Vera van Wolferen's Curious World of Cardboard

While many of us think of cardboard as something to throw away, artist Vera van Wolferen has found the most enchanting way to recycle this humble material by creating stop-motion animations with cardboard sculptures. Mr.Wolf caught up with the busy Dutch artist to hear more about her journey from building dollhouses out of discarded boxes as a child, to creating elaborate cardboard sets in her award winning stop-motion films and her connection to Scandinavia.  

What many people won't know is that stop-motion animation requires extreme patience and perseverance— qualities that Wolferen has in abundance. Creating beautiful cardboard worlds that are captivating in their intricacy as well as their understated elegance, her work is sweet and soulful, with a touch of magic. She bases her stories on personal experiences and this sense of nostalgia comes through in each piece she produces.

With a Masters in Animation, her films have been showcased at numerous exhibitions and nominated for several awards. Her latest project, How to Catch a Bird, is currently being exhibited on the European festival circuit.

Where do you draw inspiration for your films from?
I draw inspiration from a lot of things. My short film How to Catch a Bird is based on a childhood memory. It’s a very sad story, and it made a big impression on me as a child. When I was about eight my dad taught me how to fish, even though he told me to take the worm off the hook after fishing I forgot about it. I had no idea why this was so important. The next morning I found a dead blackbird that had swallowed the worm, and unfortunately also the hook.
I’m inspired by writers like Raymond Carver, Haruki Murakami and Georges Perec.  I like the work of illustrators and artists like Gabriella Giandelli, Tim Enthoven, Ludwig Volbeda and Ryan Andrews. I’m into the Japanese animation films of studio Ghibli and short animated films by other filmmakers like Mikey Please and the Late Night Workclub contributors and my best friend who makes hand drawn animations with black ink, Julia Veldman. I’m also crazy about wooden houses, especially if they have porches! Unfortunately we almost don’t have them in the Netherlands.

Why have you chosen to use cardboard as your main medium? 
What I like about cardboard is that you don’t need a lot of tools to work with it. The material on its own isn’t worth so much, but when you make a sculpture out of it, it becomes something of value. I work with one specific type of cardboard, which is recycled grey board, in different thicknesses. Because of the restriction of the material, you need to be creative. Round forms, for example, are hard to make because cardboard isn’t bendable. The way you deal with the restrictions of the material determines the style.

How long does it take you to put together a stop motion short from start to finish?
It depends on the production. In August 2013 I finished my stop motion short How to Catch a Bird. This was my graduation film for my Masters in animation, which I did at AKV St. Joost Breda in the Netherlands. I worked on it for six months, of which the first two where spent on writing and the last four on working simultaneously on building the sets and animating.
Another stop-motion short I made during my Masters is Looking at this Bed. This animation I made in three months. It´s still one of my favorite projects. The idea behind this was to make a film consisting of one shot which shows a changing space. I did this by putting the camera in the middle of a big round model (made out of cardboard). In the timespan of the animation the camera makes a pan of 360 degrees, so the film ends where it begins. I made the model part by part without knowing what the next part would look like. I wanted every new part/room of the model to be a reaction on the other parts. I saw it like a poem with elements that rhyme. In the end the lighting and the music play an important part creating a certain atmosphere. I think that’s one of the most important aspects of my work, telling a story by creating an atmosphere.

What part of the process do you enjoy the most?What I enjoy the most is working with my hands, making physical what first only existed in my mind. I never sketch before I make something in 3D, because creating something in 3D is more natural to me than drawing it first. Before doing a Masters in Animation I did a Bachelor in Fine Art. The first three years I studied in the sculpture department and in my graduation year, I switched to the media department. I like the possibilities of combining different media, but somehow sculpture is always an important component of my work.

Can you tell us about a project you're currently working on?
While working on How to Catch a Bird I read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. The book inspired me to think about different ways to tell a story. Although drawing isn’t my medium at all, I’m really inspired by illustration and graphic novels.  Now I’m in the concept phase of a new project in which I would like to make a narrative installation using different media like sculpture, projections, animation and sound. Instead of drawing sequences, like in a comic book I would like to explore the possibilities of sequential sculptures. I’m really excited about this project.

How has Nordic imagery and culture influenced your style?
I grew up with a lot of Scandinavian television programs that were broadcasted in the Netherlands like of course Pippi Långstrump but also a program about a girl named Lotta who could become invisible when she pushed on her bellybutton. For me, as a young girl, Pippi was a role model because she was super strong and did everything by herself and was never afraid. She could actually still be a role model to me. Also I absolutely love the wooden houses in Scandinavia. A couple of years ago I went to Norway, it was a special trip I made with my mother and sister. I had never seen such beautiful scenery. My heart started pumping faster when I saw all the cabins with moss and grass on the roof, and the intriguing architecture of the stavkirker. There’s a great blog I visit from time to time that features pictures of beautiful cabins from all over the world called Cabin Porn

What's the most intricate thing you've made out of cardboard?
The most intricate thing I made lately was a light sculpture I made for a competition.
It’s a mountain with a café on top shaped like a percolator. It was quite a lot of work to make the mountain out of triangles. For the first time I used 3D software to figure out the shape of the café before making it out of cardboard. I’m making a sport out of it to make my models more and more intricate and more impressive, by making them bigger and more detailed. I guess I’m really getting a kick out of it!

Check out Vera's work here. You can even purchase a cardboard sculpture to call your own at her Etsy store. 

Words: Caitlin See