THE ENCHANTED WORK OF FOREST ROGERS
Combining beauty and darkness in equal measure, Forest sculpts entirely from her imagination
he darkness is profoundly important to me,” says Forest Rogers of her magnificent body of work. “This is a universe of lilacs and hagfish. I want both. It brings truth – and good fantasy, as the author Ursula K Le Guin points out, is true.”
US-based Forest is a sculptor of incredible talent. Working mostly with specialist modelling clay, she’s particularly interested in creating “fantastic beings”: nymphs, dryads, witches and more classically inclined figures, all with a delicacy and detail that belies their complex underlying structure. As if that weren’t enough, she’s also an accomplished illustrator, and regularly produces anatomically correct dinosaur models for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.
“I love Rackham, Dulac and other illustrators of the Golden Age,” she explains. “My grandparents had many of those books on a wonderfully dusty bookcase. I sat for hours, exploring. My favourite was Danish illustrator Kay Nielsen’s East of the Sun, West of the Moon: Old Tales from the North. I was
transported, though I couldn’t yet read.”
It was perhaps inevitable that the young Forest would be artistically inclined, as her mother Lou was an accomplished painter herself, who raised Forest alone after the premature death of her artist father. Growing up surrounded by the “towering, mysterious beings” that Lou painted, Forest also grew fascinated with the Lovecraft-esque call of the wild.
“She loved the tales of Arthur Machen, Lovecraft and others of the weird persuasion,” Forest says. “She nursed a girlhood infatuation for Lon Chaney Jr., particularly when he was covered in fur. You can kind of see where I came from…”
Japan also got hold of her psyche when she was small. “I had a set of wee crepepaper books, yokai tales, some translated by Lafcadio Hearn. They lived in a special red box,” she enthuses. “When I was maybe four years old, I saw an early Japanese anime called Magic Boy, or Shôen Sarutobi Sasuke. There was a glorious witch who fell into bones and tatters atop a storm-ridden peak. So fine!”
Oddly enough, though, it was only when Forest went on to study stage design and costume design at Carnegie Mellon
University that she twigged her true
I’m my own megalomaniacal director, actor, playwright and designer all rolled up in one strange bundle!
calling. “Somewhere in my theatre studies, I realised I really wanted to design the actors themselves, not just their clothes,” she says. “I can now be my own megalomaniacal director, actor, playwright and designer all rolled up in one exhilarating, strange bundle!
“I’ve come on a long, odd, partly accidental path – no question. There’s some advantage in that – you may bring unique mixtures to the table.”
Forest’s fine art creations begin with a very loose scribble, so it has room to evolve in 3D. She next considers which material would best suit the piece. “My two main clays are Kato Polyclay for smallscale, detailed pieces, and Premier Air-dry clay for larger, looser work.” She then creates the armature around which the rest of the sculpture is built. “I think of that as a scribble in space, delineating proportion and sense of motion – the foundation for everything else.”
Forest then begins adding layers of clay. “I keep rotating the piece, striving for composition that works from all sides. One can create surprises, seen only from certain angles. Throughout the process, I check the piece in a mirror. When the form satisfies, I begin the detail. Detail can’t conceal a weak form, so I consider it icing on the cake.”
With sculpting complete, she adds colouration and any necessary sealant, using a variety of materials such as acrylics, inks, oils and Genesis Heat Set, a proprietary blend. But the work doesn’t end when the figure is complete. “Just when you want to go lie down, there’s the photography to consider.”
As both an illustrator and a sculptor, Forest can see the attractions of both, but admits a weakness for the 3D art. “There’s a physical side to sculpture that’s cathartic, especially working large,” she explains. “I once did a four-foot, full-habit portrait of a quite wonderful nun, in soft Plasticine. Absolutely no insult intended, but there’s nothing quite like pounding a 400-pound nun with a mallet. That just doesn’t happen in digital.”
Some of Forest’s pieces seem to float in mid-air entirely of their own accord – like a photo snapped mid-movement – instead of being supported by a complex armature. She likens the art of concealing these practical details to a magician’s use of misdirection. “Much more is possible than one might at first think. I’ve had people ask, ‘How on earth is it supported?’ It’s
supported by two sturdy square brass rods, perhaps, but I’ve directed the attention and focus elsewhere, and it becomes mysterious. I love attempting that!”
So what advice does she have for a 2D artist who’s interested in exploring sculpture, but who may be intimated by all the extra processes involved? “I think of sculpting as drawing in 3D,” she says. “There’s an infinity of possible compound curves, right there in the space in front of you. Experimentation is the thing. Be ruthless, try stuff and toss it out. Fear not. Disdain nothing. Make magnificent mistakes. Seek out great workshops. Those I took via AnatomyTools.com were incredible: Andrew Cawrse, Mike Murnane, Carlos Huante, Jordu Schell.”
And what of the opposite step – moving to digital work? “I would love to learn ZBrush, particularly. I need to travel further on the road I’ve built first – but I find digital fascinating. I admire the wondrous results. One day…!”
In the meantime, she’s quite happy to continue her voyage through a sea of beauty and darkness, discovering forms that inhabit her head, somehow translating them into exquisite sculpture. “It’s an alchemical alembic for the maker, a voice, and a kind of companionship for the viewer,” Forest adds. “Messages in dark bottles, island to island. And hey, one needs a place to put one’s madness!”
Let the materials talk and surprise you. Be ruthless, try stuff and toss it
out. Make magnificent mistakes
LITTLE RED and the Wolf Forest sculpted this using Premier Air-Dry clay, with the finished model measuring 11x13 inches.
FAUN For the Sea of Trees – a rotated view showing all sides.
MORRIGAN A WIP photo of Forest’s take on a witch, made from Premier Air-Dry clay, Aves FIXIT Sculpt, wood and washi paper.
GOBLIN SPIDER This figure – who has a taste for mice – was nominated for the 2014 Spectrum Fantastic Art Award in Dimensional.
BLUE DRAGON Another interesting take by Forest on a classic fantasy beast, which was created from Kato Polyclay and garnets.
OCTOPOID Continuing Forest’s fascination with female/beast hybrids, it seemingly floats in space thanks to some neat sculpting tricks.