Los Angeles native Jeff Nishinaka is a relief paper sculpture artist who has a stunning array of work that needless to say can blow anyone away. His portfolio spans a wide range including Bloomingdale’s, Sprint, Visa, Penn State University, Paramount Pictures and Coca Cola. Over the years he has found various techniques in how to manipulate and bend paper to make these magnificent masterpieces. I’m really happy to have him featured on our site since he is one of my favorite paper artists! Also be sure to check out the videos of the artist in action!
Tell us a little about your background and what path led you to what youre doing now?
I grew up in Los Angeles at a time when it was easy to jump on our bicycles and roam the city. Far less traffic and far more areas where nature was untouched. I think that gave me an appreciation to observe and explore things the same way I approach art. Observing things as they are and exploring ways of representing them are how I like to work. At first I wanted to be a painter but found that working with something more tactile like gently coaxing paper to do things came more natural to me. I eventually went to The Art Center College of Design to learn how to draw and paint but that was when paper sculpture found me instead. I didn’t have a choice, so I put down my paint brushes and picked up an X-Acto knife.
What have been some favorite recent projects/clients/collaborations?
Favorite recent projects have to include the Bulwark 451 video which ended with the burning of a large paper sculpture to the ground. It took about a thousand combined man hours for my team to build and only 6 minutes to burn down. Another favorite project was the Pandora’s Box theme paper sculptures for the Iggesund Paperboard company’s Black Box Project. We met in several cities in Europe and in New York for exhibitions and trade shows. A third project was for the Starbuck’s 2012 Christmas campaign. I had to make 12 paper sculptures in less than10 days and ship them from L.A. to NYC for a three day photo shoot which involved combining their actual products with my sculptures. I finished just in time to catch one hour of sleep before taking off to the airport.
How would you describe your creative process, start to finish?
I start with an idea, try to visualize what it might look like and sketch a bunch of thumbnail ideas. Then I research images that give an idea of what a certain object or thing looks like from as many different angles as possible. It’s just as important for me to know what’s going on behind as it is in front. It gives me a better idea of why something is the way it is when you know what’s holding it up. From there I choose the best idea sketch and develop it from there. Then I do a final line drawing to actual size on vellum which is used as a blueprint for the cut pieces. This is then broken down into individual parts and transferred to the paper and cut out. The final steps involve cleaning, trimming, shaping, scoring and rounding each piece of paper which are then glued together to hopefully make something that looks like something.
How long did it take for you to master your technique?
I don’t think I’ll ever master my technique. After more than 30 years there’s still more learning to do, especially how to keep it fresh.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
Typical day starts with checking email over coffee. I try to run errands before lunch so I can settle in the rest of the day to work.
What is a source of inspiration that is not art/design related?
I do boxing to work out the kinks and gain a fresh perspective. It’s one of my ways to reboot my head and open my mind to new ideas.
If you had an extra hour each day what would you do with it?
I would read more… from a real book, not off a monitor or iPad. I just don’t feel like there’s enough time for that.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
From my Dad. He said, “Choose one thing and be the best at it. Don’t be a jack-of-all-trades, good at everything and great at nothing.” Really, he said that to me while I was still an art student.
Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
The only upcoming event so far this year is an invitation to visit the Iggesund Paperboard mill in Iggesund, Sweden. They sponsored several events in Italy, Sweden and Russia last year. A visit this May or June to their mill in Sweden is to celebrate and cap off the Black Box Project I was involved in. We all have hopes of keeping this relationship going on for years to come.
If you could collaborate with anyone in this world, dead or alive, who would it be?
If I could, I would absolutely love to collaborate with Tim Burton. His work is so dark and moody, so edgy, so opposite of what I do that I think we’d work together fantastically! That would be a dream! If I could, my second choice would be Walt Disney.
Who is your favorite new artist?
That’s a big question for me. I see so many talented new artists out there. I am in awe and can’t say who is my favorite.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our viewers?
Only thing I can say is to find that one thing, love it, nurture it and strive to be the best at it!
Thank you so much Jeff for taking the time to do an interview with us! I really appreciate it and be sure to let us know if you have a show in NYC so we can see your work in person! To our viewers, be sure to post below with your thoughts and if you know of any artists that work with paper that you would like to be interviewed be sure to shoot us an e-mail.