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The Drew Struzan Interview by Stephen Jared


"There's a generation who grew up with images, which have become very meaningful to them. I actually get letters every day from people who say one of my illustrations inspired them toward a certain career path or something." Drew Struzan speaks in a soft, understated tone. Pride and humility co-exist in his manner, the effect of which is endearing.

Hollywood's most successful illustrator - for decades now - began his career studying at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. For Drew, struggle defined the early to mid-seventies as he began to compete with well-established illustrators. Finally, in the summer of 1977, a fellow graduate of the Art Center asked Drew to help with an interesting commission: George Lucas planned to re-release Star Wars after record-breaking success the spring before - and he wanted a new poster. The poster became George Lucas's favorite, and a classic image to fans all over the world.

With directors like Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott and Robert Zemeckis sharing George Lucas's enthusiasm for Struzan's work, a long series of classic film posters were born and continue to this day: E.T. the Extraterrestrial, Back to the Future, Blade Runner, The Muppet Movies, Coming to America, Harry Potter, Hellboy and most iconic of all - his extensive on-going work for Star Wars and Indiana Jones.


On a recent morning I enjoyed visiting Drew in his studio to discuss his work. From our conversation, I gathered that the respect he deserves is still hard-won from an industry sometimes indifferent to great artists. He smiles easily though, seemingly more bemused than heartbroken by the Hollywood he knows well.

Do you begin a poster compositionally, working out shapes or does the initial inspiration come from the story?
Commissioned work has to begin with story. I have to get the spirit of what they're doing. That dictates design.

David Hockney argues that photography captures only the look of something whereas painting captures the experience. Your Temple of Doom poster captures that film better than anyone ever could by using stills or posed photographs of stars. Assuming you agree, why then are you so unique?

With regard to painting being superior to photography, that is how I feel about it as well. As to why paintings aren't used more to promote films; perhaps that has to do with the bottom line. There's too much money involved, and too many suits who don't know art and don't know how to trust real emotion and it's power. Art is about emotion, living, and the spirit. Unfortunately, the marketing of movies is not about that. Fear and uncertainty are not a good formula for communication. And sadly, this is an age when we need art more than ever. Art gives us a reason for living and we're losing that.


Artists have always sought like-minded individuals to share ideas and band together. The impression I have of you is as a more solitary figure, doing your own thing. Is that accurate, and how do you feel about the Struzan disciples, who've adopted a similar style to yours and are finding some work and sighting you as an influence?

You read me very well. I don't have artist friends. I'm a very private person. As far as followers go, I don't think about that very much. You see, I learned from the giants before me. If I've played a part in inspiring other people then I'm happy about that. That's how I learned. I'm happy for them to be getting work. After all, my job is to inspire.

Are there any movies that stand out from your childhood as having had a significant impact on you?

No. I had a difficult childhood. I can't remember having those kinds of moments. I didn't see movies and relish them the way others had. For me, I used drawing as an escape from my surroundings. I suppose, to some degree, it's been that way my whole life. You simply can't be thinking of anything else when you are creating a whole new world (in paint). You know, there's a reason that in mental institutions they give out paints and drawing materials. Painting has a calming affect. Painting requires one's full attention. I've got to put my whole heart into a painting if I expect others to read into it the heart I wish to encourage.

You've been an illustrator for many years now. Are you still capable of surprising yourself?


I've had that reflection recently and found what's surprising is in looking back at my older work I see that there's little new in what I'm doing now. It's a surprise to see that I haven't "changed" so much as clarified who I am and what I like. Today I emphasize what I've always emphasized - since I was a teenager. It's a peculiar experience to find that I am who I am and have always been what I am. I suppose that's because I draw my inspiration from within and not from without. So it goes for the introvert. My power resides in my heart.

You've said before you try to discover the passion that drove the filmmaker to tell a particular story. But, you wouldn't be so unique if your work wasn't also an accurate expression of Drew Struzan. Can you comment on the spiritual elements in your work?

My works are an expression of me. I can't help that. The filmmaker has his story but I cannot do more than have my understanding of that, my feelings for it. And what do I look for ... I believe in honesty, kindness, justice, mercy and love. At times I may be painting a dark side of humanity but there's always a light to counter it. That's the part I see and focus on. That's just me and my spirit and what I find valuable.

The above interview was conducted in July 2008 for the September issue of Pasadena Magazine. Shortly after, Drew surprised fans around the world with the following quote.

"Having been working at not working has produced a guy who could never return to illustration again. It took a lot to attempt the idea of retiring from my 40 years of effort and sacrifice but now that I have, I am delighting in life as never before. I had forgotten how to rest, to smell the proverbial roses and to see the future as opportunity. I am grateful and honored to have had the opportunity to do all the work I did. I am well pleased to have been able to give a gift of beauty and peace through my artwork to so many throughout the world. Now I have laid down the burden and have peace and happiness as the reward for my day's labor." - Drew Struzan (September 3rd, 2008)


The above photo shows Stephen with Drew Struzan again at Drew's Museum exhibition in January 2014. Though retired, Drew does continue to dazzle with an occasional illustration, such as the one below for his friend Frank Darabont.


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