Focused and quiet, her gentle nature is inviting to the animals she chooses to sculpt. Whimsical birds capture Rebecca Merry’s imagination with their paper thin feathers, perfect for an intricate paper sculpture. The scales on fish and lizards are also favorites of hers, translating seamlessly into her unique art form.
Rebecca grew up on a farm and has been creating artwork for as long as she can remember. “There are pictures of all my cousins playing some game together, and there I am in the background drawing,” she says. “I drew on my school papers, on the back of packing slips when I worked in a shop, basically anything I could find.”
She graduated from Edinboro University in 2016 with a Bachelors degree in Fine Art and a minor in Art History. There, she had some classes in the basics of sculpture, although her art form in general was self-taught. In addition, she creates digital art pieces from time to time, also self-taught.
Since her departure from school, she has submitted pieces to local shows and placed in the following:
2011 - Ruth Jagerman Panorama Juried art Exhibition
Best of Ceramics
2014 - 91st Annual Spring Show, Erie Art Museam
Juror Award (Juror- Sergei Isupov)
2014 - 7th Annual Dr. & Mrs. Robert Guelcher Art Show, Barber National Institute, Erie PA
Honorable Mention, Peoples Choice Award
2015 - Campbell Pottery Paper Art 2 Show
Peoples Choice Award
2015 - 8th Annual Dr. & Mrs. Robert Guelcher Art Show, Barber National Institute, Erie PA
1st Place Amateur Best in Show, People Choices Award
2017 - 10th Annual Dr. & Mrs. Robert Guelcher Art Show, Barber National Institute, Erie PA
People Choices Award
I had the privilege of meeting Rebecca Merry and asking her about her art and the involved thought process behind it. Keep reading to find out more:
The paper sculptures are so unique. Did you come up with that art form on your own, and if so, how? If not, where did you see it?
Unfortunately, though there are some really fantastic paper artists out there (Calvin Nicholls is a huge inspiration) I didn’t find out about them until years after I started sculpting with paper. I started back in middle school, as paper was one of the few mediums that was readily available no matter where I was. I found some decades old craft book about paper folding and scoring to make party decorations, and thought I could do way more with it than just party lanterns. I started out with a flatter look, almost like a collage, but gravitated towards the 3D sculptures over time, and am still working out what form I like best with it. For such a commonplace medium, it has such potential!
Where did your appreciation for animals come from?
I grew up on a farm out in the middle of nowhere. We worked with livestock every day, and always had cats and dogs and assorted pets around, so being around animals has always been the norm for me. But more than the domesticated side of it, I loved going out in the woods and fields and seeing animals in their natural environments. It was always such a gift to stumble on a flock of crows gathering in the trees, or a fawn curled up and barely visible, or catching sight of a deer through the leaves and studying it until it finally bolts away. It’s as if you’re catching a glimpse into a world shared with, but completely separate, from your own. It’s always fascinated me, and I don’t think that interest in wildlife will ever leave me.
Step by step, what is your process for making a paper sculpture?
I start with brainstorming about what idea or story I want to portray, and then do a ton of sketches to figure out what I want it to look like. Once I know what I want to do, I plan everything out, from how I can support it, to how I want the paper to lay, to how I‘m going to connect the pieces and in what order. Often I’ll build a maquette of the trickier pieces to see what they’ll look like before I start on the real thing, as with all the layering it’s often impossible to undo anything without ruining the layers underneath. If I’m adding any new media into the piece (clay, a different kind of paper, metal, silicon) I have to test how it interacts and attaches to the paper and work out any bugs before I ever start. If there is any color involved, the pieces must be painted before hand, but I tend to work in black and white, which makes that a little easier.
Once I know how everything will go, I build up a base of wire and paper-mache as a support. From there I build up the layers of paper over the paper-mache frame, beginning at the bottom and then working up to the top. When I reach the other end, I add any last minute details and then I’m done! I finish the piece by spraying sealant on it for protection, and then I send it off into the world.
You put so much detail into your art. Are you that detailed in other aspects of your life?
Very much so. I’m a very detailed, meticulous person, be it work, or socializing, or any of the artwork I do. Though I know the stereotypical ’creative type’ is supposed to be all about spontaneity, I much prefer to have a plan for just about everything. My drawings and paintings tend to go the same way, though I try to push myself out of my comfort zone when I can.
How do you keep track of all those little pieces of paper? Do you start a sculpture with the big picture in mind, adding details later, or vice versa?
I definitely start with the big picture in mind, planning everything out before hand. Unfortunately, as my work space is very small, once I get started on a sculpture it tends to become an explosion of paper everywhere until I’m finished. The satisfaction of finally cleaning off my workspace when it’s done is almost as great as finishing the piece itself!
What type of fulfillment do you get out of creating art?
I love creating art. They say if you can find something you get ‘lost in the flow’ of, you’ve found your calling, and for me that’s creation, be it sculpture or painting or just doodling in the corner of paperwork. I can spend hours working on something and become so absorbed I completely lose track of time, and yet still come out of it feeling more focused and happier than when I started. I don’t think it’s something I could ever give up, even if it just remains a hobby for me.
Which is more challenging, sculpture or digital media? Why?
Definitely sculpture. With digital media you always have your ‘undo’ key at the ready, but with the paper sculpture if you make a mistake you end up having to redo the whole section to fix it. It’s also much more time consuming to test out new ideas with sculpture. With digital art I can try out new things with a few adjustments of my settings, but with sculpture it takes a significant investment of time and effort just to see how a new technique will turn out. Still, there’s something about sculpture that always brings me back.
What is your favorite part of the process in making a sculpture? What is the most challenging aspect?
My favorite part is finally attaching everything after all the time put into prep work. It takes me forever to get all the pieces cut and ready, but when I finally set about attaching them and suddenly a new bird or animal comes into being all at once in front of me, it’s very satisfying! Makes all the hard work beforehand worth it.
I would have to say it’s managing the timeline of it all. I usually create them with specific shows in mind, so when I start there’s usually a set end date. However, I’m never sure how long each piece will actually take, especially since it involves so much planning and experimentation beforehand. It’s always a struggle to keep myself on schedule and still give myself enough freedom to change or adjust the piece if needed.
Do you rely more on reference material or your imagination?
A little of both. I go through a lot of reference material learning about whichever animal I’m working with, and reading up on the myths and stories I want to portray, but once I’ve got the basic idea of it figured out I let my imagination run wild. Usually I end up taking liberties with the animals form or looks to suit whichever idea I’m trying for, but I try to keep its core attributes the same.
What other art forms might you like to try in the future?
Though I don’t have a specific art form I want to try and aim for in the future, my goal is to break out of my comfort zone and try something new that will improve my art overall; be it adding a new medium or just changing how I approach something in the first place. Spontaneity doesn’t come naturally for me, but I definitely see the benefit of being more spontaneous and organic with ones art, and am still trying to find a way to blend that approach with my more meticulous nature. I have yet to find the perfect mix of the two approaches, but I’m going to keep trying until I find it!
Thank you, Rebecca, for taking the time to talk with me. For more information, or if you’d like to commission Rebecca to create a piece for you, you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep your eyes out for local art shows, including at the Erie Art Museum, as well as next year’s Dr. Jay and Mona Kang Art Show and Sale at the Barber National Institute, where she tends to submit a piece or two. You won’t want to miss it!
Erin Maloney recently obtained her Associate’s degree in Business Administration Marketing & Management from Fortis Institute. She is a poet and a writer who is passionate about art and helping it reach all who can be touched by it. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.