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Shining Blades of Lore: An Interview with Ivonne Carley

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Conjuring images from cut paper is no strange task for paper artist Ivonne Carley. Her meticulous planning, cutting, and folding produce intricate narratives, minimal yet peppered with symbolism and storytelling. With a deft hand and sharp blade, pleated fabric, flowing hair, soft feathers, and more take form and emerge from vellum, acetate, and watercolor paper.

Ivonne has been working diligently out of her San Diego home studio, preparing for a solo exhibition entitled “Lore” at Thumbprint Gallery in La Jolla, California. Amidst her artmaking, framing, and show preparation, she graciously took some time out to speak with Dear Darkling about her artwork and her upcoming solo exhibit.

Dear Darkling: Your previous bodies of work have always had a darker occult undertone, and your new series for your solo show is based on Greek mythology. Can you tell us a bit more about the concept behind the work you are currently making in preparation for Lore?

Ivonne Carley: Due to the vast amount of storytelling possibilities, the realms of fantasy, mythology, and the occult have always been appealing genres. Originally, I planned on incorporating the mythologies of various cultures into one body of work but ended up settling on my first love of Greek legend as the primary inspiration: There’s just so much content in those realms and the imagery it invokes lends itself to my medium.

Detail of Harpy

Greek mythology has been the subject of artistic inspiration for over a millennium and has been chosen as a topic by countless other artists. How will your retelling of these stories shed new light on the subjects?

A good portion of the classic myths themselves are elaborate and detailed, sometimes overly so. I wanted to strip each of them down to their core with a haunting and minimalistic vision that left far more room for interpretation.

Can you walk us through your creative ritual? How do your papercut masterpieces go from an idea to a fully realized piece of art?

All pieces start out as a concept sketch. (I’ll have one displayed at the show for those curious about the creative process.) Usually, I scan up to five or so sketches until I get an image base I’m comfortable with. Each of those sketches are tailored, digitized, vectored, and manipulated to make sure all the elements work in their intended frame. I always cut with a specific frame in mind before the work actually comes to life; this may seem counter-intuitive to other artists who make work to frame later, but to me, the presentation is just as important as the work itself. So, I’ll stockpile (read: hoard) frames to pick and choose from based on my theme and subject, then go from there. Once I have my vectored map made, I get to cutting. Due to the symmetrical nature of a lot of my pieces, sometimes I use my own digital templates, drawings from sketchbooks, or even completely freehand.

Ivonne’s Workspace

What do you think are the strengths of using cut paper as your artistic medium? 

One of the things I love about the medium is that it maintains a sense of deceiving simplicity. Simple silhouettes and shadows can tell a vivid story just as much an as elaborate illustration or painting.

What is the most challenging artistic endeavor you’ve faced? 

All the work has its own set of challenges. My experience with the medium is relatively new, and being self-taught, there’s quite a bit of trial and error in the learning process. If anything, the most difficult challenge is that some work doesn’t translate well to a digital format, so photographs of the work don’t do it justice in my opinion. When photographing a multidimensional piece, much of the texture, layering, and depth is lost. I just hope that it piques enough interest to want to experience the piece in person.

Detail of Pandora’s Box

What do you do to get inspired when you are working on something new? Is there a special soundtrack, scent, or other practice you use to get into your artistic groove?

Call me old school but inspiration usually involves a trip to the San Diego Central Library. The building is incredible and has a stunning view of the city I love. I like to pull reference from physical books more so than perusing digital imagery. It usually entails parking in a corner of the reference section with my headphones, a stack of books, and my sketchbook. Being an audiophile at heart, music is a quintessential part of my process and life. It keeps me moving, focused and grounded, especially when I am in the meat of creating new work. Some of the recent favorites that I have played into the ground are the soundtrack to Only Lovers Left Alive, Guilty of Everything by Nothing, anything by Cigarettes After Sex, Ben Lukas Boysen, or one of my many Spotify playlists. The creative process always involves clearing my space with music or burning some kind of incense – like Palo Santo – never mind the mood invoked by one of the many blends by Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab on my skin.

Work in Progress shot of Hekate

As a self-taught artist, what are your feelings about formally educated vs self-taught artists?

Formal education certainly has its perks: It can help you broaden your horizons, skill sets, and business acumen – but is it an absolute necessity? Personally, I don’t think you need the piece of paper or have formal training to be good at what you do. Some people just have that je ne sais quoi about them regardless of whether they are formally trained or not.

How has your art style changed since you first began making art?

My style is and always will be in a constant stage of evolution. With each piece, I try to do things a little better than before – whether it’s doing new things in my existing medium or adding new techniques to the fold. There is always room to grow and challenge myself.

The pieces in this show are more sculptural and multi-dimensional compared to previous work. I’ve really become comfortable incorporating hand-scoring details that, to me, breathe more life into the piece. Those nuances add enough depth and detail to reveal something new every time someone takes a quiet moment to really embrace the work.

Detail from Hekate

What was the most powerful work of art you recall viewing? How has it impacted the artistic path you’ve chosen?

The Woman Aflame by Salvador Dali is my absolute favorite piece of art. His depiction of drawers as a place where women hide or place their emotions always spoke to me on a personal level. I have found that art created from a personal place, experience, or emotion, tend to be the most evocative and well-received.

Paper art, while not a “new” artform by any means, is not the most common way to make visual art. What drives you to create your visuals in this fashion vs using another medium?  

Regardless of the medium, I’ve always been personally drawn to high-contrast black and white work. Naturally, silhouetting made sense and I took off from there. I didn’t purposely set out to work with paper as my primary medium, but the more I tinkered, the more my work started to evolve, and I realized that I was able to evoke emotions that felt natural rather than crafted. To me, those emotions are fluid and personal and it was important to me to tell a story that was unique to the viewer, and to them alone. That’s what I like most about my work: A thousand different stories can be told through the same piece. Mind you, it can be a challenging medium as much as any other, but it’s extremely rewarding to see the work come to life. Often, paper is dismissed as a simple craft, but I couldn’t disagree more. There’s a very real part of me that’s in it to show that it’s just as strong of a medium as paint, pencil, or ink.

Ivonne cordially invites our readers to her exhibit opening of Lore on June 9th at Thumbprint Gallery. Details on the exhibit’s opening and duration can be found here. For more sneak peeks of her Lore series prior to the exhibit, visit her Instagram.


Detail of Pegasus


All photos, including featured image, courtesy of Ivonne Carley.

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About The Author

Earning both her Bachelor's and Master's degree of fine arts from the University of Central Florida, artist Janae Corrado is currently serving as adjunct professor overseeing online art instruction at Daytona State College. You can usually find her painting in her studio surrounded by pit bulls and a snarky deaf cat. Follow her on Instagram: @JanaeCorrado

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