Talking inspiration with a master of papercraft

Owen Gildersleeve is a multi-award winning artist who specialises in handcrafted illustration and set design. His intricate, playful paper creations have been exhibited in galleries all over the world. We caught up with him to find out a little more about his work

Matt BeavenEditorial & Creative Director

What got you started in papercraft?

It happened organically. I was quite young when I started playing with different materials and techniques to try to find ones that best suited what I wanted to convey. At university, I started to find materials and techniques that I enjoyed working with that gave me more flexibility. This is how I came into working with paper, which is a very versatile medium. It’s also relatively affordable and abundant. I created a few papercut artworks. People saw those and asked me to do more work in that style. Before I knew it, most of my portfolio was filled with papercraft artworks.

Why do you think paper holds such an appeal in a digital world?

Even though digital images are all around us, people still like the tactile quality of an artwork, and get a sense of how an artist’s hands have shaped and formed their medium. This has become even more apparent through social media as I often find that my making-of shots gain more traction than the final artworks. Paper is a very relatable medium – we all tend to use it in some way, on a daily basis. There’s also a softness that paper brings which helps to add some life to what could be quite a stark piece.

What’s the most ambitious piece you’ve worked on? 

Probably the window displays I created for Lush last winter. They asked me to create displays for 15 of their stores around Europe inspired by their ‘Self Preserving’ flower designs. We decided to make large 3D paper versions of the flowers, which we shipped out to each store. This was a huge undertaking, so I brought in some assistants to share the workload. We decided to push things even further with the Oxford Street store and make the flowers move. For this we collaborated with 3D designer, Thomas Forsyth, who designed a bespoke moving mechanism using custom coding so that the flowers ‘looked’ around the windows at passers-by.

Where do you look for inspiration?

My inspiration comes from a lot of sources, from fine art and photography to music and film. Anything really that isn’t directly design or illustration based. I’m constantly surrounded by other designers, so when I’m looking for inspiration I find it really helps me to step out of this little bubble and go to a gallery or a gig. Just going for a walk really helps as well – it allows me to clear my head and let my thoughts flow more freely.

Tell us a bit about your piece for Strutt & Parker’s Land Business journal

I was approached by Sunday’s Isabella Fernandes to create an artwork based on the headline ‘Seeing the Woods for the Trees’, accompanying an article about neglected British woodland now being managed to enhance its value as an amenity, wildlife habitat and resource. Together, we developed the idea of a radiating array of British leaf varieties, with a nice gradient of warm tones. After sketching out some initial ideas I drew the design up digitally and then used the files as templates to hand-cut the artwork into layers of coloured paper. The paper pieces were then slightly ruffled to add a sense of realism to the leaves, and sat at varying heights to add an interesting visual depth. Once assembled the artwork was photographed using natural light to give some soft shadows and bring the piece to life.

What next for Owen Gildersleeve?

I have an exhibition coming up in San Francisco where I’ll be taking over an entire gallery space, hopefully filling it up with a whole new body of work. It’s my first-ever solo show, so to have it in San Francisco is extra special. I’m just trying to not buckle under the pressure! The exhibition, Observations from the Unknown, opens on 19 July at the Argonaut Gallery.

Follow Owen on Instagram @owengildersleeve Photography by Jon Aaron Green