Ethan Anderson

Ethan Anderson at work

Feature image: Ethan Anderson at work via artist's  Instagram

Ethan Anderson

At 22 years old, Ethan Anderson created a narratively rich world of art that some artists spend a lifetime trying to achieve. Anderson has spent his entire lifetime reaching this in his own way. Being the son of two creatively minded parents, some of Anderson’s earliest memories revolve around painting water lilies with his mother or drawing superheroes with his father. The choice to pursue art as a full-time career was a natural progression for him. He is currently in his final year of studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he has devoted his undergraduate studies to becoming a skilled artist across a multitude of mediums.

Ethan Anderson, The River Styx via artist website
Ethan Anderson, The River Styx via artist's website

Anderson’s artistic world is a diverse wonderland of whimsy and technique, from evocative sculpture work to fantastical conceptual illustrations. The choice to be proficient in a variety of mediums was a deliberate effort on Anderson’s part. Not wanting to feel stuck in any specific avenue of art, Anderson has become a true renaissance man with a multidisciplinary practice and a strong advocate for encouraging other artists to do the same. Though at any given point, he is more focused on one specific medium than another, he believes it is the technique and knowledge of a variety of mediums that have allowed him to reach the level of skill he has now.

Ethan Anderson, Goliath
Ethan Anderson, Goliath's Fall, gouache and paint pen via Anderson's website

“You just have to go for what you're interested in. I find they all link back to each other. Doing sculpture is going to help your drawing, drawing is going to help your sculpture, animating is going to help you understand movement, cinematography is going to help you understand composition for painting and vice versa, comics are going to help you understand storytelling,” explains Anderson. “Even if you end up abandoning one medium, what you've learned from that medium is always going to help your next one. I've never felt like I'm holding myself back in any way by having my hand in different pots.”

Being open to exploring any avenue of art has brought Anderson down some unique artistic paths that may not have otherwise been available without his open mind and technique. One of the more unique opportunities Anderson has had as a young artist is the chance to compete on the Food Network series “Outrageous Pumpkins.” Anderson competed on season 4 of the series, carving out a blend of haunting and hilarious pumpkin sculptures. The show gave Anderson an opportunity to work alongside a talented group of peers he’s long admired, and it challenged him to sculpt based on instinct and time constraints.

Ethan Anderson, Ceramic Greenware, sculpture via Anderson
Ethan Anderson, Ceramic Greenware, sculpture via Anderson's website
Ethan Anderson, Home to the Dream, sculpture via Anderson
Ethan Anderson, Home to the Dream, sculpture via Anderson's website

Though he is multidisciplinary, sculpture work is a prominent medium throughout his portfolio. From small-scale trinkets to large-scale figure work, Anderson has developed a sculpting style that puts an almost animated lens on the world around him. His sculptures carry a sense of life within them. If you look at them too long, you almost expect them to begin speaking and moving on their own. A trait earned from the extensive compositional planning Anderson gives to each piece.

“I like to think about all my ideas. I like making mistakes before I do things,” says Anderson. “So I'll make lists of words, ideas, or concepts that I've been trying to come up with, and then I'll make offshoots and make probably 50 or so sketches, and then sometimes I'll make mock head sculptures, and smaller versions of my sculptures, where I can work out different ideas and forms. Sometimes just getting it in three dimensions makes everything come together a lot clearer.”

Ethan Anderson, All Around You, oil painting via Anderson
Ethan Anderson, All Around You, oil painting via Anderson's website

To get in the headspace for creation, Anderson has a specific set of traditions and rituals that bring him into his artistic world. For starters, he wears red socks for good luck. He watches some sports highlights, puts on some jazz music, does a little dance, and sips some lemonade or tea. All of this brings him into his creation space with a positive attitude and rested mood, an important factor for not becoming creatively or emotionally burnt out through his work.

He decides a piece is finished whenever he walks away from it. Not that this is always the intention, but the decision to move away from a piece often signifies a transition to a new idea. Anderson admits he usually does not come back to a piece, that when the creation period has run its course, it's best practice for him to see what comes next.

Ethan Anderson, Artist Processed, sculpture via Anderson
Ethan Anderson, Artist Processed, sculpture via Anderson's website. Captioned "A physical manifestation of feeling like my creativity is forcefully being produced when at art school. The feeling of your art being rapidly cranked out rather than coming organically through the creative process."

Something surprising about his process is how little reference Anderson uses when making his pieces. He has a memory bank of basic anatomical understanding and proportions, but not adhering to the rigorous principles of following a reference allows Anderson to add his own personal style and flair to his work and create truly unique pieces.

Expression is a key part of Anderson’s work. Whether drawn or sculpted, each piece conveys a curious depth of emotion. Sometimes, these emotions are conveyed through over-exaggerated proportions; other times, they are conveyed with subtle shaping and composition. Either way, viewers are left to piece together the stories within his art, making Anderson’s work conceptually addictive to take in. Perhaps this is why his thesis project for his undergraduate studies is a short, animated, stop-motion film. This thesis project is a culmination of all the different avenues Anderson has explored within his art so far, and it is one overarching project.

Ethan Anderson, Viola Puppet- Skull Exposed, stop motion via Anderson
Ethan Anderson, Viola Puppet- Skull Exposed, stop motion via Anderson's website

“I really like the hands-on process, and I like making all of the things, animating, and bringing stories that I come up with to life,” says Anderson.

In his continued effort to become a true Renaissance man, Anderson has taken on the lofty tasks of not only animating and sculpting the scenes of this short film but also the cinematography, editing, writing, and directing of this short. His thesis project is set to premiere in May at the Gene Siskel Film Festival.

Ethan Anderson, stop motion fabrication set and props, via Anderson
Ethan Anderson, stop motion fabrication set and props, via Anderson's website

Movies have been a longtime source of inspiration to Anderson, as well as a form of escapism when he’s not making art. His favorites include films like “The Iron Giant,” “Singing in the Rain,” “Jurassic Park,” and “A Night at the Opera.” The creative endeavor of storytelling is a consistent motif for Anderson and a driving factor in why he creates.

“Stories are a way to make sense of things when there's confusion, and you can always put a narrative to something. When you're looking for morals, you can create narratives; when you're creating, you can use narratives to help drive you,” says Anderson.

Ethan Anderson, Comics, black and white ink and digital touch ups, via Anderson
Ethan Anderson, Comics, black and white ink, and digital touch-ups via Anderson's website

When thinking of long-term artistic goals, the chance to be an influence on narratives is a draw for him. Whether that be through animation, storyboarding, or prosthetic makeup, being able to bring stories to life is something Anderson knows he wants to continue pursuing. Anderson explains that he always has a narrative in mind when creating his work, even if the piece is not directly narrative. Beyond the power of storytelling, Anderson feels that art serves as a form of release in our world today.

“Art is a way to have some sort of sense of control in creation and joy, and it's a way to express back on other things that are going on around you that might be tumultuous or upsetting or exciting,” says Anderson. “Whatever's happening in the world gets reflected back in art in some way.”

Being so young, Anderson isn’t entirely sure where his artistic career is going to take him yet. But in the meantime, he has begun building the foundation to accept any artistic challenge or endeavor thrown his way. At the end of the day, though, Anderson’s main goal through his work is to create a sense of escapism and connection between his art and his audience.

“I want [the audience’s] minds to be freed in some way, to have weighed in. I want their imaginations to run wild and not to feel stifled by the world,” says Anderson. “I hope they think of the possibilities and what they can bring, and just the power of creativity.”

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