In his quiet little studio in Australia, 32-year-old Andrew Firth is hard at work crafting imaginative, gorgeous sculptures of skulls by hand. His two staffers assist on production, and together they ship their artwork all over the world, united under the brand name Jack of the Dust.
Why would someone order a skull from Australia? Well, Firth's creations aren't just skulls. They're artifacts from a parallel universe Firth invented, a place where our identities bleed down into our bodies, changing the way we're shaped and altering the color of our bones. The late Biggie Smalls, in Firth's mind, would have a metallic skull forged from solid gold. Someone who froze to death would have ice crystals embedded into their eye sockets, long after their flesh had rotted away.
Jack of the Dust skulls are all created as limited edition collectibles, which means each project typically sells out quickly. In addition to the skulls, the company sells hyper-realistic, uber-gory silicone masks for cosplay.
Firth spoke with SYFY WIRE over email while traveling in Japan. He discussed his materials, his aesthetic, and why he's not all that excited about the geek or art scene in Australia.
What training or education have you had in art? Are you self-taught in any way?
I don't have any training, but I guess I had an underlying talent for sculpting. I picked it up very fast, and everything else I taught myself through trial and error or simply by digging around the internet to fill in the blanks. As a kid, I was heavily into "Warhammer," which is just painting miniatures. That might have helped to hone my attention to detail.
Which materials and processes do you use most often?
Essentially, I operate as a special effects shop and I use the exact same methods a film studio would use to create props. I create an original sculpture, mold it, cast it, and then paint it. It's a handmade process from start to finish.
When we're casting, we use a Taxidermist urethane resin imported from the USA, which is designed to replicate the look and feel of real bone.
What's your attraction to skull motifs about? Do you remember the first time you were drawn to creating skulls in your art?
I've always been drawn towards life-size scale, so if I liked a character I would prefer to have the head. That's where the character is mainly embodied. For example, I'm a huge Iron Man fan, so having his lifesize helmet would be my preference, as opposed to a small scale version of the whole suit.
Why are you so drawn to Iron Man?
Iron Man is my favorite character because he's constantly creating and pioneering his work forward—and the fact that he's just a normal human with no special powers really drives it home. I guess my superpower is his creativity, and the fact that he implements it on a constant basis.
In my mind, having intelligence is completely wasted if you don't use it.
Are you active in fan conventions near you? What's the geek and art scene like in your city?
No, not really, I'm not all too interested in conventions. But, in saying that, I think the conventions in Australia would be quite different from the ones in the States. The scene is really non-existent over here.
How long have you been running Jack of the Dust?
I'm 32 now, and I started Jack of the Dust about 5 years ago when I was 27. I work here full time and I employ two full-time staff to assist me.
What has been your most difficult piece to date, and how did you figure it out?
The most difficult piece was designing an internal bust for my silicone masks, that's a one size fits most. I got past it by failing 100 times and trying 101 times.
Describe your work station at home or in your studio. What does it look like, feel like, smell like, sound like?
I've got a nice little shop that has a basketball hoop set out out the front. Everything is very organized and streamlined, so we can create skulls and only skulls! I have just invested in a 3D printer so this year I will start bringing in some digital work in my workflow (now it's all traditional) .