Open Book: Owen Gildersleeve
Open Book: Owen Gildersleeve
Papercraft artist and illustrator Owen Gildersleeve

Owen Gildersleeve | Artist & Designer

We caught up with Owen Gildersleeve to talk paper cars, Sigur Rós and the everyday life of a designer. Owen is an artist and designer specializing in handcrafted illustration, and is responsible for the stunning handmade papercrafts that bring My Amazing Body Machine to life. 

Your work in five words:

Handcrafted, graphically inspired, cutting edge ;)

Your favorite place on Earth:

Brighton, UK.

If a film was made out of your life, it would be called:

Snowed Under.

Stripes, swirls, or polka dots?


Much of your design work features handcrafted, layered paper cuttings. What’s made paper your medium of choice?

I've always had an interest in tactile art and since a young age have been fascinated by artists such as Anselm Kiefer and Robert Rauschenberg, who used a range of different materials and mediums in their artworks. I began exploring my own artwork in a similar manner, playing with a range of mixed media approaches.


How did that progress?

Over time, as I started to get commissions in, I more regularly needed a medium that could be easily shaped and formed, whilst being inexpensive and easy to acquire. Paper was the obvious choice. Then over time things had a way of snowballing. After doing one piece in paper, that led to more work, and I eventually realized that this was my medium.

Your paper creations surely take enormous care and time commitment! How long does your average project take?

It really depends on the project and the level of detail required. Sometimes for editorial jobs I only get a week, and then if I'm working on a large-scale 3D build then I can have a couple of months. For this particular project, where I was asked to create fifty illustrations for the My Amazing Body Machine book, I was given around two months, which was still quite tight with the level of detail involved.


What are the top three designs you’re most proud of in your career?

For that I'd probably say, number one: my Shadow Spaces series, a series of artworks that studies the relationship between space, form and light, and light's natural counterpart, shadow. For this I collaborated with still-life photographer Stephen Lenthall to create a series of miniature architectural paper spaces, using light as a map to shape each form. The structures were built with simple white paper, and each was defined by the way it reflected light.


And number two?

Number two is a pair of projects. The first was last year, when I was approached by the Silicon Valley Comic Con to make a life-size paper replica of Iron Man. For the build, my team and I brought in our regular collaborator, 3D designer Thomas Forsyth, and together we worked out the approach for the project. We had a month-long build at my studio in London and then travelled out to the event where we pieced together the model live. It was really hard work but I think we pulled it off.


That’s hard to beat! What else is tied for number two?

This year we've pushed things even further by creating a life-size model of the droid K-2SO from the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story film. The character is huge, standing at 2.16m tall, and has an extremely intricate body shape.


And number three?

This book! It sounds cheesy to say it, but I am really proud of the series of artworks that we created for this title. It was a big undertaking creating so many artworks and working with a range of scientists to make sure that everything was anatomically accurate. But I'm really happy with what we created and I'm looking forward to hearing people's reactions to the book.

What’s been the most unusual or unexpected challenge you’ve had to overcome on a project?

A large challenge that my team and I had to overcome recently was to work out how to make paper flowers move. We had been approached by Lush cosmetics to create a window display for their flagship Oxford Street store in London to support their Self-Preserving campaign. For the display we made a series of paper flowers based on paintings by UK artist Charlotte Day in a range of different sizes and scales. We also thought it would be fun to have some of the flowers move, to catch the eye of passers-by, but had no idea how to do it!

Sounds like a challenge! How did you pull that off?

We again brought in 3D designer Thomas Forsyth, who devised some 3D-printed mechanisms on which we could place the paper flower heads. He created some really interesting coding which meant that the movements were completely random, to make the flowers feel almost alive. He did a really amazing job!



What’s been your strangest single day on the job?

There have been quite a few interesting work days over the years. But for the strangest I'd probably say it was when we were asked to build a life-size paper car for Nissan and piece it together live to camera.


You don’t hear that every day! What was the occasion?

It was the fifth anniversary of the Nissan Juke, and to push the Japanese-designed, British-crafted concept they had the idea of getting a UK artist to make a replica of the car out of paper. At first I wasn't sure where to begin as I'd never created anything on that scale before, let alone a perfectly accurate model of an object. So I brought in my trusted 3D designer Thomas Forsyth, who was used to working on large-scale 3D builds.


The suspense is too much! How did it turn out?

Thomas immediately helped to calm my nerves and together we devised a system where we took a 3D model of the car and broke it down into a framework, which we then made out of large foam board sheets. This created a solid base on which we could build and attach the paper shell. We then took all the components to a photography studio and pieced it together live to camera. It was a pretty intense day but everyone seemed happy with the results.


What would be your dream collaboration?

I think it would be great to collaborate with a band like Radiohead or Sigur Rós. Someone with a lot of emotion behind their music that I could work with to create some exploratory artworks.

Do you have a favorite spread from My Amazing Body Machine?

To be honest I haven't actually seen the whole book yet! But of the illustrations I worked on I'm really looking forward to seeing the muscular system spread. That was such a detailed artwork to create, so I'm excited to see it laid out as a full spread.


What’s the best piece of practical advice you can give to aspiring designers and illustrators?

Try to not look at too much design and illustration for inspiration. It's the easiest way to make you feel bad about your work and it's very easy to inadvertently copy ideas. Instead I'd recommend taking yourself out of your bubble, and to go to a gallery, gig or even just for a walk. It's amazing how much this can help to ignite ideas.

Final question (we had to ask): do you get many paper cuts?

Not as many as I used to!

My Amazing Body Machine takes kids on a unique and exciting journey through all the working parts of human anatomy. From our intricately wired brain to our squeezing, squelching guts and relentlessly pumping heart, renowned scientist Robert Winston explores each part of this living machine through incredible, original papercraft artworks by Owen Gildersleeve.

To discover more about the artists mentioned in this article, please follow the links below:
Still-life photographer Stephen Lenthall
3D designer Thomas Forsyth
Artist Charlotte Day

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