There are so many talented Star Wars fans out there that create beautiful pieces of Star Wars art everyday. However, there are only a handful of these Star Wars artists that create consistently awesome work. One of these artists is Jenny Dolfen who has made superb watercolor paintings of Kylo Ren, Rey and other characters from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Here is my exclusive interview with her:
Where are you from? and are you creating art full-time?
I’m from Germany, though I’ve lived in England for a while. I’m a part-time artist – I work as a teacher for English and Latin at a school here in Jülich, teaching eleven to eighteen year olds. Star Wars is a great common denominator for me and the students. They’re quick to pick up these things – particularly as I have a LEGO Admiral Ackbar on my school keys!
I incorporate quite a lot of my art into my school routines. With younger classes, who are often quite noisy, I’ll often draw them a picture of a pop culture character on the blackboard after class if they’ve worked well. And they may write drawing wishes under their vocab tests, and I’ll do them a picture if they have zero mistakes. I’ve found myself drawing a lot of BB-8s lately.
How long have you been a Star Wars fan?
Since late 1996, when I was a student at Cologne University. Every year, the Latin students write a parody play making fun of the professors and day-to-day life at the Classicist department, and that year, we based the play on Star Wars (titled “Bellum Stellarum”). I’d always been very active in those plays, also in that year, though I had never seen the movies properly! We binge-watched them together to prepare for the play. That was my first “proper” memory of Star Wars. But I loved the movies straight away. Much to the joy of my then-boyfriend (now husband), who had been a Star Wars fan since early childhood.
What is your first memory of Star Wars?
My very first memory must have been 1984, when I was staying with my cousins in Hamburg over the summer holidays. They always had those gadgets that nobody else of my friends did – like video recorders, Super 8 and Atari consoles. I remember watching “Return of the Jedi” with them on Super 8, but not having watched the first two movies, I obviously didn’t have the slightest idea what was going on (and my cousins don’t seem to have succeeded in telling me). It didn’t leave much of an impression back then.
It wasn’t until that play at Uni that I became an utter and total Star Wars fan – but when I did, I did it right, with binge-watching the movies, midnight premieres of the special editions, drawing whole stacks of art, role-playing (both my husband and I are avid role-players), devouring comics and novels, and drawing and writing some of my own. My hubby and I even went to London for Episode I in 1999 to see it half a year early (it didn’t start in Germany until autumn). I remember feeling bewildered, exasperated and slightly let down afterwards. But the whole experience of it – London, the Odeon, seats in the Royal Box – had been so cool that disappointment didn’t strike me until later, when it opened in Germany. We dutifully watched the other two in subsequent years, but the way we would watch every blockbuster – our hearts weren’t in it that much anymore. Plus, midnight premieres and repeated cinema visits had become impossible as we had small children by then (in Germany, it’s absolutely unheard of to take your kids to action movies until they’re at least 7 or so).
What did you think of The Force Awakens?
I absolutely loved it. When The Force Awakens opened, we were fairly sure it would be good, but we both thought our Star Wars days were simply over. Our kids are now 11 and 8, so they both came along as well. What can I say – we were all absolutely blown away. The plot parallels bothered me slightly after the first viewing, but it was completely the other way round from Episode I – this time, with each time we saw it, I loved it more (and we all went to see it three times). I think that J. J. Abrams really succeeded in bringing the magic back, most of all because of the fantastic characters.
Who is your favorite character from the film? And which is your favorite to create art of?
That’s harder to say than you might think, considering that I seem to be drawing Kylo Ren excessively! Of course, he’s a character that really intrigues me, with his obscure backstory, his unusual bad-guy personality and his fantastic costume design. I pretty much love all the rest just as much. My first love was Finn, closely matched by Poe, for their bravery and kindness – a combination you don’t see in action heroes that often. I love Rey for being such a wonderful character for girls to identify with (my daughter has spent half the time since December with triple buns) and also for the wonderful costume design.
Which is your favorite Star Wars art piece(s) that you have created?
That has got to be “The Monster and the Scavenger”. As soon as I saw Kylo Ren’s and Rey’s costumes on screen, I thought, hello, Art Nouveau! That piece is my love of Star Wars and of Art Nouveau, with its flowing lines and decorative arrangements, combined.
In my art, I try to stay very much clear of fuzzy-fying Kylo Ren. He is not a “bad guy who needs a hug”. He’s also not just misunderstood. He’s an incredibly messed-up and complex human being, and as dangerous as he’s intriguing. I’m not sure I want to see him redeemed. I tend to think he has gone too far for that, similar to Vader. I can’t wait to see what the next instalments have in store for him, in particular. I do have a certain soft spot for the “grey Jedi” theory, though I’m not sure Ren will even be able to achieve “grey” status at this point.
Pretty much exactly when I watched the films for the first time in 1996. Drawing art from something – books, films, RPGs – is always a clear sign that any obsession of mine is really, really serious. I loved Luke back in the day, and started drawing him from every photo and movie still I could find. In those pre-Internet days, that meant buying loads of books and magazines, and CCG cards – those were a wealth of reference.
How do you usually go about creating your art? and what medium do you use?
I start with an idea, often sparked by a scene, exploring what isn’t shown expressly in the book/film. For example, the picture of “Ben and Little Rey” was sparked by Rey’s vision in The Force Awakens, where Kylo Ren is seen killing someone (another Knight of Ren?) who is about to kill Rey. I wondered whether those two had known each other, and what made Kylo Ren spare Rey’s life. It made me think she might have been at Luke’s academy, and he might have felt some connection to her despite his path to the dark side (since the novels make it clear Ben Solo was under Snoke’s influence from a very young age).
When I have my idea, I play around with concepts in my head, thinking of layout and composition. I do very little thumbnailing except mentally until the concept is already very refined, then sketch out my ideas straight on paper or into Photoshop. Photoshop allows me to move characters around, zoom in or out, and decide on a final composition that I like. Particularly with complex scenes and/or many characters, I like to sketch digitally. I use photo references infrequently – more heavily for large portraits where the likeness is important; sometimes, for complicated/foreshortened poses, I shoot reference photos that I then copy more or less closely. With other pieces, I draw completely from memory.
I then print out my sketch on smooth drawing paper, in very light blue or yellow, and draw the lineart in pencil on top of the sketch, so make sure I preserve the dynamics and proportions of the sketch. I then scan it, filter out the sketch, and print the lineart out on watercolour paper, and start painting. I like painting on paper that’s too rough to draw detailed lineart on, so this process is what suits my style best. You can see the process in this YouTube video here.
Do you have any favorite Star Wars artists or influences in your work?
Since my style evolved largely around my Fantasy art, most of my influences are the painters/ illustrators around the year 1900 – Alfons Mucha, Arthur Rackham, John William Waterhouse, Ivan Bilibin. I really love Drew Struzan’s poster art, but it’s not a style I’m working in, so that’s more admiration than influence. Yet one Star Wars artist that has influenced me greatly was Edvin Biukovic, who drew the X-Wing comic “The Phantom Affair” in the mid-nineties. I was very sad to hear he had died just a few years later. He was a fantastic comic artist, with a wonderful sense of pose and expression and very sympathetic figures, something I find lacking in a lot of US comics. I much prefer European comic artists, especially French, like Enrico Marini and Alice Picard. Unfortunately, those are often not translated into German, much less into English, and my French is pretty much non-existent. I am known to buy them just to look at the pictures.
Are you working on any other Star Wars or Force Awakens art? Or have any planned for the future?
Right now, I’m trying to survive exam season at school! Most of the art I do at the moment is hand-to-mouth; small things, sketchbook stuff. Final exams will be over in mid-May. I want to explore the Grey Jedi concept visually, and from what I hear, “Bloodlines” by Claudia Grey has several plot bunnies that I will love to pursue down the rabbit-hole. So, I’m quite sure it isn’t over yet, though I have no concrete plans as of now.