Jerry Vanderstelt has been drawing since he was eight years old. His interest in the genre of sci-fi and fantasy was triggered early by authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.
His clients have included the Franklin Mint, Bradford Exchange, Hasbro Toys, and Lucasfilm Ltd. Recently, you can find his work as commissioned by Warner Bros. And New Line Cinema with licensed reproduction of his Lord of the Rings art.
Legendarium caught up to the artist to talk about his work, connection to George Lucas, and thoughts on Tolkien’s influence.
Can you tell us something about yourself and your background?
JV: I had my first interest in Fantasy when a friend handed me a book called, “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” by the great C.S.Lewis. From there I discovered Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” books. I have been creating fantasy and Sci-Fi art ever since.
You have different themes that you illustrate. From Tolkien, Indiana Jones to Star Wars. What is your favorite subject to illustrate and why?
JV: Each of these themes have very distinct flavors and they are a lot of fun to delve into the imagination and attempt to lay down ideas that other people with grab onto. Each theme has emotional, memorable aspects that I love, due to my love of these films that the art is tied to, but Tolkien is probably my favorite, right along side of the Narnia books, although I have not been involved in official art tied to the Narnia series. The reason Tolkien resonates more with me is probably because Tolkien’s world has undercurrents of Eternal themes tied to the stories. There are other worlds within other worlds.
What specifically attracted you to created works based on the Tolkien lore and Star Wars?
JV: Tolkiens again has Christian themes tied into the story, although Tolkien was insisting that he was not writing allegorically, but his Christian beliefs were evident in his writing style and the way he treated what I call Eternal themes that are in the stories, especially the Silmarillion.With Star Wars, George Lucas was able to take us on a journey that was anchored with a sense of realism that pulled you into the story: you couldn’t help but like the films. From the greasy, dirty “used” universe, to interesting stories tied into the Jedi Myths from a thousand generations made Star Wars very appealing to me, even years later from first seeing Episode 4 in an old worn out drive-in theater back in 1977.
What aspects of your approach to depicting the subject of your work makes you unique and set you apart from other artists who have used the same themes as their inspiration.
JV: I believe the answer to that question is better stated by others than myself, but what I can say is that when I approach a design layout, I always try to be true to what I want myself and the viewer to see, regardless of how much time I have to invest in the preparation of the artwork. If I have a vision in mind for any given piece, I try to go all the way, no matter the cost, because these themes are worth the time and pain to get out of the mind and onto the painted surface!
What did it mean to you to have George Lucas personally select your work for the cover of the Star Wars Art: Illustration book?
JV: It meant quite a lot, knowing that George Lucas had a personal hand in the selection process. It was ( and remains to be ) a true honor, which keeps me striving to create better work whenever I have the opportunity to create another Star Wars themed piece.
When working on a project such as Lord or the Rings, The Hobbit or Star Wars, for inspiration do you read the literature and watch the movies for direction or do you create the work based on your own original thoughts?
JV: All of the above! I listen to the film scores, listen to the audio books, and of course watch the films to inspire the thoughts that are going through my head, especially during the design phase.
Of the works you’ve done so far, were there any that proved more challenging than others?
JV: Every piece has it’s own challenges, but some are extremely time-consuming in the preparation aspect of the project. I am working on a Balrog themed piece right now that was extremely challenging just in the design phase, but right after this interview, I am going to lay the first bit of paint down on it, which is the scariest part! This Balrog piece is done as what I call a “snap-shot”, which requires me to use depth of field and details as any given object appears closer to the viewer. Fire, embers and swirling smoke is going to be a real challenge. Sometimes you’re not quite sure how to achieve things like that, except to wing it!
I have noticed the surge in popularity of “sketch cards”. Why do you think people collect sketch cards? Is there a connection to mainstream collector cards such as with companies like Topps?
JV: I believe sketch cards are a novelty with collectors due to their small size and ease of collecting them without having to need a full-blown “man-cave” to display them.Every once in a while, I will create a full-blown miniature portrait of any given Star Wars character, which can be a real challenge due to the extremely tiny surface area, yet try to paint a face completely realistic. There are several talented artists that also do this,which may contribute to their popularity. The Topps sketch cards are certainly a big part of the collector market.
What advice would you give a new artist starting out and what do you think is the most effective way to market yourself and your work?
JV: Go to the conventions! If possible, get a simple table space to start and be open to constructive criticism. Facebook is another way to get your work out in the industry.
Where can people find more of your work or upcoming shows?
JV: I usually attend the San Diego ComicCon every year at booth #4719. As well as Star Wars weekends in Orlando Florida and any of the Star Wars Celebration events!
You can also Find Jerry Vanderstalt at: