Interviewed in March of 2016 by Michael Crockett
Hometown: Neston, MA | Current town: Neston, MA | Website: CLICK HERE
1. Let's start by getting to know where you grew up. Could you tell us a bit about where you’re from and if you studied or practiced your art in New England?
I’m from Newton, Massachusetts, and went to the Massachusetts College of Art. My aunt is a commercial artist and a visit to her studio with all her drawing tools was like visiting a wizard when I was a little kid.
2. CHROMA is about showcasing all the talented artists living and working in New England. Why have you made New England the place for your creative output? Are there any specifics about New England that inspire or influence your work?
I think the New England weather is the primary influence on its natives: we’re always preparing for or living through the winter. There are whole months of the year where you want to go outside as little as possible, it gets dark very early, and you need to develop a healthy imagination to keep from going stir crazy.
3. You have a fine eye for the little details, not only the sculptural details but even down to the beautiful paint jobs on them. What are some challenges and or pleasures you face when trying to capture the likeness of a character?
Pretty is a lot harder than ugly. Young is harder than old. Human is harder than creature. The fewer lines, folds, and creases, the more perfect the overall form has to be. If you’re aiming for attractive, particularly at a small scale, it’s very easy to be off by millimeters and end up with something goofy-looking instead, easy to fall into the Uncanny Valley.
When trying for specific likenesses, when I’ve been had any success at it, the trick is to move from caricature into character; finding the things that make a person’s face unique, emphasizing them, and then bringing it back down to something more naturalistic.
The fun part is trying to give it some kind of interior life or expression, even if it’s subtle.
4. The comic world is a major influence on your work. When did you know you wanted to bring that 2D world to life in 3D? Was there a specific character that launched it all for you? What are some other subject matters you work with?
Comic books have always been a huge part of my life and the characters in them, in good comics, take on a vivid life in my imagination. Like all comic fans, I have concrete ideas of how these characters look and sound that augment the static drawings.
As a kid who read a lot of comic books and played with a lot of action figures, I was often frustrated that they didn’t make a lot of my favorite characters, which certainly isn’t the case anymore. I got pretty adept at customizing my toys but also building figures from scratch. I remember lying awake at night trying to figure out how I could engineer the joints for a Howard the Duck action figure.
As I move into more original material and 3-D illustration, they’re still primarily sci-fi and fantasy subjects, but I’m interested in illustrating the ordinary and the fantastic and how those things contrast one another.
5. I imagine your studio is a wonderland of sculpted characters and collections, am I right? Are you inspired to collect figures and toys or do you separate those outside influences?
I’ve been told being inside my apartment, where a portion of my bedroom makes up my studio, is like being inside my brain: all my interests-comics, toys, movies, art-making, etc., collide. Also, it’s a big mess. Anytime anyone needs to come in to fix anything they ask if I have kids and I have to tell them no, those are my toys.
6. You taught at RISD, would you like to talk about that experience at all? Was your class based on sculpting and your specific skills?
I taught a few different continuing education classes at RISD: prosthetic mask making, a general Photoshop class, a sculpting class, and a comics class. Most of these were for high school students. Of all of them, I actually enjoyed comics the most. I think students could more easily see their own improvement throughout the class. Sculpture is, unfortunately, very, very slow, and it looks like absolutely nothing until suddenly it takes shape. I think that’s frustrating for a lot of kids.
7. What material do you sculpt with? Do you have favorite supplies or tools you have to work with?
Usually, a mixture of Super Sculpey, Sculpey III, and Sculpey Firm, mixed to different consistencies. They’re heat-set polymer clays that are malleable like plasticine until they’re baked or hit with a heat gun. I make aluminum wire and foil armatures that I sculpt onto. If I’m making copies, I’ll cast them in silicone rubber and poured liquid resin which hardens into durable, lightweight plastic. I’m beginning to work with wax and a jeweler’s waxer, which is harder to work with, but can provide more detail.
8. Do you work within a sketchbook or sketch out ideas or perhaps you work from photography? What are some ways you reference and plan for your projects?
I’m pretty lazy and rarely do any sketching beforehand. More complex pieces require some more planning, and last night the use of forced perspective actually required me to do the math to figure out the scaling. Awful.
Lately, I’ve been trying to get more photo reference, which I adapt pretty liberally. Photos give me a lot of little visual cues I probably wouldn’t have thought of if I’d just been making it up. Subtle things. It’s useful and it’s also fun to get together with my friends and shoot them doing weird poses.
9. As a collector of 3D figures, ourselves (all of us at Tryptic Press!) what 2D artists do you wish would experiment with figures? (For example, we love Ashley Wood’s 3A Co. and James Jean’s TMNT line).
I would personally love to try and sculpt Jaime Hernandez’s Maggie from LOVE AND ROCKETS, and Adam Warren’s EMPOWERED. Phil Hale’s work would be amazing in 3-D if it could be done. Same with James Stokoe. Artist Adam Rex sometimes beautifully sculpts his own characters, but I’d love to see Tip and J.Lo from his book THE TRUE MEANING OF SKEKDAY in sculptural form. Any of Fiona Staples’ characters from SAGA… So many.
10. Tell us about a few projects you’re proud of being involved with. Where can our readers find or collect your work?
I’m very proud of the collaborations I’ve had with comic book artists Jim Rugg, who designed a sculpture of his character STREET ANGEL for me, with my friend Erica Henderson, who designed a statue of THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL, a character she draws for Marvel, and for Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neil granting me permission to do a LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN piece for a charity auction to benefit the charity Childline. I’m working on a seemingly endless project with Sean Downey, and I’ve included one of our collaborative pieces here which, aside from how long it’s taking, is a pure pleasure.
I’m always posting new work on my site, jfsculpts.com, on jfsculpts.tumblr.com, and I’m on Twitter: @jfsculpts.
11. We met you in the city of Somerville, where many artists call home. Would you describe the challenges or benefits you face in a creatively, thickly settled town?
The benefits are a community of artists who understand how difficult and time-consuming art-making can be. Being around talent just brings the quality of your work up. The challenges are ever-increasing costs of living.
12. What is your absolute dream client? What project would you love to work on that you haven’t yet?
I am only now starting to work on 3-D illustrations, which I’d like to develop into short stories and illustrated novellas.
13. Bonus question: let the world know what undiscovered artists are out there and ready to blow up! Who do you like to look at that we might want to check out?
Ha! Everyone I know is already a lot more famous than I am, but here are a few people whose work continues to impress me:
Jessica Halley (http://wingedcoyotedesigns.tumblr.com/ does remarkable work with cut paper collages.
Janine H., a.ka. Scenable (http://scenceable.deviantart.com/) focuses on equestrian sculpture, and I’m just amazed by how lifelike her work is.
Doll sculptor Armeleia (http://seed-arts.tumblr.com/) does fantastic likenesses and customizes toys.
Lisa Schindler (http://the-sculptress.tumblr.com/) is a tremendous artist and educator.
Wilfrid Wood (http://wilfridwood.tumblr.com/) is a sculptor and caricaturist whose amazing minimalist sculptures that really capture his subjects.