Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Jayme McGowan

Jayme McGowan (aka Roadside Projects) is a freelance artist and 3D illustrator cited for her whimsical imagery and unique methods of working with cut paper. She is based in Sacramento, California. 

How or why did you start working dimensionally?
I started working dimensionally during college, but separately from my studies. I went to a state school with a general studio art program where you had to take a certain number of classes in each department, learning a little bit of everything. But the focus was on “fine art” and sadly there was no room in the curriculum for traditional crafts like papercutting, and no illustration courses, so I’m self-taught in those areas.  I started cutting paper while trying to quit smoking. I needed something to occupy my time (and bide my hands) and was looking for an art project where I could just sort of obsessively play with the materials. My earliest efforts were relief, on wood panels or mat board just as I continue to work today, but the imagery was more abstract and I was primarily focused on just finding different ways of laying down the paper. Most pieces were made from cut-up pages of old thrift store books. I found the construction method of cutting and gluing, cutting and gluing, over and over - requiring extended periods of focused concentration - to be pleasantly meditative. My very first instinct was to work dimensionally for some reason, maybe stemming from a love of dioramas/shadowboxes.

What or who has influenced the way you work?
In 2007 I saw a Joseph Cornell retrospective, a massive collection of 150 or so of his box constructions, at the SF MOMA right around the time I started working dimensionally. Those were a huge inspiration. I remember there was a quote in the exhibition catalog stating that it was his goal as an artist “to inspire others to pursue uplifting voyages into the imagination”. I just love that – it’s what I aspire to.  As far as contemporary artists go, Chris Sickels of Red Nose Studio was one of the first 3d illustrators I discovered and still a favorite. Elsa Mora is an artist I just found fairly recently, who does a wide range of dimensional work, with paper, clay, and even plants - all of it amazing. 

Please describe your working process.
I start with a sketch to get the basic composition down before I begin. Since there’s no going back after the paper is cut, this helps eliminate waste. Next, I spend some time sorting through materials (an ever-growing collection of new and re-purposed paper) to find the right palette for the piece. Having to decide on color at such an early stage is something that I’m still getting used to. There’s a lot of trial and error - making things, destroying them and starting over.
Everything I do is cut by hand with an X-acto knife and a few different sizes of scissors. I use a quick-drying glue to assemble the piece, building up layers slowly and adding dimension with handmade paper supports. My work tends to be pretty tiny and I often use tweezers to place the individual paper pieces.
When the dimensional cut paper work is done, I photograph it digitally and bring the image into Photoshop.  I try to keep the digital manipulation to a minimum though, and all of the shadows in my images are actual cast shadows from the original photographs. 

What do you enjoy most / least about working dimensionally?
Least: It’s really labor intensive! And I’m still at an early stage in my career where I haven’t quite figured out how to create the images as I envision them. I’ve got a lot to learn about photography, which is an (often frustrating) endeavor I hadn’t anticipated when I set out on this journey. I look forward to a day when it doesn’t take 200+ shots to get a usable image.
The only other downside I can think of is that storage is becoming a serious problem. No more throwing old work in a flat file.
Most: Working in 3d creates a unique look that can’t be achieved with drawing or painting (and working with just paper means much cheaper materials). Also, I’m constantly being challenged with new problems to solve, which keeps it interesting.

Being a self-taught illustrator, it is nice to be part of a smaller niche community of 3d artists; it’s made breaking into the field less intimidating and more welcoming. I also feel like there’s still a lot of territory left to be explored with dimensional illustration (as opposed to the feeling that “it’s all been done before”) and nothing beats that sense of discovery.  

Jayme McGowan
images and content © Jayme McGowan


  1. Jayme is so talented! I am a true fan of her work!

  2. OMG THESE ARE SO BEAUTIFUL! i love them!

  3. Jayme, your work is ridiculously wonderful! I love the way you make people's faces. And I love the whimsical feel to each piece. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Jayme, Your work is beautiful! You've inspired me to do my own paper illustrations and this has reconnected me with my love of creating art. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

  5. I love how whimsical and playful Jayme's work is. It is truly inspirational.