Good morning everyone, and welcome to the Mirror Gallery on Hipsters of the Coast. Before the preview season for Magic: The Gathering’s new set, Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths begins later today, I wanted to make sure this article, a piece two months in the writing, was published.

When I wrote Behind the Brush: Jenn Ravenna in February of 2019, I knew it would not be the last time I wrote an article dedicated solely to Jenn’s work. In that article, now more than a year old, I wrote:

Her vision and flair have already shaped the game and will continue to influence its look and feel for years to come. Her work is yet another spark that has ignited this Golden Age of Magic art we see today.

This was right after Ravnica Allegiance, when Jenn had only six cards and all of them were quite different in their own way. Looking back these were a beacon she was going to bring an immense stylistic range to the game. More cards would be revealed throughout the rest of last year, and at the beginning of 2020, we got this:

I saw a tweet by Vorthos loremaster and Wizards Continuity Consultant Jay Annelli the morning of the release of her Marrow-Gnawer illustration for Secret Lair:

It said “I love @JennRavenna’s range on Magic art,” and was followed by four of her illustrations: The Eldest Reborn, Blow the House Down, Iceberg Cancrix, and the new Marrow-Gnawer, with the caption “All of these are by the same artist.”


I thought about this tweet a lot. Jay had summed up in a few words something years in the making. Jenn’s first illustration for Magic Dominaria’s The Eldest Reborn saga in 2018,  was something radically different from what we were used to seeing.

Her next after that, Ever-Watching Threshold, was different again. And for the next two years, she’s continually pushed the boundaries of Magic art in new and exciting ways, every single time.

Magic illustrations by Jenn Ravenna, 2018-2019.

This article is going to explore her vast artistic range over her fourteen illustrations for the game of Magic, and serve as a walking tour of the boundless breadth of her illustrative craft. This is The Artistic Range of Jenn Ravenna.

What is Range?

I need to briefly define what I mean by “range.” There are variations of the word especially when it comes to art, from stylistic versus technical range, and the impact and existence of thematic and emotional range. These are all real attributes that can be mapped and analyzed in respect to an artist’s oeuvre, or body of work.

Stylistic range is not just what we observe, but very much how we group the work art historically or within its genre. Styles change and evolve, and it’s this spectrum of exploration that becomes an artist’s style. Some are wide and varied, others very distinct and refined. Both ranges are important, and wholly necessary in the world of art-directed commissions for an intellectual property. Exceptional illustrative examples of both trajectories need to be exalted.

Ravenna’s work falls into the first group of “wide and varied.” For this exploration we are going to map the extensive stylistic range of Ravenna’s work, and in doing so, we’ll see the technical, thematic, and emotional variance she uses to achieve this incredible scope.

[For more on the definitions of artistic range, see Artist Eo Omwake’s discussion in his 2012 volume The Art of Fine Art on pages 130-131.

Magic: The Gathering Illustrations, 2018-2020

The Eldest Reborn (Dominaria, 2018)

The Eldest Reborn by Jenn Ravenna, brush pen, India ink, white charcoal, white pen; finished digitally.

Ravenna’s very first Magic card set the stage for her notoriety within the game and immediately launched her into the MTG spotlight. Dominaria, with art direction by Mark Winters, was possibly the best set Magic had ever released, and a very large part of that was his prodigious choice in artist commission. Jenn’s previous ink work made her the perfect choice for depicting Bolas emerging from the Talon Gates. It was executed in the traditional sumi-e ink/brushwash style, and was unlike anything we’d seen on a Magic card. It was one heck of an entrance, and only the start of something much more.

Ever-Watching Threshold (Commander 2018)

Ever Watching Threshold by Jenn Ravenna. Digital.

In the Fall of that same year Ravenna’s second card was released as a part of Magic’s Commander 2018 set, and it was drastically different than what we’d seen before. This work was much more stylized, with imagery and composition akin to something that would appear in Magic’s sibling franchise Dungeons & Dragons. There was a touch of whimsy, all the while remaining serious enough to be a part of a major product offering. For us art folks, it was the realization she would not just be commissioned for special and unusual circumstances. And we had no idea what was coming next.

The Ravnica Lands (Ravnica Allegiance, 2019)

(Clockwise from Top Left) Breeding Pool, Godless Shrine, Orzhov Swamp, Orzhov Plains, by Jenn Ravenna. Digital.

In the Spring of the following year, the world of Magic was very much entrenched in a third return to Ravnica when not one, not two or three, but four different land illustrations from Jenn were revealed within the set. These are very important, specifically style-guided illustrations on two majorly playable cards and two basic lands, and she showed us just what she can do with an environmental prompt.

The Breeding Pool is not only shown underwater, but it makes you, the viewer, underwater with it. You can feel the burden and overbearing presence of the Orzhov in Godless Shrine. The ominous scale of the background building in the Swamp is juxtaposed alongside the weightlessness of perspective in the Plains, as if you’ve been cast out of the church window. Emotion-evoking landscapes are no easy execution, but that’s exactly what Jenn gave Magic with her first land commissions.

Firemind Vessel (War of the Spark, 2019)

Firemind Vessel by Jenn Ravenna. Digital.

It’s true still life illustrations are often relegated to artifacts, but this was no ordinary commission. Within the storyline it appeared, it marked a pivotal part of the tale, being the literal funerary urn of the once powerful Ravnican parun, Niv-Mizzet—the soon-to-be savior of that world. Even as a still life there is great motion in the background, as if the head of the dragon is moving towards us, ready to break the frame of the card. This is a challenging stasis, but one that makes this work particularly dynamic, and not soon forgotten.

Let’s pause for just a minute at the halfway point. In one year we got sumi-e, stylized fantasy, environmental architecture, and a not-so-still-still-life. In one year! It’s honestly unheard of. There’s more; let’s keep going.

Iceberg Cancrix (Modern Horizons, 2019)

Iceberg Cancrix by Jenn Ravenna. Digital.

After painting the funeral vessel of one of the most important characters of a world-ending war, we got the whimsical, and as it is affectionately known, grumpy crab. Note this is not a crab on an iceberg, but an iceberg sized crab, with a chilling palette that solidifies this effect. I think these sprinkles of playfulness are just what Magic needs now and again, and the fact that Jenn can work them in alongside a catalog of otherwise serious work takes some real finesse.

Blow Your House Down and Heraldic Banner (Throne of Eldraine, 2019)

The Throne of Eldraine expansion was Camelot meets Grimm’s Fairy Tales in every way imaginable. Jenn’s five cards, even within this very structured setting, are all still a bit different from convention.

Blow Your House Down by Jenn Ravenna. Digital.

Blow Your House Down is maybe my favorite of all her Magic work. An abstract illustration of the classic story of The Three Little Pigs—the wolf is depicted larger than life, superimposed alongside the huff and puff and ill-fated house, with no pigs in sight. It’s a highly conceptualized collage, and unlike any illustrated version of this story we’ve ever seen, in Magic or otherwise. I absolutely love this one for it’s inventiveness in style.

Heraldic Banner by Jenn Ravenna. Digital.

Continuing this trend, in a world of storybook sunshine and rainbows, this is Brutalism at its best. While the card is named for the banner, the weight of the simple concrete parapet is apparent, and a visual reinforcement of both the importance of the structure and symbol it holds high. She added a staple of modernism into a decidedly antiquated environment and seamlessly blended the two.

Throne of Eldraine Storybook Showcases (Throne of Eldraine, 2019)

Murderous Rider and Hypnotic Sprite by Jenn Ravenna, ink and gouache, both finished digitally.

The Storybook Showcase cards from Throne of Eldraine provided an awe-inspiring opportunity for artists to flex their creative muscles and really show their style on a Magic card. It was here Jenn reprised the sumi-e style that started it all the year prior. If her inkwork portfolio was the invitation to the major leagues of Magic, and The Eldest Reborn the swing of the bat, these two were the home run. They are an illustration tour de force, and were a resounding hit once the Magic community saw them. This ink wash painting style is something she now fully owns when it comes to Magic illustration.

Thornwood Falls (Throne of Eldraine Planeswalker Decks, 2019)

Thornwood Falls by Jenn Ravenna, acrylic on board, finished digitally.

A fifth card for Throne of Eldraine came as Ravenna’s fifth land for Magic, the building-less reimagining of the blue and green Thornwood Falls. Set in a snowless fantasyland, this is what Jenn can create when confronted with a pure and natural landscape. It’s hard to believe it was something she hadn’t yet done for Magic, and it’s executed beautifully within this fanciful fairytale.

Marrow-Gnawer (Secret Lair: Year of the Rat, 2020)

Marrow-Gnawer by Jenn Ravenna. Digital.

Ravenna’s fourteenth card once again plucks the heartstring of whimsy, but there is so much more to this artwork than a happy and smiling rat at the head of the table. It was commissioned as a part of Magic’s Secret Lair: Year of the Rat drop celebrating the Chinese and Lunar New Year. Jenn walked us through each part of the painting and just why each element is important in a wonderful Twitter thread. I said it in my Art Market Minute for the artwork, but there is so much personality in this illustration that it’s nothing short of a direct extension of Jenn’s heart, soul, and cultural history.

Wrapping Up

Five landscapes, three sumi-e paintings, three works of whimsy, two pieces of “modern” art, and a still life. Each one is brilliantly executed within the confines of it’s commission, and in less than three years’ time. It’s an incredible feat, but this tale doesn’t end here. As it’s often the way I write, this was actually one of those, “I had to tell you that story, to tell you this story” kind of articles.

Jenn has worked on dozens of properties and projects, and has been executing work in this spectrum of style for years. But when framed within this singular card game, it paints a fantastic picture of exactly what she can do with a brush in her hand, be it digital or traditional. Perhaps the largest shortcoming of this article is that I only have the expertise (and word count) to explore her artwork for Magic. Beyond Magic: The Gathering, Jenn is a tremendous photographer, and now in 2020 extends her vision into cinematography with her upcoming short film, AND THEN. This is the next chapter in her story.

The Kickstarter for AND THEN is underway right now and ends in just a few days. There are a ton of different options for backing, including some very exciting and very limited Magic-related opportunities. You can find the campaign here, and check out some of the Magic reward specifics in the announcement article from right here on Hipsters of the Coast.

Whether pen, paper, Photoshop, or film, I’m going to be a big fan of Jenn’s work for a very long time. I can’t wait to see her make movies, and hopefully she’ll find time for a Magic card commission here and again as well.

We’re all rooting for you, Jenn. Go get ‘em.

Donny Caltrider has been playing Magic since 2002 and collecting original Magic art since 2017. He has an M.A. in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University and enjoys telling stories about art, objects, and the intersection of fantasy with real-life. You can find him on Twitter talking about #mtgart, museums, and other #vorthos related goodness. Follow along and continue the conversation!

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