Six Answers from Jeff Carlisle
It is ironic that we now feature Jeff Carlisle, for if you’ve ever been within a mile from a Star Wars convention in the last few years, not only must you already be quite familiar with his colorful renditions of Mr Lucas’ characters, you will have also surely talked to him in-depth about his storied career.
What was one of your earliest fantasy/sf experiences?
“I would have to say it was the barrage of SF in 1977. Star Wars and Close Encounters changed my life (as it did everyone else’s) — I was only four when they came out. I distinctly remember seeing the TV commercial for Star Wars and freaking out when the Sand Person shot up. I also remember a local radio station playing the entire “Story of Star Wars” record on-air. Add into the mix Lost in Space re-runs and WUAB (out of Cleveland) showing SuperHost and Star Trek reruns with Space:1999 every Saturday evening… and it pretty much warped my mind. The Incredible Hulk was my first comic book and it tied nicely into the TV show–and I found the exact issue I used to have at half-Price Books a few years ago. Totally worth the money.”
How did you become a professional artist?
“Well, I decided I was going to be an artist in High School, but didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do — so I went to Art School for college. I was lucky enough to live in Columbus, where CCAD (the Columbus College of Art and Design) was — and Robert McCall, one of the great space illustrators of all time graduated from there, so i decided it would be the place for me.
“At the time I thought I would become a Science Fiction Cover Illustrator (little did I know that Illustrated covers were a dying breed), and during school I thought I was going to be a monster sculptor and movie concept artist.
“It was only after graduating that I realized that I couldn’t do that in Columbus, then I started thinking about illustration again. After being out of school for about three years and working as an Office Temp, I met my friends Heather Kreiter and Tony DiTerlizzi at a gaming convention, and thought it might be a good market for my work.
“Tony told me to go to GenCon… which I did… and luck was on my side since they were launching the Star Wars RPG from WOTC. Since I was a Star Wars geek and liked to draw spaceships, and they needed spaceships, I started getting work, which led to Star Wars Gamer magazine and then Dungeon magazine and Dragon magazine and work with both WOTC and Paizo.
“Because of all my WOTC work on Star Wars projects, I also started getting work from Lucasfilm directly…which made me more noticeable to other markets. And here we are today!”
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
“Well, having to pay a mortgage inspires you to work! But seriously, almost all the work I do is based upon art orders from Art Directors, so they have a plan and I try to follow it as best I can. I am a detail freak, so it seems to lend itself to more technical illustrations, but I can change it up when needed. As to what inspires me when i design things for my illustrations — it all comes down to research. If I have to draw a group in a Star Wars illustration, I research who is in the group, what other artistic interpretations have existed, what the clothes, weapons and such are — and then try to present it in an illustration that combines all those things without copying too much of the inspiration.”
Is there a single message that you find yourself most drawn to?
“Self-reliance and discovering the value in yourself is very important to me. So many people think that only other people can do great or good things — they completely lack the ability to see what is inside themselves. I am a humanist at heart, and believe that the ability to succeed exists in everyone and has only to be nurtured to develop. I don’t really believe in luck or fate or anything metaphysical — but I do believe that success is opportunity meeting talent and preparation. When those opportunities come along you have to act on them — even if failure is an option. Failure is an opportunity to learn as well.”
What has been your most challenging project?
“Every new thing I work on always feels like the most challenging. I do have to say that Comics are an overwhelming amount of work — anyone who can do issue after issue of comics are heroes in my eyes — and in Concept Design, it is challenging to be true to whatever world you are working in, but not just re-hash what has already been designed.
“And of course, portraits are amazingly hard — because people can tell instantly if there is a problem in your proportions when you draw a human face — and you try to also find a little look that feels individual to the person you are drawing. Very hard Stuff!”
What are you working on now?
“Well, since October I have been working on WebComics to tie into the Star Wars Clone Wars TV show on Cartoon Network. Three other artists and myself do all the art for stories that tie into each episode of the show — and the deadlines and art are very challenging. We just finished the season and hope to return for more adventures next season.
“On top of that, I have been doing a lot of spot illustrations for the Star Wars RPG and graphic/typographic design and concept design for Paizo’s Pathfinder RPG — as well as working on a number of newer projects I can’t talk about yet. One highlight was that I got to design the Production Company Logo for Knights of Good Productions, who produce the award-winning (and very funny) Webshow ‘The Guild’. It has been a real treat to see them end every episode with that Logo, let me tell you!”
Follow Jeff’s artistic ascension at jeffcarlisle.com!
Written by Jeff in January of 2010. Last edited September 2014.