Lisa Nilsson Anatomical Cross-Sections in Paper

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Lisa Nilsson

Artist Lisa Nilsson constructs pieces with tightly curled, ¼-inch-thick strips of Japanese mulberry paper and the gilded edges of old books, using a centuries-old process called quilling, or paper filigree. Quilling was first practiced by Renaissance nuns and monks who are said to have made artistic use of the gilded edges of worn out bibles. Though it’s a painstaking technique – she takes about two months to complete larger pieces – Nilsson finds quilling „exquisitely satisfying for rendering the densely squished and lovely internal landscape of the human body in cross section.” For more check out the interview below and visit her website

Lisa Nilsson

How would you describe yourself in one sentence?
I wouldn’t.

Whom do you look up to?
My dad. He’s tall. He’s also wise and kind and childlike.

Who or what has been the biggest influence on your way of thinking?
People you may have heard of: Robert Rauschenberg, Joseph Cornell, Otto Dix, David Sedaris, Bertie Wooster (he’s a fictional character).

People you may not have heard of: My artist friends Jo, Dave, Deb, Diane, Laura, Mark, Kirsten, my husband Rich, my first art director Mike.

The book Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils and Rewards of Artmaking, by David Bayles and Ted Orland, has been a steady and good influence. It’s sort of a self-help book for artists. It does a great job of describing the terrain for us regular people making “ordinary art” (according to the book “ordinary art” is “art not made by Mozart”) and giving us strategies for not quitting. I try to reread it every few years or so.

Lisa Nilsson

How did your art career start?
I don’t remember ever wanting to be anything other than an artist “when I grew up”. And as it turns out, I’m not fit for much else. I was always making something when I was a kid. My dad worked as a graphic designer and his brother (who sadly died before I was born) was an illustrator. So being an artist was not unheard of in my family. After high school I went to art school and got a degree in illustration. After that I worked for many years as an illustrator, moslty drawing and painting greeting cards and magazine illustrations.

What made you want to become an artist?
I liked making things more than doing anything else.

What was your favourite project and why?
My favorite project is whatever I’m currently working on. Just now, I’m applying the paper technique (quilling) that I used to represent anatomical cross-sections in works that are more geometric than biological. They’re largely inspired by the formal (compositional) elements of Persian rugs.

What was the biggest challenge you’ve faced during your career as an artist?
Sustaining faith, keeping the faith that a particular piece or project will eventually develop, that I’ll make enough money.

Lisa Nilsson

Do you have a favourite quote that describes what you truly believe in?
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

How do you define creativity?
I’ve heard a definition of genius that applies. It’s something like this: It is the ability to find fruitful connections between disparate bodies of information.

If you had one advice for someone seeking to live a creative life, what would you tell him?
Make stuff. Be creative about what “living a creative life” can be. That’s kind of an obvious thing to say, but it’s different for each person, each artist. Some people need the stabilty of a job, some find that stiflling or depleting, some people need to be very social, others to be alone.

Lisa Nilsson

What do you know now that you wish you knew at 21?
That I’d be garanteed to be here at 51 (and beyond).

Is there anything for which you would be ready to give up your passion of art?
I don’t think of myself as holding on to a passion for art. I don’t think of art as something that could be given up. It’s just what I am. If I mentally place myself in some super-limited environment, some imaginary solitary confinement (god forbid!) I see myself attempting to remain sane by re-arranging the dirt on the floor into patterns, scratching sketches in the walls. Though, I probably would not remain sane. It’s probably much much harder than I imagine.

Lisa Nilsson

Lisa Nilsson

All images and videos © Lisa Nilsson

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