How I Painted Yoda’s Swamp on Dagobah

April 5th, 2018

Growing up, I was not a huge fan of Star Wars. I guess I was kind of the oddball since a lot of people I grew up with were into the franchise. I’ve always liked sci-fi, but Star Wars exists in its own kind of category. It blends robots and advanced, yet ancient technology with mysticism and space travel, tying everything together with age-old monomyth storytelling.

I got into Star Wars gradually. I saw “Return of the Jedi” in theaters. I loved the Ewoks and hated that my mom covered my eyes when something blew up. I read the graphic novel version of “The Empire Strikes Back” as a kid. They re-released “A New Hope” when I was in high school. Then I re-watched the original trilogy multiple times in college and went to the opening night midnight showing of Episode I. (My buddies and I said two things: Queen Amidala is hot, and Jar Jar Binks is annoying.)

But as the franchise has expanded and my own kids have taken an interest in it, I’ve grown more fascinated with the overall story and mythology.

A few weeks before Christmas 2017, I decided to offer small painting commissions in time for the holiday

Right before Christmas, I advertised painting commissions for Christmas gifts, featuring the “Hoth” painting I did a few years ago. A girl I used to go to church with hired me to do something Star Wars themed for her husband.

I was pretty excited because after I painted “Hoth,” I got the idea for how to do something with Yoda’s swamp. When I painted “Hoth” I struggled with how to adapt it to my drippy, abstract style and wasn’t sure how to integrate that into an actual landscape.

I managed to form the drips and scrapes into an illustrative landscape. I wanted to to try something else in the Star Wars universe, and Dagobah was the first thing I thought of.

Trust the process

I knew first of all that Dagobah would be green. I felt the best way to create Yoda’s swamp was to layer lots of drips to create the impression of trees and vines in a swamp.

So I started with my usual overall orange tone on the canvas (you can see a little bit of it in places) and dripped thin, blackish paint from what would be the top of the canvas, flipping it around once I was satisfied.

I built up blue-gray layers to give it a misty haze. Some of the drips became thick tree trunks, and swoopy lines began to suggest vines hanging down. I sliced in some muddy, greenish water and surrounded it with mud to create the foreground.

The quickest, funnest part was sketching Yoda himself by the water. I dabbed in bright yellow dots to suggest light inside his little house in the bottom of the tree. It’s warm inside Yoda’s little hole, so a wisp of smoke snakes up from a tiny chimney at the base of the tree. Of course, Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing is stuck in the muck.

It’s a pivotal scene for Luke because he is on the cusp of becoming a Jedi, but so much doubt and fear holds him back. The murk of the swamp reflects his current state so well. He’s confused and uncertain of his own abilities as a Jedi. And Yoda is the one to help him get to that next level.

Brad Blackman, "Dagobah," 2017. Acrylic on canvas, 8x8 inches

“Dagobah,” 2017. Acrylic on canvas, 8×8 inches (Not for sale)

At any rate, it was cool to create that swampy, humid, misty atmosphere.

As I painted it, I thought surely they filmed it in Louisiana or Florida or someplace like that. I did some digging online, and apparently it was filmed on a sound stage. That had to be one cool set.

I’d like to try a bigger version of this to really capture the details, depth, and atmosphere of the swamp. I’ve found the secret to painting mist is to paint what you normally would, and then obscure it with lots of thin, gray layers.

You can have one, too

If you’re interested in getting your own commissioned Brad Blackman painting, just head over to the commissions page and shoot me a message. I mostly do abstract landscapes, but I’m open to more Star Wars themes. 😉