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TFN Interview: Sabine My Rebel Sketchbook Illustrator Annie Stoll

Posted by Eric on February 19, 2015 at 01:10 PM CST

Annie Stoll may have cosplayed as Hera at New York Comic Con, but when you see the fantastic illustrations she provided for Star Wars Rebels: Sabine My Rebel Sketchbook by Daniel Wallace, released on February 3, I think you'll agree that she's a real-life Sabine.

Stoll's artwork in the sketchbook helps bring to life Wallace's depiction of the teenaged Mandalorian freedom fighter from Star Wars Rebels as she describes everything from her new friend Ezra Bridger to the artistic influences in her graffiti. The dramatic sketches and colorful doodles fit perfectly with the character we see in each episode of the TV series, and the drawings, combined with Wallace's text, provide great background information on a rebel whose past remains mostly mysterious.

Photo credit: Amazon

The sketchbook even offers hints at the future. My favorite spread in the book features Stoll's numerous takes on the Rebel Alliance's famous logo—except it's not the logo of a galactic rebellion yet. Here, it's just a starbird. "I designed the look of it," Sabine writes, "but I took inspiration from the old legend." She continues:
According to some, the starbird can never die—whenever it seems to be gone, it's actually renewing itself in the heart of a nova.

That's what we're fighting for. We're going to restore the spirit of the Republic. Unlike the tyrants of the Imperial regime, the elected leaders of the Republic tried to represent all people fairly and equally.

By giving the Republic a second birth, we can make it even better than it was before! Every time the Empire sees the starbird it will give them something to think about. And something to be SCARED about!

For the people of Lothal, this is a symbol they can rally behind.
We may have just gotten our first hint about the canon origins of the Rebel Alliance starbird.

Wallace captures Sabine's voice as she explains her motives for joining Hera's crew and the origins of artistic techniques, but Stoll's illustrations give the words color and weight. To learn more about Stoll's own influences and techniques, I got in touch with Studio Fun, the company that published the sketchbook, and sent along some questions for her.

What is your work space like? How tidy or messy is it?

My work space is a small studio apartment in NYC. I have a desk with a computer and Cintiq as well as a bunch of bookshelves with art supplies spilling out of them (and books, too!). When I’m not working it is super clean—which is to say it is always messy and full of paint splats and lots of drawings and papers. I even have a magnetic board where I post drawings on. I’d love to tell you about how neat and organized I am, but when I’m painting or drawing it is more like controlled chaos.

How did you identify Sabine's “style”? What about her did you want your drawings to evoke?

Sabine is a super bright, energetic, and strong-willed young woman. She is constantly analyzing the world around her and interpreting it back spontaneously in vivid color. It was really important to me to capture the experimental nature and excitement that most young artists feel. That said, I remember being Sabine’s age and just drawing everything and anything in as many different ways and styles as I could in as many mediums as possible. The free spirit and ease of experimentation is something I really wanted to come across with Sabine’s drawings.

Once you started drawing, did you feel yourself gaining a better understanding of who she was? Did creating art in her style put you inside her head?

Yes, for sure! Since art is always about the perspective of the artist, it was really important for me to put myself in her place and think about what Sabine would be inspired by. Part of the reason I think I was chosen for this project is that my style is similar to how Lucasfilm pictured Sabine’s sketches, art, and process to be like. But once I was able to understand more about Sabine and put myself into her head-space, I think the style and variances really just flowed.

Did you have a favorite chapter or section to draw?

The entire book was absolutely rad to work on! I couldn’t have asked for a more exciting project! It’s really hard to pick a favorite. Coming up with different hair styles for Sabine, and also hand-lettering in other languages like Rodian and Aurebesh, was a lot of fun! I think the moment that stands out the most to me is getting to design and sketch the starbird that Sabine goes on to base her phoenix tag on—which hints at the Rebel Alliance symbol from the films. I’m still pinching myself over that one.

Do you see any similarities between you and Sabine? Does your love of art come from the same place as hers?

I played a Star Wars tabletop game three years ago where I was asked to come up with the ideal character I would want to play in the Star Wars universe. No joke, I made up a character that was a demolitions expert and an artist. When Star Wars Rebels was announced and Sabine’s character was revealed, I was over the moon happy—it was really a dream come true!

There are certainly a lot of parallels that I discovered the more I worked on this project. Aside from both loving art and expressing ourselves, I really relate to how Sabine sees beauty in imperfection. I absolutely love street art and bright colorful typography, but I also love people-watching and learning about the world around me. When you read Sabine’s sketchbook you get some great glimpses into her mind based on the kinds of people and creatures she sketches and what everyday experiences inspire her. Neither of us minds getting messy, tossing around paint, helping others, and voicing our opinions when we see injustice.

I would say that at the very core of an artist is a desire to express a view of one’s world. Your direct surroundings certainly influence you, so I can’t match Sabine on that. But her joy in discovering her world, stubbornness, and spontaneity are certainly qualities that I identify with and admire.

I think that as a Mandalorian woman who has been though a lot, Sabine’s experiences have really shaped her and her desire to express herself through art. And while I’ve never lived under a tyrannical Empire, I do remember what it was like and the emotions I felt when I was younger and mean kids would say things about my art or my origins. Being bullied, and dealing with less than pleasant people, made me more motivated to be a good person and help others, and doing that gave me courage that I channel into my art and everyday life. Sabine is certainly a cunning fighter, but she also shows us that you don’t have to be physically fighting a galactic enemy to be a rebel; you can inspire and encourage others to be better people through your art.

What do you think of Sabine as a character on Rebels so far?

I absolutely LOVE her! What’s not to love about a Mandalorian artist and demolitions expert who’s both school smart and street smart, and a female role model toboot?! Sabine (and Hera) are my absolute favorite Star Wars characters (Sorry, Shaak Ti and Yoda…) I feel very strongly about the need for positive female characters, and to me Sabine is quite fantastic. Having worked on this book, I can say I have a bit more insight into her background and thoughts, which certainly gives me more reason to hold her in high regard. Hopefully once readers have a chance to digest Sabine’s sketchbook and process, they’ll feel the same way.

I can’t wait to learn more about her background and watch her grow and develop. The entire cast of characters in Rebels has fantastic chemistry and makes for some really exciting adventures.

Sabine is so fascinating because she is really a lens into the world of Mandalore as well as the eyes of a teenage girl during the current period of unrest before the Rebellion. When you think about Mandalore, there is this rich history of warriors, and much of the art celebrates history and victory, and does so in a very traditional painterly sense. In the Clone Wars, we see more abstract, yet rigid cubist type art adorn Mandalorian architecture. Knowing that Sabine comes from this world where history and “high art” are regarded as sacred, the fact that she chooses to reject these old notions of history as art, by using wild and vivid colors, free-form sketches, and lifting mundane subject matters such as flora and fauna into symbols of hope, is absolutely amazing and speaks volumes.

How does it feel knowing you've helped express Sabine's artistic ability aboard the Ghost?

I don’t think it has hit me yet. The great thing about working on a project like this is the fact that it’s not a solo act—everyone from author Dan Wallace/the Lucasfilm Story Group, to the art director Andrew, to the unsung, behind-the-scenes heroes at Studio Fun, foster a sense of collaboration and respect.

What was the process like? How much of your art was off the top of your head and how much of it came from reference images?

To begin the project, I was given a script, a sample page of the inside cover, a style guide, and a list of which drawings they wanted. Some of the notes from Dan and Andrew were quite specific. Some of them were vague and left room for me to use my imagination. Things like the Ghost and Sabine’s armor were already established. Other things, like the clay pots, the starbird, and other creatures, and Sabine’s tattoo ideas, were up to me. And yet other notes would have direction that left things open for interpretation such as, “Try multiple color schemes for Chopper.” Even if there wasn’t a canon reference, as an illustrator it is important to find references to draw from whether that’s looking up old creature guides to see what a Bothan might be like or looking in a fashion magazine for cool haircuts.

As far as the process, it was different from your normal children's book where you create page thumbnails and concepts. It was a mad dash to draw and sketch and send in tons of art, textures, and drawings that the book designer would fill around the script, in the folds, and around the book as a whole. I used lots of mixed media and scanned in everything. You can’t fake good street art—so if something called for a stencil or a tag, I did that myself from scratch.

Does your approach to drawing a Rebels character depend on which one it is? Does each character have a unique artistic “feel”?

As embarrassing to admit as it is, I actually follow an old Disney animator approach to character drawing. While I draw, I’ll make expressions with my face and even sometimes look in a mirror if I think I’m not getting a nose crinkle right. I’m sure I look completely silly doing this, but it helps me express emotion and give drawings life.

Do you like drawing people more than inanimate objects? Vice versa? About the same?

I love drawing anything and everything. I do find anatomy to be more challenging and exciting to draw, so given a choice I’d do figurative drawing over still life. In the past two years I’ve become very fond of watercolors and have been practicing landscapes a lot—which sounds boring, but there is something really amazing about painting in an impressionistic style in the moment that really clicks with me. Artists should never limit themselves on subject matter—it’s important to draw what is harder for you and what challenges you.

All the sketches of people convey such stark emotion and personality. Can you talk about the techniques (shading, outlining, texturing, etc.) that you use to bring certain emotions to life? Does anger “feel” different from joy as you're drawing it?

The foundation of anything I draw is always a gesture sketch—quick action lines that help me find not only the structure and placement of lines, but also help me exaggerate an expression or shift anatomy. My three sketching heroes are Glen Keane, Hayao Miyazaki, and Yoshitaka Amano. I’ve always admired people with drawings that can capture an emotion with the flick of a pencil—it’s a lot of practice and sometimes a lot of erasing. I feel that techniques as you describe (using a pencil, applying more pressure, etc.) are more of a means to an end. The real question is, how can one get the essence of a character and reflect that into an emotive and unique style? The best answer, to quote Sabine, is, “Practice makes perfect.” If you want to draw quicker and with more meaning, you have to observe the world around you and sketch every day.

In the book, Sabine draws not only her friends but also people and objects she encounters in everyday life. Drawing is like playing an instrument or a sport—you will improve the more you practice, and establish muscle memory. Once you reach a certain point it is important to continue to push yourself to not only maintain your strengths, but also improve upon them.

As far as anger feeling different than joy when I draw—yes, I can feel a difference. Certainly my emotions can play into how I draw something. Having to make a stencil of the Inquisitor or draw refugees on Lothal evoke anger and sadness and ergo deeper lines and darker tones. Drawing something silly like Chopper getting into mischief makes me grin and my lines will be more whimsical.

Whether it is joy or pain, putting marks on paper and creating emotions through pen and pencil is a great way of expressing yourself—I highly recommend everyone to try it, even if you think you aren’t good as an artist—you are! You just have to stick with it and don’t give up!

How many of the ideas for what to include (i.e. sketches of Sabine's hairstyles or arm paint) came from Lucasfilm or Dan Wallace's writing, and how many came from you?

I don’t want to give too much away. I can tell you that working with the art director and designer at Studio Fun was great and they actually kept in and showed many of the little details I made. Dan and the Story Group looked over everything and wouldn’t have kept in those details if they didn’t think they fit. For instance, when I’d draw, I’d inevitably doodle in the margins and write little phrases in character for the designer for fun—not thinking they’d keep them in the book. They actually put many of those little phrases and doodles in-—like “Practice Makes perfect.” and “Jam any signal.” Some ideas also grew from the Star Wars universe—Sabine had to have some special masks for when she spray paints, and I drew an example of a respirator based off the respirators you see Han and Leia wear inside the exogorth space slug but with more of a colorful twist. Specifically for Sabine’s hair, there was a note that they’d like to see me try a side-shaved cut of some sort and make sure all drawings were vibrant, but the rest was up to me—I think I did about 20 different styles and the top five made it into the book.

There are tons more little hints and doodles but you’ll just have to read the book and find out for yourself! Enjoy!!


Thanks to Annie Stoll for answering my questions and to Studio Fun for providing me with a review copy of this excellent book!

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