Talking Shop and Paper Art with Artist Matisse Hales

Let’s rewind for a minute. Remember Kristen? The papercrafter? The artist who does work that I’m obsessed with? Yeah. Well, she clued in on something profound in her Talking Shop feature. She said:

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.

So obviously I’m not an artist, but I agree wholeheartedly with this. Yes, Instagram (and social media in general) can be a toxic space where we enslave ourselves to screens and give in to endless comparison and consumerism.

BUT. BUT. I do believe it can also be a valuable channel for discovering, inspiring, creating, and sharing. I have been so inspired by what I’ve found there, work that fuels me creatively, brings me joy, and kickstarts my own work. It’s also where I discovered papercrafting. And that’s where Matisse Hales comes in. Matisse is an amazing artist that I found while exploring Instagram and I am OBSESSED. She is a designer, papercrafter, and letterer who is trained in both graphic design and Russian — and found a way to marry them both. Her work — both design and papercraft — are immensely beautiful and completely representative of her skill and creative vision. Her collab with the Love Letters Museum has me drooling. Matisse is talented, kind, and wise. (She has also done incredible posters for the Provo Rooftop Concert Series like fellow Talking Shop alum Hayley Barry, and like me, is a Taylor Swift fan. Basically, she’s a kindred spirit.) Her dedication to daily creation is an important model for all — artist or not. I cannot wait for you to meet her! Everyone, here’s Matisse!

About You:

First of all, your name. So beautiful! Tell us the origin story.

My parents are very interested in art history. They like the work of Henri Matisse, but they especially love his name, so they decided to borrow it! All of my other siblings have more traditional names, except my younger sister: her middle name is Monet.

How did you get started in art and graphic design? It is something you’ve always wanted to do?

My dad is a graphic designer who ran his own studio. Growing up, I spent loads of time in his office, admiring what he did, and wanting to be just like him. I would stay after hours to use his computer, look through his art books, and learn more about design. I was always interested in creating things as a child, so following this path felt natural to me (though it certainly has been a lot of work).

Tell us about your experiences working as a graphic designer in Russia. What were the most challenging parts? The most rewarding?

I double-majored in graphic design and Russian language in college, so when the opportunity came to work in Moscow for a semester, I jumped on it. I found a small studio whose work I admired, reached out to them, and set up an interview once I arrived. I’m sure they were bewildered that a random American wanted to work in their studio, but they said yes! The most challenging part was learning Russian in a new context. I’m an introverted person, so it was difficult to extend myself socially. The two founders of the studio are superb designers, and I appreciated their feedback and support of my early lettering work. People are always a little bewildered when I tell them I studied both design and Russian, so it was very rewarding to find an opportunity that was the perfect marriage of both.

How do you work through creative blocks?

Stefan Kunz, a letterer I admire, has a mantra that is always helpful to me: “create something today, even if it sucks.” When I feel stuck, I often try to work through the rut—this means I make lots of stuff that isn’t good at all. The act of creating something, even if it’s terrible, often sparks another idea, and my inspiration and motivation snowball from there.

How was your experience collabing with the Love Letters Museum?

I’ve assisted Becca Clason (an incredible letterer) with some projects over the past few years, so when she and a few others created the exhibit, she reached out and asked if they could include my work. I had created my papercraft alphabet as part of the 36 Days of Type Challenge, and this was the perfect venue to showcase them!

I’m obsessed with your papercrafting. What is your process like for creating with paper? Where do you get inspiration?

I always begin with a sketch, either on paper or on my iPad. Inspiration comes from so many different sources—books, pretty colors, museums, interior design, nature, and letters, to name a few. Once I’ve solidified an idea, I draw it on my iPad in grayscale, paying attention to shapes and balance. Next, I bring it to the computer to convert to vectors, add color, and finalize the composition. I usually use my Cricut machine to cut out all the shapes—it’s very precise, and allows me to produce lots more work than I do by hand. With the original drawing as reference, I then assemble the piece in layers with silicone glue.

Which artists inspire you?

In the later part of his career, Henri Matisse made lots of paper-cut work, so I always love looking at those pieces. Other artists whose work I love include Owen Gildersleeve, Nick Misani, Dinara Mirtalipova, Britt Bass Turner, Ann Chen, Anna Bond, Naomi Shiek, Sabeena Karnik, Jill De Haan, Dana Tanamachi, and Jessica Hische.

Do you have any artistic rituals?

I love to listen to music and audiobooks while working.

How do you balance new motherhood with taking time to create?

This is still a work in progress! Even though my life has shifted tremendously since having a baby, I try to make creative time a priority. Setting goals has been helpful for me, and working whenever I can find the time is best, whether it includes handing the baby to my husband, calling my mom, or working for a bit while she naps. Most of all, I’m trying to be kind to myself, and accept that some days are less productive than others.

What has been one of your favorite business collabs?

A few months ago, the ad agency that works for Facebook reached out and asked if I would create an image for them to share on International Day of Happiness. It was a dream project because of the creative freedom I had, and because they were so easy to work with.

The Fun Qs:

What is the one book you always recommend to friends?

Crime and Punishment! Dostoevsky is the reason I decided to study Russian. I think that his work offers a relatable, penetrating look into human psychology. 

Favorite Taylor Swift song?

All Too Well is, in my opinion, the greatest song she’s ever written.

What is your desert island meal?

My favorite food always rotates, but right now, chicken coconut korma with rice and a mango lassi!

Favorite place you’ve discovered on your travels?

One time, I was accidentally stranded on a tiny island in Sweden with a few friends! The island was called Utö, and though we were pretty stressed when we found out we missed the last boat out, it was a beautiful, peaceful, dream-like place (we ended up paying a speedboat taxi all of our money for a ride back to the mainland).

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