How Did You Do That?

How Did You Do That? Irma Gruenholz’s Whimsical 3D Works

Irma Gruenholz portrait3It’s anoth­er install­ment of How Did You Do That?, a series that focus­es on how mak­ers cre­ate the things that we love. So far, we’ve learned how Nan­cy Liang crafts her spooky GIFs and had a peak into Tinybop’s inten­sive app-mak­ing process. Now, Irma Gru­en­holz shares how she forms her whim­si­cal 3D illus­tra­tions.

Irma Gruenholz

Brown Paper Bag: How do you pre­pare to cre­ate your clay illus­tra­tions? Do you do a lot of sketch­ing before­hand or make any sort of mock-ups for how they’ll look?

Irma Gru­en­holz: I do not make sketch­es in detail, and I pre­fer to delve into the illus­tra­tion work­ing direct­ly in vol­ume so I begin to mod­el as soon as I have the path clear. My sketch­es are very schemat­ic draw­ings to help me direct the illus­tra­tion and spec­i­fy the mate­ri­als and a palette that I will use, rather than an action map.

Some­times I build quick sketch­es in three dimen­sions with foam board and plas­ticine to check dimen­sions, com­po­si­tion, and fram­ing.

Irma Gruenholz

BPB: Give us an idea of your process — do you always work in the same way?

IG: The process varies great­ly depend­ing on whether it is an ad, a book, an arti­cle… but I can sum­ma­rize the process in the fol­low­ing com­mon steps:

First, I read the brief or text care­ful­ly and empha­size what I con­sid­er most impor­tant, and in a sec­ond read­ing I point out the first ideas. Then, I look for doc­u­men­ta­tion on the sub­ject (if that is required.) After gath­er­ing all the infor­ma­tion, I start to devel­op con­cepts and make sketch­es. As I have pre­vi­ous­ly said, I do not make sketch­es in detail, I pre­fer to delve into the illus­tra­tion work­ing direct­ly in three dimen­sions.

Irma Gruenholz


IG (answered con­tin­ued): Once the sculp­ture is com­plet­ed I take a pho­to, it is a very impor­tant step in my work and at this point light­ing and fram­ing are essen­tial to build­ing the prop­er atmos­phere in the scene. Then I retouch the image dig­i­tal­ly, if it’s nec­es­sary to remove clamps and I shade or stick out lights and shad­ows.


BPB: Each piece has a lot of del­i­cate­ly-craft­ed parts that make up the whole com­po­si­tion. What types of materials/tools do you use to achieve this lev­el of detail?

IG: The main mate­ri­als I use in my work are plas­ticine and clay. If the piece dic­tates, I often com­bine clay with var­i­ous mate­ri­als such as paper, met­al, wood, found objects… I love work­ing with all kinds of ele­ments and tex­tures, explor­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties of each project. This is the fea­ture that I most like of work­ing in three dimen­sions — you can incor­po­rate all kinds of mate­ri­als depend­ing on the piece. The cre­ative process is very excit­ing.


BPB: Have you always made sculp­tures? What inspired you to cre­ate illus­tra­tions in this way?

IG: Mod­el­ing clay is some­thing I’ve done since I was child. I felt a spe­cial attrac­tion to the three-dimen­sion­al objects and minia­tures. I spent hours and hours play­ing with clay, I wrote sto­ries and then I mod­eled char­ac­ters.

Mak­ing three-dimen­sion­al illus­tra­tion was a nat­ur­al way for me, It is some­thing that I had always done. It was a mat­ter of think­ing about the role of these sculp­tures, which I want to con­vey through them and find my own lan­guage.

Irma Gruenholz

BPB: How long does an illus­tra­tion take you to com­plete?

IG: The time I take each project depends on the com­plex­i­ty of illus­tra­tion. For exam­ple, a sim­ple illus­tra­tion, with­out back­ground, I take 4 days. While a com­plex illus­tra­tion I take one month. The range is very wide.

Irma Gruenholz Irma Gruenholz

BPB: Do you have any tips for work­ing in 3D? Any books/videos/etc that have been help­ful for you?

IG: My aca­d­e­m­ic back­ground is in Graph­ic Design which gave me a sound ground­ing for my work as illus­tra­tor, but I have not received spe­cif­ic train­ing on illus­tra­tion or sculp­ture. In this regard, it could be said that I am self-taught.

I have been col­lect­ing tips while I work, it’s a hit-and-miss process. I also look for infor­ma­tion in books and videos about sculp­ture, paint­ing, pho­tog­ra­phy, illus­tra­tion… but I haven’t one [book, video, etc] in par­tic­u­lar.


Thanks, Irma! Be sure to fol­low her on Tum­blr and Face­book. Here are some more of her incred­i­ble cre­ations:

redbeard mandoline fireflies rooftops