Mar 23 2012

Matthew Hawkins: Toying Around With Paper Engineering Creativity

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When I was with a former employer there were rumors of upcoming layoffs (obviously the rumors ended up being true or I wouldn’t be referring to it as a FORMER employer). The company denied the rumors, which sent employees a message to be nervous. Sure enough, layoffs started. First it was some forced retirements. Then the sales force got hit hard. Naturally, the creative department, which was one of the largest of any American company, started suffering odd hits among the staff.

Many of these people were leaders in creative innovation that were completely undervalued and underused. Matthew Hawkins was one such individual. His success at making his passion the top priority in his life shows how much untapped potential went to waste while working for the company. But, as the saying goes, “one door closes and another opens.” The open door also allowed him to profit from his passion, rather then let it bypass his pocket and go directly to his employer.

Matthew Hawkins. Self portrait in paper.

How He Started A New Creative Path

“Well,” Matthew begins, “I was working at a greeting card company as a production artist and they had these free soda machines. So every time you went to get a soda a little plastic cup would drop down and at the end of every day I’d amass a small stack of plastic cups. One day I turned one over and drew a face on it with a Sharpie. Then I used some index cards and made little paper limbs for my little ‘Cupenstein.’”

“So I started making more and more cup figures,” Matthew resumed, “and started making more and more elaborate paper accessories like cars and whatnot. In a little while these creations were more paper than plastic cups. About this time I came across the website http://www.paperforest.blogspot.com and they feature artists who were making these amazing little paper crafts and sharing the templates online. I made a paper craft character to promote a comic I had just released. I was hooked and things just took off from there.”

“While at the card company,” he continues, “I got a couple art directors interested in the idea of putting some punch out and assemble toys inside of cards, so we developed a line for Father’s Day. We thought kids and dads would enjoy making these models. So I was given the time and resources to fully develop them.”

Unfortunately, as can happen with innovative ideas, Matthew’s ideas were a bit too fresh for some. As he relates the story, “they were presented to a certain retailer that didn’t go for them and I’m not sure why we never tried the concept again. People seemed to dig them. I know I’ve hit roadblocks with other companies because they feel they aren’t instant gratification, they’re too hard to build, kids don’t have the attention span or parents don’t really want to spend time with their kids — they want something to throw at them to keep them quite for a few minutes. I disagree with all these things and that’s why I continue to work with companies who believe these toys are a great project for families and kids and have great value and fun.”

Luckily, Matthew landed at a company that saw value and fun in his work. “I do a lot of papertoys for my current employer, who specializes in fast food premiums — stuff you would find in kids meals from fast food restaurants. We use ‘papertoys’ (Matthew’s term for his paper creations) to cost balance plastic or plush toys. So we might do a month of papertoys so we can afford to do really cool plastic or plush toys the next month or will put one papertoy in with a group of plastic toys. With the price of oil/plastic going up, shipping getting more expensive and a rising wages in China, papertoys have become a great option for us. They are cheaper, can be domestically produced and at the end of their life, biodegradable! I also design and illustrate a lot of kid’s menus for them.

Just a few of Matthew’s creations for fast food premiums.

Matthew has also discovered that his 3d work has become an art form, showing in galleries around the globe. “I have sent papertoys to shows in LA, New York, Vancouver, Amsterdam. Places like Rivet Gallery in Columbus and Pink Hobo in Minneapolis. Lately I’ve been doing these larger scale Shadow Box type pieces that use my paper craft atheistic but applies it to a more ‘hang on the wall’ type art. I love doing large freestanding pieces but they don’t sell because people don’t know what the heck to do with them!”

After so many creations and successes on the market and in galleries, it was inevitable that Matthew do a collection in book form. “Urban Paper was my first book experience and it sold out in its first year but didn’t get a second printing,” he reflects. “Mostly I think due to a bad economy when it came out a few years back but since then I’ve done publishing projects for books and toy kits that have been selling well!”

One of the many books in which you can find Matthew’s work. Check out his site for more!

There’s a good chance you’ve already seen Matthew’s papertoys in a magazine or newspaper. As a 3D illustrator, he has had some impressive clients. “I started out wanting to do editorial illustration,” he recalls, “so I love it when I get a chance to build a little paper craft scene or toy that gets used for illustration. I’ve done stuff for a kid’s magazine, alternative newsweeklies and even did a papertoy version of Rupert Murdoch driving a paper machine robot for Newsweek!

Cover of The Pitch — Kansas City (Village Voice Publishing).

Naturally, I had to ask how long it takes him to create one of these pieces, from concept to finished piece, as it’s not just design but also paper engineering. “A long, long while,” he answered, dodging the question nicely. “I really have no idea. All I know is it always takes longer than I think. I enjoy the process so I don’t really count the hours but when a commercial project comes down I’m almost always under the time quoted.”

With a growing reputation and exposure, Matthew’s work is gaining popularity. I asked what projects he has on the horizon. “I’m actually doing some small kids crafts and a big paper craft piece for an upcoming event at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. I also have a full year of gallery shows to which I’m sending pieces. But this year, I’m really concentrating on getting some retail stuff in the market place. I went to Toy Fair a few week ago and saw a lot of crap paper craft kits being offered and I thought ‘HEY! I can make crap paper craft kits, too!’ So, I’ll be focusing on some of those projects.”

What’s Matthew’s future in this creative avenue? “I’m just going to keep plugging away, and I want to get back to doing more free models to download from my site. I love to share these things for free as it was a big part of what inspired me to start making them. I’m working with a few different toy companies to make a few retail papertoy kits for the market.”

Matthew imparts some advice for those who want to explore making 3D papertoys. “Grab a piece of paper and start cutting, gluing and folding! Really explore the medium with your hands. Don’t open up Illustrator and start making cubes.”

Creativity Is The Key Basis To Success!

It’s been a while since Matthew left his fulltime job and the safety of a weekly paycheck. I asked how he feels about his success as a 2D illustrator/designer, moving into the 3D arena. “It’s weird!” he admits. “It wasn’t something I planned. I just found something I enjoyed and shared it. As soon as I stopped trying to make a career drawing and designing what I thought would sell and just followed my passion, things just started to happen for me!”

“I’ve managed to make a decent career doing what I love.” He adds, “I find having that background in concepting, illustrating and character design gave me a leg up over some paper engineers who are more engineer-centric and not as creative. So I’ve found a sweet spot between the technical and the creative. I love it when I get to jump a technical hurdle in pursuit of a creative goal.”

One of Matthew’s innovative projects.

Matthew’s piece from the Pee-Wee Herman Show in Los Angeles.

Available at Barnes & Noble: Robot Wars. Build ‘em, battle ‘em, love ‘em!

Andy Warhol and his fifteen minutes of fame… unless you leave him out in the rain!

I asked Matthew what other uses his toys might have and he answered: “Kindling” demonstrating how important it is to have a sense of humor about one’s work. His papertoys are worthy of a place of honor in our lives… though not when on fire! Mostly because they are whimsical, fun, colorful and beautiful; but also because it reminds us that creativity is boundless and that is our strength and gift. Use it well.

Check out Matthew’s site for more information, lots of more cool papertoys, videos, books and other stuff. You can even download some free toys!

(rb)

About the Author

Speider Schneider is a former member of The Usual Gang of Idiots at MAD Magazine, “among other professional embarrassments and failures.” He currently writes for local newspapers, blogs and other web content and has designed products for Disney/Pixar, Warner Bros., Harley-Davidson, ESPN, Mattel, DC and Marvel Comics, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon among other notable companies. Speider is a former member of the board for the Graphic Artists Guild, co-chair of the GAG Professional Practices Committee and a former board member of the Society of Illustrators. He also continues to speak at art schools across the United States on business and professional practices. Follow him on Twitter @speider.

Comments and Discussions
  • Hassan Hibbert, 23 March 2012

    Very creative, would love one of these for my office.

    • Speider, 23 March 2012

      Just go to Matt’s website and you’ll find toys you can download and build!

  • cre8ivetype, 23 March 2012

    Speider,
    Thanks again for a fantastic article. Matthew’s work is brilliant!

  • Meela312, 23 March 2012

    Great post. These would be so much fun to have.

  • Sagarsinh, 24 March 2012

    This is something new. Excellent :)

  • Prashant, 25 March 2012

    Truly Inspirational! Thanks for Amazing Article :)

  • Do?an Kutbay, 25 March 2012

    “Garbage side of Smashing Magazine” thats what your title should be.
    Wtf is this post about? Web? Design? Programming? What curiosity are you talking about?

    • Robert Bowen, 25 March 2012

      Hmm. Thought it was pretty straight forward what the post was about. Did you read it?

      I’ll bullet point it for you:
      - It’s an interview and showcase with paper craft designer, Matthew Hawkins
      - It’s an exploration of paper engineering and toy design (and the interesting bisector where the two roads meet)
      - It’s an inspirational collection of creative projects that are outside of the norm

      That’s it in a nutshell, I’d say. Though, there is that inspiring bit of taking charge of your creativity and carving your own path, regardless of the critics who do not get you or your vision. That’s a good little nugget as well.

      As for the curiosity, we don’t tend to think of our blog tagline in terms of every article we publish, more of an overall exploration of creativity and resources. That curious nature of exploring design and its many influences and facets. Which all kind of fits right here in with Matthew and his work. Hope that cleared one or two things up for you.

      • Do?an Kutbay, 25 March 2012

        Yes, you are right. To be honest, its a marvellous post. However, this web site’s structure or the sphere is not related to this post. Thats why I was furious at my first comment. I’m sorry it was harsh one. What I would like to see is more direct posts about design (if its what you wanna inspire), or more inspirational posts about programming, or at least about social networking. If you wanna be the curious side of smashing magazine as you claim, you must dig harder than them because your title requires to be better than smashing magazine however this post doesn’t meet that need.

      • Robert Bowen, 25 March 2012

        While appreciative of your critique, we do not believe that our title’s implications are unmet by the range of topics we cover and the various facets of the design and development communities that we explore.

        While we have had deeper examinations like you have suggested, and still do to an extent, the site design and theme, in our interpretation of course, is more representative of the curious explorations in the forests of creativity (if that makes sense). We are more about providing the tools and desires to explore these areas and facets further. More scratching the surface, though as I said, we do on occasion go deeper.

        Smashing is our sister site, and therefore, we try to not overlap the content, which is why we tend to more stick to the instigation of or stoking of the creative fires. We are the more exploratory and inspirational arm of the sites. DesignInformer is the side of Smashing that would fit your description I believe. :)

    • cre8ivetype, 27 March 2012

      What is your problem? Is this your first visit to Noupe? Why should Noupe change its publishing policy and content because you feel it isn’t apt to web design and social media? The people who come to this site visit to read a wealth of inspirational articles on the world of design. It sets itself apart from every other blog by exploring more than the usual “10 jQuery Tips” and “The most useful plugins for WordPress.” If that’s what you want, you have hundreds of choices of blogs that publish that … week in and week out.

      As with the other people who commented here, I thought this was brilliant and informative and very thought provoking. As with all of Speider’s articles, it is not just a gallery of images but an exploration of how we can push ourselves to go farther with our own creative thought and to become better designers. Whether you are a print designer or a web designer, Speider’s articles speak to all with inspiration and information.

      I love Noupe and Speider’s content. Please don’t change a thing!

  • Tim, 25 March 2012

    Matt’s work is fantastic! However, the statement, “‘papertoys’ (Matthew’s term for his paper creations)”, is not accurate as the term papertoys has been around for decades. We used to make them at a small paper company I worked for in Ann Arbor, MI in the mid 90s.
    Matt’s are definitely some of the best I’ve seen, though.

  • Maria Wendt, 26 March 2012

    Are these hard to make? They are very impressive!!

    • Speider, 27 March 2012

      Go to Matt’s site and download a few of his “toy of the month” pieces and give it a try. You only have some paper.. and some sanity to lose! ;)

  • Kundan, 31 May 2012

    Very Creative!

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