There’s a luminous quality to Robert Hendrickson’s artwork that makes the characters leap off the page. His pieces feature a delicate interplay between light and shadow, with such a precise attention to detail that you feel as though you could step right through the page and into the scene he’s created…because that’s how real it feels. The warmth of the artwork invites you in.

From his beginnings at the Art Center College of Design, Hendrickson’s career as a freelance illustrator has involved creating artwork for clients such as Lucasfilm, Disney, Bad Robot, New Line Cinema, the Jim Henson Company, AMC, Topps and more. In 2005, he started officially creating artwork for the Star Wars universe, ranging from Star Wars Insider magazine to limited edition prints for Star Wars Celebrations.

Hendrickson’s artwork was on display at Dragon Con 2018, and ESO Network reporters Mary Ogle and Ashley Pauls got a chance to chat with him about his career as an artist and his work in the Star Wars universe. Read an excerpt from our interview below, and listen to the full interview on Earth Station One podcast episode 437: https://esonetwork.com/the-earth-station-one-podcast-437-the-big-lebowski-live-from-dragon-con/

ESO: Tell us a little bit about your career, how you got started, and what was that spark that made you decide, “I want to be an artist and I want to do this as a career”?

Hendrickson: Well, I started drawing and doodling pretty young. And then about high school, I was thinking about focusing on it professionally. I decided to go into college for it out in California, Art Center College of Design. Originally, my goal was to go into movie poster art, illustration, and design. And then around that time, Photoshop was taking over and kind of killing the original art aspect of movie posters. So I started then focusing on trying to stay within the entertainment realm of art, going after more of the Star Wars type stuff. So I was focusing on them and started doing work for Star Wars Insider magazine; they gave me a couple opportunities to kind of prove myself there. Then from there, just started working with Lucasfilm, producing official artwork for about 10 years now. A lot of fun stuff. It’s kind of fun to play in this sort of sandbox.

How much art direction do they give you for the Star Wars stuff?

It depends. A lot of the Star Wars Celebration type stuff, they sort of keep it a little open to you. It’s kind of an approval process. So you just submit a concept that you have, and they either like it or they don’t. So there’s not too much art directing on that aspect of it. For some of the magazine work, it’s a little more directed, where they’re kind of focused, they want this sort of a look or even down to certain color schemes, emblems, and things like that where you have to be dead on.

You’ve done work with a lot of major media companies that touches on a lot of fandoms. Would you say Star Wars is your favorite, or are there some others that you like working on?

Star Wars, in general; I grew up on it, so it was nice to be able to play with that.

Any particular characters that really make you feel excited about drawing?

Yoda. Boba Fett is usually kind of a popular one amongst fans, and I enjoy it too.

I’ve noticed you have such a distinctive way with light and shadow in your drawings. Do you develop tonally or through line drawing?

Yeah, actually, it’s all hand-painted. I don’t do any digital. And what I’ll do is, I’ll start with a line drawing and then I’ll do usually a sort of a reddish black sepia tone wash, kind of a watercolor style. So then on top of that, I’ll go in with an airbrush with acrylic paint and lay in transparent layers of color. Then I’ll finish it off with usually a paint brush and then a little bit of colored pencils, hit the details on the paintings.

It’s a beautiful, distinctive style. About how long does it take you to create a piece like this from start to finish?

A larger piece like a Celebration style print or limited edition print is usually about…well, concept wise I could work on a concept for a couple weeks. But as far as the execution of the painting, probably about three weeks.

Do you feel like art school played a big part in developing your style? The reason I’m asking is that sometimes people — I don’t feel this about yours at all — but sometimes people think there’s an “art school style.”

Yeah, I don’t think stylistically I got anything from Art Center. I think technically, there’s certain aspects that they kind of ingrained. They’re very polished, and I definitely learned quite a bit on that end of the spectrum.

I can tell you had lots of life drawing classes.

Yeah, quite a few of them; that was one of my big focuses. And then also through another Arts Center graduate (he’s passed away), but John Alvin, which was one of the premiere movie poster artists, I met him through another connection and was mentored by him for a number of years. I think a lot of maybe some of his color aspects and things like that I’ve picked up and included in my work, but that was a huge help as well.

I can definitely see the movie poster influence, the epic feel.

That’s what I’m trying to get across!

The thing I like about this, too, is that it’s so timeless. You know, we all joke about the overly photoshopped movie posters. But this is just beautiful; this is going to look just as good 50 years from now as it does today.

That’s my hope!

One of the best things about cons is the chance that fans get to meet and interact with creators. Do you have a favorite fan interaction story of someone that’s come up to your table and shared about what your work has meant to them?

Actually, again, going back to Star Wars Insider, I had done a few short stories with an author by the name of Karen Traviss. Through that we were developing the Republic Commandos’ armor and a couple of what they call ARC troopers, kind of their looks and one in particular was a character by the name of Kal Skirata.

I was actually the first person to paint and kind of design the character that appeared in Star Wars Insider. So every now and then I’ll have 501st members come up and talk about studying my artwork as they’re building their armor, making sure it’s accurate to my work.

Have you gotten to see people cosplaying as your characters?

A couple show up every now and then. Actually last year, I don’t know if he’ll be here this year, but last year one of the Kal Skirata cosplayers/501st members was here, showing me some revisions that he made.

You’ve obviously found success in your career, you’re doing lots of things — what advice would you offer to people who are just getting started, especially younger artists? What are some good tips for them to get involved in this field?

It really just comes down to honing your skills and just keep doing it, keep pushing away on the execution side. But then also you have to follow through with getting to know these people, making the connections and sending out [samples] and talking to people over and over, as much as you can just to get in there, which is what I sort of did with Lucasfilm. I kept at the time mailing flyers; we don’t mail the flyers anymore — everything’s digital now. But I was focusing on that for over a year probably before I even received an email back.

When you’re talking to young illustrators, how much would you stress having the foundational skills? That’s something that people are kind of getting away from, and I think we’re losing the beautiful attention to anatomy and things like that.

It’s just tough now, because a lot of the younger people are going digital and digital drawing, digital painting. And for me, because of my schooling background with quite a bit of, you know, sitting there sharpening charcoal and things like that, kind of drawing from life. I think it’s sort of a lost art nowadays. But I think it’s important — if they don’t know the basis, then it shows up in the artwork. So that’s how you can stand out from the crowd. You’ve got to put in the time.

Learn more about the artwork of Robert Hendrickson: http://www.roberthendrickson.net/