The best thing that came out of writing about Elin Kelsey’s You Are Stardust, illustrated by Soyeon Kim, which I did here at 7-Imp in September, was that I met Jayme McGowan. (Well, I cyber-met her, though I wish I could say we had actual coffee together.) She contacted me after reading that post to tell me she also works in cut paper/3D art, and then I visited her site and knew I’d want to feature her at 7-Imp some day very soon.
Today’s the day!
I’m going to give it over to Jayme now, since she tells us all about herself and her work below, as well as her most exciting news — that her debut picture book is to-come soon. I thank her for visiting 7-Imp today …
Jayme: Thank you for having me, Jules! I’m new to the community of children’s author/illustrators, and your blog has been a guiding light for me. It’s an honor to share my work here on 7-Imp.
I create my images through a unique process of three-dimensional illustration. I say “unique,” but that’s really just a polite way of saying my process is bizarre and overly complicated.
I start with a pencil sketch to get the composition down and then use colored pencils to find the right palette. I put a lot of effort into these first two steps (even though they’ll usually only be seen by me and an art director) in order to avoid wasting too much time—and paper—later. I then start cutting, pulling materials from an ever-growing collection of new and re-purposed paper. Each piece is cut individually with steady hands and tiny scissors. I then carefully glue it into place, often with the aid of tweezers.
Layer upon layer, I build characters and sets for a miniature scene. I stage the pieces in what I call my “paper theater” — imagine an oversized shadowbox that is open on three sides and the top, which has framing for supporting hanging elements. I use thread or wire, as necessary, to hold the paper elements in place. I then photograph the dimensional paper artwork, playing with camera settings, lenses and light. In the final stage of my illustration process, I bring the digital image into Photoshop for adjustments. I try to keep the digital manipulation to a minimum though, and all of the shadows in the images are real cast shadows from the paper.
It’s definitely not the most practical method of illustration — taking a 2D piece of paper, making it into something 3D, and then photographing it to turn it back into something 2D. But it’s the process I’ve arrived at after several years of experimentation, and it’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to making the images I see in my mind’s eye.
Pictured here is Matilda. Below are images from Fantastic Mr Fox.
I arrived at this way of illustrating by accident, really. I started working with cut paper during college, but separately from my studies. I went to a state school with a general studio art program, where I spent most of my time in the painting department. The focus was on “fine art,” and sadly there was no room in the curriculum for traditional crafts, like papercutting, and no illustration courses, so I’m self-taught in those areas.
My earliest efforts with cut paper were very tiny pieces built into paper frames. I have a thing for miniature art. I think there’s something magical about having to get up close to examine the details. My very first instinct was to work dimensionally, likely stemming from a love of the work of Joseph Cornell and dioramas/shadowboxes of all kinds. I became obsessed with discovering different ways to work with cut paper. It spoke to me on a level that painting just never did. I love the tactile experience: wrinkling, twisting, folding, tearing. The construction method of cutting and gluing, cutting and gluing, over and over, is like meditation to me.
Shortly after graduation, I was introduced to the work of Chris Sickels (better known as Red Nose Studio). It was the first time I had ever seen handmade 3D illustration. Up until then, I didn’t even realize that dimensional work could be used for print in that way. His work had a huge effect on me, and I was inspired to turn my experiments into a workable illustration technique.
Over the last few years, my focus has been on editorial illustration. In September, I had my first piece in The New York Times, which was a total thrill.
I’ve also been lucky enough to contribute illustrations to a wide variety of other projects: advertising campaigns, retail products and packaging, and even animation.
And now I’m fulfilling a long-time dream of mine: I’m writing and illustrating my first picture book!
The children’s section of the library has been my second home these past few months, re-reading all my childhood favorites (Maurice Sendak, William Steig, James Marshall…) and greedily filling endless tote bags full of contemporary gems: Sergio Ruzzier, Carson Ellis, Jon Klassen, Matthew Cordell, Philip and Erin Stead.
My book is about a Hobo Bear, a traveling musician, who is on a journey to find a missing something. I can’t give too much away at this point, but here’s a little peek at Bear warming up:
All images here are reproduced with permission of Jayme McGowan.
Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.
1) I’m happy to have Jayme visiting. I find hand-crafted, painstakingly-detailed, 3D artwork like this to be somehow comforting — perhaps ’cause so much of our worlds are online. (“Let’s make the world by hand and give it away …” Sam Phillips sings.)
2) I’ve said this before, I think, at 7-Imp, but there’s this recording of Shawn Colvin’s song “Something to Believe In” on a live CD of hers where, at the end of the song, she starts singing portions of “I Got the Sun in the Mornin’” from Annie Get Your Gun: “I got no diamonds, I got no pearls,” she sings, “but still I think I’m a lucky girl. I’ve got the sun in the morning and the moon at night. I got no checkbook. I got no bank, but still I’d like to express my thanks … I got no silver. I got no gold. But what I got can’t be bought or sold … With the sun in the morning and in the moon in the evening, I’m alright.” I love this.
And each time we hear that portion of the song, I pause the CD and turn to my daughters and say really zippy-quick, “best advice you’ll ever hear,” and then I turn the song on again.
…What matters most
is there’s birds in the trees
and bees on the flowers
and there’s fish in the sea
and there’s sun shining down
from a sky
that’s so blue
and there’s me
saying I love you.
She walked up to me, handed me the book, and told me she thought I’d like that little excerpt, and in my head, I was all, these children of mine actually listen to me! Well, huh.
3) Samantha Crain:
4) Did you see author/illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka talk about how his art and his imagination saved his life?
5) This video is about an hour and not at all what I expected him to say, but I like it: It’s M.T. Anderson talking at Cornell about darkness in children’s lit. I like his idea of a balanced “return to joy.” (I think that’s how he puts it.)
6) Daniel Day-Lewis.
7) Last, but certainly not least, I got to meet children’s book author and poet Rebecca Kai Dotlich this week and hear her speak. Lovely. Just lovely.
NOTE: I promised to spread the word about this Jerry Pinkney exhibit in Yonkers, NY, at the Hudson River Museum. On Saturdays and Sundays, 11/10-11/25, is “Be an Artist Apprentice” from 1-4 p.m. with Fashion Institute of Technology students, who study with Eric Velasquez. In December on Saturdays and Sundays, 12/8-1/13, “Be an Artist Apprentice” from 1-4 p.m. with, again, Fashion Institute of Technology students, who study with Mr. Velasquez. Spread the word to interested folks!
What are YOUR kicks this week?