CUT-PAPER LOVE - Interview with Georgie Monica

I’m an illustrator from the UK making 2D and 3D art entirely from paper, pencil and paint! I graduated from Falmouth University in 2017 where I studied illustration for three years and I’m now exploring the world of freelance illustration.

How did you discover your love for 3D paper art?

As a child I always loved small things (Sylvanian Families and Polly Pocket were the best) and I’ve always enjoyed creating little things from different materials. During my first two years of university, I mostly stuck to making traditionally 2-dimensional illustration work as I had sort of told myself that that’s what illustration was. Just before my third year, however, I realized I’d always wanted to create little environments and scenes that took place in real space and that I could combine that idea with the traditional illustration techniques and materials. I like to see my 3D characters as traditional illustrations that have come to life and started to venture out of the page.

Can you tell us what themes or genres you typically favor?

My tastes always seem to contradict each other a bit, so a lot of my work involves combining those contradictions! I really enjoy scenarios that are strange or mysterious, but attractive and inviting at the same time. I’m aesthetically drawn to both modern and very traditional styles and themes, so I try to work elements from both into my work. I’ve always been a huge fan of mythology and folktales, so I explore those stories quite a bit in my images, even if it’s just in a small detail. I’d say I tend to focus on narratives and I especially enjoy depicting people and animals.

You create these detailed, miniature universes, where do these ideas come from? Do they pop into your head or do you plan them?

Sometimes they just pop in (always when I’m half asleep, that’s the best time for creativity I think!). Often they come from something I read or see, even if the idea changes into something completely different it usually has its roots in a story or image. Whenever I have an idea I want to remember, I jot it down in the notes in my phone. I have some ideas on there that have been there for months and months, so I never really run out, but sometimes I just wont be in the mood for an idea I’ve already had, so I’ll focus on something new instead.

Can you describe your process from start to finish?

This will definitely be my longest answer!

Once I have the root idea and I know what I want a piece to express, all the little details build from that core mood or feeling. I usually do some really, really, rough sketches to figure out the composition and the elements I want to include. Then I start drawing a more detailed sketch and fleshing out the main parts (people, animals, important details etc.) into what I actually want them to look like. I usually make the elements of my images in separate pieces and then put them together again to give a sense of depth. So, I generally use those fleshed out drawings as templates when I come to making the parts of a particular character or object. I decide as I go which papers are best for each element. Depending on if I need to fold, bend or curve the paper I’ll select different weights and strengths. 

My process involves a lot of just fiddling around with different elements and finding out along the way how they will best fit together and work in a 3D space, as I’m not a particularly mathematical person! I don’t think I’ve ever made a 3D piece that hasn’t changed while I was building it, but it always seems to be for the better. 

After I’ve cut everything out (I use a basic Swann Morton scalpel), built everything (at this stage everything is just white paper with pencil lines), I paint the pieces. When I initially have an idea for an illustration, a color scheme usually comes along with it, but I’ll always play around in my sketchbook with my paint to make sure I’m happy with my palette before starting. I’m trying to work with more limited palettes at the moment so this is definitely an important step! I think the way I work makes color the hardest part, as I have to paint everything separately, not in situ as it will be in the final product. So, it can be hard to keep track of whether my colors are balancing well in the final composition. I have to just keep what I’m doing in perspective, for example; holding a figure against the background to make sure the balance and contrast is right, etc. 

After all this, I put everything together, so it forms the 3D model, and make any adjustments I feel are needed (deepening colors, changing angles etc.). Then I get to photographing the piece. I have a little light tent and some small lamps (like a mini studio!) that I set up to photograph my work, though sometimes there might be really nice lighting outside or somewhere else that I think will compliment the piece, so I might use that instead. I always take loads of pictures and try out lots of different angles and lighting, so I have a lot of options to choose from. Then finally I’ll go through these, choose the ones I like, and get them into photoshop where I usually do a bit of editing to enhance the overall image and make it look the best that I can!

How long does each piece of 3D artwork take from start to completion? How do you know when a project is complete?

Although it probably sounds like it takes ages from my previous answer, I often work quite fast. When I first started 3D work everything took me weeks, but as I’ve developed more techniques and a better understanding of what I can do, I can complete things much quicker. Obviously, the time taken depends on the complexity of the piece. A full room with furniture takes a lot longer than a more simplistic composition! I’d say it ranges from a couple of days to a week or so, for something more complex and detailed.

What has been your favorite project so far?

I think my favourite piece is still ‘The Seal Wife’, my 3D illustration exploring the Selkie legend. It’s an older piece and the first full room I ever built, but I was so proud of it when it was finished! I only had a few days to make it and I still think it really encapsulates the sort of work I’m interested in. I just have such a soft spot for the Selkie character.

Have you ever considered stop animation?

I love animation and practical animation (both 2D and 3D) is one of my biggest inspirations. I would absolutely love to make animated work (and I am experimenting with moving images at the moment…). I think I’d really like to do it as part of a larger team though. I don’t know the technical ins and outs and it would be amazing to create something alongside people who do!

What, or who, are your biggest influences?

I like a lot of classic art, especially Pre-Raphaelite and Waterhouse is one of my favorites, but there are also so many contemporary illustrators I love whose styles vary from simplistic to intricate. As I said before, stories and mythology are always big influences on what I make as is animation and video games also are a huge inspiration. I’m inspired by nature and everyday life (even the most mundane parts of it) and I think ultimately all my inspirations are linked to a sense of emotion and world building.

What motivates you to continue working on your art?

Mostly just the urge to do it! Like a lot of creative people, I’m awful at relaxing. I always want to be making something and find it very hard to focus on other things without my mind wandering into ideas about things I could explore in my work. I want to keep experiencing that excitement of having an idea and getting wrapped up in figuring out how to put it out into the world.

Another motivation, of course, is definitely that I aim to be able to forge a sustainable career from my creativity. I love sharing my ideas with other people so being able to do that forever and keep getting better and exploring new things is the dream!

Are you currently working on anything at the moment? If so, can you tell us a little more about it? If not, do you have any plans?

There’s a series of images I’ve had in mind for a while that I’ll definitely explore soon. It involves mythology and fruit, but that’s all I’ll say! 

At the moment, I’m experimenting with paper engineering to make my pieces move in real life! I like the idea that people will be able to manipulate the illustration to interact with the story and it also means that in the digital space I can hopefully put interesting little moving illustrations out there.

What inspires your creativity?

Wanting to explore other people’s stories, create my own, and share them with others.

Favorite childhood book or movie?

I can’t just give one answer to this!

Books - Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, and all the mythology I could grab!

Films – Spirited Away, The Dark Crystal and The Prince of Egypt were my favourites as a child.