Quillin’ It: Life in Paper

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The exhibition“Quillin’ It: Life in Paper,” by artist Nikki Shull is featured in the Minnesota Gallery this month. 

For its July 2021 exhibitions, the MacRostie Art Center (MAC) in downtown Grand Rapids is featuring Minnesota-based artists, Blair Treuer, Nikki Shull, and Jim DeVries. Beginning July 2, 2021, Treuer’s fiber-based artwork, “Portraits: An Identity Exploration,” will be presented at the MacRostie Gallery. The Emerging Artist Gallery in Old Central School will feature DeVries’ pieces, and the Minnesota Gallery will display Shull’s art exhibit “Quillin’ It: Life in Paper.”

A self-taught artist who specializes in various artistic mediums such as pastels, paper, and acrylic and oil paint, Nikki Shull is a paper-quill artist based in Mizpah, Minnesota. In her exhibit at the Minnesota Gallery, Shull’s striking work in paper quilling will be on display. A distinctive art form, paper quilling involves the cutting of strips of paper and rolling, shaping, and gluing them into three-dimensional images and designs. In the following interview with Shull, she explains what inspired her to pursue this unique art form, her exhibition at the MAC, and what we can gain from experiencing it.

Have you always lived in Minnesota?

Yes, I have always lived in Minnesota, and I love to call it home.

What inspired your interest in art?

My interest in art began during my middle school years. The first picture I drew (a moose) was part of an assignment in art class. I found I had a lot of joy in making that piece of art. It turned out well, and my teacher encouraged me to continue to expand on my ability. I had that same teacher throughout my entire middle/high school years, and I give a great deal of credit to her for pushing me to continue in art. She saw potential in me I did not yet know or see. I have done just that, and have carried on over the years, feeding my creative desires and imaginations through my art. And art has brought so much joy to my heart over the years, and I thank God for that. 

When did you begin making your own art pieces?

I began making my own art once I graduated from high school. It was something in the transition that triggered my creative independence. For the first several years, my primary medium was oil paints. After several years of painting, I crossed over into soft pastels, and found I thoroughly enjoyed “painting” in pastels as well! As an artist, I enjoy and admire many forms of art, so naturally, my curious mind has continued to evolve over the years as I experiment and explore different mediums and styles of art. During the peak of my pastel years, I discovered paper quilling; I learned not only could I paint with oils and pastels, but with paper as well! The challenge and possibility of “painting” with paper continue to fuel my creativity to this day, and I have found so much joy and passion in quilling that I focus much of my creative time on that these days. 

How did you get involved in paper quilling, specifically, and how did you develop your skills in this unique medium?

I got involved in paper quilling simply out of my curiosity to try my hand at it. I was so intrigued by the potential of what I could do with paper that I had to test the waters! I knew how to paint, and I knew how to draw, but paper was an unfamiliar medium to me. I would consider myself a realistic artist, as I enjoy making realistic artworks; I am very detail-oriented with my work because it’s the details that bring it to life! So, I applied the knowledge and skill I had gained from painting/pastels over the years to paper quilling, and I go about quilling with the exact same strategy as I would painting/drawing, detail by detail. I largely credit my attention to detail, my desire for realism, and God for the gift, in developing my skills in this unique and fascinating medium. 

What does the paper quilling medium contribute to your art that other mediums, such as acrylic and oil paint, do not?

Paper quilling is unique compared to other mediums such as oils and pastels because it is far more challenging to achieve the same result. It takes a great deal of patience and persistence to see a project through. It is not as forgiving as other mediums where you can paint over or erase a mistake, so I have to be very meticulous in putting the pieces together. I spend many hours rolling, manipulating, and meticulously arranging hundreds of strips of paper to form beautiful works of art that can truly transform a space. However, all of these challenges make for a greater reward when I am successful in my goals! The beautiful, picturesque qualities and the three-dimensional effects of quilling cause the lights and shadows to shift under different light conditions that other mediums do not. Each piece when finished is truly unique and one of a kind, handcrafted with joy and love! 

How did you get connected with the MacRostie Art Center?

I got connected with MacRostie Art Center when I had participated in their annual juried shows. I stay up to date with the events and activities the center hosts. I am grateful for the work they do in building such a wonderful community and opportunities for artists! 

Can you describe your art exhibition, “Quillin’ It: Life in Paper,” which will be at the MacRostie this July?

“Quillin’ It: Life in Paper” is an exhibition of life and personality! Quilling or paper filigree is an art form that involves the use of strips of paper that are rolled, shaped, and glued together to create decorative designs and artistic images! The emphasis of this particular body of work is to highlight how individual “personality,” unique “emotions,” and the exquisite beauty of “nature” can be created and represented by manipulating an everyday product, yet non-traditional media such as paper, into a vision that can compel the viewer into appreciating the wonderment and awesomeness that is the world of art and the inspiring beauty that surrounds us in our everyday world. The body of work comprises a variety of subject matter centered largely around that of nature (i.e., landscapes, plants, flowers, etc.), wild and domestic animal content, as well as a mix of portrait/people work to demonstrate the full spectrum of the beauty in life and what can be achieved with paper.

I want to showcase a range of possibilities not limited to one particular topic but whatever can be imagined and cleverly thought out. 

Why did you choose to focus on familiar, everyday scenes in this exhibit, and what did you hope to accomplish and/or highlight?

I choose to focus on familiar, everyday scenes for a couple of reasons. For one, my interest is in realistic subject matter. I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of realism. For two, I have chosen familiar subjects because they are just that, familiar. When they are familiar, they are relatable. I want my audience to relate to the joy that life is in all the beautiful people, places, and things we are privileged to know, see and enjoy! Sometimes life moves so fast we forget to stop and take in the beauty and the joy that is all around us, and art has a way of helping us slow down and take that goodness in. If you think my work is fascinating, how fascinating is the creation that my work reflects? 

What do you hope others will gain from viewing your artwork in “Quillin’ It: Life in Paper”?

My work is moments in time captured and preserved in paper. Moments of joy, moments of happiness, moments of love, moments of beauty, moments of life. Ultimately, if I can hope for one thing my viewers will gain from viewing my work, it is the appreciation and gratitude for all the moments in life that make life meaningful. I hope that if for even only one moment, I can bring my audience a moment of joy. 

The public is invited to view Nikki Shull’s exhibition at the MacRostie Art Center both in person in Grand Rapids, and virtually at macrostieartcenter.org starting July 2. If you’d like to see more of Shull’s work, please visit her Instagram page – Instagram.com/niftynikkiart

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