From High Fashion to 'Frankenweenie': An Interview with Mandy Smith, Paper Sculptor

Artist and sculptor Mandy Smith uses paper as her preferred medium, one which is surprisingly diverse and allows her to build the most incredibly detailed and high-rising mansions, movie sets, and musical instruments, all stemming from a single dimension. Smith has worked with the art department behind Tim Burton's Frankenweenie, and other clients include Coca-Cola, Toyota, and Purex. When we first found Mandy's work, it was because of a series of hilariously uncomfortable sandpaper goods: a bikini, toilet paper roll, a playground slide, and other things that wouldn't feel great. We spoke with Mandy about her work, and why she's so drawn to paper.

mandy_smith_housePaper house from Mandy's first short film, 'The Move'

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How did you get to a career as a paper sculptor? What is it about the medium that appeals to you?

 I used to work in advertising and was researching blogs for a project. I could see how many people were spending their time creating with their hands. It took me back to a place where I was six years old and I suppose happier! So I thought, if I used to be able to do it back then, surely I have some skill I can pull from within to try and give it a go now.

I love the material as it's so accessible so I am not restricted where I work and it's so versatile that I can always mold it to bring to life what I want.

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instruments_1Objects from 'The Move,' interior

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How much planning goes into a single sculptural project? Can you cut and shape without laying down some sort of blueprint?

If it's more of a geometric shape I might start with a folded out net but the work that is more organic I actually just start building from an idea I have in my head. So yes, predominantly I just cut shapes out and pray for the best!

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Paper dress inspired by rose bushes 

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sculptures for 'Exhibition Road' summer arts festival

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What does your workstation look like? What would you say are the most important tools in your work, no matter the project?

A tad messy. I do hoard a bit and save paper for later jobs, i'm not good at letting things go as I think I might need it later. So there is paper everywhere. The four things I have to have are a cutting board, a flat metal ruler, the right glue for the job (very important!) and the right craft knife with blades. I know how certain glues work for certain jobs. If I go abroad I always bring my glue with me because sometimes I can't get what I like to use when abroad and it slows down a job when things don't dry fast enough.

frontWall-hanging house

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Your 'Sandpaper' series is intentionally designed to be a little menacing, and it makes me a little uncomfortable to look at it, which I think is hilarious. How did the idea come about, and how did you find the medium differs from your usual, 'gentler' paper?

Sandpaper, i'm not going to lie, was a bit of a bitch to work with! It's got a a fragile coating of varnish and sand that cover a paper backing but it wanted to crack and not form like the paper I normally work with. It blunt all my blades and scissors in no time and with gluing I'd have to hold things in position for much longer than normal paper for things to stick. I had to learn how to be incredibly patient and ignore all the scratches on my nails. Actually I nearly gave up on it the first time.

 

The idea came through having a conversation with my friend about different types of paper I could start using and it was so easy to snowball funny thoughts with sandpaper that I thought I just have to make them.

BD_MS_Sandpaper_Toilet-Roll_V1_FINAL_LOWRES_WEB'Sandpaper' series

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In terms of your own sense of art direction and style of filming, what or who has influenced you the most?

I'm not sure. The people I love are Tim Burton, Tim Walker, MC Escher and Gaudi as they make reality and distort it a bit. Having that playful twist is something that I like to do.

droppedImage_3Objects from 'The Move,' interior

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Your sculptural pieces are often interpretations of classic children's tales, like Alice in Wonderland or Rumpelstiltskin. Are there any more children's stories you'd like to render in paper some day?

I'd like to do a bigger piece inspired by Rumpelstiltskin, like an animation, so I want to explore that one more. I also have an idea based on homes up trees which I suppose is Jack and the Beanstalk-inspired. Also The Twits by Roald Dahl and some of his other stories inspire much bigger thoughts. I've actually kept the old books of his that I used to have as a child.

 

Rumplestiltskin_FINAL2A fashion shoot inspired by the Brothers Grimm tale 'Rumpelstiltkin; art direction by Mandy Smith

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'Pop-Up'; Art direction by Mandy Smith

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What is the most unusual commission you've received so far?

I actually haven't received any unusual commissions but i'm working on an art show that might trigger some changes to that!

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What are some of the activities you do to keep you feeling creative?

Meet new people and see new places and things. I can find inspiration in anything as long as it's something I haven't seen before. Going to the cinema is a great quick way to trigger a thousand thoughts.

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What else do you like to do in your spare time?

I love rollercoasters! So if i'm in a place with a theme park in the vicinity I'm going to check it out!

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Films and animated works:

The Move, Paper Animation from Mandy Smith on Vimeo.

Toyota - 'Stories of Better' from Mandy Smith on Vimeo.

De Volkskrant - Verboden Boeken (forbidden books) from Mandy Smith on Vimeo.

TED global: opening animation for Session 3 from Mandy Smith on Vimeo.

 

Keep up with Mandy Smith's portfolio