I had the pleasure of meeting Randy Martinez, a wonderfully talented artist from Hollywood, California, a while before Episode I was released, back in the days when the Internet was still young and adventurous. Randy’s come a long way since the old days of Star Wars fandom, creating pieces for popular magazines and newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, plus official pieces for Lucasfil and other companies. Not only has he done work for the now defunct Star Wars Kids magazine, but you’ve seen his his cartoons gracing the pages of the Star Wars Insider. I figured it was time for a proper interview. (Original posting: May 22, 2004)
When did you first become interested in art?
I’ve always been interested in art. Both of my parents are artists, so I kind of had no choice in the matter. As a child, I told my parents I wanted to be a doctor and they said “No, you will suffer and make no money… you shall be an artist.” Really though, I had the good fortune of being around art supplies of all kinds while growing up, as well as the inspiration of other great artists who were friends with my parents such as Sergio Aragonez from MAD Magazine. I’ve always loved cartooning and satire, so that is what geared me toward that style.
Can you take our readers back to the beginnings of your involvement with Star Wars art?
I believe we met through your website. I had showed you some artwork of mine and you totally dug it. At the time I didn’t know if you liked it because it was good or because I wasn’t charging you. But, it turned out that you really did like my work because you suggested me to a fellow named Chris Kivlehan, who in turn gave me my first chance to have my work published in Sci-Fi World Magazine. It was an article about rumors concerning the then unreleased and untitled Star Wars: Episode I. It was fun project as I got to try and visualize all the rumors that were floating around on the internet from sites like yours. Needless to say I was way off on many of them, but it was a fun experience. I learned a lot in the process.
How long did it take you to perfect things like likenesses and human body representations?
Wow, that’s a loaded question. Actually, I’m far from perfecting anything. That’s impossible, but that’s also me being technical. The best answer I can give is it’s taken me 30+ years to get where I am now because art is a life-long journey and a continual learning experience. My philosophy is if I ever get to a point where I feel I’ve perfected something, I cease to be an artist. So, I must keep a feeling of suckiness inside me. That sounds funny , doesn’t it? Oh, humility is the word I’m looking for, I suppose.
When did the concept of shading click for you and how did you go about learning about light and shading your art?
You know, Value (which is what you might call light and shading) is something I can’t remember not understanding. It’s one of the advantages to having artist parents I guess. Lots of young artists get hung up on drawing what they “think.” It’s more about drawing what you “see.” When you break it down like that, it’s really quite easy.
How do you decide on things like depth and detail in a piece?
Most of this has to do with composition. The most important thing is to get an instant read, especially in narrative or editorial art. The nature of editorial work is that the reader only looks for a couple of seconds, if that. You have to get the point across before they turn the page. So sometimes “details” can actually make things less defined when you’re trying to tell a story. That’s not to say that details are a no-no. I use lots of little details throughout my work, but it’s all secondary. If the initial look grabs the reader, then they will stick around to see the details. They become a surprise to the reader and I like that. I think read and composition first, then color, then details.
What’s your process for doing a piece?
It really depends on what I’m doing. Since most of the people reading this know me for my cartoons, I’ll walk you through that. First, I set up some illustration board on my desk. Then I set up my ink, brushes, and pens and then I go to sleep. In the morning they’re all done! I wish it was that easy…
Actually, it all starts with ideas. Much of the time, I go out and take my sketch book to parks, bars, diners, and more bars. In Hollywood there is a plethora of inspiring locations for ideas. There are lots of crazies and eccentrics. So I fill my book up with every idea I have. Honestly, some are pretty stupid along with the bad poetry that surrounds them. However, those stupid jokes spawn better jokes, and those spawn good jokes that end up in publications like the Star Wars Insider. Once, I was at the Las Vegas Comic Con. I went to brunch on my own and filled about 15 pages up with various ideas. I was on fire. To be fair, there was also tons of inspirations around me. Once I get a few good ideas, I send the sketches to the Insider for approval. Very rarely will they reject the ideas, but I learned quick that you can’t make Leia a pole dancer. Those are just the rules, plain and simple. Once I get approved sketches, I do a tightened up version on illustration board with black ink. From there I scan the black and white line art into my computer and color it quickly there. The whole process takes about 3 hours but that includes the vodka tonics I throw back at the “Lava Lounge” down the street.
Who’s the easiest Star Wars character to draw? The hardest? Your favorite?
Easiest? Probably Jabba. Just draw a fat worm. Hardest? Probably Padmé because I always want to make her look really beautiful in case I ever meet Natalie Portman. If I make her look gorgeous in every drawing, she’ll have no excuse not to fall in love with me. Just thinking ahead. Favorite? Wow, that’s tough. Darth Vader is always fun. So is Yoda, but I like Jar Jar the best. There is just so much you can do with that character. Like him or not, he’s a marvel in design.
How did you get the job illustrating for the Insider?
It’s a funny story. It all started at the first Star Wars Celebration in Denver. For those who didn’t go, the organizers made a perfect replica of Dagobah, but in Denver where its cold. Anyway, my girlfriend at the time and I made the best of it and were showing my work to as many people as possible. It was really crowded. I backed up at one point and just about knocked over Steve Sansweet from Lucasfilm. I saw his shirt and tag and buried him in samples of my artwork. Well, he went bonkers over it all and had me contact him after the con. I did, and he got me in to do some work for Star Wars Kids magazine (which has since ceased publishing). Then he eventually got me some work for the Star Wars Insider. Steve Sansweet is a really great guy. I owe him a lot. Right now, I’m drawing Star Wars at least 5 days a week.
Do you have any other big Star Wars plans on the horizon?
None that I am at liberty to disclose but stay tuned…
Have you been making the convention rounds?
Yes, I just did Wizard World Los Angeles and I’m hoping to get to the Chicago show as well. I will be at San Diego for the Comic Con this year too. I will be at as many shows I can afford to go to!
What do you think is the most beautiful looking Star Wars film?
That’s just way to hard to answer. They are each beautiful in their own right. The thing I look for in art direction is how it carries and holds the feel of the movie. Every one of the films does this to perfection. All the colors of The Phantom Menace fit the feel of the movie. The ambers and blue steel of Attack of the Clones are just perfect. The originals were all perfect in that way too. The newer films are digital breakthroughs but what makes that so amazing is that it’s all so seamless in regards to the existing films.
What tools do you normally use when sketching and then drawing your final piece?
I use just about anything in reach to sketch ideas, but I finish things in either pen and ink or Prisma color pencils. I also use watercolor paints and dyes.
What do you use to scan your images and what resolution do you use?
I use a simple Cannon desktop scanner. I usually scan finished work in at no less than 300 DPI. If it’s just a sketch I’m sending in, let’s say to Lucasfilm, I scan it in at 150 DPI and then knock it down to 72 DPI in Adobe Photoshop. It’s always good to work bigger than what the piece will be printed at. So all those cartoons you see in the Insider, those are only about a tenth of the size I usually work in.
How do you go about coloring your pieces?
Color can really mess up a piece of art. I’ve done it several times and really it’s one of the hardest things to get even OK at. I don’t mean staying within the lines, because I still can’t do that very well. I’m talking about color composition. Colors can clash and sometimes even get lost in a piece. It’s one of the many things to consider when doing a sketch which is even tougher because in general most people sketch in black and white. For me, it stars with hots vs. cools. This to me is the color version of black vs. white. So let’s say I’m doing a drawing of a Gamorrean Guard (mostly green). If I want that pig guard to stand out, I need to have him in front of, or surrounded by, warm colors of some sort. But, if I want him to blend into the environment and be pushed back, I usually put him with like colors and intensity. The hardest part in the Star Wars Universe is there are so many colors used. With all the different skin tones and planet environment colors, it’s difficult to arrange the composition so everything works. However, it’s that kind of challenge that I like. Plus, doing cartoons allows me to bend the rules a bit.
Have you any favorite SW-related artists?
Drew Struzan is my very favorite artist of anything. He’s just awesome. There are so many other artists that I like and I’m friends with many of them. I would fear forgetting anyone. So you all know who you are!
What are you working on right now?
Right now, I’m working on cartoon ideas for future Insider issues. I’m actually way ahead and have tons of work that is just waiting to be released. I also just finished working on my first issue of Cracked magazine, and I’m working on a mural at the local YMCA here with the kids which is a lot of fun. Some other projects are coming up, but right now I have some time to work on my jump shot.
What’s your all-time favorite piece of Star Wars art that you’ve done and that someone else has done?
Of mine: There is a piece due out in August (I believe) on the back page of the Insider. I’m very proud of it, but you’ll have to wait. I can’t tell you what it is yet. All together? I love the “Circus Poster” as it’s called form one of the original Star Wars releases. It’s just a great poster. I also Love the Special Edition Collection.
Give me your #1 Star Wars experience related to you and your art.
Skywalker Ranch was a thrill. Going to Steve Sansweet’s Star Wars museum was really something I will never forget. However, I would have to say that my number one experience is a tie. First, meeting Drew Struzan at the first Celebration. I had no idea he would be there, and there he was. I was in awe, and just giddy. I didn’t even have something of his to sign, so he signed a piece of mine! He gave me his info and I got a chance to get to know him a bit and get some mentoring from him. He gave me some advice that I will carry with me for ever. Second, doing a workshop with Iain McCaig at Celebration II. Once again, I had no idea he would be there much less holding a workshop. It was great. He was so full of energy and really got all of us to push the envelope in ourselves, but that wasn’t the best part. I forgot my bag after the workshop and went back to get it about 15 minutes later. Iain was there by himself and I got a chance to speak with him one on one for a good 45 minutes. It was almost religious. Like Drew, Iain gave me words of wisdom that have changed me and my work ever since.
What’s your dream job?
My dream job would be to work at Lucasfilm in the art department with Iain McCaig and Doug Chaing. That would be the best.
Give the young artists out there some advice.
Just keep drawing and keep it fun. Challenge yourself and never be fully satisfied.
Many thanks to my old friend Randy Martinez for taking time out to answer these questions. If you’d like more information about Randy and his artwork, please visit his site at RandyMartinez.art.
This interview has been slightly modified from it’s original form. (Original posting: May 22, 2004)