Star Wars artist on how to land that dream job

Known for his dramatic Star Wars art, Dave Seeley talks influences, career and advises aspiring artists.

dave seeley battle of coruscant

Dave is known for his epic Star Wars art, and he didn't land an official gig at LucasFilm without intention

In his own words, Dave Seeley's work is "engaging, intense, gritty, sexy, nuanced, heroic, epic, spatial and atmospheric." The artist has painted for the publishing, film and video, and advertising industries.

Last year he released his first book – a collection of Seeley's awe-inspiring inspirational art and a rare glimpse into his creative process. We thought it was so great, that we featured it in our Top 10 books of 2015.

For a special Star Wars edition of ImagineFX, the team had the honor of chatting to the phenomenal talent about his influences and the ups and downs of finding success...

When did you realise you had a talent for art?

I grew up in the Boston suburbs. I used to have kids hanging over my shoulder when I made coloured pencil drawings of monsters at elementary school recess. That's my earliest memory of understanding I was good at it.

dave seeley's terminator

"Heavy Metal magazine sold me sci-fi and fantasy by tickling my libido," says Dave

Did your upbringing influence your style?

That's a given, though I think of my style as flexible depending on the piece I'm working on. I love a relatively wide range of styles as a consumer of art.

Nowadays, I'm using photo collage to work up images, and I'll take that to a high degree of finish before choosing the stylistic finish of any given piece. That allows me a range from fully photographic to what I'd consider relatively painterly.

How did sci-fi and fantasy art get on to your radar?

I watched early black and white horror and sci-fi films as a kid. I read Tarzan series and Stephen King books as a teen, and the 1977 release of Star Wars made a deep impression.

I copied from Frazetta and Boris art books. I had lots of comic books, but ultimately felt like superheroes were wearing silly outfits. It was probably Heavy Metal magazine that sold me sci-fi and fantasy by simultaneously tickling my libido.

dave seeley's rogue leader

Done as a print for Star Wars Celebration IV, but used for the novel Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor.

Have you enjoyed exploring the Star Wars universe through your art?

Absolutely! It's been a kick to contribute to the world building and to design new aspects of it. I also lived the prequels through the eyes of my then-young son, so it was a great father-son bonding experience, and it helped me see the Star Wars universe from an innocent, "born-again" perspective.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far? Any low points?

I just had The Art of Dave Seeley published by Insight Editions. Insight does amazing quality books, and I was introduced to the company by Lucasfilm when it was doing collector edition Star Wars books about a decade ago. That seems like a huge milestone.

Low points all occurred while doing my income taxes in the early years, and realising that my wife was subsidising my shift from architecture to illustration.

dave seeley the art of book cover

Here’s the front cover of The Art of Dave Seeley. Look out for a review in a future edition of ImagineFX

What has been your most challenging assignment?

I did an advertising commission several years ago, where it was a series of real-life heroes in police and military action scenes. It was three weeks of very little sleep, and generating many images that were rejected before getting to the yes stage.

Still, that was a satisfying experience, having met the challenge and working on great subjects.

If I interpret your question differently, then the most challenging task for me is if I take on a commission that I have no inherent interest in. Then it's battling my lack of attention span. That's a challenge… but perhaps I have blocked out those specific memories!

Are you constantly refining your painting process?

It's absolutely a constant evolution, although when laying the oil paint down, I slip into a reptile-brain state that's more about the beauty of mark making. Overthinking can inhibit that.

dave rebel blockade runner

Dave says, "to find ideal commissions by assigning yourself your dream job, execute it, and market the hell out of it."

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I think I'd be careful about being too honest, as it might have put me off entirely, and ultimately, I'm glad to be me. I think the best advice for any illustrator looking to find ideal commissions is to assign yourself your dream job, execute it, and market the hell out of it.

The work you do begets the work you'll be offered. That seems obvious, but it took me a long time to understand it. You can't expect clients to look at something very different from what they want, and understand that you could do what they are after.

This article originally appeared in ImagineFX issue 128.

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