Our May artist of the month is paper sculptor and weaver Julie VonDerVellen whose delicate and meditative works reflect the wonders of nature and the everyday.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA
"When I started working with it, I didn’t see very many people exploring the (paper) medium but now it seems to be an entirely new career path for artists.
Where do you make your work?
My live/work studio space is in Milwaukee, WI. I moved everything into my home during the pandemic and it’s been wonderful to have everything accessible at all times of the day.
How long have you been working with paper?
Paper has been my medium of choice for about 12 years. I began experimenting with it while I was in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison after taking an artists’ books course. I enjoyed the tactile nature of the material and as a graphic designer, it inspired me to dedicate more of my studio time away from the computer. I also enrolled in the handmade paper course and made all the paper for my thesis exhibition from recycled cotton fabrics. It is a laborious process, but I absolutely loved it.
How would you describe your approach to paper art?
Exploratory. Curious. When I start a sculptural piece, I approach the project with an inquisitiveness — trying to follow, “I wonder if I can make this out of paper?” or, “what happens if …” mindset. I never know exactly how I’m going to make the object, but each step informs the next. The problem-solving and engineering process is the most enjoyable aspect. I get excited for the ah-ha learning moments that always seem to occur.
While working on abstract weavings and textile-inspired works, I try to be very calm and patient. The technique I use requires many hours of sitting and weaving the 1/8” strips of paper with the help of a sewing needle. It has always been my time to reflect or meditate on events that are happening in my life.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration for my work through travel, nature, books, and personal experiences working in art education. I am lucky to live next to Lake Michigan and be able to take walks through the state parks here. The colors of the water and surrounding landscapes seem to find their way into my soft pastel color palettes. I also love working with recycled books and their materials. Conceptually, my work has an underlying emphasis on narrative and storytelling, and therefore the book artifacts help to capture those sentiments.
Describe your work to us in three words:
Clever. Alluring. Surprising.
What are your favorite papers to work with?
I work primarily with Hanji paper. It is Korean handmade paper created from mulberry tree bark. I love the versatility of that material, how well it absorbs paint, and the ability to sculpt or weave with it. I highly recommend it!
What tool could you not live without?
I work with very few tools. “Go-to” supplies include my straightedge, purple painter’s tape, knives, cutting mat, needle, and PVA glue.
What is the best thing about working with paper as a medium?
The best thing about working with paper is that there are infinite possibilities. So many artists are pushing the boundaries of what can be created. When I started working with it, I didn’t see very many people exploring the medium but now it seems to be an entirely new career path for artists. It is great to watch the innovations in the industry and how it’s influenced curriculum for high school and college-level art courses as well as brand design and marketing campaigns.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m trying to have fun in my studio and have been working on some new sculptural and smaller 2D woven pieces. I’m also preparing for an upcoming exhibition at the Saint Kate Arts Hotel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It opens May 20th and I'm really looking forward to it!