A few weeks back I caught up with a real life Vegan Taxidermist.
Aimee Baldwin – a Californian based sculptor with a love of all things feathered and winged – creates beautifully life-like paper bird sculptures that look…well…um… real.
One look will have you exclaiming “I can’t believe it’s just paper!”
Free from animal parts and products these paper birds are lovingly hand-made and consist of wire, papier mache and crepe paper – with the only pre-fabricated piece being the all-important glass eye.
Over the last 2 years Aimee’s Paper Birds have been exhibited in stores and galleries across California and they have even captured the attention of the Oprah network, where it was featured online as part of a “Women who make beautiful things” story.
I was captivated by her beautiful paper bird sculptures and have since been sharing her work with everyone I know… I even showed my Grandma a picture and she exclaimed “Genius!” proving Vegan Taxidermy is indeed for young and old.
Here is my interview with the talented and delightful Aimee Baldwin about her Vegan Taxidermy paper birds…
What is Vegan Taxidermy & how did you come to this idea?
Well I guess… I started making paper birds using crepe paper quite some time ago – and I don’t really exactly recall why I decided to call it Vegan Taxidermy except that it was a funny way to describe what I do – because I am trying to make life-like birds and I decided at some point to display them the way people display taxidermy.
A while back I used to work in making prototypes for mass produced products – sold at places like Walmart etc. and I also had a side-business making little paper party favours. I was sort of tired of making things that felt like they would go into landfill right away and I wanted to work on something I found engaging and that I would be interested in working on – something that I could sort of focus on with lots of detail and (with a) subject I like.
Are you a vegan?
I am not a vegan… I’ve tried being a vegetarian for a while and I certainly eat plenty of vegan meals. For me it’s not so much an issue about whether or not it came from an animal it’s about how it came to my plate. I basically don’t want to support the industrial agriculture – whether it’s animals or plants. I don’t really feed into that industry which I think is pretty awful in many ways.
So for you it’s more about being a conscious consumer and knowing the source of things?
Have you a personal passion for birds?
I do definitely like birds and I also like all variety of creatures – again I think it’s the material itself – in particular the crepe paper. I was using it to make flowers and plants – which it’s also good for – and thought it would make good feathers!
Your pieces are amazing! So life-like and we can see how much time, effort and love you put into it. How many hours does it take to complete a piece from start to finish – on average?
On average about a week – around 30-50 hrs. But it does vary a lot and also I don’t necessarily know how long exactly one piece takes because often I’m working on a few at the same time.
Are your pieces individually commissioned, created for exhibitions or are they simply a labour of love?
It’s been a labour of love mainly and I have had a few little shows – usually in retail stores or exhibitions but that’s mainly for my own amusement. Sometimes (the exhibitions) don’t necessarily feel like they are worth the work but I like to do it and it gives me motivation to complete things and get them out of the house for a while!
Do you do this as a side project/hobby and if so is it becoming more full time?
It has been a side project mainly. I can’t make a living from it at the moment but certainly more people have become more interested in the past 2 years. I have a day job as a sculptor assisting on giant monuments using clay and doing human figure. My personal work is with paper.
So why paper primarily?
Because I like the feeling of it. I’ve always liked textiles – not that paper is necessarily exactly the same as other types of textiles – but I like the feeling of working with it with my hands much better than other materials.
(Paper’s) not terribly expensive to get or use, and it’s non-toxic and low impact on my own health, as compared to working with resins and clays or blowing glass etc. I’ve always liked working with paper.
When do you know that a piece is done?
I guess when I can’t stand working on it! There have been pieces that I have sort of almost finished and then taken them apart and worked on them again – usually that’s based on whether I think what I did was good enough. I guess a lot of the time recently it has been whenever I have to put it in a show, because usually I’ll use up every last minute I have until it has to be put in and then it’s done.
Describe your workspace? Where do you create these pieces?
I just work in my house… I have some good size storage space and do most of my work at a desk in a corner of my dining room.
Are you self-taught or did you have a mentor to show you how to create such amazing pieces?
I’m self-taught in this sort of thing.
What advice or direction would you give others who would love to create like you do?
Well some of what I do is possible because I use a crepe paper – which means that it’s flexible and stretchy in one direction, making it possible to give it lots of curves which can be difficult with plain, ordinary, flat paper.
And like I said, I’ve always been interested in textiles and (much like) the way a person working with clothing takes a 2D flat plane – like a piece of fabric – figures out how to manipulate it in order to cover the human body. (Through this) you sort of start to understand about cutting out a flat plane and then folding it around and fitting it onto something. It’s sort of like that with a lot of cutting out of the feathers and understanding how to fit it around a 3D bird shape.
Future plans for 2012 and beyond?
Nothing big – can’t say I have one big goal. I’ve always got different individual project ideas.
So I guess continually working with these birds and Vegan Taxidermy pieces?
Yeah… I thought soon I’d do a couple of pieces that are historically based (pieces of) dead birds on hats. Since this was a large reason why people got together and decided that maybe there needed to be wildlife conservation – like the Audubon Society and many other groups who decided that it was too disgusting to see animals slaughtered for people to wear. I thought it would be an interesting subject. (click here to see Aimee’s ‘quick’ effort of one such hat!)
Anything in particular you are reading or listening to now?
I’ve almost finished a book called “Song of the Dodo” by David Quammen – it’s about biodiversity on islands and how island geography effects evolution and extinction and how they’re sensitive ecosystems and what we can learn from those. I really like that sort of informative nature writing – but his writing in particular is very entertaining and accessible, it’s not too academic and dry.
Anything you are working on at the moment?
No I’m sort of taking a break right now for a couple of months – just finished up a piece for a group show – a peregrine falcon – that’s celebrating animals that have done well enough that they were removed from the endangered species list. So (these animals) are no longer endangered – they might be threatened or recovered. But I’m taking a summer break at the moment.
Anyone you think we should know about in the art world? Any pieces you think ‘I wish I thought of that’?
I dunno… I can’t think of any one thing or person specifically – it’s hard to say… I get inspired by all kinds of things.
What makes you feel creative and the most free?
Hmmm…. Sometimes I use art-making like my own therapy – helps me clear my head from stresses from other parts of life. A way for me to relax and unwind and get away from it all. As far as creative inspiration – getting out and looking at the world – out in nature, kayaking, backpacking, weird and interesting cultural events.
So… you’re stuck on a desert island – what are the top 5 things you just have to have with you?
Sharp scissors – that would be pretty high up on the list!
Good rope or string
Hmmmm.. I dunno. I can often find anything to amuse myself – I mean, I could draw pictures in the sand and have a good time with that if I had to!
So how can people in Australia get their hands on their very own piece of Vegan Taxidermy?
Right now the Etsy shop is the best way – I’ve never tried shipping a piece internationally… I have no idea how difficult that is….it’s so far away….May I suggest lots and lots of bubble wrap? 🙂