Friday, October 30, 2009

Niki de Saint Phalle

I thought I'd make Friday a day for posting about an artist from the past who has created dimensional work. Here is a personal favourite of mine, Niki de Saint Phalle, who had a huge influence on me from the moment I learned about her in foundation year art history class at Parsons (thanks to Sharyn Finnegan!). Niki made me think that bigger things were possible.

The following excerpt is taken from

Niki de Saint Phalle was born in 1930 in France. She began producing her first paintings in 1950. This led to assemblages in plaster and her "shooting paintings". These pictures were plaster with containers of paint beneath the surface which would explode when shot with a pistol. More sculptural assemblages followed and in 1965, de Saint Phalle created her first "Nana". These large, voluptuous and brightly painted female figures were made originally in papier mâché and later in polyester.

De Saint Phalle has designed stage sets and costumes, created movies, graphic work, chairs and a sculptural playground. One of her large works includes a giant Nana that can be entered by walking through the vagina. In additon, she and her son produced a book for children about AIDS and she even has her own perfume.

A part of her most ambitious work is pictured here, the Tarot Garden, a sculpture park in Tuscany. The Wheel of Fortune in the water was created by her husband, Jean Tinguely. The Tarot Garden features mirrors, glass and ceramic mosaics. De Saint Phalle had never used these materials before and they show the influence that Antonio Gaudí had on her work. This park contains Nana-like figures as well as the "skinnies" which proceeded them. Serpents, fountains and sculptures you can walk into are often a part of her work. They appear here on a grand scale. There is a fun, theme park quality to the place with its bright colors and sensual rounded forms covered with elaborate surface designs. A relation to "outsider " art such as the Watts Towers can also be seen in this playful portrayal of the arcana of the Tarot deck.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Jessica Fortner

Check out Jessica Fortner, an illustrator who lives and works in Toronto, Canada. Her artistic method and medium can be described as sculptural photo-illustration. She constructs characters and sets, stages them and photographs the scenes to produce the final illustration. Her work offers a unique aesthetic, sense of humour, and approach to visual storytelling.

How did you start working dimensionally?

What I love about being a sculptural illustrator is the freedom to incorporate many different elements. Often illustrators draw or compile images in photoshop to create an image, but because there are still so few sculptural illustrators there are still many different avenues to explore. You can get a very unique look and feel that often can't be found in drawn images.

What or who has influenced the way you work?

These days, with access to the internet, there are so many things to find inspiration in. There are so many fantastic artists, designers and illustrators out there it's hard not to be influenced. Some of the artists that I admire are: Tara McPherson, Elizabeth McGrath, Chris Ryniak, Mars-1 and Kathie Olivas to name a few. The list could on forever. It was my introduction to Chris Sickles' (from Red Nose Studios) work that made me realize that I could put all the things that I love into an image.

Please describe your working process?

I start by making a sketch. In the sketch I try to work out composition, mood and perspective, especially if I will be compositing the image in Photoshop (which I sometimes do). I often like to keep my characters posable to be able to try a variety of poses when composing an illustration. That's why I tend to sculpt the head, hands, feet, and other extremities in clay while keeping the joints bare. The body is built on a flexible aluminum wire, then various fabrics and stuffings are used to fill out the body without making it too rigid to pose. I use a variety of materials in my illustrations to create textures and a realism that I can't achieve just by sculpting. It helps give a natural feel to the pieces.

What do you enjoy the most / least about working dimensionally?

Mostly I love being able to mix up many mediums/techniques in a single project. Because of the way that I choose to illustrate ideas, it is important for me to have a wide range of skills; from drawing to sculpting, sewing, pattern-making, photography and digital media (programs such as photoshop/illustrator). I need to know the capabilities of many materials in order to achieve the look that I want. This has it's disadvantages but it also makes every illustration new and keeps me excited about the process. I'm constantly learning new things.

Jessica Fortner
Sculpture and Illustration
images and content © Jessica Fortner

Monday, October 26, 2009

Chris Walsh

Meet Chris Walsh, a sculptor and 3D illustrator based in the UK.

How did you start working dimensionally?
Before deciding that I wanted to be an Illustrator I studied on various art and design courses during college and tried so many different ways of making images, but I didn't really like any of them. I became fascinated with stop motion animation around the same time, I loved the figures and props and wanted to try making them myself, which I did for a short time and it felt like a very natural way for me to work.
Despite my love of 2 dimensional illustration I've never been very good at it, so when I got to doing my diploma in Graphic Design and Illustration I struggled to compete with the other students. I was looking through a book full of stills from various stop motion movies and shorts one day and realized that they looked great as stand alone images, and I had the crazy idea that rather than draw- I could sculpt and make everything in the scene and photograph it. I did, and everyone seemed to like it, even me.

What or who has influenced the way you work?
Again I think that my under-developed drawing skills come into play here. I've always found it tough to visualize a 3d object in 2d, and I found it especially difficult to convincingly light a scene in 2d. When I first started doing this I was a huge Tim Burton fan (I still am) and I loved the way he used lighting to make a scene so atmospheric. I started to experiment with lighting a lot in my earlier work and it became the thing I enjoyed most about working this way. 'Vincent' and 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' were certainly my biggest influences when I started off. Many years later I discovered David O'Keefe and Liz Lomax and they became a massive influence on me, and trying to keep my style unique and different from theirs certainly has an effect on how I work.

Please describe your working process.
I'll usually have a pretty strong idea in my head of what I want to begin with, I'll do some rough pen sketches on layout paper to figure out the composition I like best, and make some individual sketches of anything that might be a problem to build in 3d, then I'll try to figure out a way of doing it. I like to rough everything in first, so I'll rough out any characters in clay, and put together a very crude version of the set using cardboard, sometimes I'll use existing models as placemakers and photograph this rough version. I'll put it into photoshop and sketch over things, colour parts in etc and just see how it works as an image. I may have to move bits around or totally re-think parts of it. Once I'm happy that the image will work I begin to replace all of the crude cardboard parts with better parts one at a time, until the set is finished and painted. I light it and sometimes take hundreds of photos with different lighting variations and slightly different camera angles, by which time it's usually 4am and I fall asleep. The next day I spend picking the best ones before I crop them and make some slight enhancements in photoshop.

What do you enjoy the most / least about working dimensionally?
Well the things I like the least are the time it takes to produce a piece, the amount of space each piece takes up, and the mess it makes, oh and the cost of all the materials. But what I enjoy the most is having quite a unique style that I love working in, and seeing that other people are enjoying my work.

* Chris is currently accepting commissions for custom made cake toppers and figurines for weddings and other special occasions, pieces can vary in size from 51/2" toppers to 10" centre piece figures and anything in between. They are hand crafted using polymer clay on top of a small wire armature, and then airbrushed using acrylic paint. Feel free to email Chris ( for further ordering information, and check out the new website coming later in the year at

images and content © Chris Walsh