When Jordan Nelsen was a small child, she picked up a pencil and paper and began to draw, just like any kid.
A few years later, Nelsen began drawing with a pen-shaped stylus, pen tablet, and laptop computer. Since elementary school, Nelsen has balanced digital drawing with “analog.” Now a senior in the Herron School of Art and Design and the IU School of Informatics and Computing at IUPUI, Nelsen still carries a paper sketchbook, but the digital equipement takes up more room in her backpack.
With her left hand on hot keys for erasing and choosing different brushes in programs like ZBrush, Geomagic Design X, and Photoshop, Nelsen’s digital work has brought her high praise at Herron. She has assembled a portfolio of figurative fantasy pieces aimed at the video game industry.
Nelsen’s ability to translate her designs into 3-D pieces was honed through her classes as a Media Arts and Science (MAS) major at the School of Informatics and Computing (SoIC), and through research projects under the guidance of Zebulun Wood, co-director of the MAS undergraduate program.
The anatomical foundation of her art talents has led to life-enhancing opportunities for dental patients. A summer-school informatics and computing class with School of Dentistry maxillofacial prosthodontics resident Dr. Travis Bellicchi led to more than a dozen facial prosthetic designs the last couple of years. A 2017 nose for a cancer patient, which took her only four hours to produce, made regional news.
“Depending on the case, they can take months to complete,” Nelsen explained. “But we scanned him, we designed it, and we had it on the 3-D printer ready to go for him the next day. It happened a lot quicker than everyone thought. It was a good feeling to get that done in an unprecedented amount of time.”
After seeing the widely spread pictures of the patient wearing her prosthetic design, Nelsen had a revelation on what her skills could do.
“It’s one thing to paint something for myself and feel really good about it,” said Nelsen. “It’s an entirely alien feeling to be able to say, ‘I made this thing that somebody is wearing to help improve their way of life.’ There is no feeling that’s like that.”
Set to graduate in May, Nelsen hopes to still pursue both gaming and prosthetics.
“I like to find a nice balance between the two,” Nelsen said, “from helping people and painting for myself as well.”
While she only needs three pieces of equipment to create a new video game character or new dentures to be installed into the zygomatic bone of a School of Dentistry patient, Nelsen’s backpack carries her latest work and her future career — or careers.