Between 1999 and 2009 Lightsabre.co.uk brought news, fanfic, podcasts and much, much more to the masses. Lightsabre closed its doors in 2009 and as such, a handful of interviews went unpublished on the site, so here is our 151st interview, with superstar sculptor Lawrence Noble.
Lightsabre – Lawrence, welcome to Lightsabre.
LN – Thank you Mark. I appreciate what your website provides for the fans in the UK, and, as my visit to London for Celebration Europe was so enjoyable, I feel quite privileged to be here once again in the company of such nice people.
Lightsabre – To Star Wars fans you are prominent thanks to your striking sculptures and poster artwork, which vividly evokes those much-loved characters. What is it about the Star Wars saga that clearly strikes such a strong chord with you?
LN – I am a huge Star Wars fan and art is what I do. I am passionate about both, so maybe that’s why the chords are struck. I have a long history with the saga as well as with the journey of art. I really feel that art is one of those things that we humans do on this planet to express our existence, our sensibilities and our joy at being alive. I use my art to try to convey the wonder and mystery of George Lucas’ universe. Art is my vehicle and after years of experience, I feel that I have finally learned how to drive it.
About twenty years ago, I moved from illustration into sculpture full time, and that initiated a whole new learning curve, so the driving has gotten a bit more complicated. Luckily, the opportunity to work with George has helped instil confidence and inspiration into the mix. He has been very respectful of both the work and the process and, at the same time, he has set standards and challenges before me that have enriched the artistic experience.
Lightsabre – What started you on your Star Wars journey? Would it be your The Empire Strikes Back 10th anniversary poster?
LN – Seeing Star Wars Episode IV when it came out really did it for me. Like so many others, I was smitten. In 1980, I was invited by Sidney Ganis, Head of Advertising and Marketing at Lucasfilm, to design and produce a one-sheet poster for the release of The Empire Strikes Back. I can’t tell you how thrilling that was. Sidney gave me two directives, “Myth” and “Legend”, and then sent me on my way. With all the excitement running through me, I’m surprised I could do anything at all! I went back to the studio and just started drawing and painting at a feverish pitch. I brought the piece in and waited to hear. After what seemed an eternity, Sidney told me that they weren’t going to go with it. George had decided to use another painting. While it was the biggest disappointment in my career, it wasn’t over yet. I did go to a screening of the film and for the first time I saw Yoda. I was so impressed with the character that I went out afterwards and bought clay and sculpture tools and did my first sculpture. My career in sculpture had begun! Ten years went by and then I got a call from the Star Wars Fan Club asking if they could put my poster out as a print for new member kits.
At the same time, Killian Enterprises wanted to issue the print for the tenth year anniversary poster. In addition to that, they wanted to issue my Yoda Sculpture as a Limited Edition. I realized that the energy, excitement and emotion that I had put into the poster art and sculpture hadn’t died, it just lay dormant until the time was right! That turned out to be the first Limited Edition Bronze ever issued by Lucasfilm. Needless to say, the subsequent popularity of both the poster and the bronze really jump-started my career as a Star Wars artist.
Lightsabre – For Celebration Japan you were involved in assembling a Ralph McQuarrie styled one sheet, based upon sketches and notes he had made but never fully fleshed out into a full painting. Having not picked up a paint brush for a number of years, how challenging and exhilarating a project was this to tackle?
LN – My best friend for thirty-two years, John Alvin, was originally slated to do the painting. We discussed it at length. I advised John to be himself, pay homage and honor to Ralph, but not to try too hard to emulate the master. Later, when John passed and the job fell to me, I realized just how tough that was to do. Not getting lost in the process is easier said than done. Ralph is indeed a master, and a dear friend, so I wanted to do it right.
At the same time, as you noted, I hadn’t really picked up the brushes in a while. I was also still in mourning for my friend. I decided that the painting would, in my mind at least, have to honor both of them. In some ways, getting back in that saddle felt great, however, I knew it could become an unruly horse if I didn’t focus! Mentally, I placed my friend John over one shoulder and Ralph over the other… yes, I felt that I needed to serve two masters. All the while, I felt the comforting presence and guidance of John, even asking him questions along the way. I also was in contact with Ralph, who expertly kept me on course with his sensitive critique and gentle manner. Ralph’s design gave me the roadmap, which I followed with my own research and models. In the end, I felt it was a successful piece and I also felt that the extended visit with John helped ease some pain. None of this would have come about without Stan Stice of Dreams & Visions Press and Ralph McQuarrie.com. Stan was the publisher, and he believed in me, and that, along with John and Ralph by my side, made it all worthwhile. I believe there is a lesson about the Force in this story!
Lightsabre – Your art covers a number of mediums, from pencil work, through painting and sculpture. Do you have a preference? Does painting require a different ‘eye’ than sculpture, or are you working from the same markers to evoke reality in either medium?
LN – That’s a great question Mark. I really believe that drawing is at the heart of everything. You see, drawing is a tool. It is the very tool that an artist uses to learn how to See. It’s also the tool that keeps your eyes sharp and focused. Sculpture is really just drawing in three dimensions. Painting is also based on drawing. An artist can’t paint or sculpt what they don’t see, so for me, I draw all the time, with an eye towards understanding the figure. I think that drawing, coupled with an understanding of the planes of the form, and anatomy, are the most important parts of preparation for creating art. Of course, having a subject, and something to say, are critical factors as well. To me, the markers are the same, and, depending on the subject, whatever medium I am working in at the time, is my favorite. I do feel that an artist can’t be creative until they can master their medium, making it do what it needs to do to create the vision.
Lightsabre – Outside of Star Wars you have designed an Olympic gold medal, the Daytona 500 trophy, artwork for presidential campaigns and contributed to Playboy. How do manage to find time for a family and fit in all this work?
LN – Another great question. Of course, they don’t all come into the studio at once! But you are right, managing work and family is difficult. Fortunately, I have an understanding family that have allowed me over the years to follow my dreams. I remember when the kids were younger, and all the activities my wife, Libby, and I were involved in. There was ice skating, hockey, baseball, football, basketball, karate, cheerleading, etc. My daughter is at Northwestern University now, working on her doctorate in Cognitive Psychology and my son is following old dad into art, so we are entering the empty nest period. I think that managing the time that I do have is critical, and thankfully, there is an ebb and flow to the schedule. I feel blessed to have been able to practice art full time for the last forty years and without my family’s love and support, it never would have been successful.
Lightsabre – Of the many Star Wars sculptures you have done, your Yoda piece set outside the Letterman Building at the Presidio is likely the most famous. Tell us please a little about the concept, design and construction of this statue?
LN – Ah, Yoda, he jump-started me into sculpture and has changed my life. I love that little character. I have sculpted him three times now. As stated, he was my very first sculpture, then I sculpted him for the Star Wars Chess Set, which I designed for the Danbury Mint, and finally at life-size. All were enjoyable. The character has a lot to offer.
I sculpted him life-size for a small group of collectors. In that I didn’t have a license at the time, I felt that I should give any profit I might make back to Lucasfilm. I paid for a cast and asked Lucasfilm if I could personally give it to George. Even though I had worked on many Lucasfilm projects over the years, it wasn’t so easy to set that up. Grace and good fortune were on my side, and Lucasfilm kindly set up a meeting with Mr. Lucas. I gave him the bronze and found out later just how much he liked it. He had it placed in front of Big Rock Ranch. Wow, I was elated! Later, when Lucasfilm moved to the Presidio, George decided to have Lawrence Halprin, the world renowned Landscape Architect, who designed the campus landscape, design a fountain for Yoda. I got to work in collaboration with Mr. Halprin to place the statue and Man, was that fun!
I must tell you why I had decided to sculpt the life-size Yoda in the first place. I had almost completed the California Firefighters’ Memorial when I suffered an accident. A large seven-foot scale clay statue, weighing over a thousand pounds, fell on me, almost killed me, and broke my leg in the process. After I healed, I was able to finish the Memorial, but I needed to work on something that might bring my energy back, and that was smaller! The opportunity to sculpt Yoda came along and I jumped at it, welcoming the joy and relief that I knew he would bring. I sculpted him for all the right reasons and was rewarded in a way that I never could have envisioned!
During my tenure in the US Army, in 1971, I was stationed at the Presidio, which was then an active Army Post. It was there, at the Post Theater, that I saw George Lucas’ first movie, THX1138. As a young soldier wandering around the post, thinking about my future, I never could have imagined that over thirty years later, my future would bring me back to the Presidio. It was a long way from my home in Houston, Texas.
So, the love of Yoda brought me full-circle. And now, to see the Yoda Fountain, a sculpture that was meant to honor an Icon, actually become an Icon as a symbol for Lucasfilm, brings tears to my eyes.
Lightsabre – Presumably you must have a distinct emotion towards a character before you can bring it to life be it admiration, loathing, affection or hate as your work pinpoints those feelings and amplifies them through the design and finish of each piece. Which of the myriad Star Wars characters do you feel the most affinity for?
LN – I think that would be Yoda
Lightsabre – As a professional sculpture and a student of art across the ages, in which era would you have most liked to be plying your craft?
LN – I am happy to be here now, however, I do have a great affinity for the 1860’s, during the American Civil War. Also, the early 1900’s, which was when my heroes, American Sculptors, Daniel Chester French and Augustus Saint Gaudens were plying their craft. To see them at work would have been so inspiring. They founded the National Sculpture Society in 1893 and it’s still around today… I am a Professional Member, Class of 2006, and proud of it!
Lightsabre – If there was a single piece of golden advice you could pass on to a young artist as they embark on their career in the artistic field, what would it be? What would you have told yourself back when you were starting out?
LN – Learn your craft to the best of your ability, be true to your artistic sensibilities, your family and your friends, and believe in your gift… they all will guide you through your life and career.
Lightsabre – In the Star Wars arena, are there any particular characters that you have yet to sculpt or draw that you would enjoy the challenge of tackling?
LN – Harrison Ford as Han Solo. I am drawing and sculpting him now as Indiana Jones, but he is just so complex, what I’m doing now is just the tip of the iceberg. Also, since I’ve gotten to know Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels and Jeremy Bullock, I would love to draw Chewbacca, C-3PO and Boba Fett, with the actors standing next to them.
Lightsabre – What lies ahead for you in the future?
LN – George Lucas has fashioned a vast universe that I want to continue creating in. I’m working on my book, “The Art of Lawrence Noble, A Creative Journey”. And, I suppose life and the pursuit of Art will keep leading me in unique and challenging directions, I hope one is to Alaska to see the Aurora Borealis!
Lightsabre – It’s been a great interview, and thanks for being our guest on Lightsabre. Just one final question. The team at the Presidio decide that for George Lucas next birthday they are all going to chip in and commission you to design and sculpt him a bust of a Lucasfilm character. You gladly agree and set the time aside to prepare, and eagerly open the email sent to you with the three choices of character to tackle. You are slightly bemused when the character choices you have are:
A – Jar Jar Binks
B – Wicket the Ewok
C – Howard the Duck
Which character do you choose to tackle, in which scene are they depicted and why?
LN – That’s easy, Jar Jar Binks, contemplating the bust of Homer. Because George loves Art, History and Jar Jar.
This interview was originally conducted for, but never published on Lightsabre.co.uk.