIm, or other things (e.g. CrIg to have a tiny flame on a stone sculpture's little stone torch) using Hermetic magic.
My Saga has lots of enchanted items for turning varies materials into varies consistency of liquid or clay-like material for a short period of time. Primarily they are used by the craftsmen to form, combine, or plate with the materials. Items or spells that represent this type of effect would be extremely useful for a Magi artist, allowing them to create items and combinations that are extremely difficult (if not impossible) for the time. They can also allow adding extremely fine details.
For items with some sort of magical effect there is another option than enchanting or mystery effects. You can incorporate materials that have some sort of magical effect. Items of Virtue and the varies special forms of Vis are two examples. RoP:M chapter 8 (p.119) has a collection to get you started on ideas. You would have to get together with your SG and of course YSMV.
Touched by (Realm) is the Virtue required to craft Wondrous Items using the rules for such in C&G (p.70). Only working on/for and being activated for by the person the item is created for is a restriction. There are also some big R/D/T limitations and other than the cost of Vis it is generally weaker, slower, and more difficult than simply enchanting the object.
The Virtue itself is also a Major, meaning that it is fairly expensive for a Magi. Not sure where Callen is finding a Minor version of it.
There is Mythic Farrier in Grogs which is specifically only for crafting horseshoes. The other mentions of Touched by (Realm) in that book are companion Craftsman taking the Major Virtue. A group could HR a version similar to Mythic Farrier but that does not change it being worse in every way but Vis cost compared to enchanting. For a non-Magi artist who only creates one type of art work though it might be interesting.
Not trying to say there is no Saga where it might make sense to take it. Any that are extremely Vis constrained it might make sense. Though in such cases going Verditius might be better depending on the concept. Their R/D/T restrictions can be pretty harsh and they lack the ability to create a "Constant" effect.
In general it is a far better Virtue for non-magical or hedge mage than it is for a Hermetic Magi, as long as they are not severely Vis constrained. However using something other than the most effective means if it fits the character concept is perfectly acceptable. I even offered such a way in my first post. If using any form that has limitations though it is important to make sure that they do not prevent creating the items desired.
I think the best method would be to combine several of the means if possible. This would give a range of options, allowing production of art objects with a range of cost.