Interview with Cover Artist Denis Zhbankov

June 29, 2021

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Russell Dickerson has been a published illustrator and designer since the previous millennium, creating works for many genre publications and authors. He has also written many articles for various organizations in that time including Apex.

This issue’s cover features the work of Denis Zhbankov, a Russian freelance artist who creates art for computer and board games. Zhbankov’s work with lighting and scale bring a wonderful texture to the annals of Apex Magazine

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APEX MAGAZINE: Your cover art for this month’s issue and others like “Robots” features characters and situations in both massive and small scales. Do you start working on something like “Robots” considering the human scale and angle first, or does it depend on the piece? 

DENIS ZHBANKOV: It depends on the specific art work. I don’t have any specific scheme of work, I just draw and have fun. I really like contrasts in any art—size contrasts, color contrasts, or other things. This creates additional emotions.

AM: Creating things purely from imagination can be challenging, often with little reference to go by. What tools or techniques do you use to help those scale differences work? Do you have or create real-life references, like maquettes or models, to help?

DZ: Mostly I just draw a composition in 2D, but sometimes I use ZBrush to create a plot and then finalize it in Photoshop. Of course, I use references when I have any questions. But I try not to use them too often, as it is necessary to maintain a balance between imagination and references. Otherwise, the artist can become a hostage of references which can limit the creative potential.

AM: Your use of lighting in “Fishing” brings a wonderful sense of fun and centers the viewer perfectly. How important is the right style of lighting to a piece like this? How would it change the message or impact if, say, the people in the background were the ones highlighted or it was broadly lit?

“Fishing” by Denis Zhbankov

DZ: Oh, lighting is one of the most important things. I sincerely believe that simply moving the light source can dramatically change the mood in the picture. Light is very difficult and at the same time very interesting for me. I believe that if an artist knows how to use this tool correctly in his work, then this is undoubtedly a great achievement. I don’t know much about certain types of lighting yet, like evening or morning lighting, but I hope I’ll learn how to do it.

AM:  Comparing “Fishing” and another piece of yours, “Swarm” reminds me of conversations I had in the past with people who assumed every piece I made was horror. There’s a malevolence implied with “Swarm” that doesn’t come across as terror in “Fishing.” Have people failed to see either the fun or horror in a piece? What techniques do you use to show horror or fun, and is there a line that shifts a piece from one to the other?

DZ: This is a very difficult question for me. When I try to create some emotion, some thought in a picture, it happens intuitively. There’s no specific way to portray horror or fun here, it’s more of a combination of everything together. I really like to portray monsters together with harmless characters. Perhaps this contrast adds some fun. I didn’t do it for “Swarm.” But I don’t really like pure horror, to be honest. I would like my monsters to evoke more positive emotions, more empathy. It’s not always possible to do this, but I try.

AM: Artists will often use the brightest part of an image to bring the user’s eye to the most important part of a piece. In many of your pieces, like “Good Morning,” it seems like the most important part is actually back in the shadows. How do you determine which parts should be highlighted versus remain shadowed? How does a shift in what someone expects to be highlighted affect the emotion in a piece?

“Good Morning” by Denis Zhbankov

DZ: This is a very interesting question, thank you. Again, I want to emphasize the importance of lighting. I don’t know the exact answer, but I have some theories. Our perception of the world around us has evolved over many millions of years. Our ancestors learned to quickly determine the level of danger of an object by its silhouette. It was necessary for survival. They just sat around the fire and there was darkness all around, and silhouettes in the darkness. It’s in our genes to peer into the dark. I think that any of the ways of lighting the main object in the composition is good, you just need to understand what emotion you want to evoke in the viewer.

I want to thank your wonderful magazine for this interview and the opportunity to be on your cover. I wish the magazine’s creators and readers all the best.

AM: Thank you, Denis, for a look at your excellent art and insight into your work! 

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Make sure to visit his galleries on DeviantArt and ArtStation for more wonderful pieces.

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© Russell Dickerson

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