Welcome back Planeswalkers. Join us for another Magic: The Gathering artist interview. This time with Denman Rooke and his work on the latest set Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths. Let’s take an opportunity to appreciate the hard work of creating the wonderful worlds we love to indulge in? So, let’s delve in shall we?

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Hey, I’m Denman Rooke. I’m an illustrator, concept artist, and art director in Galway, Ireland. Though, like a lot of Galwegians I’ve found my way to this lovely town from somewhere else. That else, being Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. But I’ve lived in Ireland now for 7 years. On the art side, I’ve been working commercially as an artist for 13 years. I got my start doing punk band t-shirts and album covers, but eventually landed on my true passion: fantasy & sci-fi illustration. I learned art traditionally, but since 2010 have been almost exclusively digital. But with Magic’s lovely traditional loving community, I am tempted to go back to my roots for a piece or two. We’ll see.

Are you a Magic: The Gathering Player? If so, how do you play?

I am, yes! I started playing back in 2011 right when Innistrad came out. I honestly started playing because I had been doing a bit of fantasy illustration at that point and wanted to get some commissions from Wizards of the Coast, so I figured it was a good idea to understand the lore and gameplay. And what do you know? It’s a really fun game and I’ve loved it ever since. My first proper standard deck I built back then was a White/Green human tokens deck. Using Champion of the Parish, a bunch of token generation in tandem with Parallel Lives. It was gross. Still love that deck. White weenies will always have a place in my Magic heart.

What was your initial reaction to bringing the Drannith Stinger to life?

I was really excited about it! Not only is the setting cool but I loved the idea of the humans holding out in this plane full of huge monsters. They are definitely not at the top of the food chain here. Drannith Stinger in particular captures that idea of fighting back.

What is your favourite part of crafting the Drannith Stinger? Take us through the thought process of your work on this piece.

In the theme of holding out against these massive beasts, I really wanted to capture her energy and emotion. I love playing with dramatic angles and lighting when I can, so it was a perfect opportunity to incorporate a dutch angle and upshot since she was on top of a high wall hurling a fire spell down on her enemies. The other challenge was trying to show a powerful fire spell, with big motion in the character’s pose, without it obscuring her too much. Especially because this was a creature spell and not a sorcery or instant. I loved creating this character and I’m really excited she’s become my first official magic set card.

Do you have a favourite monster? And if you could be any monster, what would you be?

Oh this is a tough one. Lurrus of the Dream-Den is probably my favorite of the set. Slawomir Maniak’s illustration is just so lovely as well. The white smoke like effect contrasting with the black cat is just so damn good. The four eyes are creepy…. and… there’s a little kitten nightmare as well. What more could you want? And to answer the second question, I didn’t even plan this I promise. But I think it’s only fitting that I’d be Lurrus of the Dream-Denman.

What monster would you like to bring into card form?

Nethroi, Apex of Death looks like a really fun monster to draw. It’s another great combo of nightmare and cat.  Actually, the more I think about it, I just seem to be pulled in by all these nightmare cats… is it because I’ve been cooped up with my own cat for 31 days? Who knows?

What other Magic: The Gathering pieces would you love to bring to the canvas?

I’d love to bring a legendary creature or Planeswalker to life. That’s kind of the dream. I’ve been illustrating commercially for 13 years now, and finally have my bucket list item of illustrating for a Magic the Gathering set. So why not keep going? Come on Wizards, give it to me! Haha. All joking aside, it would be a lot of fun. They’re always so iconic and cool, plus they’re usually entwined in the lore as well.

Is there any other card art you love? If so, why?

So many! I’ll just stick to Ikoria since we’re here. And you can’t stop me from picking a few because there’s too many good ones.

Lurrus of the Dream-Den illustrated by Slawomir Maniak:

As mentioned earlier, I love this piece. I love it’s beautifully designed balance of values, plus it’s creepy and cool nature, but with a touch of cute.

Gyruda, Doom of Depths illustrated by Tyler Jacobson:

I’ve been a fan of Tyler’s work for a long time. And his latest piece is no exception. He’s able to capture scale and a story in a piece without losing the focus of the creature itself. I’m always envious of his brushwork. It’s so lovely.

Chevill, Bane of Monsters illustrated by Yongjae Choi:

This character nailed the monster hunter vibe so well. He looks victorious, but in the asshole kind of way. You can almost smell him as well. The character feels like he belongs. He’s in his element.

Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy illustrated by Jason Rainville:

Not only is the angle and posing excellent and right up my alley, but Jason does such a great job of creating iconic characters that don’t fit into the typical body shapes you often see in entertainment. It’s refreshing to see in it’s own right, but it also makes the world feel more believable. Not every character has to look like a fitness model. Jason’s brushwork and sense of form are both so lovely. I’ve been a fan of his for a while now.

Do you prefer producing monsters, environments, or characters? Or something else?

Oh characters by far! I always enjoy painting a character. Environments and monsters are fun of course, but there’s something about creating a unique individual that you can’t get anywhere else. There’s so much you can put into a character’s face alone, not to mention, posture, attire, etc., all these elements shape a narrative, a history. And, as viewers, we instinctively will be drawn to look at characters and try to understand or get an impression of what their personality is. So that opportunity as an artist to craft the character is both challenging and rewarding.

Who would you side with in Ikoria? The humans? Or the beasts? And why?

Hmm… That’s a tough one. I really enjoy the faction in-between, the bonders. They seem to be the layer underneath, siding with neither, fending for themselves. Also who doesn’t love some big ol’ pet pals?

What creature would you create/mutate just in general not just in magic. If you get to bring a creature to life, what would it be?

What if you took an otter, a duck, and a beaver… and squished them all together. Oh wait, that’s a platypus.

What creature would you mutate from the Ikoria cards revealed so far? And why does it appeal to you?

Crystalline Giant with a mutate of Illuna, Apex of Wishes seems pretty cool. There’s something fun about the possibility of a hexproof counter on a 6/6 Illuna that is terrifying!

And that is your lot. Massive thanks to Denman Rooke for the opportunity to share some insight into his wonderful creations. It’s always a delight to enjoy the worlds created by awesome artists! You can find more artist interviews here. Also, why not have a browse of our favourite cards from the Ikoria set? Stay tuned for more news, reviews, and guides. Until next time, smile and game!