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Help Support Features Interviews Drew Struzan
Drew Struzan interview
by Shipwreck - posted on August 15, 2002

Drew Struzan is most noted for creating the artwork surrounding legendary films like Star Wars, Indiana Jones and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Recently, his work has involved Harry Potter and the Crocodile Hunter.

Struzan's personal portfolio is filled with passionate pieces that define him as a true artist. His work is extensive and is available for your viewing pleasure at

You could have chosen a million other careers, from basket weaving to ship captain... why an artist?

Basket weaving wasn’t offered to the boys in High School when I was impressionable, only to the girls and as far as Captain of a ship, I get sea sick. The only coarse open to me seemed to be this art thing. I was identified early in my childhood as one of those peculiarly talented kids. I have been told I could draw to communicate before I could talk. Some people still accuse me of this problem but I have learned to live with it. The only trouble I have with this these days is that once I had developed my artistic abilities enough for others to appreciate them then they wanted me to turn to language to explain myself. I think this is going to be one of those experiences. So please, as I am happy to speak with you and to share with the fans of Indy and even of my work, talking is still not my best form of communication. Bear with me and don’t listen too carefully to my words but rather try to hear my intentions, cut me some slack and listen with a little loving forgiveness in your hearts.

Paul Shipper asks:
If you weren't an illustrator, what job would you like to do?

I get this feeling that an artist with little work is wondering what else in the world an artist could possibly do if not make art. Well, I’m not an employment counselor and I don’t believe one could help us anyhow. As most people suspect, we artists are a peculiar group. We are peculiar because we are of the group that tends to go with our feelings rather than with our heads. We have keen senses, we see the invisible, feel the unspoken and communicate to others hearts and feelings rather than appealing to their rational sides. What else in the world are we suitable for?

I can’t speak for anyone else but my other passion is for God. I tried to be a minister for over twenty years but as the Christ said, “Few are on the road”. My passion to come to know God and to help others didn’t mesh with the politics of the Church, their power struggles or their human doctrines so it didn’t work out well for me. Well, maybe it did. I learned not to “trust in earthling man in whom no salvation belongs”. I saw clearly the freedom the Christ bought for me, the love of the Father and the truth of his Word, so now I follow only Him and am left with no other form of expression or employment but to use my God given gift to create art and to make people happier with a little beauty in their lives that my art can give.

How would you define an artist? and or as Trevor Grove asks: What is your definition of art?

Definition? Hum……….That’s like trying to translate music into written notation. It’s never really the same thing is it? To try to define in words what is a visual experience does an injustice to the power of the medium.

click to enlarge
Drew Struzan.

There was a time in history when artist could easily define art for themselves, for the artistic community and for others. This all went haywire at the onslaught of WWI when so many of the values of mankind were destroyed. Art took a left turn away from wanting to improve people’s lives and instead wanted to shock them, disturb them and generally put us off. Would you be friends with someone who acted like that? So Modern Art lost their historical audience. Only those “educated” to appreciate this thinking collects art now; only critics can tell what is good and valuable. With all the rhetoric needed to explain the art, who can define it? Who would listen if we used the historic definitions, the old fashioned and outdated and goals of the artist today? We, I, would sound pretty stupid and old fashioned to preach it today, but I do.

Beauty, peace, truth and love. You been watching “Moulin Rouge”? The Bohemian ethic. Not new even for a movie but always seems to have been a fight to preach beneficial attitudes. This is why I make my paintings: to improve the quality of people’s lives. To reflect the creation, as Michelangelo said, is the best we can do. This is a real gift to humanity. This is something of real quality and value to others. Not difficult to understand because it is natural to our souls. Everyone appreciates the value of love, peace, truth and beauty but our society seems to devalue the whole reason for human existence by demeaning these values. This is my goal, my values and my definition of art.
Argue away, but this is what I am aiming for.

I'm going to interrupt here and add something of my own. This is coming from me, James Bradley. I love art, not for how one could describe it in words, when if it is good art, one could never degrade it by describing with words, but for how it makes me feel. My eyes and mind are moved my color and emotion. Like when a song causes you to tear up, not from the words, but by the emotion the words are sung with or by that solo fluglehorn played passionately. I love how art makes me feel. How it makes me reflect. When I look at a piece, no matter how many times, and its as if looking at it and feeling it for the first time and losing myself from the present to be captivated with every stroke or touch... then its art to me.
My favorite, little known by others, is Monet's: "The Customs Officer's Cabin, Morning Impression" The painting had been reported as stolen many years ago, only to be recovered in a storage bin as part of an insurance scam. When I saw it, I was reminded of Whitecliff by the Sea, from the Ghost and Mrs. Muir. I have a fantasy of escape in my mind when the world weighs heavy. This painting is a part of that fantasy. I see it hung on the walls of my imagination and am calmed by its sheer beauty and how it calms me.
Your art, not necessarily the posters, although they too are great, the art that I occasionally come across or that you have featured on your site, are wonderful. They are pieces that illicit a reaction from me. How ever minor or major, the scenes or colors or styles or whatever, "move" me in some way. Your piece Remember reminds me of when I lost my grandfather. He was and still is the most manly and caring man I've ever known. I miss him very much. Your painting made me feel like I can talk to him at any time, which I often find myself doing when I pass his picture or pick up his pipe. The colors are warm to me. They embrace me and remove any doubt or sadness of my grandfather's passing. I know that he is safe and I am alive.

This is the answer to the question: "What do I want people to think about my work".

Paul Shipper asks:
You have inspired many young artists to want to create art, are there any artists in the world that have inspired you?

El Greco's Study of
a Head

Of course there are. Inspire: To affect, guide, or arouse by divine influence, to fill with enlivening or exalting emotion, to stimulate to action; motivate. I have always gotten a rush from the masters: I view their work and I have all these emotions, inspiration. I see what they did and I am moved to paint too. The masters, where ever they are found. I trained in what we call the “great masters”. Artists like El Greco, Rubens, Michelangelo, Titian, Carrivagio, Giatto, Pontormo, Gaugan, Degas, Van Gough, on and on. I learned from what came before and learned not to copy as much as to be inspired. Between the masters and the Creation itself I have truly been inspired by the divine. So I try to paint in such a way as to create the same essential effect in others that those who inspire me have had.

I recall an experience when attending a show of El Greco’s work. It was the only time a large collection of his work had traveled to the U.S. and we had to go to Dallas, Texas to see it. While he is one of the most inspiring artists for me, I had never seen too many of his originals. As I walked through the exhibit the emotions growing me, grew and grew. Finally I stopped in front of a piece that I had never known of before. I stood in awe and the more I looked and the more I saw the more it worked it’s way into my heart. Slowly I realized that my eyes were tearing up over the overwhelming beauty I was seeing. This is what art is for. This is what I am inspired to recreate. This is the majesty of art.

According to your website you've worked on some classic pieces, like
Creature From the Black Lagoon. Were you inspired by any of the classic poster artists? If so, which ones and why?

Creature from the
Black Lagoon

The concept for the creation of this limited edition was not to recreate a period piece of art. The client wanted to have, in his words, a piece of art by me for a movie that deserved what I could bring to it: a collectable work of art for a classic film that deserved a revisit. It is a movie he loves and thought others would appreciate a painting that captured it in a way that was more representative of how the film has touched people’s lives. While I looked at the work Reynold Brown had done for the film originally, I did not want to either copy him or even rehash the idea or composition he had done. Something more was desired, not modern or even of our time, but more………me. So I approached it not as an advertisement but more of an illustration of the feeling, memory and emotional impact of the story. An additional fun thing for me about the project was not only getting to do a painting for a film from my childhood was that the original posters were painted by an artist with whom I studied when I was in school. What goes around comes around.

What led you into the world of movie related artwork?

I’ve answered this many a time because I think perhaps others are looking for a way into the film industry as well. My way is no way to get in. I didn’t wind up working in the movies because I had desired it, pursued it, had an in to it, was even aware of it as a possibility, had been inspired by poster work, had followed it as a kid, had a class about it in school or knew a movie star, director or writer. It was simple but hard. I attended school in L.A., stayed in L.A. to pursue work and through working at whatever came my way was eventually seen by the film industry and was given an assignment for a film. Slowly and patiently over time more and more movie work came my way as I was able to please the clients and was learning what the industry required.

Scott Kurtz, creator of PVP asks:
Drew, you've created posters for hundreds of movies. Is there any particular franchise job that still has the power to knock you out of your comfort zone? Something that makes you say "How am I gonna pull this off" going into it?

Knock me out of my comfort? There’s an interesting perception of what my job is like. I suppose to an outsider my job, that is my work appears to be magic. Therefore, something that is or seems to be so hard to conjure may even appear impossible. That may even be so for some artists. The ability to do good work is rare and to do exceptional work, by definition, is extremely rare and the rarest of all is the inventor, the originator. For me I was never scared to venture in. Perhaps I am naive but I see every job as an opportunity. I like figuring out how to do new things. I’m curious about my art and am always seeking something to broaden my horizons. I don’t remember ever being uncomfortable about art. A commission that requires a new approach or concept a design or technique is just fun to me. One man’s comfort is another man’s fear I suppose. Different personalities are what make life interesting but the differences also make room and need for the talents of everyone.

Trevor Grove asks:
Do you ever find it difficult to reflect yourself into a commission? In other words, to find something to connect with? What's a day in the studio with Drew Struzan like?

The grand thing about being an intuitive, feeling person is that I can sympathize with and comprehend the feelings and thoughts of others. It’s just a personality trait that serves me well as an artist. So just because a story or movie may not be a reflection of my experience or my point of view does not mean that I cannot find the value it has for others. Any movie made, someone had a point, and a desire or something they found to be of value, so all I do is to see what that is. Besides sympathizing with the intent, what I am also doing is making art. I make something beautiful out of the subject with good composition, color, drawing, technique, and style. In the end it is all just materials for me to make a powerful and beautiful image.

What’s a day like? Not all that different from most people’s day in general. Early to work and at it till the day is done, or the job is done. The difference is that I work alone. No one to drive me or check on me to see if I am working. I’m motivated every day by deadlines, the need to feed and clothe my family and in the end, I love to do what I do. There’s the blessing for me; I get to make my way by doing something I love. I know this is rare in this old world and I value my gift every day. Something else I appreciate is what would drive most other people insane, I like that my job is different every day. Every day presents a new problem to solve, a new client, a new job, something different. Repetition drives me silly. Isn’t it wonderful how we were all given a talent for something and that our personalities match what is needed to fulfill that talent, that gift? (Of course we have to discover our talent and then be blessed with opportunity.) Believe me, I know how good I have it that I found what I could do early in life and spent my time making it happen.

Paul Shipper asks:
Generally, how long does it take you to illustrate a one-sheet for a Hollywood production from concept to final rendering?

It’s always different. Every job has it’s own parameters and circumstances. Sometimes I have turned out a finished poster illustration over night with nothing more than a spoken “go ahead”. Other times it is the other extreme. Small black and whites, larger black and whites, color comprehensives and sometimes more than one finished painting. Then many times, changes to the finished painting, over and over again. This can go on for months, up to six months some times. Like I said, always something different.

Now, speaking earlier of Movie Posters, you were commissioned for a legendary set of films featuring Indiana Jones. The work would include posters, advertising and book covers. How did such an opportunity come about? Can you share some of the experiences you had, along the way, with us?

click to enlarge
Raiders of the Lost Ark
10th Anniversary poster.

The commissions to do Indiana Jones work were never offered as a set. Each job, and that’s what they were, were offered one at a time as the need arose. The first time I was asked if I wanted to work on Indy was on 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'. I don’t recall how the job came to me but here is what I do remember.

I was offered the international poster to do. I wasn’t provided with many pictures to work from and only a one-paragraph synopsis to help me understand the premise of the film. It was pretty much supposed to be kept a secret. I was working in the dark and had to go with my senses and experience in the industry to figure out just what approach to take. I did three color comprehensives from which one was chose with some alterations. I had Indy standing with Marion crouching beside him. They requested that I make Marion equal in presents with Indy, heroic as well. I included the Nazis and they asked for me to minimize their representation in the piece. They liked my finished painting with one exception. They changed their minds and asked for me to paint in a different head on Marion.

click to enlarge
Last Crusade poster.

I didn't do another thing on Indy until 'Temple of Doom'. No matter how successful a film and it’s advertising is, it seems they always want to do something different the next time around. The producers went with another illustrator for the second film. For whatever reason they were unhappy with the result of his painting and as the film was opening they asked me to give them my take on this film but in a hurry as the film was opening. I did three drawings in a day from which they chose one for me to paint as a color comp. They approved the comp immediately and I painted the finished painting in only about four days. The whole process didn’t take but a week and they replaced the campaign with my piece immediately.

'The last Crusade' came to me directly from Paramount this third time. By then I was the guy to use. I did many ideas for this film. Perhaps some two- dozen black and white comprehensives and some 4 full size color comprehensives. I painted the finished illustration that was used as the one sheet poster. I painted a second finished piece that was used for the advance one sheet. I did paintings for newspaper ads as well.

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Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade advertise posters.

Additionally Pepsi Cola had a tie in with this film and the advertising agency for Pepsi hired me to do a poster for Pepsi as well as a painting for the six pack which decorated the Pepsi carton. I also did point of purchase standees and even my son picked up some work doing illustrations for the Pepsi-Indy campaign.

When the book covers came along it was George Lucas to the rescue. It was he who said to Bantam, since I was already doing the 'Star Wars' book covers for Bantam, to use me as I was the guy with who’s style Indy was associated. That resulted in my being allowed to do a dozen book covers for Indy.
I’ve done a couple computer game box covers for Indy games, one of which I am working on right now.

click to enlarge
Indiana Jones Adventure

I also got the job to paint the poster and the logo for the 'Indiana Jones Adventure Ride' at Disneyland. They also used me at the request of George Lucas. It was at the unveiling of the poster for the press that I had the opportunity to really talk with George and to get to know him. I also spoke with Harrison Ford for this project. At first Disney did not have the right to use the likeness of Harrison and I couldn’t see doing a painting of Indy without including Harrison, he is Indy after all. Disney said if I could get Harrison to agree then I could go ahead. What, me get permission from Harrison Ford when Disney couldn’t? Right! Just as you might hope, I called Harrison on the phone and he was as nice and quiet spoken as you would think. He graciously said since I was painting the picture that I could have permission to go ahead and include his likeness. That’s the Indy we know and love.

I also did some work for the Young Indy films. I did the first promotional ads and was asked to do the video box covers by George Lucas. After I had done all the designs and received all the approvals for the finished paintings the job went south for two years and when it came back politics stole it from me and someone else wound up painting my drawings. Now that was sad.

Can you describe what working with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg was like?

The best working experiences of my career. Both men treat others like real human beings. You know what I mean if you have ever not been treated like humans but like dirt, like lesser beings and slaves. These men are the best because they are good. I like them. Always being appreciative and kind to me.
George is particularly fun for me as he wanted to be an illustrator when young so he appreciates and values illustrators. He is also introverted and quiet like me so we get along well. When we are together we don’t have to say much to be understood. And I never forge that without them I wouldn’t have had a career.

How does Harrison Ford feel about your rendition of his "mug"?

click to enlarge
Ford as Indy sketch.

I think he likes it. When I had a show of my work in Chicago it was coincidental with the filming of 'The Fugitive' there at the same time. I called Harrison at his hotel one evening and invited him to the opening of my show. He had to decline as that happened to be the last night of shooting for the film but said, “By the way, thanks for the physic”. He appreciated how I rendered him on the book covers. He gave me special permission for the Disney project as well because he obviously trusts me at what I do. I would guess that he approves.

Movieman asks:
It seems that a lot of Indiana Jones posters and book covers are from a limited number of pictures from the three movies. Are you given a certain amount of pictures that you are authorized to work from or can you create a picture from any frame in the three movies?

Usually, all us artist are given the same “approved” pictures from which to work. That’s how it works in the industry. Not every picture taken is appropriate for public consumption. We only get the best to work from. I also get a sneaking suspicion that while I pick from thousands of images from which to do my original works, after I have done the choosing and make a particular image well know through my work, others tend to chose the same likenesses I have used as they have become the icon for the film or actor. My work does have a tendency to become the identifiable image for the characters.

QeuZTone asks:
Were you completely free in drawing the Indy novel book covers or did the authors already have a vision of what they'd like to see on the covers?

The authors don’t have much say when it comes to the covers for their books. It is the publisher with whom the responsibility lies to produce and promote the books. With the Indy series it was with Bantam that I created the covers. They would provide me with the manuscript or a synopsis and I would come up with the images and composition. There was an enormous amount of freedom as compared to movie work. When I did the first book I wanted to make the covers echo the look of the pulp covers from the type adventure books, magazines and the serialized films that Indy was based on. I wanted to include Indy of course, the object of his search and the setting for the adventure on each of the covers. I also painted the title in character with the period look right into the artwork. As the series developed, I no longer painted the title in the painting as the distribution became international and an English title wouldn’t work for other countries. Beyond my initial intent with the layout and the subject matter I had freedom to conceive what I wished and thought appropriate for each cover. It was a delight to have had the opportunity to do all those covers. I could only wish that there would be more.

click to enlargeclick to enlargeclick to enlarge
Seven Veils, Sky Pirates and White Witch novel covers by Drew Struzan.
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Dinosaur Eggs and Philosopher's Stone novel covers by Drew Struzan.

When you created the Indiana Jones art, was there anything that wasn't produced? Did you, yourself, hold anything back?

Are you looking for other Indy works that are like hidden treasure? You know if I leave them buried, in a thousand years even they will become valuable.
No, there are no undiscovered works. What you may not have seen are not from holding back or because they were intended to be used and weren’t. All those comprehensives and studies I have done were never intended to be “released” to the public. Sure, few have seen them but they may have wider distribution one day in a book or something.

Georgia Perivolari and Mark Walters from Hot Fish Studios ask:
Is there any chance we'll see an Indy portfolio CD-ROM similar to the Star Wars portfolio CD-ROM you put out a few years back?

click to enlarge
Drew Struzan at the
Lucasfilm Archives.

Wouldn’t that be nice? Many have asked but not nearly enough to support the effort. You see, I did the Star Wars CD-ROM as a labor of love more than anything else. It was initially conceived to be a book but the deal went sour. After having put together all the materials for the book I felt it a shame to let it languish. So we put together the CD-ROM knowing that there would not be any potential to ever profit from it. We weighed the cost of manufacture and took the risk. I am still in debt over this. I am happy to have done it though because so many have enjoyed the effort. So, I don’t believe that I am in the position to pursue another financial failure. Indy will have to wait for a backer, a publisher or a financial windfall for me to be able to think about a CD-ROM devoted to Indy alone. Would be nice though, and Indy surely deserves it.

Brandon and TIA asks:
Will any or has any of your work been available as posters or in stores?

Nope. I have never made posters just for sale. I am not much of a marketeer but spend my time and energy on the art of my craft. I find that those who devote a lot of time to marketing their work naturally spend less time on their art and therefore the art is diminished. I spend my time on the art and therefore the marketing is diminished.
I do have some limited editions that I have made of the poster work. They are limited art pieces and not considered posters nor are they for sale in stores. The works are in Galleries. I understand that there are many who wish to posses a good copy of the work and in an effort to satisfy those I am working with an art dealer who may find a way to satisfy the market without an over abundance of my time away from painting. It does take a lot of effort so I am patient as we all must be.

Excluding your own work, many of your fans would like to know what is your favorite work of art and why?

click to enlarge
Indiana Jones sketch.

Inevitably people ask this question. There must be some sort of comfort or misunderstanding in wanting to single out one piece to hold above the rest. Or is it just such a common question that it is asked for lack of anything else to say? I really don’t know what it would prove to name a favorite. What, the one that is most successful by which all others must be judged?

All this would miss the point of painting more than one picture. There are many desires and needs, uses and purposes, many different reactions and emotions that can be derived form the work. Each one springs from a particular need, either mine or the requirements of a commission. Each succeeds in it’s own purpose. This makes me think of the definition of “perfection”. Being completely suited for a particular purpose or situation, lacking nothing essential to the whole; complete of its nature or kind is to be perfect. Perfection is not what so many seem to think, that there is one-way and only one way to do or be any particular thing. Many paintings can be perfect and in their perfection they do not need to be compared to other pictures that can also be perfect in themselves. This leaves room to live and work and accomplish forever. What a tragedy it would be to think that we are to reach a goal of perfection and in it’s obtaining think that then there would be no reason to go on, as that is our mistaken goal. For instance, is to be a perfect person the end all to life’s purpose? To obtain perfection would not be the end all of life’s purpose but only the beginning of living a life that is good and fulfilling. So my aim is not to paint the one best picture and then to have nothing else to paint but rather life’s beautiful gift is that it is unending in it’s opportunities and expressions, everything we do could be perfect. You tell me when you get enough love and then that would be all you would ever need.

Are you currently working on any projects that you're able to talk to us about?

click to enlarge
Indy with father sketch.

No. Not everything that I work on comes to fruition. There are many jobs, there are many attempts, and there are many dreams and desires that never find fulfillment. It would be foolish to publish them only to disappoint when the never see the light. I would look foolish and would be misdirecting to say all that I try to do.
Besides, there is also a practical reason why I can’t say. Most of what I do is commercial work and is for the purpose of advertising some else’s project. It is in their hands to decide where and when that promotion is best seen and people are made aware of it. It is even contractual in most cases that I do not speak of the project or show them to anyone until after the client makes them public.

Do you have any plans to do further Indiana Jones related material?

I don’t plan them; I am commissioned for projects that others create. When they do something else Indy then I too would hope to get the opportunity to paint another picture.

Paul Shipper asks:
Is there anything that you haven't painted yet that you are aching to do?

click to enlarge
Indy and Marion sketch.

Uh huh. My head is stuffed with ideas and my heart is bursting with desire to paint untold numbers of works. Most of what I do is generated through commercial commissions, so I paint at the desire of others dreams. I also have my desires that are personal but have little time to explore them because of practical reasons. Way back when I started school I chose illustration so that I might have a better opportunity to make a living. I still illustrate that we might get along. That is a lifetime full of effort and work. It leaves little time and energy except for my dreams for more.

The future is uncertain for us all, but as an artist, where would you like to be five years from now?


To that end I wish you all peace and hope that you might pursue it, perhaps then I will be with you in Paradise.

James Bradley wishes to extend his warmest thanks to Drew for taking time to share some of his world with us and to the numerous members who submitted their questions for the interview.


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