Com­bin­ing beauty and dark­ness in equal mea­sure, For­est sculpts en­tirely from her imag­i­na­tion

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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.”

Cre­at­ing sur­prises

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 Anato­ 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.

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