Jade Crusades has been lucky enough to correspond with one of the earliest Mara Jade artists, Mike Vilardi. Vilardi has done many pieces of art for the old Star Wars Roleplaying Game by West End Games, and is now currently creating more original Star Wars art for Wizards of the Coast. You may recognize Mike Vilardi’s art from the Star Wars Gamer, or the fan-favorite WEG book, Scouts, to name a few sources. Vilardi kindly agreed to participate in this Online Interview, exclusively for Jade Crusades!
Are you a Star Wars fan?
Are you kiddin'? I'm one of the original "jaw-slackers." You know, one of the first crowds of young kids to sit in a dark theatre, bug-eyed and slack-jawed as that incredible battlecruiser rumbled by overhead...for what seemed like an eternity! That kind of event always leaves a mark. It was an internalized dream that became an imagination-generated reality. And it was (and is) so much fun to believe that George Lucas' playground is as real as the plane of existence we actually live in.
Which of the four Star Wars movies is your favorite?
Star Wars: A New Hope stands alone in my psyche as the strongest of the movies to date. Excellent storyline, vibrant characters that pull you into the action, and a great villain! It really had it all in one package. Mix that in with the startling impact and the groundbreaking special effects, and that movie is tough to beat. I do, however, have favorite elements from all the movies. I loved everything to do with Hoth in Empire, and who can forget the ride we took on those speederbikes! SCOUTS RULE!!
Are you a Mara Jade fan?
Ahhhhh....now we're getting to the real point, aren't we? I've been drawn (pun intended) to the character of Mara Jade from the first time I read about her in the pages of Heir to the Empire. Very strong, independent, self-driven female character.
How familiar are you with Mara Jade's character?
As far as my familiarity with the character of Mara Jade - I'd have to admit that I lost touch with her "life" outside of the Zahn novels. Shameful perhaps...but nothing that can't be remedied, I'm sure.
What preparations did you go through before producing the images for the West End Games Star Wars Roleplaying books?
My preparations are always the same: Carefully read up on the character(s) to be depicted; Gather all necessary reference materials (for example, find (if any) past depictions of the character); and study relevant SW Universe guides to make sure that the Star Wars "look" is consistently maintained. Then I visualize the scene in my head, trying to choose the best action and "camera angle" to use in the construction of the illustration. Next...draw, draw, draw!
You were one of the first artists to illustrate Mara Jade. Did you model her appearances after anyone?
I don't mean to disappoint everyone here, but my depictions of Mara were based solely on the sketchy illustrations done of her in the West End Games Heir to the Empire Sourcebook. I found that Allen Nunis’ depictions of Mara were loose enough to allow me room to somewhat re-define her look. But to answer your question, there was no model involved. Let me add here that I've never seen Shannon Baksa (although, as of this reading...I'm sure I've remedied that as well), so I didn't have access at that time to someone who embodied Mara's physical characteristics. I did do some sketches to help me develop Jade's look, which I felt should reflect her strength while still allowing for vulnerability and a touch of weariness/inner conflict.
What was it like getting to depict one of the most popular Expanded Universe characters for West End Games?
Simply put, it was an honor to have a hand in the development of Mara's look, adding to her personality and "fleshing-her-out," so to speak. It’s truly awesome to be an adult and be able to play in a universe that held me spellbound as a kid. Very cool!
What other art assignments are you currently working on?
My latest assignment was for Wizards of the Coast. I did a series of "Undead" PC portraits for Dragon Magazine #288. There are only 13 portraits there, even though I originally drew 14. At the last minute the editors opted to pull one of the characters - a succubus - because they were uncomfortable with her complete lack of clothing. Coupled with the fact that the pieces were slated to go into their website...well, they decided for a more discretionary approach.
What is your favorite art medium?
I love oil paint, but seldom get to use it in my work. I generally use watercolors and color pencils because of the versatility and quickness they offer. My work, however, is predominantly black and white...which is a medium I feel gets much less respect than the color world.
What kind of tools do you use?
Tools? Since most of my work is B&W, I use a brush to apply 98% of the ink you see, with the remainder (small details) put in with technical pen. The paper I use is uni-shade or duo-tone, which is a paper that has a shading pattern imbedded in the surface of the paper. I use a developing liquid, applied with a brush, to burn-in the desired shades specifically where I want them. Its expensive paper, but it saves time and allows me to easily control the mood and tone of each illustration.
Who are some of your artistic influences?
I have to give credit to my parents for their positive influence as I was growing as an artist. Their contribution was to nurture my creativity.
Artistically speaking, my greatest influence had to be Alphonse Mucha. His sense of style was incredible, and his figures absolutely oooozed sensuality.
In a literary sense, no writer had a greater influence on me than Ray Bradbury. His style is so rich that it seemed I was experiencing a taste-sensation as I read his stories. He knows how to fire the imagination!
What would you recommend to aspiring artists hoping to do what you do?
My recommendations are simple. Work to develop your craft...it’s your edge in this world against mediocrity. Practice, practice, practice! That is how you discover your artistic weaknesses, and then correct them. Lastly, do not succumb to discouragement. That's the easy way out. I have known several talented people who failed to become artists because they just couldn't handle the struggle of the learning process.