Star Wars Fan Awards Pro Tips: Advice for Aspiring Artists from Amy Beth Christenson

The Star Wars Resistance art director has some encouraging words about telling your own unique story.

Amy Beth Christenson knows how to weave a story, through the small details of a fully-rendered character design or a rough sketch scrawled to help convey the broad strokes to a team of animators.

But before she became the art director for the upcoming animated series Star Wars Resistance, Christenson was a Star Wars fan just like you. She started her career with Lucasfilm fresh out of college, where she combined her two childhood obsessions — Star Wars and video games — into one dream job. With LucasArts, Christenson had a hand in the design for titles like Star Wars: Starfighter, The Force Unleashed and its sequel. From there, she moved into TV animation, working on Star Wars: The Clone Wars, before being promoted to senior concept designer for Star Wars Rebels. There she helped to define the aesthetics of the show and designed some its most distinct breakout characters including Grand Admiral Thrawn. (During the production, Christenson even got to meet Thrawn’s creator Timothy Zahn and get his autograph in her original copy of Heir to the Empire.)

This week, we asked Christenson for her advice for up-and-coming artists entering this year’s Star Wars Fan Awards.

Here are Christenson’s top 4 tips for creating something all your own:

1. Make it yours. 

There are so many categories to choose from, but finding the right project means knowing your own strengths as an artist and using them to your advantage. “Do you love color? Then compose an image that centers around that,” Christenson says. “Great sculptor and fabricator? Make a costume that revolves around those skills.” Playing to your strengths also means you’ll probably enjoy the creative process more. “The more you center your piece around what you love and what you are good at, the happier you will be while making it — and that will shine through in the final product….Try to find a fun and original way to make your entry really sing. Embracing your own unique style of drawing and rendering is a great way to separate yourself from the pack, but there are other solutions out there — find one that works for you!”

2. Be a storyteller. 

Sometimes, the emotional thread of the story is found not through sweeping battle scenes or pages of panels but through subtle hints and details. “Storytelling is giving the audience clues that will evoke some emotion or response,” she says. “Even if you want to focus on one character and paint a great portrait, you can use color combinations and lighting to describe different feelings. What do you want the viewer to feel or think about? Find a combination of colors and composition that tells that story, and don’t muddle it by trying to tell too much.” Visual artists often have just one image for an audience to focus on. Make it count.

3. It’s all about the idea. 

Maybe you’re nervous that your artistic skills will be outshined by the competition. And that’s OK. “Great art is more about the idea than the execution,” Christenson says. “Find that hook, find that original and inspired idea. As long as you have enough skill to get that across visually, people will always have a stronger response to a unique interpretation over a photo-realistic rendering or an elaborately detailed piece.”

4. Look to other sources of inspiration…and those that inspired them. 

Every artist has other pros they admire, and Christenson is no exception. But when you’re working on your entry, don’t just stop at the big names – try to follow in their footsteps. “A lot of artists look up to the Star Wars work of Ralph McQuarrie and Drew Struzan,” Christenson says. And with good reason. But, “when looking for inspiration for your piece, I recommend finding out what artwork, in turn, inspired them — and see where that leads you. It’s something that I do every day when designing for Star Wars — to reverse-engineer the visual pieces, and use those as inspiration to create something new that still captures the spirit of Star Wars.” The journey may just take you to a whole new place visually — “and as an artist, that’s always a good thing!”

Check out the link below for more advice from Christenson in this week’s episode of The Star Wars Show!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY.​ Enter contest between 7/18/18 at 12:00 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time (“PT”) and 9/17/18 at 11:59 p.m. PT. Open to legal residents of the 50 U.S. & D.C., Canada (excluding Quebec), Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Puerto Rico who are 13+ at time of entry. Limit 1 submission per genre per person. There are 34 Star Wars prize packs available to be won (Estimated Value: US$200 each). See Official Rules {https://www.starwars.com/star-wars-fan-awards-official-rules-2018} for full details on how to enter, eligibility requirements, prize description and limitations. Void in Quebec and where prohibited. Sponsor: Disney Online, 500 South Buena Vista Street, Burbank, CA 91521-7667.

Photos by Kyle Kao.

Associate Editor Kristin Baver is a writer and all-around sci-fi nerd who always has just one more question in an inexhaustible list of curiosities. Sometimes she blurts out “It’s a trap!” even when it’s not. Do you know a fan who’s most impressive? Hop on Twitter and tell @KristinBaver all about them!

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