Hand Sculpted Illustrations of Jessica Fortner

Posted at 12 am on March 3, 2010 by

Posted in: 3D Illustration, Character Illustration, Hand Craft, Sculpture

I’m very much intrigued and a tiny bit in awe of Toronto-based illustrator Jessica Fortner‘s hand-sculpted illustrations. Her cleverly crafted creations remind us that the development of illustration doesn’t have to be confined to 2d forms made from digital tools.

I especially like the humour that is created through her work, and I think this is emphasized through the medium she works with. I’ll leave further detail to the below interview with Jessica.


How did you develop into using sculpture for your illustrations?

Sculpting just came naturally to me. I’m a horrible drawer (most of the time) and it’s just far easier to render things in 3D. Strangely it wasn’t until after I graduated that I was aware of this.

I discovered the work of Chris Sickels and Liz Lomax and was instantly smitten.  I tried a number of methods and material until I found something that worked for me. Combining digital production methods with the hand sculpted elements really creates a image that blurs the line between reality and fiction.

I think that when people see my work they don’t instantly know how it was made, it could be 3d, painted, digital. I like the ambiguity. It also creates a unique surreal feel that you don’t often see.


What do you do to prepare an illustration?

First off, it’s important to make sure I have all the materials I’ll need to make the illustration. I usually keep extras of everything just in case I need to do something unexpected. If there’s something special needed, then I usually head out and get it.


I always use the same tools when I’m sculpting. I have a bunch of silicone tip shaping tools (which I love) that I use to smooth surfaces and crevices, and I use dental tools for the fine details.

There is this great place in Toronto called Active Surplus that sells anything that you can imagine from dental tools to old computer hard drives. Of course I always use a block of Super Sculpey, armature wire, and aluminium foil.



How do you work through and complete your sculpted illustrations?

I always start out with a sketch of a rough idea that I like and a composition that I’m happy with. Then I’ll begin by sculpting the characters in the illustrations.

After constructing a wire armature, I layer tinfoil and Super Sculpey on top. Using dental and silicone tip shaping tools, I’ll form the clay into the desired shape. I sculpt the head, hands and feet first. The body of the characters are constructed out of foam and cotton, and then fabric is stitched over top as clothing etc.

I like to use as many different elements as possible in the illustration to create a textured and surreal feel. I use insulating foam and other materials to create the sets and backgrounds. After the pieces have been baked, I paint them and begin to set up the shot.

Once the photo is done I add the final touches in Photoshop.


How did you apply that stereoscope effect to your work?

To get a stereoscopic (3d) image you need two photos from slightly different angles.

Normally you would take a picture on your tripod, then shift it one inch say… to the left and take another picture.

In Photoshop I composite the two images into a single stereoscopic image that can be viewed with 3d glasses. Because I work at a much smaller scale (usually 3d is viewed relative to the distance between your eyes) the distance between the two pictures must be less.


© Jessica Fortner, 2010

Really this depends on the size of the sculptures but generally the distance is miniscule (about a half a centimetre). All the other principles apply.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on an illustration to submit to “Life in 2050″, an exhibition created by Transmission for the SCI-FI-LONDON Film Festival.

There was an open call for submissions and I’m taking advantage of it. The project is to envision the world in 2050. I’m also in the midst of putting together a self-promotional mailer and redesigning my site. I love when I get the opportunity to do design.

Thanks Jessica!

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