Jessica Fortner


Written by Barney Cox
03 Monday 03rd December 2012

Always popping with colour, Jessica Fortner’s illustrations bring to life a surreal world inhabited by snaking bell dogs, battling swans, maze giants and scramble-faced humans. The talented illustrator also runs 'Squidface and the Meddler' (one of our favourite art zines) with Michael Wandelmaier – her equally talented boyfriend. Talking to us from her Toronto studio, we chat to Jessica about her work, influences and (of course!) animist mythologies.

We’re stuck in windy, rainy London at the moment. Paint us a picture of where you are right now.

For the last few days I’ve been hunkering down in my apartment, that doubles as my studio, in sunny (albeit cold) downtown Toronto finishing up my “first” painting. I’ve been pretty absorbed in trying to replicate the look and style of my illustrations - usually coloured digitally - using gouache. It’s been a fun way to switch things up for me and get a fresh feeling from doing the work that I’ve gotten comfortable with.

Describe your illustrations to us in one sentence.

That’s a tough one. I tend to think of my illustrations as fragmented pieces of a story, crystallized and assembled into single image.

Your pieces always have a lovely narrative to them: were/are you a bit of a bookworm?

I spent an inordinate amount of time reading and doodling when I was growing up. I think the books I loved when I was in high-school are the ones that stayed with me the most: Perfume by Patrick Suskind and The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov are definitely some favourites.

Was art something you always wanted to do? When did you first realise you wanted to make art? How has your style evolved over time?

I didn’t know I wanted to do art professionally until the end of high school. My class visited an art-school studio, and I was totally absorbed by all the works in progress and the messy studio spaces. I knew then that I could see myself doing this day in and out.

Your work seems rather mythologically-inspired in your use of motifs and animals. Is this the case? 

I wouldn’t say that my work is inspired by any particular mythology, but I like to use a perspective along the lines of animist mythologies where animals, plants, rocks, the earth each have an associated persona and spirit. I like the way the iconography of those traditions is used in storytelling.

How is a piece born from conception to realisation?

I don’t have a lot of consistency in my process these days as I’ve been try to vary my approach to my work. I think the most interesting part is the concept sketching: trying out many ways to realize a kernel of an idea. These days I’m trying to paint my pieces, I’m having a lot of fun trying to replicate the vibrant colour schemes from digital in the more muted paint medium.

Talk to us a bit about your online magazine, Squidface & the Meddler. What was the motivation behind founding it? And what’s the great name about?

It’s an online arts magazine that my boyfriend (Michael Wandelmaier) and I started two years ago, purely for the fun of sharing art we love to as many people as we can. We really like the idea of long-form interviews, designed with the same approach as feature articles in our favourite magazines, as an alternative to all the Tumblr-style picture and link sharing that you usually get online. It’s been a great experience to get to interview so many artists we admire. As for the name, it’s deliberately cryptic! Squidface & The Meddler are dastardly villains in an epic series of comics we haven’t written yet.

What’s living in Toronto like?

I have a love/hate relationship with the city. There’s a really vibrant arts community, but we have had a pretty bad run as a city in the last few years. Toronto’s gone a little condo crazy! It feels like a thousand identical glass towers have gone up downtown recently without much thought to what the city will be like to live in a few years from now.

What’re you working on at the moment?

I’ve recently started self-teaching and experimenting with short animations. I love the process, and find it really challenging and satisfying to bring drawings to life in that way. For now I’m happy churning out these little experiments, but who knows in the future? At the moment I’m putting the finishing touches on an illustration for SOYU’s upcoming Creative Zodiac 2013 calendar - can’t wait to see that one in print!

Visit Jessica's website for more information on her work.

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