Art of Paper Design – Interview with The Paper Committee
“The Shape that Changed My Life”
In our series, Art of Paper Design, we interviewed Amanda Witucki, creator and artistic designer of The Paper Committee. Amanda’s passion and dedication for textural designs are born from imagination, hard work, and a little bit of magic.
Somewhere around ten years ago I came across this book called ‘Papercraft’ and in it was hundreds of photos of paper art installations, graphic design-esque paper illustrations, paper food, photo shoots with the set created entirely from paper. I’d never seen paper used to create anything besides origami and it blew my mind. Everything was so charming, crisp, even somewhat silly. After that, I became obsessed with paper as a medium.
– Amanda Witucki
Read on to learn more about Amanda and her amazing designs!
Tell me about yourself and how your art journey began.
“I moved to Austin Texas after I graduated college around ten years ago. I wasn’t sure what path I was going to take and kind of fell into wedding design by way of being in someone’s wedding and insisting we could make everything ourselves cheaper than buying it off Etsy. From there, my friend and I crafted really thoughtful, beautiful weddings. We were in business about 3 years and designed lots of weddings, photo shoots, and events. Honestly looking back, we were very prolific for 3 years. But we closed our business in 2015 after some personal tragedies/milestones took precedence in our lives.
This is always an awkward time for me to explain so I’ll just be upfront. My older brother died unexpectedly and shortly after; my partner gave birth to her first child. I was pre-occupied with grief and she was preoccupied with caring for a new baby. So, after several months of us quietly tending to ourselves, we decided to end the business. After a few years of grieving, learning, and growing I was ready to continue my creative path. I launched myself into events because that’s what I knew; I focused on backdrops and larger art installations. At one point, a friend suggested that I take my larger installations and shrink it down small enough that I could glue it to a canvas and sell it as fine art. I tell you what, I owe that friend my career. Since then, and also because of being furloughed during quarantine, I’ve made a living off my art.”
Where did you get the idea for The Paper Committee? How would you explain its mission?
“The Paper Committee is a derivative of my first business which was called the Confetti Committee. The Confetti Committee created unique, handmade, & colorful weddings, and the Paper Committee takes all those skills and pours them exclusively into paper fine art. This business focuses on colorful and playful art and installations. Its mission is just to inspire joy, simply put. A lot of times fine art can be labeled as pretentious, stuffy, or high concept, and that can be intimidating to people. I really wanted to create something that was simple and fun just for the sake of being fun: beauty is its only purpose.”
What inspires you to create/design your art pieces and/or installations? Has it changed over time?
“Now that I’m creating primarily one form of art (i.e. origami), and the design is always similar, color is the primary inspiration. Back when I had the wedding business and even after, I was primarily inspired by using simple objects and repeating them over and over to create a giant structure. Like dip-dyed mop heads, or paper cone cups strung into garlands. I loved unexpected cheap materials used in a unique way. But now color has a special spot in my heart.”
What was your first installation artwork? Why did you choose that piece?
“My very first installation with the Paper Committee was in October 2018. I had just come up with the origami concept and wanted a bigger audience to showcase to. As I was creating it, I knew this was going to be big. It was so pretty and unlike anything I’d ever seen; I had to get it in front of a big audience.
There is a group here in Austin called Future Front Texas, and they have a HUGE following. They throw all kinds of events, and one of them is this big craft market called The Front Market, which showcases the best of Austin makers and artists, and it’s always jam-packed with people. I reached out and asked if I could do an art installation for them. They responded and said that they’d already spent their budget for commissioned work, and I told them I’d happily do it for free. I’d like to point out how rare it is for a business to even mention that they wish they could pay; most businesses just assume you’ll do it for free for “exposure.” Kudos to them for such integrity. Turns out this time “exposure” actually brought results. They let me set up my installation in the entrance of the market, and over 1000 people saw it in a four-hour period.
There was a couple who attended the market, saw the installation, and contacted me to create this installation in their home. It’s funny looking back, because initially my response was “Sorry, I don’t do that; I’m not an artist, I just do events.” Thankfully, they insisted that I WAS an artist, and I should create this piece for their home, so I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and accepted the job. This begins the transition into fine art versus events. It took me awhile to call myself an artist, but this couple (Toby and James) were a huge part of how I got to where I am today.”
What is your favorite part of the artistic process?
“Hands down my favorite part is picking the colors. Colors inspire my soul in a way that I can’t express through words. I get inspired from photos, advertisements, people’s outfits, the environment, etc. Colors are more than a visual thing—they inspire an entire environment, a memory, the feeling you get when you look at them can immediately tell a story. Totally intangible but so powerful! Most of the time when I make a piece, I’m just trying to re-create the way that those colors made me feel.”
From our first interaction, I immediately understood the passion you have for your work. Where do you draw that passion from? What motivates you?
“I’ve always been a high energy person and when I get really stoked on an idea, I can’t help myself but feverishly work until I can make that idea a reality. I’m also a classic Gemini so a lot of projects go unfinished. I think my favorite part is just the concept portion where I get really excited about an idea and then I don’t actually follow through to completion.
The Paper Committee is the first time that I was able to find an overlap with my talents meeting public demand, which helped me follow through and bring this whole thing into fruition. When I had the wedding business, I was so used to not getting paid appropriately for what I’ve made because no one wants to pay thousands of dollars for something that is essentially disposable art. Weddings just weren’t the right market for my skill set. All this work goes into a wedding, but everything goes in the trash after the wedding is over, and so often people would cut “decor” out of the budget in the last few months of planning because it’s hard to justify the cost for something that will just be thrown away 6 hours after it’s installed. Once I adjusted my design and made things a little bit more permanent, I was able to market my creations as ‘fine art.’ People who are art collectors are very comfortable spending a lot of money on something, and so I finally found the correct market for my skills. That was a huge motivator. I spent years under-selling myself just so I could get gigs, and finally I was getting paid appropriately for my time! I couldn’t wait to keep creating! Another big source of my passion and motivation comes from the response that I get from people. I feel a strong connection to color, and when someone feels a strong connection to something that I’ve created, it motivates me to keep trying new things. There are endless color palettes in this world, so I’ve got an infinite amount of art that I can create.”
What has contributed most to your evolution as an artist?
“In the past two years I’ve learned a lot about paper: the thickness that works best; lots of new paper companies that offer all kinds of beautiful colors. Now I have quite the paper collection that includes hundreds of colors, weights, textures, and patterns and that has elevated what I create. Along with trying to perfect what I’m doing with the paper that I’m using, I’m also trying to slowly incorporate new ways to treat the canvas that my pieces are displayed on. I now paint borders and accent stripes on the canvases to add to the overall design of the piece. I’ve also painted small dots on the paper shapes themselves, somewhat akin to a galaxy trail of stars. I’m slowly trying to adjust and perfect what I am creating so that it is the highest version of what it can be.”
What kind of impression or feeling do you hope to leave upon viewers of your work? Do you have any memorable responses?
“Years ago, around 2014, I was walking in downtown Austin and I came across this art installation in an alleyway. There were neon pink and orange strings, hundreds, and hundreds of strings, that were traveling from a window in one building across the alley and going in the window of another building. It was this incredible delicate suspension of color. I had never seen any kind of outdoor art installation like this, especially without any sort of signage or seeming purpose for it. This piece was just celebrating a forgotten alley and that blew my mind and changed the way I looked at art. I was accustomed to seeing art in galleries and on walls, and it was always so inaccessible to me. This was just art in the middle of an alley for no reason at all other than it’s cool and beautiful, and it impressed me in a way I’d never experienced before. It opened my eyes to art expression in a totally different way. THAT is the feeling that I’m trying to convey with my art.
After I completed that first installation at the craft fair, I stayed on site and watched people admire it, take photos of it, take selfies with it, and try to figure it out. I was so touched watching people explore it; that was such an incredible feeling. When I had the wedding business, we would create all this wonderful art for the event, set it all up in front of an audience of disinterested event workers, caterers, DJs, etc., and then we would leave before the wedding started so we never got to experience anyone appreciating our work – which is absolutely the best part. So, when I was able to see people admire my work at that craft fair, it was such an incredible thing. It’s one of my favorite memories.”
With all of the different options available to express one’s creativity, why do you choose paper?
“Somewhere around ten years ago I came across this book called ‘Papercraft’ and in it was hundreds of photos of paper art installations, graphic design-esque paper illustrations, paper food, photo shoots with the set created entirely from paper. I’d never seen paper used to create anything besides origami and it blew my mind. Everything was so charming, crisp, even somewhat silly. After that, I became obsessed with paper as a medium.”
Where do you hope to see The Paper Committee in the future?
“Currently, commissions make up the majority of my income. I’m also pursuing art shows and having my art displayed in galleries. In the next five years, I want to streamline my entire process so that I can free up more time to create public temporary art installations like the one I saw in the alley so many years ago. Since everything I do is made from scratch, I don’t have the luxury of receiving passive income from prints or merchandise. I am brainstorming ways to change that. The future of the Paper Committee will include prints, wrapping paper, stationery, and notepads. These types of products, along with taking on fewer but higher-paying commissions, will free up more time for me to focus my efforts on public art installations.”
What has been a seminal experience in your artistic career?
“The biggest change in my career was when I transformed my work into fine art versus event design. There are two components that contributed to this change. First was that couple who hired me to make that first home installation. Before meeting them, I wasn’t considering myself an artist, so I wasn’t aware of all the art opportunities here in Austin. After I completed their installation, they would send me open calls for art and different art festivals and encourage me to apply. For an entire year I resisted following up with any of these art opportunities because I kept thinking they didn’t apply to me, since “I’m not an artist, I just design events.” After shutting so many of these opportunities down, I was talking to my friend about it (who is a fellow artist) and she casually suggested that I try making my installations small so that I could put them on a canvas, and then it would be considered fine art— meaning I could begin applying to all the art opportunities that I had been ignoring! This had never occurred to me before, and because of her suggestion, I created my first piece on a canvas and applied to my first art show. The rest is history. If it wasn’t for that couple encouraging me to apply for art calls and for my friend who showed me a different way of making art, I would not be where I am today.”
Describe your dream project. What would it be? Where? Who would you work with?
“I’m really inspired by guerrilla art, which is a street art movement where temporary art installations are created in public without any explanation. It’s like art vandalism: it can be used to spread a message, brighten your day, or can be a creative solution for problems. For example, a busy road that has frequent accidents could become safer by creating art in/near the road, causing people to slow down to view the art, resulting in fewer accidents and possibly saving lives. This is my favorite kind of art. A dream project would be to connect with someone who has access to all of the necessary building materials like cranes or power tools, a team of helpers, etc., and I would love to create a secret art project in some kind of abandoned alleyway or warehouse. Who knows what we’d create, but it would be something colorful and beautiful and it wouldn’t have any other purpose besides being pretty. Clearly, I just want to re-create what happened to me with the neon strings in the alley for hundreds of people in another project that’s even larger.”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given for your career? What advice can you give someone else looking to pursue a career in fine arts?
“Karamo Brown said “don’t be afraid of ‘no’s’— everyone gets them, and every no you hear, every ‘that doesn’t fit our concept,’ or ‘we can’t afford to pay you’ is part of the story to your future success. Every ‘no’ puts you that much closer to a yes.” I say embrace the No’s for two reasons: One – statistically the more no’s you hear, eventually you’ll get a yes. Two – you never know what choices you might make as a result of being told no to something or not achieving something you wanted.
A few years before the Paper Committee was born, I was approached and interviewed for a craft tutorial YouTube series. It was a dream project and it was my first time interviewing for my personality. Up until this point I’d always been interviewed to talk about my art and the focus was never on me as a person. I definitely struggled with the interview and was not able to successfully capture my personality and ultimately, I didn’t get the job. It killed me to think that I might have been passed up on what has always been a dream of mine (I’ve always wanted to host a multi-platform diy craft/talk show), so I decided to start my own craft show. I only made two episodes ever because on the second episode I discovered the origami shape that has carried me into my full-blown art career to this day. So, one could say that my entire career stemmed from this one failure. Always embrace the “no” and be ready for the gifts It can bring.”
Do you have any upcoming projects/endeavors that you want to share?
“I have my first solo show coming up in September, which is a huge milestone! This show will be about my mother and the colors within the pieces will reflect memories and parts of my mother’s life. I’ve got several other art shows for the rest of the year as well as a fun whimsical Christmas installation that is still in the works. Stay tuned.”