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Interview with Elaine Penwell

Today we have a special interview with one of the most talented paper cut artist out there: Elaine Penwell. With a work higly inspired on fabric patterns and 1800s fashion, this gifted artist told us more about her, her artwork and it's process. You can see more of Elaine's artworks at her Website. 1) First of all I would like to thank you for doing this interview, it's an honor for us to present more about you to our readers. I would like to start asking you about when your interest for illustration and paper cut? Thanks for having me! Really, there has never been a time in my life when I wasn't creative. I started drawing as soon as I could hold a pencil or brush, but the paper cutting came later, in my teens, after I realized that I was not as "connected" to painting like I was to paper. I just love paper... the weight, smell, texture. So even in it's base form, just as a material, I am inspired to use it in so many different ways. Cutting is still my favorite and it's the most satisfying for my self expression.,2) Which artists do you use for reference? I admire many old illustrators, etchers and wood block cutters with a bend towards fairy tales- Dore, Wulfring, Dulac, Rackham, etc. Japanese wood block prints, fabrics, old reference and fashion books for women of the 1800's always inspire new ideas. As for modern work, I love Marek Colek and Pat Shewchuk link: (notice the fairy tale and mythic influence) Swoon's link: work Is gorgeous and there are many others whose stencil work I admire besides some of the amazing, intricate paper cut and sculpture artists, like Brian Dettmer. The Internet, of course, has some great animal references but I also use some of my sons' encyclopedias.3) Your style is quite influenced by Art Noveau, with a complexity, softness and flow that is actually hard to see on such kind of media. How did you develop this style and how would you describe it? I like to think of my work as a kind of controlled chaos. It comes from how I view nature, partly stemming from making something that I view as beautiful externally but is created from dark thoughts or ideas. I am attracted to hidden beauty in practicality and in decay- like fabric patterns or drama set design, moldings and accents in architecture and home decor, even the shape of carcasses, dying plants and deteriorating scraps in my compost. All of these everyday kind of sights hold amazing details that some people do not appreciate, but are what have helped form the way I create.4) Describe us a bit about your creative process while creating a piece. For animal pieces, I need to do a bit of research and reference before I get started, but for all other designs I usually just dive in and see what comes up. Sometimes It starts with a phone call doodle, or say the pattern on the curtains of somewhere I visited like the Yosemite lodge or even an episode of "Dexter" will inspire. The drawing actually is the most difficult part, as I have to think about the piece somewhat like a stencil. The way I draw for a cut piece is almost opposite of how I would draw for an illustration. When illustrating, it is the shadow or the highlight that will define the shape, using shading, and they work together to make a whole. But in the cutting, I have to decide; is it the light or is it the dark that will define the piece? It has to be a very black and white drawing. I enjoy the removing of parts to reveal the whole, so the last thing I want to have is the piece falling apart after I've cut it, because I got too enthusiastic with my shading. So I really have to concentrate on the drawing. After completing the cutting, I flip the piece over so the draw lines do not show. That said, I enjoy seeing an artist's process, so I like that you can see some of my original drawing on the back.5)What's the best thing about working with paper cuts and what is the worst? Best...the satisfying sensation of removing, yet filling up, space. Worst...snapping blades, finger cuts, accidental blade slips that ruin a piece!6) How do you describe your daily routine? I must be creative every day, whether it is in action, research, or thought. I like people and co-creativity, but I like to work alone and for long stretches of time, preferably. Because I do have a family, I need to do most of my work during the day when it is quiet (or when I can blast my music with no complaint or watch dark and inappropriate movies) and can concentrate without distraction. I have pretty good self discipline and a strong work ethic, so I can keep myself working non-stop and fortunately there is still a long list of ideas in my mind for future projects. Before I had kids, I could work day and night, for days on end, with hardly a break or food, and I was as content as can be. I had to do a bit of re-learning how to use my time as a working mother who was also an artist. That challenge on it's own urged me to be even more productive and resourceful with my creative routine.7) Which is your favorite piece so far? Hmmmm....I like the size and fluidity of my peony piece, but I keep returning to the owls as pieces I really loved making. I think my favorite is still to come though.8) Tell us five lessons you believe are really important for every illustrator. Use your five senses to draw. Not everything has to be perfect. Squint your eyes. Observe observe observe. Practice. I'd say that applies to anyone, really. Plus I do not really consider myself an illustrator, although it is half of the work I do and equally enjoyable. 9) Tell us some websites that you like to visit Fecal Face Supersonic Electronic Hi-Fructose Cargo Collective Zoltron Opacity Abduzeedo10) Thanks again for your time, please leave a final message for the ones who are starting out on this kind of business. Well, I think that if you never lose sight of loving what you do, you will always be a success because you are not relying on others for approval. Whatever comes from the love of expression in any form is pure creativity and when it becomes a chore, you are probably no longer doing it for the right reason any longer.