Mandy grew up in Bebington, Northwest England, but now lives in Amsterdam. She shares an apartment, that has a balcony looking onto a canal, with a flatmate.
So, what do you do? is probably the least original thing to ask someone, when you first meet them. I’ve tried What’s your deal? as well. It seems to fall into the same category. On the other hand, I’m just genuinely interested in all the different ways people choose to spend their time with and I really want to know. And there I was again – drink in hand - quizzing my next victim, who was still slightly jetlagged from flying into New York the same day from Amsterdam.
“Hm, not sure what to say … I guess I’m an artist. I always feel weird saying it, because usually people look at you, as if you need some sort of help or they should be buying you a drink.”
I’m talking to Mandy – a petite blonde with delicate features, who looks more like a fairy to me. You can feel a rich layer of self-awareness, that the inner struggle between her adventurous, brave, creative and the self-doubting, risk aware, analytical self, has created, when she speaks. She is very humble and modest, but in a uniquely confident and entertainingly funny kind of way - which sounds totally weird, but makes sense once you meet her.
So, she is an artist – a paper artist to be precise. The first one I had ever met, which immediately got me excited, so I asked, if I could see her work. Showing off feels alien to Mandy. A little reluctant she pulls out her phone to show me some of the most elaborately intricate and farfetched paper designs, I had ever seen. In 5 seconds I unlearn what, I thought I knew about paper and start over from the bottom of the stems of her paper roses on up. I'm feeling not too far off with my first assessment: She works magic on paper.
Now, paper artist is not necessarily something that your guidance counselor pulls out of the career book for you, when you tell them that you are interested in math and science, but also passionate about the arts. How do you end up doing something that you aren't even aware of or that might not even exist, yet?
When Mandy was growing up, people always encouraged her not to give up on art. She took their advice to heart and moved to London to study at Central Saint Martins. After additional Art Direction training, she started out working on music videos and then moved on to advertising as well as from London to Amsterdam. In the middle of the economic downfall and a breakup, she realized that - despite having, what from the outside looked like, the perfect start in the creative industry - something was missing.
She didn't waste any time and quit her job to reset her life. She was looking for something, that she would feel passionate about and that ultimately would make her happy again. Something that, satisfied her want to do puzzles and the want to work with her hands. Reminding herself of how much she enjoyed playing with paper, when she was little, she started building her first paper model - a distorted Amsterdam canal house. When she unleashed it into the world wide web, positive feedback started spilling back at her, encouraging her to move on to the next challenge. In a 3-month production tour de force, she created and animated the set for her first paper movie: The Move. Now, if you are basically volunteering yourself to pioneer down the little explored path of a novelty such as paper art, self-doubt is your constant companion. What am I doing here? and Does anybody care? were questions she asked herself a lot. She overcame them and bravely sent her work of to be evaluated by production companies.
The Move did kickstart her new found career. She got a job as Model Maker for the Art Department of Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie as well as quite a few people interested in her work. The first producer, that gave her a job, was Isabella Parish - a producer for Partizan Lab.The job was to build a world out of toilet paper. Well, what might not sound all too exciting, ended up being a great learning experience in commercial animation and managing teams for Mandy and, what I would call the most delightful use of toilet paper ever.
Meanwhile almost 5 years after she made her Move, she covers a wide range of commercial work for big name clients globally. Growing up in advertising gives her the advantage to be able to navigate through a business, that might otherwise be daunting. "I love the pace. I know how important speed is and if they want to change something it’s nothing personal. It is paid art, so even though you might have a preference, you are being paid to do something for someone else and people have opinions, so just roll with the punches!"
The time between projects, she spends with self-initiated work and collaborations with friends. She constantly reinvents and challenges herself and what she does, carving away from, further defining and stretching the term paper artist.
The guillotine – a life-size paper replica of the French killing machine and the biggest and only interactive paper model she has built so far, is one of her latest works and a great example of pushing the boundaries. The story behind it and images of the brave, that were willing to put their heads down for art, can be viewed here.
In the future, Mandy hopes to start directing more and using her models and designs for her own films. “I love working with directors but it’d be nice to be the co-director and not just the art director for the bigger jobs." Well, I’m sure, it won't take her long to make this a reality.
For more about Mandy and a glimpse into her bubbly and refreshingly honest personality, check out this talk she gave at TED X Amsterdam last year. You will find, that she leaves nothing but laughs and well wanting smiles behind, similar to the trail of paper cuttings she leaves, when she gets up from her desk.
What would you say where the biggest obstacles and challenges you had or have to overcome on your way?
Paper Art is a relatively new thing and so it’s generally the personal challenge of self-motivation and blind faith that you are doing the right thing. There isn’t a path already laid out. So, you can't tell yourself: You are on the right track! Believing you can do it and ignoring the self-doubt is the hardest thing.
What helped/helps you overcome them?
Surrounding myself with other creative people and chatting about ideas with people, keeps me the most inspired that I am on to a good thing.
Is there anything you would say, you had to learn the hard way?
Learning what type of people are good for creative energy and to ignore the people, that don’t give you the wind for your sails. It is so hard to try and do the freelance thing. Without the right support group and the wrong energy, it is easier to fail.