For years, Dutch artist Ilse Gort has created illustrations for everything from Blizzard to books from Penguin Random House. And, yes, that includes Magic: The Gathering as well.
Ilse was gracious enough to take some time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions about her career, her life, the furry fandom, and (of course) the game of Magic.
Magic Untapped: What inspirations and influences in your life drove you to becoming a professional artist?
Ilse Gort: I picked up drawing as a hobby when I was about ten years old. Notable influences early on were a series of Dutch fairy tale books ("Lekturama Luistersprookjes en Vertellingen"), Dinotopia, The Lord of the Rings, Pokémon, the Heroes of Might & Magic games and Warcraft III. There are no artists in my family nor anyone else's families that I knew growing up, so for a long time it didn't really occur to me that it was a career you could pursue despite my drive for the hobby!
It wasn't until I became immersed in online art communities and discovered the artists working on the titles I loved that I realized it was something I could do. There have been countless artists who influenced and inspired me along the way, but I have to mention James Gurney as a major influence both in terms of the illustration work that I strive to create but also for the wealth of knowledge that he provides in his books, and Luke Mancini as one of the first industry artists I followed who shared so much insight into his process and whose range of skill consistently blew me away.
MU: How did you get your start with Magic: The Gathering?
IG: In a bit of a roundabout way!
In 2018 there was a call for artists on Twitter for an upcoming digital card game called Artifact. A friend kindly recommended my work (I had not seen the thread myself) which was noticed, and I ended up doing one card illustration for the game. My art director for that assignment was Sandra Everingham.
Sandra left shortly after that to work with Wizards of the Coast, where she apparently recommended me internally. So, in early 2019, when Wizards was getting ready to work on Ikoria, the perfect set for me in terms of subject matter I should add, they approached me for work.
I have been on board for every main set since.
MU: How long do you typically spend on a piece?
IG: My Magic illustrations typically take me between 20 and 30 hours to finish.
MU: Have you ever tried a more "out of the box" approach to a card where you try a new perspective or style?
IG: If I get the opportunity to, like I did with In Search of Greatness. The characters in that card are in perfect profile and almost silhouetted by the light, creating a very flat looking illustration which is something I would normally avoid. It felt like a risk, but I think it resulted in an iconic looking card compared to my usual work.
Generally though we are expected to illustrate cards in our usual style so that is what I do most of the time, unless I am explicitly given leeway to experiment.
MU: Do you have a favorite art medium? If so, does it make fantasy artwork harder or easier to create?
IG: I haven't tried enough different media to have a favorite to work in I think! I've been an almost exclusively digital artist throughout my career mostly out of convenience and have only recently started exploring arcyclic paint as a secondary. I don't think any medium makes art (fantasy or otherwise) inherently more difficult to create, all tools and techniques have their challenges that affect the result in different ways and whatever works best comes down to your goals, preference and familiarity. Digital media has advantages over most traditional media when it comes to creating art commercially, but what determines difficulty then is what is the job requires, not what the artist prefers.
If I had to name a favorite medium to look at it would probably be oils. There is just a quality to oil painting that I find really mesmerising and many of my favorite artists work in it - I hope to be able to explore it myself in the future!
MU: Many of the cards you’ve illustrated feature beasts, animals, and similar subjects. One recent card, Mahadi, Emporium Master, made quite the impression. To what do you owe this specialty?
IG: I suppose it's simply a matter of interest! I've always been inspired by nature and animals in particular, as well as all sorts of myths and legends of fantastical creatures and I love learning about them and studying their visual qualities. Naturally this is reflected in my work.
MU: In addition to being a Magic artist, you are also a furry artist with your work being featured across various sources in the fandom including the poster for the 2019 Furry Weekend Atlanta convention. How do you feel the furry fandom influences your artwork?
IG: The furry community has been a huge source of support for me in more ways than one.
In 2015, I burned out on industry work and went through a difficult personal situation. The community picked me back up and creating furry art for private clients in the fandom was a breath of fresh air compared to what I had been doing for companies; the appreciation they had for me and my art reminded me what I was working for. They also motivated me to pay more attention to my own creative voice and interests and to let it shine through in my work.
So, I indulged in the things I love to paint; which is why I am now especially skilled in portraying animals and creatures with personality.
My poster illustration for FWA 2019! I had a lot of fun creating the art for this con and it was so cool seeing it printed on such a large size! pic.twitter.com/uShoZnUiR3— Caraid (@CaraidArt) May 17, 2019
MU: Do you feel furry artists are discounted or unappreciated due to how others might view the fandom?
IG: Not as much as you might think.
Within creative circles most people acknowledge furry artists as skilled creators, even if perhaps they don't care for the subject matter or don't want to be associated with it personally. It also helps that, like myself, there are a number of industry artists who are directly or indirectly involved in the community who normalize its existence and challenge misconceptions. There will always be people who judge and misunderstand, but I believe we are trending towards it being less socially acceptable to be disparaging to furry artists and furries in general.
In professional circles I don't think it matters much at all. I have never gotten the impression that being a furry artist has worked against me in my career, and I would consider any opportunities I may have lost because of it to be a bullet dodged.
MU: What kinds of things are more tricky for you to create (landscapes, people, creatures, etc.)? What animals tend to be the most difficult for you?
IG: Interior scenes, cityscapes, vehicles and similar "hard surface" (as we call it) subjects are tricky for me because I don't have as much experience with them. I do enjoy sci-fi a lot as a genre and mecha and robot design in particular, it's just not a direction I've explored much in my work.
Animals though, I don't think I would consider any of them difficult now. Evolution made it so that there are a lot of predictable patterns in organic structures and when you've studied a wide enough range of them, it doesn't take much additional studying to familiarize yourself with a new one. But it must also be admitted that animals are a quite forgiving subject, as most people are not intimately familiar with what an elephant looks like for example, but would be able to tell quite quickly if something is off about a human face.
MU: What are some of the projects you’re currently working on and where can people see them once they’re ready?
IG: I have recently finished a book cover that should come out early next year, I'm working on a marketing illustration for Riot for which the publication date is still unknown, I'm working on Magic illustrations of course which tend to take around a year to be published, and I am always working on artist proof sketches in between everything else which I sell via my Etsy store.
Incidentally I have just recently finished my first acrylic painting for Magic, so that is exciting! I typically publish my works on my Twitter account (@CaraidArt) and my ArtStation page when they come out.
Thank you, Ilse, for participating in this interview.
Magic Untapped's previous Magic: The Gathering artist interviews: