It is easy to get quickly instantly by those huge eyed cardboard characters of London-based Zara Wood a.k.a. Woody. Indeed, she is all over the place with her super cute little friends called Mitsi, Lulu, Magma, and Broodie Moonie. Woody’s illustrations beautify editorials, book and CD covers, Stussy T-shirts, pillow sets, or widow displays. Can’t get enough? If you happen to be in the UK, check out her current exhibition in Bristol (more info below). We caught Zara during her recent trip to Tokyo while amazing the Pecha Kucha audience – a chance for PingMag to let her explain about the magic of cardboard material.
Written by Uleshka and Verena
Woody would you quickly introduce yourself to our beloved readership?
I’m Zara Wood, also known as Woody. I originally studied Fine Arts and began illustrating in 2001. Since then, I have been switching between London and Melbourne, where I worked in advertising, editorial and fashion. Eventually, I became a full-time illustrator in 2005.
With your illustrations, you work very closely with cardboard. You are the expert here: What makes cardboard a good cardboard?
Double layered cardboard, 2 ply is very good! However, some cardboard can be great as a base but some pen inks can bleed. Also, uncoated computer boxes are good for strength. Some fruit boxes are incredibly constructed – especially the screen-printed black ones that are just great. I recycled the black fruit boxes to make black clouds and shelves for pieces in my Melbourne show Works on Cardboard.
How do you work…like start scribbling on cardboard right away and cutting it out? And how about your special 3D cardboard art?
Some pieces are very clear in my mind, so I don’t bother to sketch but rather draw them out straight away. With my 3D cardboard diorama Mountain from the Works on Cardboard exhibition in the Third Drawer Down Gallery, there’s a bit more planning involved: It requires some real cardboard engineering. Firstly, I need to make a secure base and think about how the piece will be displayed in the gallery; then later in someone’s home. Even though I’m using materials associated with packaging and usually seen as ephemeral, I want to make detailed and well crafted pieces that have longevity as an artwork.
3D cardboard! Close-up from the “Mountain” diorama as part of Woody’s “Works on Cardboard” exhibition…
…held late last year at Melbourne’s The Third Drawer Down Gallery.
So far, you’ve always used this material in your work. You really must have a huge thing for cardboard… What is it about it that you love so much?
Work methods: “Some pieces are very clear in my mind, so I don’t bother to sketch but rather draw them out straight away.”
It’s true I do have a bit of a penchant for cardboard, especially as material for the larger exhibition pieces. There’s something comforting about the color and texture of cardboard. It is not as daunting as a blank canvas. Before starting any new work there is always an expectation, which creates a form of inertia. Working with recycled cardboard or any recycled product takes that initial worry away. The item is already there for some time, for me, what is left is the adventure of changing that item into something different.
When did your relationship with cardboard start – do you remember?
When I spoke at the ICA in London last year, I reminisced about a set of photographs entitled by my family as the Potato Box Look. They are basically photos of me aged just over a year sitting in a cardboard box, with my expressions ranging from surprise at being caught, guilt and then cheekiness. They were taken at my grandmother’s flat in London and got their name from her, because she used to keep her potatoes in a cardboard box underneath the sink. So, the special cupboard wasn’t partitioned and for a small child getting in to the box it was like a tunnel in which to ride up and down in.
That’s some kind of early childhood imprinting? Lovely! So, how do you gather cardboards for your art today?
I’m subconsciously always on the lookout for cardboard – in alleyways or outside homes and shops. I do get some very odd looks from people for that, like I’m up to no good… I often feel like saying to them “Don’t worry, I’m only a keen recycler. All this cardboard is going to become art!” When I first started doing larger art pieces in London, it helped that it was very easy to transport them around the city. Although I did nearly take off once, when a somewhat strong wind got underneath the cardboard and nearly saw me flying around the West End in London!
Besides redesigning their corporate identity, Woody designed duvet and pillow sheets…
… for bedlinen company True Love Always. Check their website, it comes with Woody’s drawings!
Earlier you told me a lot of stories about gathering the cardboard, like sneaking around the houses at night, and nicking it from supermarkets. You also spoke about friends bringing over cardboard and then you having to get rid of some of what they brought because it is just not the right cardboard. What is your favorite cardboard story – the one where you get caught’?
It is true, all my friends know about my obsession with the cardboard. Some often bring me pieces or save me boxes. Last year, someone brought me loads of the stuff. However, some of it was not really premium cardboard. So, I used some to transport the work and recycled the rest. I felt awful but at least none of it was thrown away. If any of my friends are reading this, please do not be discouraged: I do welcome all cardboard donations and will be holding seminars on how to spot premium cardboard very soon…
Amazing! More anecdotes about that, please!
When we were in Australia, my boyfriend went on an urgent mission to get me more fruit boxes to finish off The Mountain piece for the Works on Cardboard show. It was just after Christmas and our usual market was closed. All the stalls were covered, but the general area was still open to the public. There was a designated recycling area for boxes that were not going to be reused by the stallholders. So, he started picking up these boxes in the recycled area…
On his second trip, he noticed CCTV cameras following him around… He looked up and there was a security guard on the balcony above. Apparently they thought he was stealing products! The security guard got on his walkie-talkie and started moving quickly towards the stairs. My boyfriend legged out of the market and ended up hiding behind a vending machine down the road. Luckily he escaped. Mark my words: The life of a cardboard hunter is never an easy one!
Cute characters, once more from Woody’s greeting card series.
No way! But these cardboards collected off the streets sure have gone far. How did you come to decorate the windows of Saatchi and Saatchi agency in London with your sweet cardboard dogs?
I exhibited and curated an illustration show called “Gone to The Dogs” for them. At that time, their reception area was very minimal and somewhat sterile. We decided to inject some homely elements to the space, and not shy away from elements that have an obvious human touch and imperfections. So, for example one illustrator made a fireplace out of large sheet of paper. I made a 4ft Chihuahua Mitsi and her friend, a Pomeranian dog. Unfortunately neither of them was house trained; so you will have to excuse their little free standing poo packages and wee wee puddles. They now live with some art collectors in New York – I visited them last October and they are doing very well.
Since 2002 Woody has been designing T-shirts for the Australian Stussy.
Her “Bright Eyes” sold the most last summer of Stussy’s women tees in Australia.
I recall few other interesting exhibitions that you had in London. Can you tell us more about them?
Book cover for Italian author Ilaria Bernardini’s novel “Non è niente.”
You mean The Streets of London exhibition, made in collaboration with Marmalade magazine? They invited artists to design a poster with some form of social comment. I came up with Recycling Rocks. I remember getting on a bus in east London and seeing my posters along the bus route – that was fantastic.
However, one of my first shows in London was the Can you see the Wood for the trees exhibition for Magma – arguably the best art and design bookshops in London. I hand-made vinyl letterings for their glass door. And it is so lovely to see them still on the door!
“Vivian” from her current “Inspired” exhibition at Soma Gallery in Bristol.
What else is coming up from Woody?
I’ve been working on some new Woody products and there is a possibility that my character worlds will become animated… But I really can’t tell you more about that now.
What a pity! I’d love to hear more about your future projects in animation. Anyway, looking at your work keeps me smiling all the time! Thank you, Zara Wood, for enriching us with your wonderful cardboard worlds!
More info: Absolute must: Check out Woody’s blog showing all of her works. Else: Either you make it to her “Inspired” exhibition at Soma Gallery in Bristol, UK, now-through June 17th; or if you happen to be around Melbourne, drop by the FAT GPO store for her cuties.