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Rising Stars: Meet Will Fernekees

Today we’d like to introduce you to Will Fernekees.

Hi Will, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
I am a Maker. My passion for creating illusions of reality started in 2003 with special effects makeup where I taught myself (I used a lot of Google and YouTube) about prosthetics and makeup applications to create creepy, cool and horrific looks. In 2016, my introduction to the world of Steampunk first got me hooked on customizing plastic toy guns to look like post-apocalyptic fantasy weapons. The Steampunk genre swung the door wide open for me as I delved deeper into the world of Cosplaying and with that came foam-smithing; the art of shaping various types of foams through unique processes to create realistic looking armor pieces, weapons and accessories. As I learned new weathering and building techniques from friends and associates, I began making props from scratch using materials such as foam, PVC pipes and reclaimed/recycled items.

During the summer of 2017, I took a leather class where I learned about the leather working process from concept and templates to dying and assembly of leather accessories. I took that knowledge and ran with it, developing my own unique methods of working and treating the leather and creating my own templates from scratch to bring my creations to life.

Now in 2021, I take on custom commission work ranging from foam props and leatherwork to a magical tree stump made of Styrofoam and fiberglass. In-between commissioned work, I try to make some time to work on what I call my “fine art” pieces. I’ve made two so far; the Ambient Energy Sword and the Electroluminescent Ion Stun Rife (both pieces are on display and up for sale at the Katsea Gallery in Towson, MD.) These pieces are worked on with an almost obsessive passion. They are made up of many different materials, some purchased, some made, but nearly all are modified in one way or another to fit together to create unique pieces. For example: the Ambient Energy Sword is made with an older style tennis racquet as its base. The Electroluminescent Ion Stun Rifle is made from a solid wooden rifle stock and a copper pipe, along with lots of other fun bits.

When someone comes to me with an idea for a commission, the process starts out with a conversation. If the build is for a cosplay, I like to get to know the character behind the idea, the world they live in or what the piece is meant to be used for. This information allows me to visualize details of the piece so that when the piece is done, it looks and feels the part. After that, I work up detailed sketches which I then show to my client for approval before moving forward to creating a mock-up of the final piece out of paper so we can test out its comfort, look and functionality in order to plan its assembly. I communicate frequently with my clients, along with many progress pictures, to assure my client gets what they want.

My passion for creative expression fuels my desire to make. While I started out making props and leather work, my mind is constantly searching for a new challenge, something new that I have to figure out how to bring into reality. It is always my honor to be chosen as someone’s maker. Not only is Making a great creative outlet for me, it’s also my own mental health therapy.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
Absolutely did not have an easy start. And it still isn’t easy! LOL. Lots of hard lessons learned and still learning. I’ve had a project that was nearly complete only to COMPLETELY ruin it because I didn’t know (at the time) that spray paint dissolves certain foams like acid. Oops. There’s been countless paint jobs that I’ve messed up and had re-do 5-6 times, simply from being too impatient and not following the directions.

There are inherent challenges in Making in of itself. It’s trying to bring someone’s idea or thought into physical reality. What materials do you use? What adhesives are ok to use with that? What kind of paint? These details can go on and on. Though they’ve cause many a “bad day,” those bumps in the road are invaluable lessons learned and have helped shape me into the artist I am today.

One of the biggest struggles is controlling my need to make things. I find that more often then not, I take on too much, too many projects at once. Eventually, by just the thought of it all, I can get overwhelmed and nearly completely shutdown. That’s when I stop making and the fact that I’m not making and worse, don’t want to (in that headspace) can get me caught in a circular way of negative thinking. Depressed because I’m not making something and too depressed to make something to get out of the depression.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I am a Maker. I make all sorts of things. From heart-shaped pendants, custom leatherwork work and foam-smithing, to fine art pieces, cosplay/photography props and costume pieces. My real passion or “specialty” if I had to choose one has to be Post-Apocalyptic/Steampunk mixed media art genre. I love finding and making miscellaneous things and making them go together to look like something else and then add rust stains and weathering to the piece to give it character. The piece that I’m most proud of is definitely the Electroluminescent Ion Sun Rifle. This piece was completed over about three years and contains materials like wood, steel, brass, copper, plastic and resin, just to name a few. I couldn’t tell you exactly how many different parts are put together but it’s easily in the hundreds. Every single part of that piece has been modified in one way or another to fit together and look like it does. I feel the finishing touch was the worn leather strap I made to go with it. That was my “ok that’s enough. You can stop adding things now” moment, I want my pieces to tell a story and inspire wonder and I feel that this one achieved that goal. I think that what helps me stand out is my unique style and that I’m into making custom one-off pieces and I have a high attention to detail. My name and brand is on every piece I make and I want to be proud of each one.

Can you talk to us about how you think about risk?
I do get the whole “the higher the risk, the higher the reward,” however my inner monologue likes to talk me out of things. I know that I need to network. I know that I need to put my work out to be seen. But I’m not always in the best of financial situations so it can hard for me to even think about taking risks especially if there’s monies to be spent. Then there’s social anxiety to deal with. I think the biggest risk I’ve taken so far is working up the courage to put my work in a gallery, but really the risk there is that the pieces could be damaged or stolen or worse…it could pay off and I could get more work because of it.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Headshot by Jesse Caris

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1 Comment

  1. Renee

    July 23, 2021 at 2:18 pm

    Wonderful talent great article Thank you

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