Not all artists follow the same path to starting an art business. Linda Stephen discusses starting her origami art business in this interview.
How Did You Begin Making Origami?
“I first did origami (paper folding) about 25 years ago and had been making my own original cards and stationery – using a variety of materials – since I was a child. I had worked 24X7 for many years in the tech industry in New York and Japan and saw a demand for one-of-a-kind handcrafted cards for joyful, ordinary and sad times.
I started small – selling handmade origami art cards in 2003, a year after becoming a mother. In my first year, about half my customers told me they were buying my cards to frame – rather than to mail to share with a friend or family member. So I decided to start making “bigger scenes” (defined then as 8×10 or 11×14). In the first month I had some bigger scenes for sale, I sold five and got commissions to do two others. I knew then I had to keep going.”
Can You Describe Your Philosophy as an Artist?
“I try to be true to myself, my aesthetics and to my medium, which I call applied origami.
Origami is the Japanese art of folding paper. A beautiful two- or three-dimensional origami shape is created by folding a single piece of paper. In Japan, the word “kami” – from which “orikami” comes – means both “paper” and “god-spirit,” such as those spirits that inhabit the awe-inspiring natural sights of mountains, rivers and large, old trees.
To create scenes that reflect a mood or a place or a person, my husband and I spend hours choosing papers for color and texture that make a scene come alive. Then we invent original origami shapes from handmade Japanese papers, fabrics or metals. Our work is a modern adaption of the tradition of origami and reflects a blending of two cultures.
We find joy in changing a simple flat piece of paper into a representative of a part of the world. This is very time intensive and it also limits the design options. However, the 3-D origami effect also creates shadows and patterns and depth that would not come from simply painting or from cutting paper for a scene.
Just as a piece of paper can be reinvented into an airplane or a griffin or a flower, the possibilities for each one of us is endless.”
What Is the Strongest Influence in Your Work?
“I am influenced mostly by the traditions of the paper arts in Japan, especially chirigiri-e (a kind of painting with ripped papers – no scissors allowed) and origami (art of folding paper) and hari-e origami (origami pictures instead of origami 3-D objects). I lived in Japan for seven years and fell in love with the Japanese handmade papers, especially the luxurious printed yuzen fabric papers that have brightened the household interiors of common and royal Japanese houses for the last 1,000 years.
I am also influenced by my grandmother who was an artist and who shared with me art traditions from around the world especially Chinese art (painted furniture, jade), Japanese prints and Italian oil paintings.”
What Is Your Favorite Thing to Do to Refill the Well?
“I usually am challenged by not having enough time to implement ideas. One way I get inspiration is by speaking to potential customers – asking them about a favorite place, favorite building, a favorite festival. I am also inspired by moments of movement – cranes flying overhead on their migration to Alaska, NCAA runners in a final heat of the 100 meter dash, young gymnasts doing pull-ups, a high school baseball field on a spring day (and the families watching from the hill behind), a magnolia tree in full bloom framed against a small lake on a windy day. These are the kind of images that make my fingers itch to recreate that feeling.”
What Made You Realize You Could Earn a Living as an Artist?
“When I had my work accepted by a big hotel – the second J.W. Marriott in the United States. This meant that my work (s) would be in a public place for people to enjoy.”
How Do You Keep Art Fun While Having an Art Business?
“In order to run an art business (or any small business), you need to like variety. Creating the original art is most of the work. Plan on other responsibilities – like marketing, sales, packaging, bookkeeping and taxes – taking up about 25 percent of your time.
For my origami landscapes, the creating part is always fun – though I often struggle with how to solve a new puzzle to make a scene look like I want. I try to make each new piece be a challenge for me in some way – to help me develop a new skill. For example, I used to do pure landscapes – without people. My next scene (of a small town square in Minden, Nebraska) will have about 50 origami people in a marching band.”
For people who have been thinking they can’t earn a living as an artist unless they paint or sculpt, Linda Stephen and her origami business show that not every artist who wants to sell his or her work needs to pick up a paintbrush.