If you're a regular listener of The Create! Podcast, hopefully, you caught the recent episode we recorded with Australian artist Andy Firth aka Jack Of The Dust. For those who haven't heard the episode yet, check it out here. In this second interview, we delve into the process behind his realistic and fantastical sculptures, hear insider knowledge about how he plans and executes successful artwork releases directly out of his studio and his advice for creatives on building confidence and resilience.
Let's jump right into your process. How does each sculpture begin?
My process starts with an idea… Creative thoughts strike at any moment, and they’re mostly unexpected. So I always make sure to keep my notebook close by. I currently have 60 concepts outlined in that little book. When I’m ready to sculpt a new creation, I flip open that notebook and choose an idea. From there, I look up a few visual references and style cues that I’d like to incorporate. Then, I drag and drop them onto a TV monitor front and center in my sculpting studio. Funnily enough, I am terrible at sketching and drawings, so my creative process doesn’t have a design phase. I just pick up the clay and start hashing out the ideas in my head by hand. The beautiful thing about clay is that it’s in a constant state of change. During this stage of the process I’m motivated by the fact that nothing is permanent, which helps my ideas flow more organically.
It is evident that craftsmanship is a key component of your art. Tell us about the different media and techniques that you use. How do achieve such realism?
My process is a self-taught variation of what you would see in a Hollywood special FX shop. This process lends itself to extreme realism or absurd fantasy. The flexibility and creative interpretation that sculpting allows makes it my medium of choice. Well, that, and it’s the only one I have figured out how to do! I use water and oil-based clays for the sculpture itself, then move onto a more complex style of mould making called a “matrix mould”. If you’ve ever seen one of my YouTube or Instagram videos of this process, you’ll know it's extremely complex! Next, I create a durable urethane resin cast that I can then paint with different inks, acrylics and enamels. By layering colors and opacities, I can build my desired level of realism and depth.
How long does it typically take to finish one sculpture? How many do you work on at once?
It generally takes four months, from start to finish, to bring a new creation to life. This includes sculpting, mould making, casting and painting. Generally, we only like to work on 30-60 of each piece at once.
You tend to release works in limited series. How do you decide on the concepts and amount of work you will create?
Since I started selling sculptures in 2013, over time I’ve taken note of the demand generated by each piece, which has allowed me to roughly predict how many we’ll need per 24-hour launch. While these predictions are rarely exact, they’re often close, which is great because then my clients don’t need to wait four months to get their hands on their desired piece. For concepts, I always listen to what my audience is requesting, and am guided by what I’m interested in at the time, too. With so many different designs, it’s always a thrill releasing a new piece and seeing what the response is.
How would you say your work has evolved over the last decade?
When I first started, I had zero experience in the art world. It meant I had to teach myself everything through trial and error. Every time I made a mistake, I had to venture into uncharted territory and even explore untested processes based on curiosity alone. Along the way, I’ve applied techniques I learnt in my boat-building days, picked up some from watching others and even invented my own. My concepts have evolved from plain skulls to fantasy worlds, fictional worlds and decapitations of impactful people. What you see in my work today is the product of a decade-long evolution – an exploration of methods and materials, fueled by my curiosity to push boundaries and see what happens.
You have a strong foundation when it comes to mindset. It's so important for artists to learn to be resilient and to have confidence in their own work. How have you developed these traits throughout your career? Are there tools or resources you recommend?
It’s so important to learn resilience, especially as an artist. You're pouring so much passion and effort into something so personal, and putting it out into the world for it to be judged. It's easy to get disheartened if people think your work’s too expensive, or it simply isn’t to their taste. My approach has always been to not seek anyone’s approval. I’ve come to learn that within the realm of artwork there’s no such thing as right or wrong. If you think the artwork looks good, then that’s all that matters. Art is about self-expression and bringing something unique to the world. The best advice I can give to anyone is to invest in yourself, dive into some self-help audiobooks (my personal favorite is Tony Robbins) and start filling your head with an upgraded way of thinking. Sometimes you’re your own worst enemy and if you can learn to drop the excuses and truly back yourself, you can become unstoppable with whatever you want to achieve. People are far more capable than they think.
You're also a firm believer in focusing on the present and making the most of right now rather than dwelling on the past. Can you speak to how this plays into your creative practice?
This plays a huge part in my creative life. For me, it's so important to focus on the future and how I want to improve and grow as an artist. It's such a common trait within people to dwell on the past and blame certain outcomes on past events. But the truth is, the past has nothing to do with the future. Every new day is a chance to create a new pathway for your life. This way of thinking had me give up a 10-year boat-building career and move onto becoming an artist with a team of 15 people. I had zero experience and still managed to pave my way within the art world. The future is what you make of it. Think of it as your ultimate masterpiece.
What is one goal you have for 2023?
In 2023, I’m going to be focusing on wall art. Up until now my attention has been on tabletop sculptures that you would usually see on display plinths or coffee and buffet tables, or in wall niches. Moving into wall art will dramatically change the format of my sculptures, and I’m really looking forward to exploring wall reliefs where I can present sculptural artwork in more of a two-dimensional format.
Follow @jackofthedust to see additional works and be notified of new artwork launches.
Alicia Puig has been a contributing writer for Create! Magazine since 2017.