Interview with Paper Artist Julianna Szabo

Interview with Julianna Szabo

Once again it has been a little bit since we shared an interview, but fret not it was worth the wait! You may already be familiar with the broad array of talent Julianna Szabo possesses through our post about her Silk Road Film Festival typographic pieces, wowing us with the miniature versions of most parts of the globe. Sometimes her work also features stop motion animation, bringing to life these wonderful three dimensional set designs. This interview will take a deeper look into her background, process and how she got to where she is today. Enjoy!

Tell us a little more about your background – what path led you to what you are doing now?
I’m a Hungarian artist/designer currently living in London. As a child, growing up in a small town in North-Eastern Hungary, I was very creative in using everything I could find around me to create gifts for my family and friends. Imagine a picture of flowers made of rice and pasta or photo collages, felt figures etc. 
Unfortunately, I had little opportunities to study art then, so I decided to study Information Technology, which promised a future with the most possibilities. During my university studies, however, I kept choosing the more creative aspect of IT. I worked on multimedia projects, created 3D animations and virtual reality.
 Soon after finishing my master’s course in IT, 11 years ago, we moved to Dublin, Ireland.

I started working in a small company as a junior web designer, when I realize that to progress my carrier as a web designer, I need to study graphic design. As I had no formal education in arts, I joined a drawing class to prepare for a graphic design course. My teacher, after seeing my first few works, suggested that I might have a chance to get into the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) in Dublin, so the drawing class turned into a portfolio preparation course. I was extremely happy when I was accepted to NCAD. When I was preparing my portfolio work for college, and during the Core Studies year, the more I learnt about the different materials and techniques the more my enthusiasm towards handcraft grew.

Interview with Julianna Szabo

I enjoyed the challenge of working with new materials and discovering their potential. The first paper piece I created was a sculpture, where I visualized what ‘home’ means through paper illustrations built on the 3D word itself. Letters H and M were depicting Hungary, my home country while letters O and E showed my impressions of Ireland, my chosen home. I knew after this experience that paper gave me the exciting new possibilities I was looking for. All through college I worked hard to apply paper craft for the graphic design assignments. The realization that working with paper is what I really enjoy doing gives me the passion and driving force to immerse in every project I work on.

Interview with Julianna SzaboInterview with Julianna Szabo

I fell in love with pretty much all of the typography pieces in your work that you have done to date, but you also dabble in stop motion animation as well. Walk us through your process for both your typography pieces and stop motion animations.


I most enjoyed the letterpress workshops, typography, wordplay and idea generation modules during college. I of course went through these mostly creating paper pieces as deliverables. Even then I admired the work of Barcelona based Lo Siento studio, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to spend a summer with them as an intern, right after college. 

All these impressions came together in the letters I created for the Silk Road Film Festival in 2015.

Interview with Julianna SzaboInterview with Julianna SzaboInterview with Julianna Szabo

When I was commissioned for this project, I got a completely open brief, so it was a great opportunity to combine my love of typography and 3D papercraft. 
I have a handmade approach, I see what I want to achieve first in my head and I see the idea in 3D, so I often make only a quick sketch, then I build the piece directly out of paper. I only draw detailed sketches if I have to show the idea to a client. 
For a typographic piece, I usually start with research into the topic, so I can define what elements I’m going to use to build up the letter.

Interview with Julianna SzaboInterview with Julianna Szabo

So, for the SRFF project I looked into the most recognizable cultural references for the countries on the silk road, or for the A for Alice in Wonderland, I collected the most important characters and scenes of the story. By the time I’m done with the research, I usually have an almost complete idea of how the letter is going to take shape. Before building the letter, I determine if the sculpture needs some additional support structure, which I have to incorporate in the design. As soon as I have an object ready I add it to the letter, to ensure I keep the letterform. This also shows if I need to change anything on the design, or to determine the size of the next elements.





Creating stop motion animation was something I had been interested in since I started experimenting with paper. There is something magical in being able to create an illusion of movement and change using a material that is not malleable. Once you cut a piece of paper to shape you cannot shrink or enlarge it without destroying it. To make this illusion work requires planning and preparation. Every change in size or shape has to be built in steps in advance, that will end up looking like a continuous transformation on the finished animation. For example, to create the growing pineapples in my Gucci animation I had to create 36 different sized pineapples, from a tiny blob to the full-sized version. Also, often you have to think backwards to achieve the desired effect.

Often it is much easier to destroy something to animate building, since taking apart an intricately built object is much easier than building it up piece by piece on the scene. After all this preparation, the shooting takes relatively less time. To achieve fluent movements, the characters move very little between two shots, so by the end, you often end up with thousands of photos that are then, after retouching and editing, combined into a stop motion animation.


Is there something that you are currently working on, or that you are excited about starting that you can tell us about?

There is a commercial project I’m currently working on that unfortunately I can’t tell too much about yet. Alongside the commercial works, however, I always try to work on personal projects as well. At the moment, I’m focusing on 36 Days of Type, an Instagram initiative that invites designers to submit their interpretation of the letter/number of the day. I got first involved in the project’s 2nd year, when I submitted the SRFF letters and a few others, then the following year I was selected as the guest artist for the number 6. I have always wanted to create a full alphabet for this project, but until this year, I haven’t had the time to create a submission for every day. This year I’ve made it a challenge for myself to come up with a design, build it, and submit within a day, which I have succeeded to do so far.

Interview with Julianna SzaboInterview with Julianna SzaboInterview with Julianna Szabo

What would be your dream creative project?
It would be great to work on the production of a larger stop motion animation, like a TV commercial or music video, so I could show my paper creations to a wider audience.

Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? If so, where and when?/ What is your favorite piece to date, is it hard to part with your artwork?
Last year I was invited to create artwork for the Paper Creatures exhibition in Tel Aviv, curated by Ilan Garibi, alongside paper artists whose work I admire, like amazing popup artist Robert Sabuda, origami artist João Charrua, just to name some of the 32 exhibiting artists.

Interview with Julianna Szabo

My sculptures were part of the Elemental sculpture series of creatures representing the 4 elements, Fire, Water, Earth and Air. Elemental 1 sculpture combines the phoenix for fire and the octopus for water into a creature that has the upper body of the fiery phoenix, and the lower body of an octopus.

Interview with Julianna Szabo

Based on the success of this exhibition, a new exhibition is planned for the last quarter of 2017. I can’t disclose the topic yet, but can’t wait to work on new ideas.

The first time I had to part with a work was when HOME was bought. I was thrilled that, as a 1st year design student my work was accepted to the annual exhibition of the Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, and I never expected that anybody would want to buy it, so I was very sad (and happy of course) when I learned that it was bought and I will not get it back at the end of the exhibition.

Do you have a new favorite artist/designer?
Instagram is a constant feed of creativity, I often find new artists whose work inspire me. I love the ‘Secret World of Stuff’ series from @sean_charmatz, @rafaelmantesso’s drawings with Jimmy, his dog, or the quirky street art of @davidzinn. I love how they can put a twist on everyday objects, situations in their works.

Interview with Julianna Szabo

What is a source of inspiration not art/design related?
I can get inspired by almost anything. From my daily walks by the sea at Dun Laoghaire, and now along the Thames, watching a movie, reading a book, or just looking out the window watching the birds with my cat. Having moved abroad, and travelling is also a great source of inspiration in itself, also it made me more open to accept and appreciate different cultures, which I can incorporate in my work.

If you could work with any artist dead or alive who would that be and why?
I like the work of stop-motion lettering artist Becca Clason, who combines everyday materials, like food, flowers, pebbles, tools, clothes, to create her amazing animated worlds.

Does paper quality matter in your art? What tools would you recommend?
Of course. Once I have the design for a work, I have to choose the right paper for it. I decide the weight, texture, colour. I use different paper when I have to fold, tear or cut. I use acid-free paper to make sure my works last for a long time.

For paper cutting you need a good quality self-healing cutting mat, scalpels with replaceable blades, scorer, and a good tweezer. There are many types of scalpels on the market, my only recommendation is to use the one that feels the most comfortable. I personally use an x-acto knife.

Interview with Julianna Szabo

Is there any more information you would like to share with our viewers? What piece of advice would you give to anyone trying to pursue a field in paper design?
Check my Instagram feed @juliannaszabo for my day-to-day work.

For word of advice, if you have an idea, just experiment with it. Be enthusiastic, creating something handmade needs patience, but the end result will compensate for the time and effort invested.

Julianna what a wonderful interview. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer the questions and share your work and process. I’m looking forward to more of your animations and papercraft work in the future. To our viewers, be sure to post below with your thoughts and if you know of any artists that work in the realm of paper that you would like to be interviewed be sure to shoot us an e-mail.

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