Jason Freeny is making anatomy cool in ways no one else has done and his formula is simple: carefully dissect an iconic childhood toy, build in the underlying anatomy, and then display it to the wonder of children and adults everywhere.
I caught up with Jason, in between chasing his two-year-old around, and was able to get his thoughts on anatomy, the popularity of his work, self-promotion, and more.
Q Medical illustrators covet great anatomical references. What anatomical references, if any, do you use when you begin to dissect a toy?
First off please let me say that my anatomical toy sculpts and illustrations cover the most basic of anatomical elements. While medical illustrations are targeted toward the medical industry for the most part, my work is aimed at a broader, more mainstream, less anatomically savvy audience.
With that said, I use whatever references I can get a hold of. The local bookstore is my destination of choice when it comes to finding reference. My children’s anatomy books are great. There are some fantastic books out there aimed at teaching the laymen about anatomy with very detailed color plates. The Internet is another fine place to find reference, especially for animals other than humans. Some of my work approaches animals that either don’t exist or are mutated to the point where traditional anatomy won’t suffice. Some anatomies are a fusion of several different mammals.
Q You definitely make anatomy more attractive and digestible for the layperson. Would you ever consider taking it a step further and doing your own children’s anatomy book?
One thing I know about myself is my limitations. I’ve never felt stories or character development was a strong trait. This could change in the future. I can’t tell you how many artists I’ve seen try to move too far outside their element and just make themselves look bad. Actors trying to be singers etc… I have a pretty good feel for what I am good at and what I am not so good at…
Q During the Street Anatomy gallery show I observed a father and his 9- year-old daughter looking at your pieces titled, Micro Schematic and Kitty Half. The father was reminiscing about his childhood playing with Lego’s and the daughter was thrilled over the cuteness of the Hello Kitty, despite half its skeleton and guts showing. Why do you think you’ve managed to capture the imaginations of people across many generations simply by exposing anatomical features?
This is always the most difficult question I get asked. I’ll answer it as best as I can. It’s not a simple answer…One I don’t believe I’ve figured out…
For the father, it’s perhaps being hit with the possibility that all those toys, characters, and imaginary friends from their youth could have quite possibly been real. And for a few moments, all the imagination and fantasy abandoned yearsago come gushing back.
For the child, it’s being introduced to a new dimension to these characters. Perhaps solidifying their reality. One thing I have never seen in a child’s reaction is fear. It’s always amazement, wonder, and wanting to explore the image. Fear of anatomy and guts is a learned reaction. It’s always the parents who are uneasy. Uneasy about how a child will react, then, seem shocked when they aren’t frightened, but instead are excited.
Q While many artists, including most medical illustrators, are trying to protect their work online, you actually promote the reposting of your images through this key line at the bottom of your site, “All images ©Jason Freeny except where noted, feel free to link to this site as well as repost images on the web. No images may be reproduced or used in printed format without consent.” Has this open approach helped the viral spread of your work? Have you ever had an issue with people reposting your work and not giving you credit? Would you suggest other artists be less restrictive with the reposting of their work online?
I don’t see my work as true medical illustration, with respect to actual medical illustrators, it’s more of a novelty. There is no truth behind my work, my anatomies are hypothetical, this is strictly art.
All my promotions are based on viral word of mouth. Hence, my stance on sharing. I let the collective voice of the Internet decide its worth. Some pieces go up and the response is tremendous, sometimes I just get the sounds of crickets. This method works for me and I have no idea how it would work for others. Since I work with a lot of popular characters, people relate to it pretty easily. Not sure how it would go with someone’s still life’s of “fruit in a bowl.”
My work has become pretty embedded throughout the web and even if credit is not given, it’s pretty obvious it’s mine. I’m not all that much a stickler for policing blogs and such with my work. There are a lot of good people out there that do it for me. I love my fans and wouldn’t be where I am without them. I guess the only thing that offends me is when a site takes my image and puts their own watermark on it, it’s just rude. As long as no one is directly profiting off one of my images I don’t have any problems with it. The more eyes that see it the better 🙂
Q Have you run into any copyright or licensing issues with the toy characters you’ve dissected? Have any of the toy companies approached you to create a line of dissected toys after seeing the response to any of the sculpts you created?
I have yet to be approached by any of the IP holders of any of the sculpts. I have been approached from some of the IP holders from my illustrations. I’ve only had copyright issues from the illustrations solely because I offer prints. There is nothing wrong with creating any of the sculpts or images I have done. The problems arise when I begin to mass produce and sell.
So far the IP holders that have contacted me have been very kind. They see the art in what I do and as long as I limit my production to a small amount they don’t have issue. They legally have the right to keep me from selling anything more than one. Like I said, they have been VERY kind.
Q What’s next for Jason Freeny? Even if you were to stop doing dissections of iconic toys, will anatomy still be a part of your work?
I’m always looking for new things to create. A time will come when something else will come up and I’ll move on, but I’m sure anatomy will always pop up and make another appearance. Perhaps in another form…
View all of Jason’s work on at jasonfreeny.com.