Born in 1947, Drew Struzan has painted book and album covers but is best known for his movie poster work, from Star Wars to Harry Potter. He is the favourite artist of Steven Spielberg, who decreed he be the only person allowed to render the alien ET.Web: www.drewstruzan.com
Drew Struzan has, in his own fashion, become a Hollywood icon. Over a long, influential career his splendidly rich artwork has formed the perfect complement to countless blockbuster movies.
But Drew wasn’t always chums with Hollywood’s grandees. In fact, his beginnings were so humble that his is a true Cinderella story: “I was poor,” he says, bluntly. “I didn’t have anything.” Now his work connects with almost the entire world.Early learner
Drew’s ability revealed itself early on. When he was still a child, his parents were so amazed by his drawings, they took them to be inspected by professors at Stanford University. But Drew is unconvinced by the idea of being a child prodigy. “You’re not born a master,” he believes, “you have to work at it.”
Talent always needs a catalyst to be transformed and for Drew this came in the form of an itinerant upbringing. He didn’t have many friends because his family moved around a lot, so painting and drawing became his companions instead. Inspired by his surroundings, his ability quickly became apparent, along with his innately artistic nature. “I’ve always been introverted
and intuitive,” he reveals.
In 1965, having just turned 18, Drew moved to Los Angeles and enrolled at art school. “I was the classic starving artist,” he says. “I couldn’t afford the tuition, so I’d go to school in the morning and they’d kick me out. Then I’d go in again through the back door.” Eventually a scholarship took away some of the hardship and enabled the young artist to concentrate on his studies. Boy meets girl
Not long after this, things became a little more complicated: “I met a girl, we got married and had a child,” recalls Drew. He left school for a year in order to support them, but eventually his wife got a job and he went back to school. However, Drew was always working on freelance commissions. “As time went on I got better jobs,” he adds. “Education really helped and I eventually became a professional.”
When he graduated, most of his classmates headed for New York, but Drew stayed on in Los Angeles and freelanced for the music industry. “They liked young artists because they were cheap and different to what they’d seen before,” he explains. It was a creative high point – Los Angeles in the early 1970s was an experimental place. “That was when the record industry was really hot and they were still making 12-inch squares to paint on. It was great fun,” recalls Drew. Intelligent design
Experimental or not, the bills still had to be paid. “I had to take a job where I got a cheque every week,” he explains, “so I found a design studio where they did album covers.” The next couple of years taught Drew how to be a commercial artist. “Having to perform every day, seeing the process of design, how things are printed and how it all works together really turned me into a professional,” he recalls. The other advantage of this position was exposure: “Everything that I’d been doing at that studio was printed and distributed, so people were seeing my work at last.”
Even better, some of those people were movie executives. “While I was still at that studio the movie industry actually started calling and asking me to work on things,” he recalls.
With the beginnings of a client base, Drew went freelance and began to hone his skills. “I don’t know if I’m naive, simple-minded or just focused on making art,” he says. “All I need is a way to make a living. So my focus has always been how to become a better artist.” For the next few years that’s just what he did, working his way up from the bottom: “I did a lot of monster movies and B-movies, things like that,” he says.Changing man
As the years progressed, so did Drew. “Artists don’t grow old,” he reminds us, “they just keep on learning.” Drew introduced the concepts of fine art to the film business. “I brought a different sensitivity to the market, which changed it and made it a different place to be,” he says. That process is still ongoing: “I’m still changing day to day. There is no single me I’m aiming at. I’m just trying to find something better.”
By 1978, Star Wars was a global phenomenon, and Drew’s poster for the movie became an enduring fan favourite. The studios beat a path to his door and by the ’80s he was producing around 10 designs a year for films as varied as Blade Runner, ET, Coming To America and The Goonies. But his personal style was still subsumed by the desires of the business. He had to become a different artist for each new project.
Drew found his experimental space in the untypical studies he prepared for each new job. Showing these to clients had an interesting effect. “They saw something they hadn’t seen before,” he says. “They were afraid of it and they didn’t want it. But they got more used to it every time they saw it, so eventually they liked it and I got to do what I wanted to do.” As he says: “It’s just a matter of tenacity and circumstance.”