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What’s in your bag? IUPUI senior creates digital paintings and prosthetic designs

Apr 12, 2018
Jordan Nelsen sits with her computer.
Jordan Nelsen has excelled with digital painting, both with art classes and designing facial prosthetics for the IU School of Dentistry. Her backpack is always full of the necessary equipment to create digital art and designs.Photo by Tim Brouk, IU Communications

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, she still carries a paper sketchbook but the digital equipment 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 gaming 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.”

Description of the following video:

Video transcript

“Jordan Nelsen” video on

[Video: A laptop screen shows a denture implant design.]

[Words appear: IUPUI Presents]

[Jordan Nelsen speaks: This is a surgical guide for a quad-zygoma implant surgery. So, in this surgery, they are taking four titanium implants and placing them into the zygomatic bone to anchor a permanent denture. And then, before I know it, this has been two years since, and I’ve been a part of 16 patient cases.]

[Words appear: Jordan Nelsen, Senior, Herron School of Art and Design]

[Jordan speaks: And I still do illustration. It’s kind of evenly split. I like to jump back and forth because I love the medical work, but it’s not quite as creatively fulfilling as being able to paint and draw my own stuff is. So, find like a nice balance between the two between helping people and kind of painting stuff for myself as well.

Prostheses, depending on the case, they could take months to complete for certain people. And this gentleman had lost a nose due to cancer, and after repeated failed plastic surgeries was kind of sick of going under the knife. And Dr. Bellicchi said “Hey, can we help this guy?” We’re like, yeah sure, let’s see what we can do.

We scanned him. That day, after scanning him, I sat down and made the prosthesis in probably less than four hours. And then the next morning, we had it on the printer ready to go. And they got to call up the patient and tell him that hey, we have your nose ready far sooner than you’re probably expecting.

It’s one thing to be able to paint something for myself and feel really good about that. It’s an entirely alien feeling to be able to say I made this thing that somebody is wearing that can help improve their way of life. There is no feeling that’s like that.]

[Words appear: IUPUI Fulfilling the Promise,]

[End of transcript]

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, who moved to Carmel while in high school. “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.

Wacom Intuos Pro Pen tablet

Nelsen draws on the square of the tablet, which then transports that information to her laptop computer.

Republic of Gamers Gaming Laptop

While some laptops go for thin and lightweight, Nelsen’s computer of choice is massive due to its large screen, large memory and fast processing. “The Choice of Champions” is designed for digital media work, creation and fun.


The pen accurately mimics pressure and tilt sensitivities and angles of traditional pens, pencils and paintbrushes.

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