I intended to make a paper cake topper for my own wedding, but never got around to it. We went to Japan for our honeymoon and I really loaded up on inspiration - woodblock prints, textiles, beautiful papers, and origami details everywhere - it was such a perfect time and place to incubate. On the flight home, I began making shapes with scrap paper, sort of playing with ideas a little bit. A few days later, I made my first bride and groom and just kept going.
Do you generally work from a photo or do you ask a couple to describe what they have in mind?
Clients are usually able to provide me with photos and descriptions of the various elements. I give them a list of questions and then as I assemble the parts, I try to capture the “feeling” of the couple. I take things like height differences, face shapes, and hairlines into account and try to get an overall sense of their style. Often my clients have a very emotional response to the finished sculptures because it is the first time they are able to see everything come together.
After spending so many hours working on a cake topper, it must be a bit of a happy/sad moment when you pack it up and send it on its way. Is there a particular paper couple you remember most fondly?
I love that these pieces represent a very special moment in someone’s life and I am always really happy to send them out into the world. Certainly pieces that I have made for loved ones stand out, and I always remember the challenging dresses because they tend to take on a life of their own. I absolutely enjoy the process of making them, but it is also incredibly satisfying to finish!
The pets are quite tricky actually, and I spend a lot of time trying to get them just right. It’s one thing to make a schnauzer, for example, but to make it a particular schnauzer - your schnauzer - is a different story. Every once in a while I’ll make what seems like a totally accurate portrait, but it doesn’t feel right. Then I just cock the head a bit or dip one ear in the smallest, slightest way and all of a sudden, there it is.
Of all the lovely things you create, what has been the most challenging?
Generally, pieces with very specific patterns - a floral print or a very distinct appliqué motif, for example - are uniquely challenging, but also quite fun to tackle. Right now, I’m making a couple in traditional Japanese Kimonos. The bride’s kimono has a beautiful, colorful floral pattern on it that I’m hand-painting with some tiny paper additions. It’s about hitting all the right marks in the right spots, so it refers to the original fabric in a believable way, even though it has been funneled through a very different process.
Do you have formal art training or simply a love of playing with paper and scissors?
Both! I have a MFA in printmaking from RISD, and have also been making things all my life. My formal training focused more on printmaking and painting, but I have always been interested in costume, textiles, couture finishes and delicate details, like beading, embroidery, etc. I definitely get to explore those things with this work.
Additionally, my professional experience as a display artist at Bergdorf Goodman exposed me to the versatility and possibilities of paper. There were some incredible artists working there with a very high standard of craftsmanship and I know I learned a lot from that experience as well.
Gwen, thanks so much for taking time to answer these questions, especially during the height of wedding season.
Visit the Concarta sold items listing or Facebook page to see many more examples of Gwen's work... I could have clicked and saved all day long, there were so many I wanted to share here!