Dimensional Paper Collage - Amy Genser

You may already be familiar with Amy Eisenfeld Genser who creates sensational paper collages that depict underwater reefs and landscapes as they would appear from above. Images of her work caught my eye a couple of years ago as they made the rounds of many popular design sites.

 River Run 
48" x 72" x 5"
paper and acrylic on canvas

I thought it would be interesting, especially to those of us who work with strips of quilling paper, to ask Amy about her process. River Run is four feet by six feet... call me curious, but I couldn't imagine how anyone could possibly roll so many coils!

Lucky for us, Amy took the time to answer my questions even though she was preparing for the Architectural Digest Home Show in New York City that begins tomorrow and runs through the weekend (March 21-24). As you will read, what she does is very different from traditional quilling - actually, it isn't quilling at all.

Mineral Violet
18" x 18" x 2"
paper and acrylic on paper 

Let's start at the beginning...
How were you drawn to creating rolled paper designs?

I started to play around with paper sculpturally in graduate school. I took a papermaking class at Rhode Island School of Design while studying for my MFA in Graphic Design. I fell in love with the medium. I was making all different shapes and landed on the rolled, layered module to create patterns, texture, and forms. I don't have time to make my own paper these days, but luckily there are amazing options available for sale. 

36" x 48" x 3"
paper and acrylic on canvas

Please describe a bit about your work process and technique... your favorite tools, paper, etc. Do you use a variety of widths in the same piece?

These days I usually work with Thai Unryu [mulberry paper], but I have hundreds of papers in my studio from all around the world. I treat the paper almost as a pigment, layering colors one on top of the other to create different colors. My pieces are about a foot wide. Then I roll one layer on top of the other in all different thicknesses. I seal the roll with acid-free, archival glue stick, and then cut the long piece into sections with scissors or pruning shears. I have pruning shears of all different sizes to accommodate different widths. 

 Mineral Yellow
18" x 18" x 2"
paper and acrylic on paper

Undoubtedly the making of art such as yours is time-consuming. Do you find the repetitive nature of the work relaxing or taxing?

The rolling and cutting process is actually pretty quick. At this point I could pretty much do it in my sleep. It's the composition/editing process that usually takes the longest. I paint my surface, either canvas or paper first, with acrylic and a lot of gel medium. Then I place my paper pieces on top and manipulate them until I have a satisfactory composition. It's like putting a puzzle together, only I don't know the final picture until I see it. I roll my pieces accordingly as I develop and build the piece. It's a back-and-forth process. The paper and the piece lay on different tables in my studio. I attach the paper onto the canvas with PVA once I have the pieces where I want them.

Secret Beach
16" x 20" x 3"
paper and acrylic on canvas

I'm curious how you fit what you do in with everything else that goes along with daily life and raising a family. Do you maintain regular studio hours?

My studio is on the third floor of my [Connecticut] home. I work about five hours a day while my kids are in school. I have three boys, ages 9, 8, and 5. It is a juggling act. My typical day is to get the kids off to school. hit the gym for an hour, and then come home to work. Because my studio is in my home, it's sometimes hard not to get "mess-tracted" as I call it (starting to do laundry, clean dishes, etc...) but having the studio on another floor helps. Going up the stairs is like crossing a threshold. I also listen to books on tape while I work. Time flies when I'm working on a piece and into a great story, but when I see the bus coming down my street at 3:45, my work day is over. I never work in the evenings - too tired by the time I get my sons to sleep - and I try to catch up with my husband then too. I used to travel a bit and do shows around the country. These days, I only do one "trade" show a year - the Architectural Digest Home Design Show in NYC. With my kids being so young, it's easier to stay home and work with galleries, art consultants, and interior designers. My work gets to travel all over the world while I stay home. The AD Home Design show has been very helpful in making connections with the galleries, etc.

Amaranthine Chartreuse
66" x 33" x 5"
paper and acrylic on canvas

Paper rolling can be stressful on hand joints. Do you find it to be a problem?

I take breaks. Even if I could work more, I don't think I would because it would be too harsh on my body.

Amy, thank you for taking the time to tell us about your process. Continued success to you! 


And here is Amaranthine Chartreuse, installed, to give you a perspective of Amy's work as it appears when hung as modern wall art. These pieces were placed in a wall that separates a kitchen from the dining/family room in a Hoboken, New Jersey home last autumn. Beautiful!

Amy's website and Facebook page.

Ann Martin
Ann Martin

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