Tommy Lee Edwards, artist for such Star Wars works as The New Essential Guide to the Galaxy, Dark Side Source Book, Power Of The Jedi Source Book, Coruscant and the Core Worlds, as well as the newly released Jedi Vs. Sith: The Essential Guide To The Force, very graciously agreed to be interviewed here at EUC.
EUCantina (EUC):What made you want to become a professional artist? Why Star Wars?
Tommy Lee Edwards (TLE): Star Wars was actually one of the things that started my obsession with drawing and telling stories. I was four years old in 1977. Like most kids (and adults), seeing Star Wars blew my mind. I would draw pages and pages of stuff and staple them together- Making my own Star Wars books. Some were adaptations of the film, and some were “new” adventures of Luke and Han and the gang. Empire Strikes Back had the biggest impact on me. By then I was seven. I devoured the “making-of” books and worshiped the “sketchbooks”. Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston were my heroes.
My interest in art and film continued throughout childhood. I was lucky enough to have many art lessons and supportive teachers. I eventually moved to Los Angeles after graduating high-school and studied illustration and film at the Art Center College of Design.
While attending school, I started working as a storyboard artist and got work drawing comic books. I was doing everything I could- Stuff for Disney Animation, record companies, advertising… Whatever. My first paid Star Wars job came in the form of an Episode I children’s book called “Darth Maul’s Revenge”.
Since then, I’ve been honored to have illustrated several more Star Wars children’s books, magazine covers, posters, RPG book covers, advertising stuff, and lots more. It’s been cool, because having the chance to draw Luke and Han and the gang makes it feel like I’ve come full-circle.
EUC: How many hours do you spend working per day?
TLE: I try and approach my job as a real “9 to 5” kind of thing. Usually I work seven days a week. But it mostly depends on the deadline. Sometimes I’ll have to put in a 20-hour day to finish an assignment. Sometimes I can get away with 4. I really love my job, and often don’t mind working long hours. But you have to make sure that you don’t get burned-out. I try and maintain a healthy balance between my work schedule, and my time spent as a father and husband. Everything tends to suffer for me if I start to loose that balance.
EUC: What tips would you give to aspiring artist trying to break into the business?
TLE: Artistically, I would stress “drawing from life”. Many aspiring artists learn how to draw or paint merely by imitating other artists. We all start that way, to some degree. Don’t worry about stuff like “style” and surface-level stuff. Get the core foundation stuff down first, and everything else will follow.
You also have to be a savvy business-person- Especially if you want to make it as a freelance artist. It’s not enough to be talented or skilled. You have to work hard and hustle and promote yourself and meet deadlines. You have to be able to communicate. You need people skills. This is another good reason to get educated. Going to a good art school will help teach you how to take criticism and how to multi-task
EUC: What do you use to create your masterpieces?
TLE: I really wouldn’t call them masterpieces. I’m very hard on myself and always strive to improve and push my work in new directions. Usually that can involve playing with different media. So I tend to use a bit of everything. If I’m designing a game for EA or storyboarding an animated film, I typically draw with charcoal and black prismacolor.
On my comics, I draw my pages in ink with a brush and color them in photoshop. Most of my paintings (like the ones in the Jedi vs Sith book) are done with acrylics, ink, gouache, watercolor, and prismacolor pencils. At the end, I scan my work and send it to the client via computer disc or upload it to their FTP
EUC: What was your favorite part about working on Jedi vs. Sith? How was working with Chris?
TLE: My favorite part of working on the newest Star Wars book was probably getting to paint some of my favorite characters again. I also really enjoy working with Lucasfilm and Random House. There’s a great working-relationship on these projects because I like everyone involved. We’re all realistic, up-front, and hard working individuals. Beyond that, we’re all Star Wars fans. That goes for Chris Trevas, too.
We don’t work “together,” and don’t really come out of our caves much to communicate- But it was nice knowing that Chris was out there putting in the long hours like I was. He’s in Michigan. I’m in North Carolina. Ryder (the book’s writer) is in Rhode Island. The publisher is in New York. And Lucasfilm is in California. But somehow we come together and, in the end, try and come out with a product we can all be proud of.
EUC: Which is your favorite illustration from the book (Jedi vs. Sith)?
TLE: Not sure. Like I said, I’m hard on myself. I definitely know which ones I DON’T like. Looking through the book now, I think I’m happiest with the light-saber forms, Luke on Bepin, and Yoda. I’m also pleased with the painting of Qui-Gon and Anakin. I thought the likenesses and storytelling came out well there.
Oh – And I almost forgot. I liked painting Darth Ruin. He was maybe my favorite, because I was able to design him myself. He wasn’t based on any visual source at all. It’s cool to have that kind of freedom- Especially on something like Star Wars
EUC: Were there any pictures of Sith Lords that didn’t make the cut?
TLE: Everything I painted is in the book. There were a few sketches that we decided not to go to finish on, though. I don’t remember any of those being Sith Lords.
EUC: In Jedi vs Sith , what would you say is the major difference between your style and Chris Trevas’ style?
TLE: Our styles are completely different. I think the main difference would be our choice of medium. Chris’ work is all digital, where mine is primarily done by hand with traditional materials. I like to have a “had-done” feel to the work, and to see evidence of the artist’s unique presence. And beyond Chris and I drawing very differently, we have our own unique ways of working with color and composition
EUC: Do you know if there will be a second Essential Guide to the Force?
TLE: Not sure.
EUC: Thank you for taking the time to answer, and I hope you have great fortunes in your future artist work.
TLE: You’re welcome. Now back to work!