TWG interviewed the illustrator of Star Wars Rebels: Sabine My Rebel Sketchbook, an exciting and colorful book written by Dan Wallace and based on the popular animated series on Disney XD.
Strong, bold, confident, and super cool, Sabine Wren is a crazy awesome artist and weapons maven. As a way to capture her vibrant personality, Studio Fun whipped up a replica journal filled with her thoughts, observations, doodles, sketches, and more! The final section of the book contains blank pages for readers of any age to let their own imagination run wild.
Prior to the book’s release on February 3, 2015, illustrator Annie Stoll did a sketch countdown, illustrating a different Star Wars Rebels character along the way and spreading the love for Sabine Wren across social media. We recently caught up with Annie and talked about how she brought Sabine’s style to life in the sketchbook.
To start off, how did you become a fan of Star Wars?
I’ve loved Star Wars for so long, I can barely even remember! I was born at the end of the 80s, but my childhood was the 90s, so I knew about Star Wars because my dad would tell me the story of Star Wars as a bedtime story. And sometimes, if my brother and I were lucky, we’d go to the flea market in Buffalo, NY, and find Star Wars figures. When I was in grade school, my grandpa bought my brother and I a VHS player with Star Wars as our very first tape! It was the coolest!! My whole family always loved Star Wars, so it was a pretty galactic childhood. Fun fact—my dad took my mom to see Return of the Jedi on their second date (and my mom hadn’t seen the other two movies!). What are the odds!?
How did the idea of exploring Sabine and her story come about, and, as the illustrator, when did you start working on the My Rebel Sketchbook?
My art director, Troy Alders, brought the idea up to me. I’ve done freelance design and illustration for Lucasfilm for the past three years, so he was familiar with my range of style and my constant doodling. He asked me to submit a pitch deck to Lucasfilm, as he wanted to show Studio Fun International my art and pitch me to them as the Lucasfilm recommendation. I knew that Star Wars Rebels was going to happen, but I didn’t know much about it other than a few concept sketches that were released to the public. Needless to say, I was beyond thrilled and honored to have the chance to draw for Sabine—the first official artist in the Star Wars universe!! I was simultaneously working on Sabine: My Rebel Sketchbook and another project that I can’t talk about for Lucasfilm this past summer—it was intense!
What attracted you to the project as an artist?
STAR…WARS!! The direction I was given was that I would be drawing for Sabine like a voice actress might voice her, only in drawings! My pen and artistic voice would be Sabine’s—and that is just so much fun! It is a dream project to be able to draw, sketch, and go crazy expressing art for an amazing, strong female character in a franchise I’ve loved since I was little. Also, the fact that Sabine is the kind of artist who sees beauty in everything—I can truly relate to that.
Everything in the book is done from Sabine’s perspective. What did you do to figure out Sabine’s style? Describe the process.
I was given a style guide that showed me some of the art and graffiti that had already been created for the series. The Studio Fun art director, Andrew Barthelmes, was able to pull specific samples of my style that he wanted to see come through in the art. I was also able to read a first draft with notes about what the team would like to see Sabine draw. All this gave me a good understanding about the task at hand—like reading a script. In terms of coming up with a style and mood, I created a mood board to show the kinds of art I think Sabine would love and emulate. Then it was time to get to work. I approached it like a role—I did tons of doodles and sketches. I went to strange locations around NYC and drew as much as I could. I tried to limit myself to being quick, spontaneous, and to work with the materials around me—chipped pencils, frayed paintbrushes, sumi ink. Sabine is 16, and I remember how much I experimented with materials, and just the joy of expression as a young artist! Sabine is not only an appreciator of the arts, she’s also a street artist. Mandalore has a pretty intense historical legacy—and you can really feel that in the architecture and paintings from the Clone Wars. I think being from a culture with a more rigid idea of “what is art” says a lot about Sabine as an artist—she rejects formal ideas and goes with the flow—painting and drawing and dreaming when inspiration hits. So, just trying to get myself in her headspace and letting my hand flow into that was a big part of the process.
For Sabine’s stencils, textures, and defaced posters, I really did make my own quick and dirty stencils and scanned in the results. Using the same basic techniques and materials street artists use was essential. To make street art authentically, you have to actually cut and spray paint and splatter. You can’t fake that in Photoshop—Sabine certainly wouldn’t!
The Lucasfilm Story Group oversees all of the Star Wars storytelling going forward. What advice did you receive about the project, if any?
Andrew’s job as my art director was to be the gatekeeper and bridge between the author [Daniel Wallace], the Studio Fun team, the graphic designer, and the Story Group. Their feedback was valuable in molding the kinds of creatures, places, and sketches that Sabine drew. For example, I was given creative license to come up with some alien languages and typography. Studio Fun came up with a “signature” that Sabine might have, and then I took it a step further, creating tags and calls just for Sabine. As I would do sketches, I’d make notes on Sabine’s drawings in her “voice” and a bunch of those weren’t in the script, but the team actually kept those in. The fact that they allowed and encouraged this kind of organic expression really says a lot about what an amazing team put this book together and how creative they all are!
Given that Sabine is so expressive with her art and how much she loves an explosion of colors, describe the illustration or page in the My Rebel Sketchbook that you most enjoyed doing and why you liked it best.
I loved the whole assignment, so I can’t pick, but I’ll tell you about the two that come to mind first:
I did a whole page about the cool hairstyles Sabine considered and the colors they could have been! I love playing with makeup and having random colors in my hair, so I kind of went crazy and did way too many versions! Luckily, the designer and art director picked the best few and included those.
Another of the assignments was to draw the starbird Sabine observes that inspires her to design her Rebel logo. This was huge because it was like being asked to draw the inspiration for the Rebel Alliance insignia. From a design standpoint that is the total backward way to work, so I approached the assignment in character—I did gesture drawings and tried to rediscover lines that could lead to a symbol. I thought a lot about the story of the phoenix rising from the ashes and how that metaphor relates to the Rebels. I feel like Sabine would be asking those kinds of critical questions and using her creativity to inspire others to action with her art.
While illustrating the book, what aspect(s) of Sabine’s character did you find most intriguing?
Gosh, where to even begin! Sabine is this amazing spitfire who is passionate about art and those she cares about. I think it is so rad that the first artist character featured in the Star Wars universe is a 16-year-old girl who expresses herself in vivid color. She’s not only a strong role model for girls, she’s a fantastic role model for artists. She doesn’t hold back and lets herself be inspired by her surroundings. She constantly draws and it is in drawing that we artists can understand ourselves, deal with our lives, and ultimately inspire others. I really love that she’s a very focused and determined artist as well—she puts her mind to it and figures out how to execute a plan—whether that is her art or helping the crew of the Ghost with a new adventure. She’s also not afraid to question her world—and that is so key as an artist. Sabine is such a unique and well-rounded character—I absolutely love her!
Did your approach to illustrating a children’s book differ at all from your approach to other illustration projects?
Actually, no! Sabine: My Rebel Sketchbook is not your typical children’s book, with endless rounds of thumbnails and protocols. Sabine is spontaneous and a lot of that needs to come through in her art. Star Wars has always been a family-friendly experience, and Sabine’s art can appeal to all ages. I honestly was so excited for this project, I dove right in—I suppose that’s not unlike Sabine either.
You’re also a freelance graphic designer for Lucasfilm. What other projects have you worked on that involve the galaxy far, far away?
I can’t talk about everything because some of the projects are yet to be out in the world. But, I can tell you that I’ve done a lot of design for merchandise—including for Clone Wars, Darth Vader, and the holidays. This past Christmas, I designed a series of “nerdy” Star Wars Christmas sweaters that Lucasfilm licensed to various vendors across the globe! It was so much fun to be able to geek out and create art for my favorite time of year with my favorite franchise and then see pals across the Internet wearing the designs! I’m super-grateful and excited about it.
Can you tell us what current project(s) you are working on at the moment?
For Star Wars? My lips are sealed! My day job is an art director at Sony Music…even more stuff I can’t talk about! I draw a lady knight comic called Ode in my spare time and I like to put together comic anthologies. I even have a YouTube channel where you can watch me watercolor and doodle from scratch. But stay tuned, I’ll have more on the horizon soon!
Many heartfelt thanks to Annie Stoll for taking the time to answer our questions! Also, sincere thanks to Studio Fun for providing a review copy of Sabine My Rebel Sketchbook. Read our review and purchase your copy today!
Make sure to also pick up a copy of Star Wars Rebels: Rebel Journal by Ezra Bridger, a replica journal written by Dan Wallace and illustrated by Andrew Barthelmes. Read our review of the Rebel Journal as well as our interview with Andrew Barthelmes.