Fenway Fan grew up in China and moved to the US in hopes of becoming an acclaimed artist. Those dreams began to be realized when she caught the attention of Disney and was was hired as a graphic designer for Disney theme park merchandise. Now she brings elements of her Chinese heritage into her incredible professional paper portraits.

Q: How did you get started designing and making things with paper?

I went to school for design and animation and also work in both entertainment and toy industry. Most of the time I work digitally. I remember one day at the early stage of my career, my hard drive broke down, and I lost most of my art.

That was the turning point of my thinking into doing something physical so that it doesn’t get erased. Then I started exploring paper art, not only because it was a Chinese tradition, but also because I was inspired by my colleagues, Costa Alavezos and Brittney Lee. They are both masters of traditional paper cutting.

I still remember the first time I saw Costa’s paper art in his office. It was a commercial piece from the 80s, and I was shocked by the magic of 3D layered paper. After that, I started thinking how to translate my digital art into dimension work. Also, paper is one of an easiest and cost-friendly materials to work with.

Q: What was the first thing you made ever? What was the first thing you made professionally?

The very first paper art shadow box was a 3D version of my digital art “crib break,” which was inspired by my daily life. I printed out my illustrations by layers, cut them out, and reassembled them in a small shadow box. That was my first experiment, and I really liked the 3D translation of the lighting and spacing, which helped emphasize the environment of the story. From then on, I made more pieces using that format. And I really enjoy the process a lot!

My very first paper art commission was from Disney’s Wonder Ground gallery, Magic on Main Street, which features Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Pluto and Goofy. They are all holding hands together and sitting on Main Street watching the fireworks! That was actually my own experience during my first visit to Magic Kingdom with my friends, and I really wanted to capture the most beautiful moment! I feel very honored that the original piece was sold out as soon as it hung on the gallery wall and that its reproductions became one of the most popular items among the guests from both parks!

Q: Where do you find inspiration for what you make?

I find inspiration almost everywhere from daily life! Family, friends, music, food, entertainment and books! When there is a good idea flashing in my mind, I take notes in my cellphone.

I find a lot of inspiration from music like classics and jazz as well as talk shows and Chinese stand-up comics.

Q: What’s your favorite thing to make?

My favorite thing to make is something that makes me happy, and I make it to make other people happy! I love making whimsical, colorful, and fun stuff! 

Q: What’s your favorite material to use?

Paper! There are so many possibilities with paper, and I think it is the most versatile material in the world! 

Q: What’s your favorite project you’ve ever made?

I see all my projects as my kids. It’s hard to pick one as my favorite because I love them all. Among the very unique projects I’ve made recently was the “Little Mermaid Retold” project I worked on for Disney+. Most of my paper art has been stills, but for this project, the characters I designed are all alive! If you haven’t see it, please check out the video below: https://youtu.be/9eZM7_xluRM

Q: Can you walk us through your creative process?

There are many steps to make a paper art shadow box, and there are two main parts. Part one is creating the design digitally, and part two is creating the design out of paper. Why digital first? I want to make sure I am satisfied with the final look before I commit something to paper. Plus, it is easy to make modifications during the digital stage. And I find it the most efficient way moving forward with paper too!

Here’s the process breakdown:

  1. Like all my other design jobs, I start by researching images and drawing sketches. 
  2. I bring in the sketches to my computer and create vector art on top of my sketches.
  3. Third, I export my art by layers and bring in each layer to Silhouette Studio® and make cutting files. 
  4. The next step is either Print & Cut or directly cut the layers from colored cardstock, depending on the style I want to make. 
  5. I put all the pieces together using a hot glue gun. 
  6. The final step is framing. Most of the time I stock up premade shadow boxes by sizes, but for customized commissions, I always go to a local frame company order a customized frame or use handcrafted frames!

Depending on the complexity and size, a piece usually takes anywhere from a week to a few months to make!

Q: How were you introduced to Silhouette?

Before I got started designing with paper, I knew about the CNC cutter for industry use because my husband used to work for a printing company. Once I saw it cut customize labels for clients. By the time I was looking to design with paper, I tried to look for something similar to that cutter but for a home studio. Thanks to the powerful internet, I found Silhouette, and I have been using my Cameo machine ever since then!

Q: How do you use your Silhouette machine for your work?

I use it on all of my paper-related projects, from professional shadow box commissions, teaching materials, and stickers to things for personal use, like birthday cards and home events!

Q: How do you feel your work provides meaning to the world? 

The goal of every piece of my work is to make people happy! So far I think they are doing a good job. I have received comments and direct messages from friends all over the world telling me my work just made their day or my art made them smile. Things like that always cheer me up and keep me motivated to create more happy work!

Q: What is your go-to Silhouette tool or product?

I use the Silhouette Cameo® in my home studio and the Silhouette Portrait® for travel!

Q: What is your advice to other artists/makers?

If you find passion in one thing, just keep doing it. The more you do it, the better you will get at it! There is an old saying in Chinese, “Constant dripping hollows the stone.” This is also advice for myself.

Q: What are your best tips for getting creative?

  1. Keep track of your ideas, take notes, or doodle. 
  2. Don’t be afraid to start small.
  3. Be happy! 
  4. Try new things, and don’t be afraid of to step out of your comfort zone!

Q: What do you like to listen to while you’re creating? Favorite podcasts, audio books or shows? Favorite musical artists? 

I like listen to talk shows, like Chinese stand-up comics, audiobooks like Keigo Higashino’s novels. Most of the time I listen to music during work, from jazz to classical–Chopin is my favorite.

I also like to play different background music that is connected to the projects. For instance, I made a new piece of My Pretty Pretty Hat – Tototro paper art last week. I played Joe Hisashi’s Totoro-themed piano songs during that time. 

Q: What other artists or creators inspire you?

There are so many great artists! From the very classic Mary Blair, Hayao Miyazaki, and Satoshi Kon, to popular illustrators like Yuko Higuchi, Joey Chou, Lisk Feng, Victo Ngai, folk artist Miss Mindy, and many many more! And I also love to find inspiration from histories and cultures! 

Q: Is there anything you wish we had asked or would like to share?

As a modern designer/ illustrator/ teacher/ artist/ toy maker/ filmmaker/ mom/ wife/ daughter/ cook, I am capable of having many roles, and I know there are many people who take on as many roles as I do! That’s why I love technology. With the help of technology like Silhouette’s machines, we can do more thinking, be more creative, work more efficiently, and also spend time with loved ones! 

Q: What’s the best way for people to find you?

Instagram @fenway.wei.fan

Website: fenwayart.com

Youtube Channel: Fenway Fan