An Interview With Star Wars Artist Randy Martinez
The GalacticBinder team recently had a chance to speak with fan favorite, Lucasfilm approved artist Randy Martinez to find out his thoughts about his website and his work in the Star Wars universe. Here's what he had to say:
GB: When did you launch www.randymartinez.net?
RM: You know, I can't even remember. I put my first web site up while I was in college back in 1998 - back when dial up was all the rage:) I didn't have "randymartinez.net" as a domain yet (I didn't even know you could do that), but I had a site that was attached to a friends. The URL was so long I couldn't even fit it on a business card. But it was a web site, and that was exciting for me just to be out there on the internet. I created my first site in a web designing class at Kansas City Art Institute. It was the first web design class KCAI had ever offered, and I must admit... the class was really really bad. The instructor was teaching the class from information he was printing out from "How to" web pages. It was humorous because if you had a question, you had to wait 'til next class to get it answered or wait until he found the answer on the net, which at the time was MUCH lighter with info. The silver lining was the school had computers, and I was making a web page. I really fell in love with the idea of the internet and making my art interactive. My first site was filled with TONS of bells and whistles, moving objects and animation. Meanwhile nobody told me that it would take an hour just to download one page. I would say my web page went through about 6-8 changes in the first year until I finally got it user friendly. In 1999 my site was hosted by jedinet.com. I had made a couple of friends there, and my page was actually part of their site. Still, not "randymartinez.net"... but at least I could fit jedinet.com on a business card:) It must have been about 2000 or 2001 when I finally got all the pieces in place and registered www.randymartinez.net (randymartimez.com was already taken). Since then randymartinez.net has gone through a dozen or so facelifts. It has been a great tool for reference and PR; honestly I don't know what I did before having it.
GB: Do you manage and design your own site or do you hire out? If you do it yourself, is it a labor of love or do you really enjoy it?
RM: I have always designed and managed my own site. I've looked into hiring out in the past, but it usually came down to a lack of funds. Since I already knew the basics of how to make a web site, I always just taught myself more whenever I needed it. Granted, I've never been the best web designer/manager, but I seem to have been able to be good enough for what I need. Honestly, it was a labor of love. I mean I loved making it at first, and then about 2 weeks into it I'd really be over it. I used to use Dreamweaver exclusively. It's a great product, but it really takes a long time...for me at least. Then in 2006 I finally discover "iLife" and ".mac" and my web life has never been the same. I LOVE MY MAC and iWeb!!!! For what I need, iWeb (which is part of the iLife package) rocks! Sites that used to take me 3 weeks to create take me 3 hours! Now, it's hard for me to NOT change my web site every couple of months.
GB: As an artist, it must be an excellent way to let fans, clients and peers see your work. Do you feel the design of your site reflects your artistic sensibilities?
RM: It really is. The internet has changed everything in the life of an artist. The internet was just starting when I was graduating from college, so I was taught both the old way and the new way of promoting yourself. The old way was sending out postcards, intro letters, tear pages, and just about any creative thing you could think of to send to an art director. While it's still a good idea to do those things, by 2002 "mail" was pretty much obsolete as most art directors used email, preferred being contacted electronically and would rather see your web page than fill their offices with paper and stuff. But having a web site is so much more than just for business; it's a great way to keep people up to date with what you are doing, and where you will be. It's like having your own personal gallery that is always open. Because iWeb makes it so easy to update or change my site, I feel more than ever, my web site reflects who I am and where my art is.
GB: I see on your site, you have done a major redesign in the recent past. Would you tell us what you changed/improved?
RM: The biggest improvement on my site is it is really user friendly. Navigation is simple, things load up quickly and it's really consistent throughout to keep the viewer in the experience of my art. I've learned the value of "less is more" over time, and I think it shows with the layout. It's clean yet not uptight. There are some really fantastic features that iWeb creates for my site. The first is the viewing choices visitors have. Visitors to my image galleries have the option to click and view the art like normal, or they can choose to view my work in an interactive slide show. It's really neat. The other really cool feature is it allows visitors to leave comments on the art work. I like this feature because it lets me get good feedback and keeps me in touch with fans.
GB: How have you used the website to help your business? Does it help drive commissions?
RM: My website's biggest function is reference. Websites are now the standard for letting clients or potential clients see your art work, so I could easily say without my website I would still be waiting tables. It's also a great place to advertise work you are doing or that is available for fans to purchase. It helps commissions in the same way it helps with clients. My site is a great reference for people to see what they might like.
GB: How come you don’t blog on your site? Have you thought about it?
RM: I actually do have a blog, I just have not used it very much. It's mostly a time issue. I have a lot to say, but not as much time to write it :)
GB: Your Star Wars work is just fantastic. What was your first Star Wars project and how did it come about?
RM: Thanks! I only hope that my love and enjoyment of Star Wars comes through in my art. My first Star Wars project was not official; it was for a magazine called "Scifi World". It was an off shoot of Cinescape. I think it was late 2007, and I was still attending KCAI but had already been doing a lot of fan work online. Star Wars Episode One was in the works, and all kinds of rumors were circulating about new characters. My job was to illustrate all of these rumors. It was much harder than it seemed! I ran across some of this work on an old disc not too long ago and relived the project. It's funny because the work is SO amateur, but I must say very ambitious. I remember I was so excited, and I wanted to blow everyone away, so I really made each piece of art much bigger and grander than it had to be. Seeing the art again, it's obvious what my intentions were, but it's also clear I had bitten off more than I could chew. But it is through mistakes that we grow:) As it turned out most all of the rumors turned out to be wrong... completely wrong. But it was fun.
My first official Star Wars project was doing illustrations for the now out of publication "Star Wars Kids Magazine" in 2000 (via a connection with Steve Sansweet). I started out illustrating really corny kids jokes here and there, but I quickly got asked to start illustrating stories and features. I actually didn't do much Star Wars until 2002 at Star Wars Celebration II. It was there that I met the new publishers of the Star Wars Insider, and they immediately got me on board to start writing and illustrating gag cartoons for the mail page. I started doing more kinds of art work for the Insider after that, and the rest is kind of history.
GB: Your love of Star Wars certainly does shine through. No worries there! I see you recently had a couple of pieces, "Bounty Hunters" and "Scoundrels", released via ACME Archives, the official Lucasfilm licensee for fine art prints. Can you tell us the genesis of those pieces and how that deal came to be?
RM: To call it an honor is an understatement. I am so proud to have been chosen to not only illustrate the Celebration IV program cover/poster, but Celebration Europe as well. It's been over a year since I got the nod, and I still have to pinch myself. The whole process started at San Diego Comic-Con in 2006 when I was talking with Lucasfilm about upcoming events. They informed me that Celebration IV would in fact be in my hometown of Los Angeles. In jest I suggested to them that if it's going to be in L.A. that it needs the complete L.A. flavor by having me illustrate the official cover. I say in jest because illustrating the program cover was beyond my dreams. Lucasfilm raised an eyebrow and told me to show them what I had in mind. I think I made the 3 hour trip from San Diego to Los Angeles in 15 minutes so I could get right to working out some sketches. For the next 4-5 months I worked out several ideas and sent them in for consideration - as did the other artists they were considering. I got the nod in late December, and it was on.
RM: Yes, I'm really excited about these pieces. They are both available at ACME Archives while supplies last. The really interesting thing is I have had these pieces done for about 4 years. I was teaching myself Adobe Illustrator and figured what better than to do something Star Wars. So I created about 5 different designs done completely in Illustrator. ACME Archives approached me at Celebration IV about producing these exclusive prints, and I accepted right away. There is one more design I did a while back that should be on the way very soon, "Jedi and Sith".
GB: You’ve now worked on several sketch card sets for Topps. Please tell us about that experience a bit. I know you caught some flak from some fans when you did your Heritage cards because some fans felt you took on too many and that the cards weren’t detailed enough to satisfy them. Was it rough to hear the criticism? Did it make you think twice about doing cards for The Revenge of the Sith sketch cards set?
RM: I've officially done 5 sets of sketch cards for Topps trading cards: Star Wars: Heritage; Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith; Lord of the Rings: Evolution; Heroes: Season 1 and Indiana Jones: Heritage. I've had an interesting experience with sketch cards to say the least. I really like the idea of sketch cards a lot; it's a great way for fans to own a piece of real art. It's fun for the collectors and a new avenue for artists to work. The "flak" I caught a couple years back was more of a misunderstanding than anything. At the time it was not understood that the artists are paid a very modest amount of money for each sketch card they created. Furthermore, the company that I did sketches for requested simple sketches - in fact that it is ALL they have ever requested. The idea of "sketch" cards was to provide just that, a sketch - not finished art. Knowing that, I elected to create 3,000 cards for the Star Wars: Heritage set. Make no mistake, even while I did quick "cartoon" sketches, it was still a very hard task create 3,000 cards. Some artists elected to do less and spend hours on each card -creating finished art rather than the "sketches" that were requested of us. This is ultimately what caused the 'flak" that I got because while some collectors were pulling finished art cards that they could make big bucks with on Ebay, others were pulling my "sketches" and in some cases a lot of them. Some collectors took out there disappointment on me without understanding the modest amount of money we get for each card, and more important what exactly was requested of us. Most collectors came to understand that I did the job I was hired to do, and that the "finished art" cards that some artists do are purely a special bonus.
The truth is that most people who got my sketches really enjoyed them. They liked my cartoon style and actually liked getting a part of the sketch process. Was it tough to hear the criticism? Not really. Criticism is part of being in the art field; you have to let most of it roll off your back. I knew I did the job I was asked to do, and I believe that it was simply displaced frustration by the people who were unhappy with my cards. It never caused me to think twice about doing another sketch card set or change the way I was approaching this project. What was important to me was to try and understand why some fans were so upset because honestly I didn't know or couldn't understand. So I really did listen, and I understood their frustration. Heck, I would want a finished piece of art over a sketch too! But I also think it isn't fair to expect an artist to do $100 worth of art when they are getting paid to create a quick sketch. Some artists go ahead and make finished art on these cards, but they shouldn't feel they HAVE TO because they feel it's their responsibility to make collectors happy. That responsibility lies with the publishers of the cards. If collectors want to guarantee "finished" art on these cards, then they will have to convince the card companies to start paying artists accordingly.
I took a break from sketch cards for a little while, not because of the the criticism, but because the huge numbers were burning me out. With the new Heroes set, I wanted to get back into it, but this time I am doing less cards. The reason? Mostly because I am now doing a more REALISTIC style of art, and even a quick sketch takes me a little longer than a cartoon. So I can't get nearly as many cards done as I used to. The other reason is I am much busier these days, and I just don't have time to do many cards. But I really like doing the cards, so I make time to do a few:)
GB: As well as doing limited edition lithos for the events, you recently did the program covers for Star Wars Celebration IV and Celebration Europe. How did you manage to score such an honor?
Meanwhile, I was also working out sketches for my exclusive Limited Edition print that I would sell at my table for Celebration IV and Europe. At this point the designs for my "prints" were almost afterthoughts due to my focus on the program cover. I knew I wanted to create "Sith Rocks" for Celebration IV, but I wanted to do something very different and very British for Celebration Europe. So I came up with the idea for "Sgt. Lucas", a Star Wars parody of the Beatles' "Sgt. Peppers" album. I then sent both designs to Lucasfilm for approval. Both pieces were approved, but they said they wanted to talk to me about Sgt. Lucas. I found out that everyone loved the piece so much that they wanted to use the image for the official program cover/poster for Celebration Europe. Of course I accepted the invitation and then had to figure out how the hell I was gonna do it!:)
GB: And while we're talking about conventions... do you enjoy exhibiting? What are the financial considerations of attending a convention for an artist? For instance, many artists who attended Celebration Europe seemed to have a less than positive experience from a financial perspective. Would you care to comment on that?
RM: My first convention or exhibit was Star Wars Celebration II in 2002. I had never even heard of San Diego Comic-Con, or anything of the sort, so the idea of having a table to show my work was wild. For any one that remembers, I really didn't have much on my table; I had no idea what I was supposed to do. It was there that I met Jeff Carlisle and Matt Busch for the first time. Both of them really put me under their wing and kind of showed me the ropes. The following summer I got the bug and did as many shows as I could do. In 2005 I did something like 9 conventions. I learned 9 convention in a year is WAY to many, and I was burned out. I took 2006 REALLY easy; I think I only did San Diego Comic-Con, but that wasn't enough:) So last year (2007) I did 2 shows and probably could have done one more - that would have been perfect for me. I do like exhibiting, but it's really a grueling process; the days can get very long. But I have to say that what I really love about the cons are meeting people. I have met so many great artists and wonderful fans that I would never have had the chance to meet otherwise. Conventions are pretty essential to establishing new business relationships and securing existing ones, so I would have to say that conventions are positive for me. Finances are definitely something to consider for every artist. Between travel, hotels, food, after parties and then merch... you do have to have some fundage to make it all happen. But it is such a great opportunity to make new clients and establish a fan base, I feel it's always a good investment to go.
Celebration Europe was definitely a different kind of show for everyone. Many artists were disappointed with the low sales, especially in comparison to the great sales Celebration IV produced. But for me, there was so much more to gain than money. I established a whole new fan base, and I planted grass roots with potential clients overseas. Celebration Europe also gave me the unique opportunity to really get to know some of the other artists. I feel like I have established some great life long friendships. So, you know, yeah, it can be expensive, but as long as you're doing the most with what you have... I think it's all worth it.
GB: I see from the cartooning page on your site, that cartooning is a first love. You even did a cartoon style limited edition litho for Star Wars Celebration III. Are any more cartooning projects (especially Star Wars ones) in the works?
RM: Ah... yes, I love cartooning. There is something very cool about cartooning in that there are no rules. "No Rules" is inherently true with all art, but unlike in narrative art, it is cartooning where you can break rules of logic, reverence, political correctness, chronology, ANYTHING! So it is no surprise that cartooning has always had an upper hand in communicating social issues within the community. The sense of humor kind of takes the sting out of speaking and thinking about sensitive subjects. Now, obviously, cartooning isn't all about politics and social issues. It's also a great tool to entertain people, which is just as important in life as being aware of social problems because we also need to laugh and smile. I love cartooning because I have always been able to help people smile and laugh, and that makes me feel good. It's not an acceptance thing, it's knowing that I am GIVING something of myself that contributes to the good spirit of people. The Celebration III limited edition print was a blast to do, and it's still one of my favorite cartooning pieces I have done. Unfortunately (for my cartooning) it's one of the last real cartooning projects I have worked on in the last 3 years. I have been hired to do so much "realistic" illustration (which I have been extremely happy about) that my cartooning has been put on the back burner. No cartooning Star Wars projects coming BUT, I am in the middle illustrating and authoring my first book with Impact Publishing that lets me stretch my cartooning legs! It is tentatively called "Creature Feature: How to Draw Monsters and Aliens with Randy Martinez", and it comes out in early spring 2009!
GB: What else have you been working on recently? Anything Star Wars oriented? Maybe something for the upcoming Clone Wars series?
RM: As I mentioned, I am in the middle illustrating and authoring my first book with Impact Publishing called "Creature Feature: How to Draw Monsters and Aliens with Randy Martinez". Just like the title says it's a "How to draw" book that features step by step lessons on how to draw 35 different monsters and aliens! It has been a really fun project to work on, as I have been able to put my own spin on all kinds of classic monsters. Star Wars is coming; I have "Jedi vs. Sith" to be released through ACME Archives this year, Star Wars Celebration Japan, and I'm sure some Clone Wars projects will come up! But like a lot Star Wars artists, there is so much on my plate right now with the Indiana Jones 4. I am doing 150 sketch cards for Topps' "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" set. I am also doing an exclusive Giclee print for ACME Archives that features all 4 of the Indiana Jones movies. Can't wait to show everyone that one!
GB: Can you give us a sneak peek (even just a partial teaser) at a piece of Star Wars art nobody has gotten to see before? Maybe something hidden away or yet to be released?
RM: I'm not permitted to show you any of the Indiana Jones work I'm doing right now, and I only have some preliminary sketches of ideas for Star Wars Celebration Japan. Sorry:(
GB: No problem. You can't blame us for trying to sneak a peek! Finally, here's a question we're asking to everyone we interview at GalacticBinder. If you were transported into the Star Wars universe... what era, location and setting/situation would you want to end up in, and what's the first thing you'd do and with whom? (Keep it clean, Mr. Martinez!!!!)
RM: Awe, c'mon!!! How can I answer this clean?! Okay, I'll keep it clean by simply saying it's a tie. I'd want to get to Jabba's Palace before Luke and save Princess Leia. "Sorry Princess. I forgot to bring you a change of clothes... guess you'll have to stay in that bikini."
Or... I'd want to be that artist that was Padme's boyfriend!!!
GB: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Randy. We look forward to seeing more amazing work from you in the future and are proud to have you and your site be a part of GalacticBinder.com.
RM: Any time
If you enjoyed this interview with Star Wars artist Randy Martinez please see Galacticbinder's additional Star Wars interviews.