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Meet the Maker: Robyn Wilson Owen

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UK-based Robyn Wilson Owen is a professional papercutter. She's also a craft instructor for Crafttuts+. Today we chat to her about how she learnt her craft, how she made the leap to a full-time creative career, and the best thing about her job (hint: it's all about fashion).


Q How did you learn your craft?

I'm a self-taught papercutter. I trained as a designer for theatre and made use of the design and scalpel skills I learnt when devising concepts for shows and making scale models of the sets to be built.

Birds by Robyn Wilson Owen via Tuts+

Q What are your favourite tools and equipment?

A piece of paper, a pencil, and the space and time to day dream.

Q Do you read any blogs for inspiration?

Slugs on the Refridgerator is a brilliant blog written by my friend Kat. She's pretty awesome and somehow balances being creative and being a businesswoman - a balance that is very tricky and which few manage successfully. When I want to be inspired by other people's work I visit my bookshelves, the library, or one of the amazing galleries I'm lucky to live near in London.

Papercut illustration Robyn Wilson Owen via Tuts+

Q How would you describe your style?

Naive, optimistic, inspired by nature and the characters I see on the bus.

Victorian Terrace Building by Robyn Wilison Owen via Tuts=

Q Who or what inspires what you make?

I gain a lot of inspiration from commissions - I have often taken my work in a different and unexpected direction because someone asked me if I could try and figure out how to do something specific for them which wouldn't have crossed my mind to try.

I am also inspired by my materials, for example the way a new pen behaves unexpectedly on the paper, and by words. I read and write a lot and those words all feed directly and indirectly into the images I create.

Q Can you tell us what's on your desk right now?

A papercut I'm working on which is going to be a wedding gift, and a half coloured-in portrait of a lovely family, along with a large and disorganised pile of papers, my sewing box, cutting mat and colouring pencils. It's semi-organised chaos.

Wedding gift papercut by Robyn Owen Wilson

QDo you work from home? How do you keep a good work/life balance?

I work mainly from home, but I'm not sure I have a great work/life balance! I'm always making and drawing and reading and thinking, there's no real distinction between work and life. I'd still be doing it all if I won the lottery.

Mother and Baby by Robyn Wilson Owen via Tuts+

Q What's your best tip for beginners?

Draw. Whatever you make you need to draw - it doesn't need to be 'good', but it's an important way to think, and to develop and record your ideas. You don't need a fancy sketchbook and pencil - some of my best ideas have been developed on copier paper using a pencil swiped from my daughter.

Q How do you keep motivated?

I don't know what else I'd do, and I want to have enough money to pay the bills, so I keep figuring out ways to make that money using the resources I have, which are my ideas.

Pirates Programme Illustration by Robyn Wilson Owen via Tuts+

Q What's your best tip for marketing your work?

Talk about it, to everyone. Don't be shy and apologetic about it. When people ask what you do for a living, say that you're an artist and designer, even if you may spend more hours each day waiting tables or changing nappies than making things.

Get involved in your local community and find out if there's a local open studios group. Online communities are great, but I don't think they can beat getting involved in a 'real life' community.

Q Are you on Etsy? What's you best tip for photographing and styling your craft?

I am, at www.robynmade.etsy.com. My photography tips are to use natural light, and to take hundreds of photos - one of them is bound to be good!

Papercut Family Tree by Robyn Wilson Owen via Tuts+

Q What are your top three secret tips for perfecting your craft?

1. Be patient and don't expect to get it straight away. Anything worth doing takes time and effort.

2. Respect and prioritise your craft, set aside time to do it. If it's worth doing, it's worth taking time out of everything else to get it right.

3. Engage in the whole of the world and be eclectic in your interests. Just because you're a knitter doesn't mean you should only be inspired by knitting. There might be something in a novel, a political essay, a fine art show or a piece of music that's just waiting for you to find and use as a springboard to create something amazing and take your craft to the next level.

Wedding papercut by Robyn Wilson Owen via Tuts+

Q Do you listen to music or watch TV when you're crafting?

I like to listen to Radio Four podcasts, I'm not sure if you can get hold of them outside the UK, but they're brilliant - from comedy and history to current affairs - there's always something interesting. I also have a minor addiction to Eastenders and have been known to catch up on hours of it in one go when I'm doing something repetitive like cutting out lots of templates for a workshop. It's my guilty pleasure!

Name plate papercut by Robyn Wilson Owen via Tuts+

Q What were the steps you took to make your craft your full-time career?

I never got a 'proper job'. I left university and took whatever theatre work I could. I've done ushering and washing actors' dirty pants and sewed until 4am for very little money. I earned my crust in jobs that fitted around my creative work. I got a battery-powered sewing machine so I could make costumes in my lunch break. I worked for free to get myself experience and I taught myself dressmaking and pattern cutting from books to make myself more employable. I also worked every evening and weekend and public holiday for years.

When I had children, I started expanding what I did beyond the theatre world, first using my puppet-making skills to make art dolls, then drawing and paper cutting.

I always said I was a designer, even when I was mostly spending my time selling ice creams. I've taken every opportunity that's come my way and tried to make the most of it, and finally, after 10 years of plugging away I've reached the point where I could survive on just my income from my creative pursuits.

I think having a creative career is as much about being the last man standing as about your talent. If you keep going until almost everyone else has given in and got a proper job, then you'll be the one getting the work.

The time I spent selling ice creams and pulling pints of beer and washing pants was far from wasted, though! The people I worked with then are amongst my greatest inspirations - I even married one of them!

New York Papercut by Robyn Wilson Owen via Tuts+

Q What's the hardest thing about your job?

Having to be self-motivated. I could happily spend my days drinking tea and day dreaming. It takes a lot of willpower to focus and get down to some proper work.

Q What's the best thing about your job?

I can often do it in my pyjamas. I love my pyjamas.

Thank you, Robyn!

You can find Robyn's amazing papercutting tutorials for Tuts+ here. You can also find Robyn's website here and you can buy her exquisite papercuts from her Etsy shop.

Would you like to learn papercutting? Robyn shows you how in her tutorials for Tuts+:

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