Custom Places in Paper

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From the beginning, my favorite part of crafting Paper Places is the potential for customization. I started by finding map data for the towns around where I live and creating Paper Places for those areas. It is delightful to share my work at a local art market event and have conversations with folks about which towns look interesting, which ones have boring shapes, and what color would look best for a map of Boston in a living room/bathroom/kitchen/bedroom/office.

The other most common conversation I had in that situation was “Do you have [insert random place here]?” So I decided to create custom maps of any place you can dream up. That decision has led me (via map data) around the country to California, Virginia, Arizona, Texas, Oregon, Alaska, and more. I’ve even created a few Paper Places of spots around Europe!

I’ve learned so much about different areas of the U.S.:

Tucson and LA

I discovered that Tucson, Arizona has a really wild municipal boundary, but I can’t really tell why. I learned that Los Angeles bears a striking resemblance to Pikachu (the tail is an interstate corridor that connects the city to the harbor).

Framed rectangular map of Los Angeles, CA with a gray background and Tucson, AZ with a green background. Black frames hang on a dark gray wall with dramatic lighting from the side.

The Commonwealth of Virginia

To create the custom order below, I became well-acquainted with the coastal islands and rivers of Virginia. I can design Paper Places for states, countries, parks, lakes, etc. – anything with a discrete boundary! I also had fun adding a custom Place Marker to this map of Cape Cod for the same client:

Gray ladder shelf with plants and two framed Paper Places: Virginia with a gray background, and Cape Cod with a yellow background

Heading West and South

The more Paper Places I’ve created further away from New England, the more I realized that I’m lucky I started with little towns like Arlington, MA and Somerville, MA. As you head west and south of New England everything get bigger! The municipal boundaries get pretty intimidating to represent at the scale of an 8×8 or 8×10 piece of paper! I created these gorgeous gray and white custom Paper Places for a client who lives in Fort Worth, TX and grew up in Florence, AL. I carefully simplified the map data for each one to make something that could actually be cut out of paper.

Custom framed paper art map of Florence, AL with a light gray background on a white mantle near a small potted plant
Custom Paper Place showing the city of Fort Worth, TX with a light gray background hanging on a white wall with distressed wood surface below and to the left

As I design and cut out each map I find myself wondering who was responsible for all of the little zigs and zags in the boundaries. I wonder when those decisions were made, by who, and what their reasoning was! Sometimes I find myself getting lost clicking around Google Maps. I want to try to understand why that particular park or neighborhood was excluded, even though I’ll likely never visit that spot.

Maybe I missed my calling as a city planner? I don’t actually think so, but I do wonder what they were thinking sometimes!

How to order a custom Paper Place

Once you have a place in mind, all you need to do is fill out this easy customization form and place your order! You’ll hear from me in 1-2 business days to finalize any details and review the custom mockup illustration with you. Here are some examples of different mockups:

A collection of digital mockups of custom paper places, including Madison, NJ, Provincetown, MA, Seattle, WA, Isle of Palms, NC, Menlo Park, CA and Paris, France

This is a digital illustration that shows roughly what the finished product will look like. The colors and shadows aren’t true to life. They’re meant to give a general impression so you can decide if you like the design.

I created this map of Hamburg, Germany with specific attention to the rivers across the city, and the lake in the middle of the city. We finalized the design via the mockup on the left, and this is how the finished product turned out!

Paper House Portraits: A Story of Beginning

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A little over a year ago, August 2017, some friends asked me for some ideas for a special gift they wanted to give. Their old church was closing down, and they wanted something special to give to the pastor to remember and celebrate the community and the building. I totally winged it, found paper approximately the right color, and made this 3D paper construction that would fit inside of an off-the-shelf shadow box frame.

Custom Architectural Portrait: Church in Washington, DC

Then I spent the rest of the summer and fall moving, and the winter doing as many holiday markets as I possibly could!

As I recovered from that season, taking some time to rest and review and dream at the beginning of 2018, I thought back to that little paper church and wondered if that would be something with a broader appeal and market.

I first created a version of my own house, to test out the process, and put it out on Instagram to see what my online friends thought:

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It was pretty well-received, so I listed a trial run of 5 houses for $50 each in my Etsy shop, and figured that given the overwhelmingly positive response, they would sell pretty quickly. Three of the five sold in the first few days, and then, maybe because I stopped talking about them for a while because I was busy working on them, the last two orders took a while to come in. Since then I’ve sold a few at what I’m calling my normal price for now, $150, as well as some special commissions with colors and other details that for now I’m quoting on a case-by-case basis.

This has been such a fascinating process. It’s such a different kind of work – more like the graphic design work I used to do, where I’m working directly with another human being to make something that they hopefully find beautiful and meaningful – unlike my product design work where it often feels like I’m making things, throwing them blindly into the world, and hoping the right person comes along and buys them! I’m still processing that, and feeling out what this change means for me and how I work and how yeiou exists in the world.

Heading into the holiday season, I’m feeling a little uneasy about the new breadth of my body of work – I’ve also added one-of-a-kind framed paper pieces to my repertoire. They are a lower price point than my custom house portraits, and help me build my skills and invent new techniques for rendering architectural details in paper…and I think they’re quite beautiful, too! But they’re another “thing” that I do, and it’s all quite hard to explain to random people I meet without pulling out my phone to show pictures!

At in-person events these additions feel risky to me, because I’m still figuring out how to tell a cohesive story about my full range of work. In the past, the story my display told was about creativity and the therapeutic qualities and infinite possibilities of crafting. It was all “yay” banners and bright colors. Now, my display is still mostly fun and colorful and enthusiastic, but there are also a few one-of-a-kind pieces that tend to be mostly white-on-white and about details and subtlety, as well as information about custom house portrait orders! It’s a lot to process, and I realize that, and I’m just going to go forward with the faith that I will figure it out eventually.

Anyway, because I wanted to see them all together, and maybe you do, too, here are all of the house portraits I’ve completed so far, in the order they were created:

Windows: A riff on Victorian-era architecture

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I’ve been obsessed with houses and architecture since I was a child, always staring out the car/bus/train/plane window, paying attention to what the buildings look like where ever I go. I never actually studied architecture, though, so it just became an observational past time. When Brian and I moved to the east coast about 10 years ago, it was pretty mind blowing to suddenly be surrounded by historic homes and buildings, some of which pre-date the formation of the United States. Extra mind-blowing, there are buildings from that era that are used for things like housing college freshmen! Anyway, I love looking at buildings. When I started working on my paper house portraits earlier this year, I began by focusing on the big picture, figuring out perspective, and making sure the house ends up being the right shape—I added some details here and there, but it was mostly about the shape/form of the house and the dramatic shadows for the windows and other cut-out elements. With each piece I created, though, I found myself adding more and more little details, and wishing I could add even more! But when you’re trying to create a whole house in an 8×10″ or even 11×14″ space, there’s only so much detail you can add with bits of paper! As I’ve been observing all of the different architectural styles in my neighborhood and on trips this summer, I realized that one area where buildings really show their character is in their windows, so I decided I would experiment with creating pieces that show a window and really hone in on all the details. My long term plan is that by making larger versions of architectural details, I’ll be able to make them more detailed when they’re smaller as part of a paper house portrait, too. I began by researching Victorian era window styles*, and collected inspiration images from real windows as well as doll house window designs. Once I had my reference material, I designed the basic elements to create the multi-paned window, the moulding around the window frame and up the sides, and the decorative pieces above and below the window. I’ve been using those same building block pieces, and then adding additional pieces or modifying pieces, to create a series of Victorian-inspired paper windows. *To be clear, by “research” I mean I did a Google image search and collected some of the images that popped up with that search. I try to keep one or two of these in my Etsy shop, but since they’re all one-of-a-kind that can be a little tricky as we approach the end of the year. If you’re interested in a window and there’s nothing in my shop, email me and I will let you know what I have in stock, or make one special for you!