More than just a writing medium and a food wrapper, interestingly, paper can also spur creativity and bring aesthetic values. You might already be familiar with origami, the art of folding paper. But more than that, paper art comes in many forms.
Recently, we had the opportunity to interview Singapore's paper artist, Jian Yang. The 39 years old who works as a PR consultant in a renowned company collects more than 12,000 action figures and Barbie dolls in his house. Has been collecting toys since 1984, no wonder this places him as the second largest doll collector in the world.
The hobby is just the beginning of his journey in creating unique papercrafts. Now, he is known as a paper artist who uses tissue paper to make dresses and clothes for dolls. Let's hear our "story of paper" through Jian Yang's work of paper art!
Q: Hi, Jian! You are doing something new in the world of paper art. It's like you're combining origami and fashion into one. Where did you find the inspiration?
A: I get most inspired by the paper itself. I'm not a trained fashion designer, and I actually don't know fabrics at all. So everything I make is from touch. Funny thing is the whole craft began while I was bored on a two-week business trip in Sri Lanka.
Q: Could you tell us a little bit more about how boredom became the starting point of your art?
A: I was essentially trapped for quite a long time in a hotel, and one night while playing with toilet paper (yes, toilet paper!), I rolled a rosette, which I stuck onto my travel doll. And I thought this could be a nice Instagram photo. So I used another piece to make a dress, then I Instagrammed it. Since then, I've been to over 20 cities and each city inspires me in a different way.
Q: Why did you choose tissue paper? And is there any specific kind of tissue paper that you use to create your crafts?
A: The rule for my collection on Instagram #havetissuewilltravel is that I only use hotel toilet paper to make the dresses, to pay homage to the fact that the whole craft started in a hotel. Because of this, I'm not selective about the type of tissue I use, because it's always about what's available. However, I've also expanded now to napkins from restaurants (#havetissuewilleat), wrapping paper #havebirthdaywrapperwillcouture) and Chinese Ang Pows (#angpowcouture). I don't have a favorite tissue type per se, because I like paper in general as a medium. I did discover PASEO printed toilet paper though, which has made several fun dresses.
Q: Looking at your crafts, do you have any origami skills?
A: I've always been good at origami. In my book, #flushablefashion, I mentioned a man in the church called Uncle Peter, who would make an origami animal for me every week out of the church program bulletin. Throughout the service, I would unfold it, and refold it to learn how to make the animal without any instructions. I can still remember how to fold most of them to this day.
Q: Could you tell us about your methods of crafting your doll dresses?
A: I never sketch them. In fact, I don't have an idea when I start. I just lick my fingers and start. And let the motion inspire me. So it's really a spur of the moment design.
Q: What do you enjoy most in the process of crafting?
A: What I've been enjoying more than the process of creating is how people put a different spin on it. My take on it? What I do is not fashion. It's art on a doll. And like art, I think the artist shouldn't be the one that decides what people take away from it. The interpretation of the piece is entirely up to the viewer.
Q: Some people call your crafts "Sustainable Fashion." What's your take on this?
A: I think that paper as a material is already known to be biodegradable, recyclable and even compostable. Fabric doesn't enjoy the same positive connotations. Today's fashions are mostly made of fabric, and in our consumerist world, we know that we will keep buying - especially with fast fashion brands. If this is the future of fashion, then at least the fashion we consume will be responsible for the earth.
Q: To reduce pollution, is it possible to apply your art to the fashion world?
A: I really think it can. Even if we can't replace fabric entirely, it may be an interesting idea to replace some parts of fashion with paper.
Q: In your opinion, could paper art spark innovations and develop into an art that is pretty much loved in the future?
A: I never gave it much thought. To me, it was as simple as "why would anyone want to see my toilet paper?" But now I have an international book, I've had an exhibition, I have my tissue craft printed on official Singapore public transport cards, and I've just been featured in a Singapore Tourism Board exhibition in collaboration with Mattel. My work has been in VOGUE, Harper's Bazaar and NYLON Magazines.
Q: Regarding your book, #flushablefashion, what encouraged you to write it?
A: #flushablefashion is really a culmination of the #Havetissuewilltravel hashtag on Instagram. Now, it's been in the major fashion press, so it gave me the courage to turn it into a published, physical book.
Q: What are you trying to say to your readers through #flushablefashion?
While the book actually looks very much like a fashion book, people are usually very shocked that the fashions they see are made of toilet paper! It's been very satisfying to watch this book get picked up by the global doll community, and also interest by more fashion press.
Q: Is there any inspiration that you want to deliver through the book?
A: I think beyond my own doll collection, and the environmental issues this book helps to bring to light, it's very much a statement on how infinite imagination can lead to unexpected results. No one would have thought that toilet paper could become couture. On a personal front, I also think that it symbolizes ambitions being fulfilled.
Q: Could you mention one thing that you're most proud of from #flushablefashion?
A: I'm known around the world as the guy with 12,000 dolls. #flushablefashion helps to turn that conversation into one of craft, craftsmanship, and artistry, which, to me, changes the narrative into a positive one. And I'm very grateful for it.
If you’re curious, you can check this coverage of the #flushablefashion book launch party at Wonderwall. Jian Yang's paper art shows that paper can transform into a very creative, unique, inspiring, and eco-friendly craft. With the spirit of #GrowingOurTomorrow, we can follow Jian's footsteps in creating and innovating with sustainable materials like paper.