An interview with artist Warren Leavens of Little Paper Factory. Learn more about the traditional Japanese skill called Kirigami.
We talk to artist Warren Leavens of the Little Paper Factory, he features below with his daughters Amelia (left) and Abbie (right). The notion of the Little Paper Factory is something of a romantic story and came about when two like-minded people fell in love, one was a hopeless romantic with a passion for collecting and the other a talented and creative craftsperson with an eye for detail. Using the traditional Japanese skill called Kirigami (which can best be described as cutting and folding paper) Little Paper Factory create intricate scenes of buildings and constructions. Each pieces cries out to be poured over and explored with new things to be discovered each time.
Can you tell me a bit more about yourself and why you began designing?
I grew up in North West London and always enjoyed art at school, especially ceramics. My GCSE and A Level teacher, Angelo Zacharia was a source of inspiration and I’d spend as much time as possible in the classroom learning skills and producing work, including going back out of hours to gatecrash the pottery evening classes he taught! In my early-teens, while others did work experience in banks or retail outlets, I was lucky enough to get a placement with Chris Bramble, a fantastic ceramic artist working at Kingsgate Workshops in London. Chris taught me to sculpt and throw pots on the wheel and was the inspiration that led me to study Glass and Ceramics at University; years 1 and 3 in Sunderland and year 2 in Ohio, USA. I came away with a First Class honors degree and a determination to make pots for a living which I did for some time afterwards. I moved to the South West about 20 years ago for a job as an arts technician and have been involved in making something ever since. As much as I love my pottery you do need a lot of space and a dedicated studio to keep going and a change in circumstances meant that wasn’t possible for a while so I was left twiddling my artistic thumbs until cutting and folding paper came along!
Can you tell us a little more about Kirigami – how did you find out about this method of paper cutting?
Kirigami is a variation of origami that includes cutting of the paper (from Japanese kiri “cut,” kami “paper”), rather than solely folding the paper as is the case with origami. It is also called “Kirie” (from kiri “cut,” and e “picture”). Mon-Kirie is the Japanese art of paper cutting. Typically, kirigami starts with a folded base, which is then unfolded; cuts are then opened and flattened to make the finished kirigami. Kirigami are usually symmetrical, such as snowflakes, pentagrams, or orchid blossoms although I prefer to create architectural structures from the paper. I discovered Kirigami when I met and fell in love with another talented artist; we’d spend hours talking about art and creating things and the idea of introducing cut and folded paper to my work just evolved. The first pieces were somewhat rudimentary in design but as I’ve refined my skills the designs have become more intricate and smaller in scale.
Which designers/artists do you admire?
All manner of people really, from very well-known ceramic artists like Lucie Rie and Hans Coper to the more contemporary such as Matt Wilt, Brad Schwieger and of course my first pottery mentors, Angelo and Chris. While researching my new found love of Kirigami I’ve discovered a wealth or talented paper artists including Rob Ryan, Guru Koala, Daniel Agdag and Emma van Leest. I just love things old and new, manmade items and things created by Mother Nature, from classic and contemporary architecture or car design to things like the spectacular Aurora borealis… inspiration is absolutely everywhere and you can draw from it no matter where you are!
What are you working on right now?
I’m between projects just at the moment because my partner and I have just moved home together, everything we own, including all our making equipment, paper and glue is stacked around us in boxes! I’m stilling buzzing with ideas and still collecting old boxes, frames and objects to include in new work. We’ve moved to Weston-super-Mare and the seaside is our new back garden which brings with it new sources of inspiration… I can’t wait to get making again, it won’t be long!
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
Making a living from something you’re passionate about is incredibly difficult and you’ll be very privileged person indeed if that’s what you end up doing, but don’t give up, keep work hard and learn to be flexible and evolve as you go through life. The rewards when you start selling work and getting recognition for what you love to do far outweigh the tough bits of the journey… good luck!
Do you listen to music when you are working? If so – who are your favourite bands / singers to have on in the studio?
Yes, I love music playing in the background and Emma and my daughters (Abbie, age 8 and Amelia age 9) help keep my soundtrack fresh and “with it”. At the moment our house is full of George Ezra, Ed Sheeran, The Score, Noonday Underground and Passenger.
What’s your earliest memory?
Not sure if it is my earliest but I have many fond memories of adventures and getting up to mischief with my Dad. He was a dedicated railway enthusiast and we spent many happy times chasing and trying to photograph steam trains or wandering round railway sheds and stations. The dreaded black cloud always spoiling that perfect sunny photo! He passed away almost 10 years ago and I miss him a lot.
And finally are artists born or made?
Bit of both, definitely born and more a case of growing into it or sculpted than made… there has to be a spark inside to keep it going.
You can view our full range of Little Paper Factory here.