Isobel Barber is a talented papercutting illustrator and artist, residing in the beautiful county of Dorset, England. She graduated from the Arts University Bournemouth in 2012 with a degree in Textile design, where she specialised in creating illustrative patterns and print designs using a cut paper technique.
Isobel continues to use this method to snip up visual treats, usually with a touch of mischief. Her works are often inspired by the lovely Dorset countryside and wildlife or her various passions, which include flowers, long walks and baking.
In 2015, Isobel also collaborated with the Bridgeman Studio team to deliver a fantastic papercutting workshop at Wilderness Festival, where visitors at the arts extravaganza were able to make their very own paper-cut floral headdress or garland.
What is your earliest memory of an artwork and who was it by?
I was a total book worm child, even before I could read! So I would probably say the illustrations of some of my favourite childhood books. The classic ‘Hungry Caterpillar’ by Eric Carle was a firm fave, and coincidently (or possibly not?!) illustrated using cut paper!
What is your favourite time of day to be in your studio?
I am fortunate that my commute involves a short walk, via the kitchen for a cup of tea, to my studio which is built onto the side of my flat. Being the early bird that I am, I start work at around 6 most mornings and I absolutely love the peacefulness of the studio at this time.
Tell us how you became interested in creating paper-cut illustrations – What was your ‘light-bulb’ moment?
It started at university. I was studying Textile Design and began intricately cutting, layering and sticking coloured paper as a way of designing colourful patterns and prints in my sketchbook, before printing them onto fabrics. Gradually the fundamental ‘textile’ part of my ‘textiles’ course became a second thought and a last minute process, and it was all about creating these collage style illustrative patterns from paper. It quickly became apparent that I’d probably chosen the wrong degree!
Talk us through your creative process. Where do you begin?
I find Pinterest is a great visual way of quickly brainstorming and collating lots of ideas and inspiring imagery, so when I begin a new brief I usually start there. Other research methods include flipping through magazines, live sketching and photographing. I will then scrawl my designs down into my sketchbook, with some paper swatches of the colour palette I will use.
These sketches take a maximum of two minutes and then the scalpel is whipped out! I work from real objects as well as photographs to create the individual paper assets of my illustrations. Once all the paper components are complete, if it is a flat piece I simply assemble and then scan it in to the computer.
With the three-dimensional papercut illustrations, I construct them (I have a whole drawer dedicated to blue-tack!) and then photograph. I use minimal editing on the computer, maybe a slight tinker with the brightness and colours. So the final images are always pretty much as if you were to see them constructed in the papercut flesh.
How would you sum up your practice in 5 words?
Passionate, intricate, playful, inspired, three-dimensional
What artwork or project are you most proud of and why?
There’s a fish and chip restaurant called Chez Fred in Westbourne, on the Dorset coast, where I grew up. It’s immensely popular and was a family favourite when I was a child. This is a second hand story from my mum, but when I was little I used to spend the entire meal very carefully colouring in these little placemats they put out for the children and the waitress would always stick it on the restaurant wall at the end!
Last year they underwent a huge refurbishment and I was commissioned to create a papercut portrait of the striking new exterior. It was the largest scale piece of work I’ve completed, taking up a whole wall of the restaurant! The scale of the artwork felt like a significant achievement, but it was the personal and nostalgic connections that made it super special! I just love that my ‘artwork’ adorned their wall all those years ago, and now here we are again!
What convinced you to join Bridgeman Studio for licensing, and what are your hopes for working as a Bridgeman Studio artist?
After seeing Bridgeman Studio’s incredibly talented and diverse pool of artists and illustrators and their amazing client base and portfolio of commissions, I couldn’t join quick enough! For the future, I hope to be lucky enough to continue receiving incredible creative opportunities through the studio team and reaching new audiences.
What would you most like to see your images licensed for?
The cover of a book would be an absolute dream!
You took part in a series of artist workshops at last year’s Wilderness Festival – How was the experience for you?
Fantastic! The Wilderness festival goers were so creative. Each attendee had a pre-cut pack of paper leaves and flowers. The concept of the workshop was to make a floral papercut head wreath, but I also laid out an abundance of coloured paper and cutting tools so that festival goers were able to let their creativity run free and add their own personalised touches. There was just so much enthusiasm and imagination in the Wilderness Studio tent, it was brilliant…
One lady even totally free-styled and created a three-dimensional hat in the shape of a birds head! I had such a super time, it actually inspired me to run a series of paper cutting workshops last Christmas, where we created festive papercut wreaths.
What three things would you take if you were cast away on a desert island?
I’m going to imagine it’s a desert island with plentiful food and water! So, my three luxury items would be a skipping rope, a sketchbook and a ‘Learn French’ book. I think that should keep me busy for a while!
If you could pick 5 artists, dead or alive, to have dinner with who would they be and why?
Rob Ryan firstly, he’s a very current and hugely popular papercut artist so I would love to talk to him about his success. I couldn’t not invite Henri Matisse, as one of the most famous original paper cutting artists! Thirdly Shona Heath, she is a fashion set designer and her concepts blow my mind! Though she doesn't necessarily work in paper, she designs the most beautiful window displays for the big names in fashion, something that I dream of contributing my three-dimensional paper constructions to one day.
I would love to meet Leatice Eiseman, the colour guru of Pantone. I am a huge fan of the brand and am constantly inspired by their gorgeous hues. Finally, Quentin Blake. I listened to him on BBC Radio 4’s desert island discs and he just sounded like the loveliest, most interesting man!
Find out More
Isobel is also one of the artists we will running workshops with at the RA at the end of September with CultureLabel.com. Keep tuned to find out more.