Article by: Jason Wilson
Being an artist myself, I have sought out many mediums in which to express myself. I remember, as a child, wishing the school week would hurry by so that I could enjoy art class again…which was only held once a week. Clays, tempera paints, pastels…I loved them all. Well, all of them except papier mache. I did not see this particular class of art as a feasible means to express myself.
I mean, really, how much can you express yourself by dipping strips of newspaper into a gooey paste and wrapping them around a balloon? Was this really considered an art form? I hated those days of making papier mache piggy banks and weird shaped heads. Papier mache was a useless medium.
Or so I thought until the day I first saw the work of Scott Stolll, purveyor of Stolloween.com and the creator of some of the most imaginative and expressive works of art created from papier mache.
I recently had the chance to speak with Mr. Stoll about is works of art, and how papier mache became his chosen conduit of self expression.
JW: Scott, thanks for taking the time to speak with me. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
SS: Thanks Jason. I was born and raised in Michigan and currently live in Midland with my wife and two sons. My education is in television production and I have worked the last 20 or so years as a television producer specializing in training and educational programs.
In 2001, I left my full time job to become a stay at home dad for my two boys while continuing to freelance on numerous video projects, currently I work for Midland Public Schools as a classroom assistant and also teach papier mache workshops at a local art studio.
JW: How did you come to choose papier mache as your primary medium and what other mediums do you use? I notice that you are quite talented at drawing and painting as well.
SS: Papier mache was the first medium I ever used for Halloween prop building because it was something that was readily available and inexpensive. I learned the technique in high school and when it came time to build our first display in 1992 I used what I already knew.
Over the years my interest in prop building continued to grow and I worked with silicone, casting resins, sculpting clays, fiberglass and foams but the cost effectiveness and “simplicity” of papier mache kept drawing me back.
In 2004 I started to get serious about papier mache and read everything I could find on the subject, now five years later, after a lot of experimenting and hard work, I still feel like I’ve just scratched the surface of what is possible with the medium. Papier mache is a great medium that is highly underrated in my opinion.
JW: What do you see as the most versatile form of papier mache? Strip or pulp/clay? Did I miss any?
SS: Strip and pulp work in tandem or at least that’s how I use them. Typically I create the bulk of the prop using strips of newspaper soaked in paste then use clay made from pulped paper to add the texture and detail. Over the last five years every piece I have made has been a combination of these two techniques.
JW: I see that on your site, Stolloween.com, you offer up recipes for the various types of papier mache. Are those your private recipes and if so…how long did it take you to perfect them?
SS: As far as the recipes there is nothing there that hasn’t been used by others before, although I may use different combinations, the basic ingredients are all standard papier mache materials. There are many different papier mache recipes and the one thing to remember is that they all work pretty much the same, experiment and choose the one you prefer.
JW: Alright, let’s say that you decided that it is time to make another piece…where do you start? Where do you go for inspiration and reference?
SS: Most of my ideas usually start on paper in the form of a doodle or quick sketch. Currently I am working on some new pumpkin techniques so I find myself constantly sketching pumpkin designs during my spare time. Everything seems to inspire and influence me no matter how simple.
Several years ago I was at the grocery store and saw a very ugly piece of produce, a celery root to be exact, and that sparked the creation of my three witch characters because I thought the coloring and patterns on the celery root would be very interesting if used as skin texture.
There are hundreds of ideas floating around in my sub conscience and I never know what I may stumble across, that will provide that creative spark.
JW: All of your pieces have such a personality to them, as if they are caricatures of a real life model. How do you manage to get that level of emotion out of papier mache?
SS: In most cases papier mache props are static which means that you really need to depend on the pose to bring the piece to life.
It’s very easy to build something that has a head, two arms and two legs and is just standing there, but it’s another thing to position the head and body into a pose that is expressive and lifelike.
Currently I’m in the process of building several large five foot long rats and posing them in dynamic positions is proving to be very challenging. When creating new characters I try to remember that something as subtle as the tilt of a head can be the difference between a good prop and a great prop.
JW: Amongst your collection, I see people, animals and various plants. Do you have a preferred subject matter?
SS: I enjoy creating everything you mentioned but if I had to choose I would probably pick something with wings such as a gargoyle, dragon or bat. There is something about designing different wing shapes and turning them into three dimensional pieces that I find highly entertaining.
JW: Speaking of your collection…do you have a favorite piece? And if so, why that one?
SS: My favorite piece is usually the one that I’m currently working on because it has the potential to be the best thing I have ever done.
If I were forced to name my favorite prop it would probably be the first gargoyle I made for The Mad Lab contest in 2008. The gargoyle is a favorite because it was the first prop I made that really explored using recycled materials to create armatures.
The Demon Reapers are also special to me because they were the first pieces that I ever posted on the internet back in 2006. The Demon Reapers opened the door for me in regards to becoming involved with the on-line Halloween community and the feedback from all of the forums and social networks has really helped me grow as a prop builder.
JW: One last question…if someone came up to you today and asked you how they could create their own papier mache artwork with the same level of realism, personality and expression as you do…what would you tell them?
SS: Practice and perseverance. Papier mache is like anything else in life, it takes work and dedication. You can’t do sit-ups for one hour and expect to have six pack abs and the same is true with papier mache. Research, experiment, ask questions and most importantly have fun.
Scott, I would like to thank you again for taking the time to answer my question and am sure that our readers will appreciate it as well.
Images used courtesy of Stolloween.com