Depth Charge: How to Make a Splash and Get Paid for it.

comments (14) July 28th, 2008     

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Jeff_Rudell Jeffery Rudell, contributor
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Pulp Fictions: Handmade French paper is twisted and turned into French wigs fit for Maria Antoinette and the ladies of her court.
There is an endless need for fresh and interesting editorial content such as these paper boxes and paper flowers I created for a feature in Brides Magazine. Take an inventory of where you find inspiration and then try getting your crafts featured in those publications, stores, or windows.
The simplest projects can present the biggest challenges. How does one make a paper crown that doesnt look as though it came from Burger King?
Pulp Fictions: Handmade French paper is twisted and turned into French wigs fit for Maria Antoinette and the ladies of her court.

Pulp Fictions: Handmade French paper is twisted and turned into French wigs fit for Maria Antoinette and the ladies of her court.

Photo: Katherine Knauer

"You cut and fold paper...that's your job?!" is a question I get most often; usually asked with a tone somewhere between incredulity and jealousy. I never tire of the answering, "Yes, that's my job." The follow-up question is usually, "How do I get a job like that?" Unfortunately, I don't have an answer for this one. There are many ways one might go about this. While I cannot offer any advice as what might work for you, I can offer a brief outline of the path I took in the hope that this might prove encouraging as you pursue your own work.

I used to only craft late at night. After work, and dinner, and a little TV, I'd sit down at my desk and start playing with paper. I wasn't doing it for a client or for a paycheck, but for myself. I'd spend hours happily occupied in such pursuits and then, the next day, I'd drag myself around my office job, half asleep and wondering why I ever stayed up so late in the first place. Of course, as any crafter knows, I stayed up late because it was fun. Then, a few years ago I was discussing this with a friend when she stopped me, mid-sentence, and said, "Let me get this straight, you divide your life into 'work you do for money' and 'fun you do for free'? Why not just start doing the fun stuff for money?"

It was a great question but who, in their right mind, was going to pay me to have fun?.

Despite not know where I was headed, I felt pretty confident that I would need a portfolio of work to show people whenever I got to wherever I was going. So I set out to hone my skills and build up a body of work that showed both my interests and my range. All of the work was done on spec. -- I did not earned a dime from any of it. I just focused on making pretty things and I did my best to make them well.

Once I had some work worth showing, I then needed someone to show it to. To my way of thinking, the person most likely to pay me for having fun would be an art director. Doing the work is one thing but having the guts to show it to others -- to put it out there for the world to see and comment on -- well, that's what's called taking a risk.

If I was expecting these art directors to come back to me and say, "We love it. Just do this for us and we'll pay you," I was going to be disappointed. (Note: I was disappointed). But, many of them did come back with assignment ideas and the question, "Can you make this out of paper?"

And here's the easy part. If ever you find yourself in such a situation, say what I said. Say, "Yes, I can make that out of paper," because you can make almost everything out of paper if you try. Even if it turns out to be difficult, it will be worth it to have the opportunity to work with talented art directors, or prop managers, or photo stylists. I have agreed to construct all manner of things that I was, at the time, quite certain could not be made of paper -- from bicycles to chandeliers -- only to discover, once I got down to work, that they could, in fact, be made out of nothing more than newsprint, old envelopes, rice paper, and glue.

I wish I could report that whatever challenge I am given, I simply dive into a sea of ideas and come up with exactly the right one every time. Alas, that's not how it works but agreeing to try is often the hardest part. Sometimes results come swiftly: often it takes days. No matter, things such as sketches, mock-ups, budgets, and timetables will all somehow occur if you only have a little faith in your abilities

Crafters the world over know that things don't always work out the way we plan and this can be stressful. My emotions tend to fluctuate a little when I'm working on a projects (I go from, "I love what I'm doing," to, "I hate everything I do," and back again with annoying frequency) and I make a lot of mistakes ("Crap! I didn't mean to cut that there!") but I suspect everyone goes through a similar process in their workflow. If I stay focused, self-doubt eventually subsides and I slip from "working" into that wonderful state of mind where I am just "creating" -- playing almost -- and THAT is when good things happen.

I know many artists and crafters who put themselves through a similar process. My friends and I have begun calling it creative abrasion -- that sort of exhausting, emotional roller-coaster ride that often leads to great work. I've come to believe it is not just a by-product of the creative process but is, rather, a vital component of creativity itself.

I mention all this less by way of offering advice and more by way of offering encouragement. I meet many crafters with incredible skills (crazy, mad, out-of-this-world skills) who nevertheless are hesitant try anything they haven't already mastered. But there's far more to be gained in thinking of creativity as a muscle than in thinking of it as a muse. The artist Chuck Close has said, "Inspiration is for amateurs. I just get to work." If you plan on earning a living from your crafting skills, I can assure you the paying public is little interested in whether or not you and your muse happen to be on speaking terms at the moment.

So what has all this creative abrasion led to for me? It's resulted in a lot of trial and error (heavy on the error), a great many lessons (mostly I've learned what doesn't work, but that's still valuable, right?) and an occasional success (as defined as a lot of fun, a paycheck, and a more limber imagination.) Mostly, I've gained a willingness to attempt projects my rational mind is quite certain are impossible, and this has been the kernel of all my happiness.

My many failures and misfires I will keep to myself but after a few weeks of offering in this space, projects you might do on your own at home, I thought I'd share with you a few of my successes. Please feel free to send me comments on my work or, pictures of your own creations. I'm always interested in seeing what other paper crafters are doing to move the field forward. Keep cutting and folding. Craft on.

Selected Projects by Jeffery Rudell

A series of 18th century French court wigs (made from handmade French paper, of course.)

When Tiffany & Co. invited me to design window displays at their flagship 5th Avenue store, I turned to the elaborate wigs of mid-18th Century France as my point of departure. Instead of powdered hair, these wigs are crafted from hand-made French paper. The result combines fanciful shapes, musical instruments (violin & harp) and even fauna (a songbird) out of the most humble of materials. The challenge was finding a way to create volume without weight; to craft highly sculptural and articulated pieces that looked light and airy. (Overall height including bust, approximately 36")

Detail: A lyre and violin sit amid a nest of loops and paper treble clefs. A subtle crease in the scroll of the lyre adds both visual interest and stuctural integrity.

The wigs awaiting installation. Notice the fully rigged French Frigate asail atop a sea of roiling curls (far left). A few delicate strips of paper (and a little waffle-cut packing material) provide some ornament (and very little coverage) for the busts.

A series of crowns for a Mother's Day window display.
The theme was "Queen for a Day" and the design brief was simple; makes some paper crowns to sit atop pillows in a window display. The challenge was two-fold: working with foli papers (which showed every fingerprint and glue smudge) and creating paper crowns that didn't bring to mind "Burger King". I knew I didn't want to make them too realistic or they would compete for attention with the actual jewelry that would be displayed along side them. Nor did I want them to look too cartoonish. I ended up using gold and silver foil in combination with green, red, and blue foil paper at a slightly larger than life-size scale to create something that looked cheery but homemade, elegant but temporary.

Window displays in celebration of the New York Orchid Show.
The art director who hired me suggested I create pictures of orchids to display behind the store's merchandise. I went a step further and cut out multi-panel silhouettes of orchids that were hung, like layers, in the windows. Once I had the shapes I wanted I enhanced them with highly saturated watercolor hues. The resulting display pieces hung both in front of and behind the merchandise, making the jewelry part of the picture instead of just something displayed in front of the pictures. (In art, as in life, one should never underestimate the value of a little dramatic lighting.)

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Comments (14)

Natasha16 writes: good job. you make it sound so effortless.
Posted: 6:01 am on January 17th
PetrinaCase writes: brilliant
Posted: 7:00 am on August 6th
DefyingDestinyy writes: Okay, seriously you are INCREDIBLE. I can only wish that I was as talented as you are. :]
Posted: 10:40 pm on December 19th
gelliebean writes: Oh my! What gorgeous work you do! My story parallels yours up to the point of chucking the job and starting to do what you love for pay. I have a long way to go before I could even attempt to get paid for what I make but I have hope and continue to hone my skills so that one day, I'll achieve success. Thanks so much for the great article and the beautiful pictures of your work! I look forward to seeing more of your fantastic creations!
Posted: 2:09 pm on March 8th
Ceal writes: Absolutely one of the best things I've seen in a long time. Am also a paper artist amongst other artistic endeavours. Please look at as have also handmade a paper violin and a piano etc but printed in full colour. Wish I was being paid to do what I love...struggling to keep my head above water unfortunately. Good to hear that someone is managing it though!
Posted: 5:41 pm on November 22nd
Frances13669 writes: I love the violin. Would love to have one of these for a friend of mine who collects violins.
Frances in Beautiful Tennessee
Posted: 8:57 am on November 8th
lilmissroo writes: now thats what I call awsome!
Posted: 9:33 am on August 29th
TheArtfulDogger writes: Your work is incredible! I love it.

Thanks for the pep talk about getting to work on what you love to do. It was encouraging, though I really think you should show a couple photos of your crafting disasters just to prove to us that even super-talented folks like you have their bad days. I'm always interested in hearing about people's mistakes and what they learned, not just their successes.

Maybe CraftStylish could do a series on craft goofs . . .

Anyway, your stuff ROCKS!
Posted: 12:59 pm on August 10th
directedbyhp writes: Your art is so beautiful.

It would be so great if you could make a paper project for the President of the United States or The Queen of England.

Just a suggestion.

Submit one for consideration for a upcoming event.

Posted: 12:43 am on August 3rd
MaeveQ writes: These are simply genius!!! How did you ever make these? I want a paper dress!
Posted: 3:12 pm on July 28th
LindaPermann writes: wow, those paper wigs are amazing!!!
Posted: 12:26 pm on July 28th
susanstars writes: those projects are incredible! thank you for posting them!
Posted: 12:20 pm on July 28th
EMmacrame writes: I love it and thanks for the encouragement, It really nice of you to tell us your story.
Posted: 11:29 am on July 28th
SusanElizabeth writes: Oh my! These are stunning.
Posted: 10:36 am on July 28th
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