I actually call this piece ‘Leia’, because I created it after the unfortunate passing of Carrie Fisher, and also I think some folks will assume that the white sleeve is more like Luke’s Tatooine gear (and the fact that Leia never touched the old Anakin lightsaber – as far as we know, what with Episode 8 still in post production).
That being said, I want to talk about the creation of this piece and why I did what I did, what techniques I used, and what the end result is.
Firstly, I should note that the idea for this piece came while I was in the shower, as most of my best ideas do. I’d like to think that Carrie would have been amused by this, although this is far more tame than the stuff she has done and said over the years. I still have the screengrabs from when I replied to a tweet from my friend James Arnold Taylor that mentioned her, with me calling her a firecracker… and she liked that tweet. Other than seeing her spanking JAT on stage at Star Wars Celebration in Orlando a few years ago, that’s the limit of our somewhat impersonal ‘in-person’ interactions.
Now I can’t speak much to how Carrie and Leia meant to me without writing a whole other blog about that. Suffice to say that I appreciated what Carrie did with Leia within the strictures of a male-dominated industry, and that we need more women like her. The whole women in Star Wars thing is going to be another blog at some point, once I’ve read the Rogue One prequel Catalyst, the movie’s novelization itself, and the Leia-focused Bloodlines (that one’s gonna hurt). However, this art is why I’m writing now.
I don’t know why I chose to mesh the Lady of the Lake holding up Excalibur motif with Star Wars and make it about Leia, but it worked in my head. I knew I wanted something simple. If I took my time and got excellent reference pictures, I could probably do a somewhat photorealistic piece of art about her. I’m seriously out of practice, with only one piece of that style in the past decade or so (ironically, of James Arnold Taylor), but I know I could do it if I really put in the time and effort. However, this pain, this method of expression demanded to be done quick and dirty, now goddammit, and my photorealistic art sometimes took weeks. Hell, it took me 10 months to finish a BlizzCon badge from stem to stern this year cos of all the corrections and futzing I kept doing with it.
I also wanted to capture an emotion. Carrie’s death left a gaping hole in our fandom because she was one of the Trio. She was the Hermione my generation’s women looked up to, even while many of the guys in my generation preferred her more… visible… aspects. And today, let’s face it, the political climate much resembles the dark days in the latter Harry Potter novels before the good guys win in the end. So, we need our sassy princess-turned-general to remind us that there is hope.
I was inspired by the reports of fans gathering in online venues such as Castle Organa in Star Wars: The Old Republic or real life venues such as Downtown Disney, where many people brought lightsabers and held them aloft in salute. The costuming fan groups such as the 501st and Rebel Legion hastily organized gatherings, and I kept getting stuck on that lightsaber held aloft. Again, in the movies as we’ve seen them so far, Leia has never even touched a lightsaber, much less the one that used to belong to her father. While she eventually went on to become a Jedi Master in the now non-canon Expanded Universe works from the previous two decades, and the simple fact that most of these works ignore Yoda’s dying words: There is another Skywalker… Leia was raised as an Organa, but she’ll always be a Skywalker as well. That lightsaber is as much her inheritance as it was Luke’s.
So, we have the lightsaber salute, and a lady holding it up, well, there we go with Excalibur. In deciding the design, I knew I wanted to include the primary symbol of the Rebellion, the one most iconic one we always see, the phoenix-like Starbird plastered all over Rebel ships and helmets and logos since A New Hope. It may have been altered over the years in various Legends materials and in current canon options such as the Rebels logo, but I wanted the original.
Once I decided there would be a lake and the Rebel symbol, it was a natural progression to decide on turning the Rebel symbol into the moon. I’ve always been a celestial nerd, so the nighttime sky is a long-standing friend. As for the lake, I didn’t want it to be symmetrical or boring. So, I leaned on what I’ve learned watching Bob Ross recently thanks to his revival on Twitch and chose a three-layered background. I set up one layer with nothing but a line to indicate the horizon, then painted a layer for the sky and another for the water. The overall color scheme for the piece was always going to be blue and silver, because those are my colors and they go well with the moon, the old Anakin/Luke saber, and darkness. Also, for a painting done during the winter, it suited my mood during this time of the year.
Before I painted the sky and water, I painted in three bits of land in varying shades of blue and grey. Like Bob Ross talks about on his old show, you put the lightest colors in the back and work toward the darker ones up front. It was here I decided I wasn’t going to spend all of my time with huge amounts of detailing. I wanted to keep this design clean and relatively uncluttered. The message was more important than the fiddly bits. After I laid down the shapes of what should look like three bits of land with some trees on them, I made a passing effort at mirroring the shapes so that the two furthest bits of land had reflections in the lake. I’m sure plenty of artists know how to manipulate Photoshop to make it look like a proper reflection on a moonlit lake, but I’m not one of them. I chose a more graphic design option of going with basic shapes, and I think it works okay here, especially after putting in a few silvery highlights here and there.
For both sky and water, I used one of the brushes picked up from artist Frenone on Twitter and just did a back and forth on the diagonal, southwest/northeast and then the second time going northwest/southeast. Of course, I wanted to show the effect of the saber blade on the background sky, so I used a combo of lessened pressure on the Wacom and later on a few passes with the Dodge tool to make a lighter space where the blade would eventually be. Using another of Frenone’s custom brushes, I dotted in some stars in the sky and a few as reflections on the water. The water itself got silvery highlights to pick out the ripples and then passes with the Dodge tool to lighten some areas closest to where the hand was going to be coming up out of it. I also used a bit of the Smudge tool to blend some of the shadows together on both land and in the sky and on the water, but only a little bit.
I used another layer to sketch out the saber hilt and the hand holding it out of the water, including a few lines to indicate wrinkles in the fabric of the white sleeve. I’m particularly pleased with how that worked out after I colored in the fabric and hand and used the Burn tool to enhance shadows without going too crazy with it. Just one pass, and I called that bit done.
For the Rebel Starbird-as-moon (no, it’s not a space station!), I painted the bird white and then lightly used a porous brush with grey to hint at maria on the surface, with a very dark grey to sketch in craters and radial lines from some of them. For the moon’s features, I used an old map of Earth’s very moon as my guide, again keeping things simple and not very detailed. I could have gone all sci-fi and made up features here, or even done another moon or two, but I wanted to use Earth’s to enhance the links to the Excalibur motif.
For the lightsaber blade, I’m afraid it’s a very basic layer of dark, lighter, lightest, using blues in the color picker in a straight vertical line. Seriously, all I did was make the brush tool smaller with each pass of a lighter color and held down shift as I drew the line. I was planning on doing a bit of a transparent overlay to make the blade seem fuzzier like the lightsabers in the movies, but instead, I wound up scrapping that idea and keeping the sharp edges to the colors, more like lightsabers in Clone Wars and Rebels.
As for the choice of lightsaber, it really was no choice at all. This is Leia’s arm coming up out of the water. The one lightsaber that has been seen in the prequels, the original trilogy, and now the current trilogy is the only one that was right. Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber had to be it, because again, as much as they didn’t harp on it as much as they should have by Leia not taking Force training in both the original EU and now the current canon and still going by Organa, she’s still Anakin’s daughter.
So that’s the basic image. Still, I wanted to be more explicit on the message. The Lady of the Lake holding the sword Excalibur aloft is a powerful symbol in Western literature and history (if not historically accurate). It’s a part of our very lore, and the sword was seen as a symbol of hope in the Dark Ages, even if only for such a brief span of years. The Arthurian legends end with the prophecy that he would someday return when England needed him once more and bring that light back to a land in turmoil. While I could have been more explicit that it was Leia’s arm coming out of the water by putting her name in the art itself, I’m relying on the brightness of my readers and folks who’ve seen the art thanks to so many kind people on Twitter retweeting me to remember that it’s the Lady of the Lake in the stories. So, I went with something more inspiring, more meaningful. I suspect Carrie would prefer this choice herself, and so would Leia, to make it not about them but the message they brought to so many: Hope.
Originally, I’d used the Marker Felt font I last used to write Neal Acree’s name on his BlizzCon badge, but honestly, I thought people would mistake it for Comic Sans and give me crap about it. I don’t have a ton of fonts on my gaming/art rig, and for a moment, I considered using Aurabesh, the in-canon alphabet in Star Wars. However, I wanted the piece to be more accessible. Briefly, I toyed with using the Aurabesh and then putting hope in parentheses below, but that felt so inelegant and clunky. So, I settled on the Gabriola font as something nice, elegant and not mistaken for Comic Sans or anything overly poncy. Slap a bevel, emboss, and drop shadow on it, call it done.
While it was one of the earliest things I put on the art, it’s the last thing I finalized, and that’s my signature. My acquaintance Faebelina insisted I should sign my art back when I wondered if I should whilst making BlizzCon badges, and I recently chose to use my Druidsfire brand name to sign all of my art going forward. So, I put it in the corner early on and drew the landscape around it.
So there’s the whole thing. Why I did it, what I did to make it, the lot. Of course, I’m not 100% happy with it. Even now, I look at it and see plenty of things I could tweak, but I think I’m going to leave it as is. It says what I want it to say, hints at what I want it to hint at, and I’m always my own worst critic. I keep looking at it and it pleases me. And I’ll admit I really love the richness of the blue shades in it.
From beginning to end, the piece took me about three hours to complete, not counting the hour and a half I dipped out to do Yule Fest dailies in Lord of the Rings Online. My tools were the current version of Photoshop thanks to the monthly Adobe subscription, the Lazy Nezumi Pro app plugin, reference images thanks to googling, and a Wacom Intuos Pro medium-sized tablet.
If you have any questions about it, hit me up on Twitter at @druidsfire.