Jessica Ross is a virtual reality designer and concept artist, along with being an adjunct in the Digital Design Program at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. She studied fine art and illustration at Montclair State University, where she received her BFA, and is currently completing her MFA in Illustration this summer at Marywood University. She has worked as a concept, storyboard, and character artist for various productions, including an educational video game sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and an augmented reality app for a graphic novel series, Tales From The Myst.
One of the very first memories I have is when my mother bought home The Little Mermaid on VHS. It was 1989, I had begun to express a growing interest in fairy tales, so when I saw that first scene of Ariel peeking up from behind the sail of a sunken ship, I was mesmerized. I watched this movie over and over, studying the fluid movements of the mermaid tails and the way Ariel’s hair would seem to mutate into different shapes depending on what she was doing. I tried imitating those same movements with my crude drawing skills and even tried staging particular scenes of the film with toy figurines, Play-Doh, and popsicle sticks. At this point in my very brief time alive, I discovered that I love the art of storytelling.
The impact that a well-told story can have on your mood and outlook on life fascinated me. I was mesmerized by the characterization and visual cues used to communicate different emotions and changes in the progression of the story. So here I am many years later, still drawing mermaids, designing characters, and immersing myself in stories. Regardless of the medium, the element of a story is the driving point for each portion of the idea. Even in client work that demands solid design with little room to elaborate outside the guidelines, such as a logo or business card, I relate that assignment to an overarching story. The end result is the product of hours of creative decision making which have developed a narrative of what this assignment is and why it must look a certain way.
I have learned in this fast-paced field of design, to adapt my artistic and design skills in order to stay current as an artistic professional. This has motivated me to learn many different artistic mediums. My willingness to experiment has brought me from raw canvas and oil paint to 3D painting in virtual reality. Currently, my medium of choice is Procreate on my iPad Pro. I feel it is closest to traditional media paint, and I love how natural the Apple Pencil feels in my hand. I have applied my love for art and storytelling to all projects in my professional career, including a vision therapy game where the patient is a pirate sailing around an enchanted world and solving puzzles. Recently, I have discovered that joy of game design for applying my storytelling and characterization abilities. Games are still stories, just ones where you can directly influence the outcome. I have been involved in artwork for several interactive multimedia applications where I get to be that little girl, setting up scenes with Play-Doh and cardboard. Of course, my materials are a bit more sophisticated now, as are my methods, as they have evolved over my time as a concept artist, character designer, and storyboard artist.
Stories are at the route of everything related to my character. This is reflected in my art and design work as well as every other aspect of my life. The medium of storytelling has always been a way for people to relate and connect with the human condition. To gain insight into a seemingly impossible situation, to find courage during a time of turmoil, and to relate to others who at first appear different from ourselves. My personal and artistic identity has grown from the art of storytelling and for this reason, I am constantly looking for new characters to design and new stories to bring to life through my work.