Matthew Hawkins: Toying Around With Paper Engineering Creativity
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!
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.