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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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.
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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Mom and Dad, we wanted to give you something to remember the house where we grew up and have so many wonderful memories.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
March marked the 12-month point from when I created my first paper house portrait. Since March of last year I’ve delivered 24 custom house portraits to art lovers in 7 different states. The commissions range from a famous church in Greece to a girlfriend’s childhood home in the Midwest, to a family’s vacation home in Florida, to a construction company’s office, and more. Several were gifted to clients or friends who just purchased a new home, or as a wedding, anniversary, or birthday gift. It has been remarkable to be a part of such momentous occasions in people’s lives, and be able to create an heirloom that will hopefully be a tangible reminder of the memories and relationships that center around these homes and spaces.
My primary observations after a year, in no particular order:
I’ve challenged myself to work larger. My original portraits were 8″ square, and lately I’ve been creating more pieces that are 11″ x 14″, and even one that’s 20″ x 20″. Working larger has allowed me to add more nuance and detail to the houses, since I’ve learned that one can only cut a piece of paper so small before it kinda just falls apart.
I’ve experimented more with using colored paper for different areas of a house, to add contrast between the roof and the walls, or the walls and the shutters. I look forward to exploring this more, and I’m currently trying to figure out how I can store more different kinds and colors of paper, so that I can expand what I keep on hand to include more colors that make sense for homes and buildings.
I’ve learned that porches are tricky to make, especially the kind with lots of posts and a roof. I can’t tell yet if it’s the sort of thing that will get easier with practice, or if every house portrait is so unique that every porch will be tricky. For one of my house portraits, I spent an entire day just trying to get the porch right. I may have to add an extra fee for houses with big porches, but I’m going to try a few more times first.
As I head into the summer art show season, I have temporarily shuttered my online shop so that I can focus on the house portraits already in my queue and spend some time coming up with fun new products (and hopefully making progress on organizing my workspace – it’s been a disaster for a long time). The shop will re-open mid-May, just in time for my first weekend of outdoor shows, the Bedford Plant & Art Sale and Inman Eats & Crafts.
If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve likely seen me posting random paper projects for the last month or so. This random little goat “faux taxidermy” piece I created on a whim was sort of the impetus for the project:
I realized I have all sorts of random scraps and pieces and materials that I’m “saving” for a “special” project, and that in addition to the mental health benefits that come from doing something fun, it might be good to experiment and see if I land on any new product or project ideas.
I’m 32 days in, as of today, and it’s been really fun! I’ve made some random thing, tested craft kits and paper craft projects designed by other people, and had fun modifying and decorating my own products. Some days the open-ended-ness of “fun” is a little overwhelming, but I’ve been trying to be intentional about doing what feels good, and sort of following my energy (even if that meant taking a day off because I had no energy).
Highlights, in no particular order
I made a paper chicken, something that I’ve been meaning to work on for…a long time.
I played with embroidery and cross-stitch on paper! I’ve been wanting to play around more with embroidery for a long time now, and combining that with paper was pretty awesome. Definitely planning on more of that in the future!
I’ve also done a few experiments with cutting and folding tabs, this one was hand cut, so it has a nice organic feel (that’s what I’m telling myself, anyway), almost like fish scales or something. I’m thinking about ways these sort of shapes/tabs might be interesting as elements on a 3-dimensional form or on something flat, like a card, or maybe even a shadowbox?
Yay! You did it! You wrote an invitation, collected all the contact information, and sent that invitation out into the world. The party is officially on!
At this point, you will have a ton of things to continue to sort out over the few months remaining before your wedding day. At some point you’ll consider things like: seating charts, table numbers, place cards, programs, signage, welcome gift bags, menus, favors, cupcake or cake decorations, cake or cupcake decorations, and gift table decorations,
The sooner you can give some mental space to these things, the more likely you’ll be able to achieve whatever vision you may have for them! Whether you choose to take care of all of these elements yourself, or outsource some or all to a designer and/or calligrapher, the sooner you can set aside a few minutes to sketch out a plan, the easier it will be.
I’ve created a printable worksheet that can help you get organized:
Just like your invitations, there are a million different ways to make these things happen. The resources I listed in my post about making invitation decisions can be helpful here: many of the print-at-home or print-on-demand invitation services also offer place cards, menus, and other printed pieces. There are DIY kits and tutorials all over the internet, and kits at your local craft/hobby store.
I’ve collected some unique and interesting ideas for various pieces on Pinterest:
I’ve moved 10 times in my life, but since my parents still live in the house I was born in, that counting starts when I left home 13 years ago. I generally refer to “home” as the place I’m currently living. And I’ve been in the Boston area for long enough now (8 years??!) that it feels more like home than Illinois does, but I still occasionally refer to my parents’ house, or the midwest in general, as “home,” since I did spend some important time there…but honestly, maybe also just because “my parents’ house” is a lot more syllables than “home”!
It’s a strange feeling, though, to know a place intimately, then leave it for a while, and then come back – some things are the same they’ve always been, and some things are totally different. It’s almost like time travel.
We spent some time traveling to and through the midwest last week, to visit the in-laws and roadtrip from Illinois to Oklahoma to see more family. When we go back to visit I’m always surprised at how much sky you can see from the side of the highway driving through rural Illinois. We have clouds here in Boston, but they’re harder to see without craning your neck.
Anyway, here’s what I’ve been working on! We were (obviously) far away from my studio, so these things are mostly cobbled together from the few supplies I brought with me, crafted on grandma’s kitchen table, and photographed in …exciting… lighting conditions.