Interview with Legendary Drew Struzan
Back in the day, when we were kids, there was nothing we'd loved more than watching films that would fulfill our imagination with stories of distant worlds, brave heroes and the hope of a happy future. Movies like Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Back to the Future played big roles in our childhood and the identity of each one of these is carved in our minds: the spaceships from Star Wars, the adventures of Indy, the DeLorean from Back to the Future, the run after androids in Blade Runner, the heartwarming E.T.. It might all seem disconnected, but there's one thing that holds every one of these connected really tight: the art of Drew Struzan.
Born in 1947, Drew really fought as an illustration to deliver a good life for his family. He fought a fight that would later be recognized and awarded through the success he obtained with his art. Success gained through the posters of the films earlier mentioned, along with Hook, Rambo, Goonies, Harry Potter, Hellboy, The Thing, between more than 150 others more. But as we could see, so much success didn't have any effect in the quality that most people lack: humility. Mr. Struzan gently answered this fun and really insightful interview, and it's a true honor for us sharing a little bit of his experience with all of you.
1) First of all, I'd like to thank you very much for your kindness in answering these questions. We are big fans of your work, and it has has been pretty much a big part of our lives. It's incredible how the whole world has been in touch with your work, directly or indirectly. How does it feel to know that it has reached so many lives along the years?
Paulo, thank YOU. Who am I that you should care about me? I am dumfounded by any attention to me or my work. I have always lived so quietly, minding my own business, being pretty much ignored. From childhood through adulthood the gift of talent that I have has not made me friends but quite the contrary, jealousy has left me to fend for myself in a rather lonely, vulnerable and confused state of mind. My best never seemed to be good enough.
Now I know this is not unusual or even rare. You see, I am just a working man trying to make my way in life. Because of the lack of reward, recognition and struggle I know I am just one of you, we are all together. Actually, that’s true, good and right. I am with you, just doing my thing.
Through no fault of my own, I wound up painting in the movie business. The posters I painted went around the globe, seen in most every place by millions, if not billions of people. It is said that the Star Wars Episode I poster, because it went round the world in every venue unchanged, that it became the most viewed piece of art of all time. This is no fault of mine.
So here am I, the struggling, unappreciated artist, like most of us artists. Then one day this World Wide Web thing starts to connect me to people beyond my usual small circle. For the first time I begin to learn that not only are people seeing the work, they like it, are inspired by it, encouraged and their lives are made more beautiful because of it and they collect the stuff. I never knew before.
How does it feel to know this? Might one think that this knowledge empowers me, gives me a glow, and makes me smarter than the average bear? I find I am happy to know that there is something I have done that has improved in whatever small degree others lives. I cannot think of anything more or better one simple man can do for another. That’s what my art, my work is for. Therein is its value.
As for me, beyond being grateful to have had this opportunity, I go unchanged. Still, quite, withdrawn, simple… you know, the classic disassociated artist.
"You see, I am just a working man trying to make my way in life. Because of the lack of reward, recognition and struggle I know I am just one of you, we are all together."
2) What brought you to start doing poster illustrations? How long did it take to start landing the big jobs?
After achieving an education I tried to go to work. Not a gift, as struggle. Me and my family went years under the poverty level. I was working but it made little to no income. Eventually I landed a studio position as an illustrator. It proved to be just the thing. I worked every day making pictures but the difference was that my work was being seen, printed and distributed. That was the key. My work began to be recognized and clients began to inquire regarding me. Even the movie studios somehow caught wind of my work. When they began to call for me, not my pursuit, is when I began to get into the movie poster field.
It was not the BIG break we are looking for. Just one small step for this man, one step at a time. Big job you say? Define a big job. A movie that turned heads? Well, it took seven years until one day I got a call to work on this new film called Star Wars. That proved to be the landing of a big job. Not in pay, not in recognition, but a step up to quality work and opportunity to keep going, doing more. For me, another days work, another day with food on the table, another day grateful to get to do what I love… make art.
"For me, another days work, another day with food on the table, another day grateful to get to do what I love… make art."
3) How do the ideas for the posters come about? Do they ask for specific things or do you have complete and total freedom?
Yah, sure. The movie poster job is a job where those rich and powerful entities call me up and say, “We love you so much and respect you totally, please paint a poster for our movie. Anything you do will be just the greatest thing ever”. No way!
You know the movie business is a co-operative affair. Of course they have their ideas for a poster. They meaning, the Studios, the director, the writer, the actors, the producers, the marketing firms, design studios… every one wants in, everyone has concepts and little ol’drew has to bring it all together to please all the bosses and their wives. It’s a simple job with only millions of dollars on the line.
Sometimes they have direction for me. Sometimes we discuss options. Other times they know not what to do so I take the reigns. It is never the same from job to job; that’s what kept it interesting. In the end, it was me making everything come together in a living and exciting piece of art. That was my part of the input.
"...everyone has concepts and little ol’drew has to bring it all together to please all the bosses and their wives."
4) As an artist, what are your greatest influences? Who are your favorite artists?
Do you know that the tax man doesn’t consider artists to be professionals; we are blue collar workers. The good part is that even they understand that for an artist, everything they do, because of their mind sets, relates to their art and is therefore Tax Deductible. Everything is an influence, an education and an inspiration. Everything is done for our art. Sometimes my great inspiration comes not from other art but from other thinking, ideas, and possibilities. Einstein’s theories inspire me, Hemingway’s writing, Lincoln’s self sacrifice, my wife’s love, my friend’s kindness, from hope, faith and promise. God’s righteous principles for living are my greatest motivation and give me my clearest direction. Truth is the goal.
Artists? Every one of ‘em! I learn from every one. I learned to draw from Pontormo and Rubens. I compose with the understanding of Inges, Degas, Cezanne, El Greco… I pick out no one artist to be my favorite. Favorites kill creativity. Inspiration, understanding and motivation are what I get from them all. You know, on the shoulders of Giants!
"I pick out no one artist to be my favorite. Favorites kill creativity. Inspiration, understanding and motivation are what I get from them all. You know, on the shoulders of Giants!"
5) Out of all the ones you did, which poster was the most fun to make?
To a man with little memory for the past who’s mind dwells on the future, he asks me to remember from all the thousands of pieces and jobs I have done, the most fun one. That’s tuff. Sometimes it’s the art, what I believe is a successful piece, like Blade Runner. Sometimes it was the situation, working with my dear fiends like Frank Darabont or Guillermo del Toro. Sometimes it I was the freedom afforded me with Star Wars by George Lucas. Other times it was because it was a cool project like Hook because of Steven Spielberg. Amongst all the difficulty and turmoil of the business it was the place that dreams were made and it was a beautiful life for me, yes, fun.
"Amongst all the difficulty and turmoil of the business it was the place that dreams were made and it was a beautiful life for me, yes, fun."
6) Have you ever tried using computers during the creative process, either to gather inspiration or to actually illustrate?
Yes. There’s a lot of stuff out there to spur on the creative process and to inspire and the World Wide Web brings them all to hand. I often use the computer in the design process for a picture. It does alleviate a difficulty artist’s have always had. Historically when an artist makes a picture he has millions of choices to make. He has to choose one and hope it was the best choice. He can’t go backwards, only forward. If when he is finished he decides he would rather have had a blue picture rather than a red one, he has to begin a fresh painting. The computer allows the designing of a picture and with the touch of a button we can change colors, sizes and objects to see and compare our choices. It gives us the opportunity to choose. That’s something new.
"God’s righteous principles for living are my greatest motivation and give me my clearest direction. Truth is the goal."
7) What's the greatest advantage to working solely on paper?
Is there an advantage I haven’t been told about? If you think that is what I do then you’d be misinformed. I work on all kinds of surfaces with all kinds of mediums in inventive ways.
If you are referring to most of my illustrations, there are a couple reasons for working on “paper” but they are not to the abandonment of other surfaces. Illustration board because it is readily available, ready at hand, easy to store and ship and relatively inexpensive. Also, paper is very stable and lasts a long, long, long time. And when paper is inappropriate to the art I will use canvas, linen, wood or the front of a door.
"...when paper is inappropriate to the art I will use canvas, linen, wood or the front of a door."
8) If you could give a single piece of advice to young, up-and-coming illustrators, what would it be?
As Rodney Dangerfield said in the movie Back to School when giving the commencement address, “It’s tough out there. Stay at home and live with your parents”. If you have chosen to become an illustrator know that it is tough out here. Fame, fortune and power are no the rewards of an Artist / Illustrator. Do it for passion, for love, because it satisfies your soul and gives you meaning. If you do not eat, sleep and live the art, the wanting for something else will kill you.
Want a little taste of what it takes? By way of helping one to see what it is really like, I have put together a DVD. I had shot the whole process of my conceiving, drawing and painting from beginning to finish the whole process of my making a painting for a movie poster. I explain every step, show what I did step by step and speak of what I am thinking as I am actually painting the artwork. The poster I was painting is the poster for Hellboy, commissioned by Guillermo del Toro himself. The DVD is nearly finished and will have a notice on my web site once the DVD is available. Maybe it will encourage or discourage the up-and-coming wan-a-bes.
"If you do not eat, sleep and live the art, the wanting for something else will kill you."
9) Once more, thank you very much for sharing with us a little bit of your time. It's a really honor for us! We wish you all the best, and we really hope to see your work up and running for a very, very long time, so that the future generations get to experience a little bit of the magic that your work brings us. Thank you, Mr. Struzan!
My goodness, thank you. I hope something of my gratitude to you, to the audience and to all those who are appreciative of the work comes through. I wish in these cases that I could explain myself with the ease that I am able to communicate with you when I paint. Bless you all… drew
"As for me, beyond being grateful to have had this opportunity, I go unchanged. Still, quite, withdrawn, simple… you know, the classic disassociated artist."
I couldn't finish this interview without posting along the video that inspired the name of this post. This is a interview with Drew Struzan some from some time ago, really worth watching. I couldn't have it embed, so please, watch it by clicking here: Legendary Poster Artist Drew Struzan. I hope you guys enjoy it.