Talking Shop and Papercrafting with Artist Kristen Sgalambro

Any fellow fangirls out there? What do you totally saaaa-wooooon over? I fangirl over LOTS of things: Decades-old boybands, the Mary-Kate and Ashley movie canon, reruns of Survivor, pop-culture-themed podcasts, etc. But talking with Kristen Sgalambro just might take the cake on my fangirl scale. The Brooklyn-based designer and paper artist exudes passion, creativity, and beyond-belief talent as she transforms paper into one-of-a-kind masterpieces. I am obsessed. Inspired by pop culture, food, and Instagram’s art community, Kristen’s paper work is utterly magical, an awe-inspiring marriage of color, texture, and dimension. And after learning more about her — including what she fangirls over — you’ll totally want to be her BFF, too. Everyone, get out your virtual foam fingers and prepare to be her number one fan. Without further ado: meet Kristen!

Describe your journey into paper crafting.

Ever since I was little, I’ve always loved working with paper. I grew up learning origami, making handmade cards for every holiday, and scrapbooking with my mom. I knew I wanted to be an artist from a very early age and really couldn’t see myself doing anything else. I distinctly remember the first paper illustration I saw that made me interested in working exclusively in paper. It was one of Brittney Lee’s pieces for The Harry Potter Tribute Gallery Show. You can check it out here:

I remember seeing that piece (8 years ago now!) and realizing you can make art about things you love—AND it can be made using paper. As a huge Potter fan, that piece really inspired me and began my interest in paper art as an actual career. Since then, I’ve turned that interest into my side business and have made many of my own Potter pieces, as well as art based on my favorite movies, shows, celebs, foods, and a variety of custom orders and brand collabs. As I continue to work with paper, I love its versatility and all that you can do with it. It can be cut, torn, layered, folded, sculpted and shaped into whatever you want!

Walk us through your creative process — from idea to finished paper masterpiece.

When starting a piece like my movie objects, I usually make a lot of lists. I list out all the objects I definitely want to include and then some extras if I need fillers. I’ll begin researching/pulling references from the movie itself (or the trailer if it’s not available yet), Google, and Instagram.

I compile all the reference and make a rough sketch in Photoshop to figure out the basic layout. I’ll rework the layout several times and that process can be quite time-consuming since I like each piece to fit in a square. Once my layout and sketch are finalized, I’ll make a color comp so I know exactly what color paper I will be using. I like to plan as much as possible before beginning any actual paper cutting. It helps me make the art quicker and not have to question things too much.

Then comes my favorite part: picking the paper to use. I try to use as many textures as possible and tend to avoid solid colors. I’ve collected so much paper over the years, but double-sided scrapbook paper is usually my favorite. It’s large and sturdy, and there are endless patterns/textures to choose from. Plus, the 12x12in. pads give you a lot more to choose from than buying individual sheets. I then trace the final sketch onto vellum tracing paper. I will then transfer each object onto the specific paper needed and begin cutting with a scalpel. I put together all the pieces using a combination of glue dots, foam tape, and glue. Glue dots are my favorite and work wonders! For super tiny pieces, I’ll apply liquid glue with a pushpin.

What inspires you?

I would say my main inspiration comes from other artists and seeing their work and dedication. As much as people hate on social media and our obsession with Instagram, I truly think it’s a very inspiring community full of incredibly talented people. Where else can you sit and scroll on this little device and just see art, art and more art? I follow so many creative people, from mural artists to hand letterers to sculptors, and I’m continuously inspired by them every day. Even though we may use different mediums, it can influence how I approach a paper piece.

I go to the theatre a lot and living in New York definitely inspires some of my work. Seeing a Broadway show or movie I love, makes me instantly want to create something about it. I tend to become obsessed with certain musicals/movies, and the only way I can get it out of my system is to make art about it. 

Food photography has also been a big influence in my artwork. Creating paper food is my favorite and coming up with new techniques to convey different food textures is always an exciting challenge—such as a paper ice cream cone. Even though it’s all made of paper, the ice cream scoop wouldn’t have the same shape or texture as the cone.

What advice do you have for creatives looking to better hone their craft?

I would say be patient. I’m not patient with most things in life, but I’ll spend hours cutting tiny paper balloons. A paper piece could take longer than a painting or drawing. It could definitely get frustrating as well, so planning ahead definitely helps me through the process. There is also a lot of trial and error based on your preferences. I prefer some blades over others—as well as certain paper, adhesives, cutting boards, and even specific rulers. Just play around! Think of an object, a building or an outfit (anything!) and recreate it out of paper. Be open to using crazy patterns and not being super literal. That’s the fun part about using paper!

Tell us the background behind one of your favorite pieces.

I would say my favorite piece was my 100 paper chilis. This piece took the longest but was super exciting when I finally put all the pieces together. I was coming to the end of creating 100 different paper fruits and veggies for #the100dayproject back in 2015, and I wanted to really go big for the last one and push myself. I knew I wanted the final piece to be a food with 100 varieties so I decided on chili peppers. Scale was very important in this piece because I wanted each pepper to be the accurate size and also proportionate to each other. I went to farmer’s markets and stores and bought 85 different chilis. I cut each one in half, took a photo as reference and then sketched it. I did this for all 85 to get the scale correct. For the other 15, I got reference online and researched their sizes. This was the biggest piece I’ve done so far, and I’m pretty proud of myself for completing it!

What are your must-have artist tools?

– Swann Morton Medical scalpel
– Self Healing Cutting Board
– Tombo Liquid Glue (the blue bottle)
– Glue Dots 
– Mechanical Pencils (lots and lots of them… I lose them constantly)
– Tweezers (excel blades has my fave)
– Foam Tape
– Paper, of course (12x12in. scrapbook pads are my fave)
– Bristol White Paper as backgrounds 
– Pushpins for tiny pieces
– Vellum Tracing Paper (this stuff works wonders)

Describe a day in your life.

During the day, I work as a Senior Digital Designer at an advertising agency for Broadway. I design the websites, social graphics, banners, newsletters (basically anything digital) for any of our Broadway shows. I’ve been obsessed with Broadway since I was little, so it’s a fun job and I’m pretty lucky to work in an industry I’m passionate about. Once I get home each night, I then work on paper pieces or commissions. After working on a computer all day long, it’s a nice balance to come home and make something physical and not stare at a screen. My nights and weekends are mostly dedicated to my paper work.

The Fun Qs:

What are you currently fangirling over?

The show “Skam France.” I started watching it in March and truly have not thought/talked about a single other thing since. I’ve now made two paper pieces inspired by the show, and I’m just in love! The second piece will be shared in a couple of months and is being featured in a fanbook with some incredible artists!

Fun Fact: Kristen’s “Skam France” print was shared on the Instagram page of one of the show’s stars!

What song is the soundtrack to your life?

Oh, I switch song obsessions too quickly to pick one! But give me any Taylor Swift song from 1989 and I’m set (or Delicate!).

Kristen’s “Me!” inspired print.

As totally obsessed with Kristen’s work as I am? I get it. For more, visit Kristen’s website, follow her on Instagram, or check out her Etsy shop.

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