Hi Mr Yen, tell us about yourself. I like your wise sounding name, what’s it all about?
Hello! My real name is Jonathan Chapman and I create hand crafted paper cut artwork. I chose the name Mr Yen as I’ve always had a fascination with Japan and all things Japanese. I love the simplicity and delicate aesthetic that quite a lot of Japanese design has; and the mix of traditional and modern styles that Japan is well known for too.
When and why did you decide to make paper cutting your medium of choice?
In my second year of my graphic design course I had a brief to create something “from the edge” and I chose to illustrate dark fairytales. When looking into traditional illustrations for fairytales, a lot of them were either wood cut prints or paper cut type illustrations. While researching these illustrations more, I found out about Scherenschnitte, also known as the Germanic art of paper cutting; I found the technique fascinating! I decided to focus on creating imagery using this technique and I remember that my first paper cut took hours to finish. I decided to stick with this medium as I love how everything stays connected and how one image can be created from the combination of using both negative and positive space of the paper. Now, every paper cut I’ve created since then has always been cut from one piece of paper and has been cut by hand with a scalpel.
You have a full time job aside from your practice. How do you manage your time and fit in plenty of paper cutting around your day job?
I don’t really. It’s always a balancing act, which sometimes can be difficult to manage. I think that a combination of hard work, late nights, early mornings and busy lunch breaks is how I do it at the moment, but I would love to be able to make paper cuts full time. I find that I’m always thinking about ideas for a paper cut or pieces that can be created for certain brands or companies. I keep a notebook by my bed and my pockets are full of lists and ideas scribbled down to work on later.
You work mostly in black and white. Discuss.
The traditional paper cut imagery that I first came across was always created with black paper and it had a very strong visual impact. I’ve created my paper cut designs in both all white paper and all black paper, with a few experiments in colour, but I always come back to the classic, crisp white and bold black. I love the sense of drama they have and I think they have a very definite look to them. Sometimes I think that as I haven’t fully explored everything I want to do in black and white yet, that I’m not yet ready to move on to colour. If a client wanted me to use colour, I would have no problem and would love the opportunity, but I think in relation to my own work, I will always favour black and white.
Tell us about your interest in flora and fauna.
My interest in nature has been ongoing for years. I love the simplicity and detail that nature has and I love patterns. I think the simple details in the veins of a leaf are just as exciting as a blooming peony with all its layers of fragile beauty. I always try and surround myself with plants, herbs and flowers as just having them around inspires me.
Do you ever get creative block and what top tips do you have for overcoming it?
I do! I find the best way to overcome it is leave my work alone to go and do something completely different as this usually helps me to get back on track. I always have my best ideas in the bath or shower and just as I’m falling asleep (that’s why I need the notebook by my bed!). I think that when my brain has a project to work on that the best way to let it figure out what needs to be done is to do something mundane that takes my mind off the task. This is usually when I get that “Aha!” moment and rush around trying to find a pen and a notebook. I really recommend giving it a go.
Do you have a studio space? Tell us more.
I have a small room at home that I call my studio. I find having a separate space where I can go to work really makes for a more professional working environment and it helps that I have a nice big desk to create all my paper cuts on. I have a few notice boards in the studio where I pin various images I like, colours, objects, magazine pages, invoices or just general household bills that need to be paid. I find that always having my cutting mat on my desk to be a great motivator for starting work too as I don’t need to do anything to really get started, I can just pick up my scalpel and a few sheets of paper and get straight on with it! I also love to have books, magazines and interesting packaging close by so when I need a quick dose of inspiration I can quickly look through everything to see what catches my eye.
What would be your dream commission?
My dream commission would be to create imagery for an advertising campaign, such as this one that Kate [JMs editor at large] created for John Lewis. I would also love to create paper cuts for Crabtree & Evelyn, a paper cut window display for a brand like Hermes or to create promotional paper pieces for a company like MrPorter…the list is endless! As long as I can work with paper and a scalpel I will be happy!
You live in Leeds and you did your degree at Leeds College of Art. What do you love about this West Yorkshire metropolis?
I love the mix of urban areas and parks, as it’s fantastic to be so close to so many great shops, while still being a short walk or bus ride from a park where I can take Toby, my French bulldog, for a walk. Oh and I love the food – there is so much variety to choose from and I love trying new foods.
What’s next for Mr Yen? Any upcoming projects/ collaborations you’d like to share? And where can we buy your lovely work?
At the moment I’m currently in the process of creating some self promotional paper cut design pieces which are aimed at brands. I’m hoping to develop and integrate my paper cuts in more graphic design contexts. Also, I might be working on some promotional pieces for a computer game that will be coming out next year – but nothing has been confirmed yet.
You can buy my hand cut paper pieces from my new botanical inspired Autumn/Winter 2012 range in the MrYen shop, and you can view a select few completed projects on my website here.
Good stuff. Arigatou Gozaimasu Yen San!