Make your own Paper Place

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Packaged Make Your Own Paper Place kit on a desk

Have you ever noticed how places are always an important part of the story? Whether the story is a fairy tale, a fable, or what happened Tuesday afternoon, there’s always a setting. Over time, you collect places that are important to your story, whether that’s a home, a park, a school or campus, an office, a restaurant, a town, a state, a region, a country, or all of the above. My work is about celebrating places, and I love to do that by preserving memories of them with paper – something that is everywhere, and usually so ephemeral and fragile, but cut and sculpted and framed becomes an heirloom.

The video tutorial shows how to use my Make Your Own Map Shadowbox Kit (available for now exclusively through GarrettWade.com), which contains all of the supplies you need to, well, make your own map shadowbox! The kit includes:

  • Instruction booklet
  • Shadowbox Frame
  • Paper for the map cut-out as well as the background
  • Japanese Woodcarving Knife (for cutting the paper)

You will also need:

  • A prying tool or old credit card
  • A pencil or other drawing tool
  • Optional: collage materials like glue, additional paper colors or textures, photographs, memorabilia

The funny thing about remembering and celebrating places, is that they then become part of the story of the place you are now. If you’d like to share your paper places online, tag @yeioupaperobjects on Instagram, and use #yeioupaperplaces!

The story of yeiou paper places

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I started making Paper Places in the summer of 2019. I had already started making house portraits, and realized that I wasn’t going to be able to make enough of them to keep my business afloat. The idea came to me sort of abruptly and at the last minute. It was the night before a craft fair I was participating in nearby in Somerville, MA. I made a few maps of Somerville and some of the surrounding towns, working into the early morning hours the night before the event.

The next morning, I hung them up with my other work to see what would happen!

The yeiou paper objects booth popped up at Art Beat in Somerville, MA
My booth at Art Beat 2019, Davis Square, Somerville, MA.

Throughout the day I had a lot of fun conversations about how weirdly-shaped places are! I sold a few, swapped out some background colors, and generally felt encouraged.

When designing my Paper Places, I focused on making them in a way that felt clean and modern. I designed them to be easy to hang on a wall in a grouping without looking weird. Pulling from the bright color palette of my paper craft kits, I offered a bunch of different color options. Once I had all of that, I focused my efforts on adding new place designs. It turns out there are a LOT of places in the Boston area, let alone the world!

Nine maps of Boston neighborhoods: Back Bay, South End, Mattapan, Roxbury, Brighton, Roslindale, Mission Hill, Jamaica Plain, and Hyde Park
A few of the many neighborhoods of Boston, MA.

Custom Paper Places

I very quickly realized that I could never keep up with all of the requests for new places, nor could I reasonably predict which places people might want! In order to fill that gap, I added the option to order a custom-designed Paper Place! It’s been fun over the years to make gifts for parents, siblings, children, real estate clients, and friends, near and far.

Nov. 2019, one of my last in-person events before Covid lockdown – so many Paper Places!

Three years of Custom House Portraits

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In March of 2018, I was really burnt out from a busy holiday market season that happened immediately after several months of working full time while gutting and rebuilding our new kitchen and then moving to our new house. After running at over 100% capacity for something like 8 months, I decided to take some time to play, experiment and breathe. I made paper out of other paper! I painted pictures on paper for no reason! I slept in! I cooked dinners and breakfasts! It was glorious.

I haven’t been able to take time like that since, though, because the other thing that came out of that quieter season was the beginning of the custom house portraits! Based on a custom project I had finished for a friend in mid-2017, I stumbled my way through creating the first house portrait, a model of our little house in Arlington, MA. I shared the process on Instagram as I solved fun challenges like “the angle of the roof is NOT what I expected it to be!” and since there seemed to be at least a little interest, I decided to give it a go.

Abigail holding her first paper house portrait

I used the photos of this house portrait to list my very first “Custom House Portrait” in my Etsy shop for $50. I limited this pricing to 5 orders, since that would easily cover the cost of materials and shipping, but it wasn’t too much for what was essentially an excuse to learn and experiment.

A few brave souls took me up on it, and I embarked on this weird journey of figuring out things like “How do I give depth to a roof that you can’t really see in the photo?” and “How do I get the roof and floor of a porch to actually line up with the porch columns?” and “Just how thin can I make this sliver of paper before it disintegrates?”

I thought these first house portraits were SO detailed! I thought there was no way I’d be able to fit more detail into something like this! I did eventually have to move to a larger format (11×14 inches instead of 8×8), but still, three years ago me had no idea how far this was going to go.

One of the questions I get asked is some variation of “you’ve made a bunch of these, you must be so fast at it now!”, but because I’m a detail-oriented perfectionist, what I actually learn from each new house portrait I finish is how to pack even more details in so that it takes even longer to finish! I wouldn’t have it any other way, though, and I’m very fortunate to have the world’s most patient customers.

I created 17 house portraits in 2018, 34 in 2019, 22 in 2020, and 13 so far in 2021.

Looking ahead

In 2021 I plan to continue accepting orders in batches of 5-6 commissions, opening orders once every 2-3 months at a day and time announced only to those who’ve joined my email list. This is the best way I have right now of keeping my work queue manageable. At the beginning of 2020 I had an order queue 5 months long, it was incredibly stressful! I’m also trying to give a fair-ish chance to everyone – the day and time changes for each launch, to account for different time zones, schedules, etc.

This month’s launch will stay at my current pricing, but there will be an increase of some amount for the next launch (hopefully June or July 2021). I’m also hoping to upgrade to a higher quality frame and glass, either as a part of the standard pricing or an optional add-on.

I keep talking about carving out time to take another break like the one that started this all back in 2018, just some time to recharge and rest, but with everything else going on this last year it’s been all I could do to just keep going with the bare minimum. Making something that people want and want to pay me to make has been such a delight – after many years of struggling to make this business viable with products that just didn’t sell very well, being suddenly too busy is an amazing problem to have, but it still feels like a new problem that I’m actively learning how to manage!

Checking in

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Last summer’s political and racial unrest here in the U.S. kicked off a season for me of learning, listening, and reevaluating. I haven’t talked much about it here. Mostly because, well, I’m a naive white woman, and listening is what I feel like I need to be focusing on right now. If you’ve been following along though, you know I said I was going to do some things. I thought I’d take a minute to report back.⁠

  • I realized that even though in my personal life we have always made sure to prioritize generosity in contributing to organizations we care about, it wasn’t something I was doing as a business. ⁠Since June, I (yeiou paper objects, that is) have been making monthly contributions to a local organization that works to keep families housed, and also helps unhoused families find emergency and long-term places to live.⁠ I contributed a portion of each house portrait sale in 2020 to an organization in my town that distributes food to families in need (a need that grew exponentially in 2020). ⁠
  • Over the summer I also made a one-time contribution to an organization that was running a creative business incubator program for students, which was a no-brainer for me to contribute to, since my own business was bootstrapped by my husband’s income, not something I would have been able to do without financial support!⁠
  • In addition to these concrete things, I’ve been looking inward and reflecting, reading, learning, and having conversations about what it means to be white in this country, where the idea of “whiteness” even came from, the systemic atrocities of white supremacy, and how to move toward something better…all sorts of light things.⁠

This doesn’t feel like much in the grand scheme of things, but if you were curious, that’s the update!⁠

Oh, and P.S. Black Lives Matter⁠

And, if you’re interested, here’s some of what I’ve been reading / watching to broaden my horizons and to better understand the colonial and white supremacist backdrop of the world I’ve been raised and living in:

Reading & Watching List

Non-Fiction

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

Heartland

All the Agents and Saints

Stamped

American Harvest

The NYT 1619 Project

Fiction

Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Talents

Kindred

The Broken Earth Trilogy

The City We Became

Watching

The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross

Thirteenth

Dear Georgina (I also want to watch their longer documentary, Dawnland)

This is of course just a tiny list in the grand scheme of things, I may add to it over time, but if you’re curious about other things to read and watch there are lists pretty much everywhere.

So Many Thanks – a free printable project

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I first created this printable project as a fun Thanksgiving craft a few years ago, but this year it felt like a good thing to talk about on Veterans Day (Remembrance Day in Canada and the U.K.). I’ve been trying to be much more mindful of the world around me and specifically the struggles of people who aren’t just like me as sort of an ongoing personal project this year. Six years of working alone at home made my radius of awareness pretty small, it turns out! It took a pandemic, a major social justice movement, global Black Lives Matter protests, and a lot of thinking about my own privilege.

So, today, for the first time as an adult, I’m taking a moment to think about Veterans Day. Specifically, to think about it as more than just a day off, or a day when the post office is closed, or even a “bonus” day to get more work done. I don’t know what it’s like to serve in the military, but I know that every single person who has served or is serving has at a minimum given up time spent with their loved ones, and likely a lot more than that. Thank you, veterans, for all of the different sacrifices you have made. So many thanks.

Partially-assembled printed "So Many Thanks" banner

Whether you’re celebrating Veterans Day or getting a head start on Thanksgiving or have a random act of kindness to thank someone for, here’s a crafty way to do it:

Partially-assembled printed "So Many Thanks" banner

House Portraits: It’s all in the (architectural) details

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Tiny architectural details fascinate me.

One of the reasons I love living in urban Massachusetts is the sort of details prevalent in neighborhoods full of homes that are over 100 years old. The more detailed, the better!

Do you like looking at old houses and hand-crafted details?

I sometimes get lost walking around my own neighborhood because I look up and around at the houses instead of down at the street signs and where I am going. It’s still dangerous for me to drive around in new areas because I really just want to stare at the houses! If you like looking at houses in your neighborhood, online, on TV, (This Old House, anyone?), or in any form of photography, you’ll know just what I mean.

The tiny details are the reason I kept creating house portraits

There is magic in the details, and bringing that to life is one of my favorite parts of creating an architectural portrait. I excel at picking out the details that make a home unique, no matter how small. 

Of course, your house’s design and the scale of the finished piece, how closely the proportions match the frame dimensions, and the quality of photograph all determine the level of detail that brings your home or special place to life behind the frame. But if there’s something special, like this weathervane, that makes the home yours, please make a note of it when you contact me! 

The artist's thumb and pointer fingers holding a tiny paper weathervane that looks like a bird in flight.

This weathervane is one of the microscopic details I’m most proud of. The bird is 0.34 in (0.86 cm) wide and 0.2 inches (0.48 cm) tall. The entire weathervane is smaller than my thumbnail!

Sometimes I get to fully build the details like this bird, but details with more dimension in real life force me to create some illusions. Take a look at the chimney below. Using 8 separately drawn and cut shapes of paper I created the illusion of depth using layering and subtle scoring and folding.

Detail of a custom house portrait showing a double chimney and how it attaches to the roof

It’s all part of the process

Hand-cut corners and lines also give miniatures the feel of the real place. This is where a house portrait becomes a house sculpture! The scrollwork on this roofline is all cut by hand. The detail is about half an inch wide and crafted from three separate intricately scrolled pieces and some shorter straight pieces.

Close-up of intricate scrollwork that will be part of a custom house portrait's roofline, with scraps and other in progress pieces in the background

What architectural details make your home unique? Be sure to point them out when you purchase a house portrait slot!

Join my email list to get updates on when orders open, and to learn a little more about the process. You can also visit my Etsy shop to see more architecturally-inspired paper art.

Celebrating the Family Home

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One of the things I love about creating house portraits is that it takes a beloved family home and allows you to carry it with you. Many of my clients commission portraits when they are getting ready to move, and particularly when they are leaving a childhood or long term home.

As parents get older, they often want to downsize to something more manageable—or just something that’s less work! Why not spend less time managing a property, and more time doing something you love?

While it’s understandable, downsizing can be bittersweet for everyone involved. An architectural portrait preserves not just an image of a home, but the physical proportions and feel in a tangible way. 

Art to Remember a Family Home

When a good friend’s mother decided to sell her childhood home and move down south, she was beside herself. She knew it was the right thing for her mom, but the home had been in her family for over 100 years. She wanted something to commemorate this big change, so she turned to art. 

At first, she commissioned a photographic family portrait in front of the home, but the family members covered up key architectural details. She also realized that a photograph, while lovely, reflected the weather and season just as much as the house. She wanted to be able to take the architecture with her and capture the details she loved. 

I sent her some of the images of past house portraits my clients commissioned for their parents. Each of these gifts evoked special memories, and one family was so touched they decided to commission a second copy.

House Portraits to Celebrate Home

The gift tag on this home says it all:

“Mom and Dad, we wanted to give you something to remember the house where we grew up and have so many wonderful memories.”

Finished house portrait wrapped with brown kraft paper and baker's twine with gift note on top

I shipped the completed house portrait directly to the parents after they moved from their longtime home (the left side of the duplex below), so I worked with their children to make sure that the unboxing and unwrapping experience would be special.

Hand holding a finished, framed house portrait on a light gray background.

Of course, you don’t have to wait for your parents to downsize to celebrate the place where they raised you. The house portrait below was an extra special milestone birthday gift from a daughter to her father. 

Finished house portrait on navy background in black shadowbox frame
Paper house portrait with navy blue background on top of scraps from the design process.

This next house portrait was also a birthday gift from kids to dad. This home hosted extended family for countless occasions ranging from Sunday dinners to the birthday party where dad was gifted this portrait.

Completed house portrait, framed, with an orange background.

I accept new house portrait commissions every two months or so. You can find more details on the House Portraits page, or join my mailing list to get more information on the house portrait process and how to prepare photographs of your house, you’ll also get updates in your inbox when orders will open again.

Tissue Paper Flowers Video Tutorial

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Once upon a time, I taught this project as part of a workshop I led at Albertine Press in Cambridge, MA. It’s been a while, and I’ve since moved on to teach some more-intricate paper flower projects, so I thought I’d offer my take on this project in a video so that you can make your own tissue paper flowers at your leisure!

I go through all your needed supplies and tools (it’s a short list) in the video below, but in case you’d rather have it in writing, here’s what you’ll want to have on hand:

  1. Tissue Paper!
    This is pretty self-evident, but I’ll unpack it a little: if you have pristine tissue paper in perfect flower colors, go you! If you have random odds and ends from your stash of gift wrap, you’re in great shape! If you have an old phone book that you don’t mind tearing apart, I think this would still work for you. The thing you need is thin, lightweight paper. That cheap wrapping paper that isn’t opaque enough to hide what you’re wrapping might work. If you still get a paper newspaper delivered to your house, or you have a catalog or magazine with particularly flimsy paper, I think you’re in good shape. You want your sheets of paper to be at least 6″x10″ or so, and you’ll want at least four sheets that size. There’s no such thing as “too big” for this project, in my opinion, so go for it!
  2. Scissors!
    Or other sharp object capable of cutting through a few layers of whatever paper you end up with, just please don’t cut through yourself in the process.
  3. String!
    You could use yarn, a twisty-tie, a piece of ribbon, a pipe cleaner…anything that lets you knot or twist tightly around the center of your soon-to-be paper flower.

Once you’ve got your supplies, clear yourself a workspace proportional to the size of your paper, and let’s get to folding!

My favorite thing to do with these flowers is to wear them:

Architectural Portrait Profile: One Family Vacation Home, Two Keepsakes

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One of the best parts of creating architectural portraits is hearing the stories that go along with the homes I’m depicting! This is the first in a series of blog posts sharing some of these stories.

This week I’m profiling vacation homes I have worked on, in particular one family vacation home that became two keepsakes to share. While many people choose house portraits to celebrate their first home, as a first anniversary gift, or to celebrate the end of an era as a downsizing gift for parents, these two homes honor the shared connection of living family history. 

When a pair of sisters spotted my work at a craft fair in Somerville (if you’re in the Boston area, see where I’m popping up next!), they knew that a house portrait would be just right for their parents. When I saw the house, I was excited to get started—with lots of interesting architectural details as well as a beautiful tower, this house is a looker!

Original photograph of family vacation home that was turned into a paper house portrait

When it came time to start the illustration, I asked for as many photos as they were able to source—the house was far away, not something that could be easily reached to take specific photographs. Fortunately, since it has been in their family for a very long time, they were able to find photos showing the house from a few different angles, and some more recent photos that showed clearer details.

The finished architectural portrait only includes the details I’m able to see, so it’s important for me to be able to have clear, high-resolution photos if at all possible, but I can typically work with what’s available to create the closest possible portrait. Since windows and porches are often the most time-consuming part of my work, I knew that it was extra important to get them just right in the illustration. 

This sprawling castle was lovingly added on to and renovated by each generation, resulting in a completely unique structure. The house has also changed significantly over the years, and it was important to settle on which version the family wanted to capture for their paper heirloom

One house, one family, two keepsake portraits

The first cottage was completed in March 2019. The sisters reported back that their parents were blown away!

Low-relief paper sculpture of family vacation home made of white paper on a light gray background in a black frame

In fact, the family loved the result so much that they requested a second portrait. The second version was completed in January 2020. 

Since I had already built this house once, the second edition of the architectural portrait was far less intimidating. Compare the two towers below:

Artist holding a tower, part of the house portrait, with the rest of the house portrait components in the background
Artist holding a tower from the second version of the house, with the rest of the house portrait components visible in the background

Despite hand cutting some of these tiny details, they are virtually identical. It takes practice and patience, but each of these paper objects is worth it. 

The biggest question for the new version was which color background to choose! I shared digital mockups of the house on a handful of different colors, but we landed on this rich dark gray, and it really makes the house pop:

Low-relief paper sculpture of family vacation home made of white paper on a dark gray background in a black frame

It’s always a surprise to see what a pop of color will do! Despite being almost identical, the background color emphasizes different elements of each architectural portrait. The first one feels like you can walk into it, the second feels like you can see through it. Completely different emotions come up when looking at each of them. It’s a joy for the family to be able to experience both.

Vacation homes & family history

Vacation home portraits honor both extended family history as well as your own memories. The cottage above is shared among members of an extended family, and is used to remember a special place that’s far from them. This Maine island vacation house portrait, however, was gifted to the family that owns the island and it lives in the house itself.

Photograph of the Maine family vacation home

The Island House was built in 1878, and has been owned by the same family since then. It’s a unique Colonial that includes a widow’s walk, original details, and a long porch, all overlooking the ocean. 

Completed paper portrait of the Maine vacation home on a navy background in a black frame

The finished architectural portrait now lives with other house portraits in the house itself – a gallery wall to visually represent the house’s history, and show the passage of time. Each portrait represents the different styles of the era they were made in. The latest house portrait shows the Island House in a fresh, modern light. 

Finished house portrait in its frame on the wall of the house it depicts, surrounded by drawings of the same house

 If you would like to honor a place that’s special to your family, get in touch! Slots for house portrait commissions will reopen in May 2020, and my mailing list will receive first dibs. 

Craft Industry Alliance & Podcast Interview

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Abigail McMurray, yeiou paper objects, standing in workspace holding finished framed paper sculpture

One of the things I love about living in the Boston area is how many other small creative businesses there are around here. Many are even run by kind, brilliant, energetic people who are game to share and learn and be welcoming and generous. Since I started yeiou with really no idea what I was doing, I have always been curious to hear other people’s stories and processes and peek “behind the scenes”. Early on, I discovered Abby Glassenberg’s blog, While She Naps. I really appreciated how open she was about how her business works, what work earns money, how things shift year over year, and just generally being frank about the realities of working solo. When Abby co-founded and launched a professional organization, Craft Industry Alliance, I jumped at the chance to be part of something created out of this attitude of generosity and open sharing!

CIA is a great organization for people in the craft industry, especially those making and designing kits or patterns, but even as my business has shifted from craft kits to fine art, it is still a valuable conversation to be a part of, and they’re adding new benefits all the time – discounts on tools and services, exclusive online courses and webinars, and ways to interact with the community. So good!

If you’re interested, you can join Craft Industry Alliance.

The CIA Podcast Interview

One of the other great services of the CIA is the podcast! The podcast grew out of the podcast Abby had been running as part of her blog for years but has been migrated recently to be an official part of the Craft Industry Alliance. There are so. many. good. interviews on this podcast. A lot of them are geared toward fibers/fabrics/knitting sorts of people, but Abby’s interviews always touch on the business side of things, so there’s great learning regardless of your specific interests.

I had the immense honor of hosting Abby at my studio/home in December. We had a wonderful conversation that aired on the podcast earlier this month. I still can’t really believe my face is on the Craft Industry Alliance Podcast page with so many of my small biz heroes, but it did happen, and I figured I should mention it here!

In my interview, we chatted about how I ended up making house portraits, how the Etsy Design Award nomination game around, and how I came to be someone who works for myself making things out of paper, among other things! You can listen to the podcast below, head over to the Craft Industry Alliance site to listen, or listen on your favorite podcast app!

Many thanks, again, to Abby and to Craft Industry Alliance. I am so thrilled to be a part of all of the good things you’re doing in the world!