Spotlight: Ghylenn Descamps, Artist, Maker, Illustrator and Writer

Flower Kirigami

Spotlight: Ghylenn Descamps, Artist, Maker, Illustrator and Writer

Passionate about Japanese culture and creativity, French artist Ghylenn Descamps writes, illustrates, makes (especially with paper) and coaches creative people. Constantly exploring the potential of her own creativity, Ghylenn’s energy and enthusiasm spill over to inspire others to find their most productive ways of working.

Tell us a little bit about you and what you do. How did you get started? 

Ghylenn Decamps portrait

My name is Ghylenn and I am an artist an author of plenty of arts and crafts books (about forty books!!!). After studies of literature, I chose to go to a graphic design school, named ESAG (Met de Penninghen) in Paris.

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There, I studied illustration, photography, graphic design, after having acquired a solid drawing base. When I came out of school, I didn’t see myself going into a packaging agency or doing advertising. It took me a long time to find out what really thrilled me, but I knew I loved books!

It was a bit of a coincidence that I ended up publishing my first book about salt dough, which was a big success. Then I went on to DIY and wrote a series of books and publications in the press that allowed me to explore a lot of different techniques. Papier mâché, paper cut, Origami, Kirigami, calligraphy, framing. I also illustrated a few children’s albums. I even wrote 3 cookbooks while creating the recipes and doing food photography! Also, I work for the press (Marie Claire Idées) and some companies of DIY.

Another camping popup with a fox
Photo by Jean Baptiste Pellerin

When was the first time that you remember realizing that you are a creative person?

In fact I don’t remember a click or a particular moment. When I look back, it’s like a continuity. I was a little girl with a lot of imagination and creativity, and I lived in my imaginary world. This world helped me when things were too hard for me, in my life. The atmosphere at home was sometimes complicated and my creative imagination offered me an escape.

I remember that I always liked to tinker, make up stories, dress up, build huts or tepees, imagine games in nature or sew dresses for my dolls. At home, Mom used invite us to create, and when I was sick, she often offered me hands-on creativity kits to pass the time. I loved it, but I realized much later that not everyone did!

Work in progress for the camping pop up

What different creative mediums do you play around with? What are your favorites?

My favourite creative mediums are paper, illustration, calligraphy and photography. I’m in love with paper, all kinds of paper, but especially Japanese papers.

One of my biggest pleasures is to mix different mediums. I love mixing techniques, exploring, going where I don’t expect to go, which explains the cookbooks! What I like the most is when a creation tells a story, when it makes you dream. Recently, I started to create a comics hero, which is a mix of photography, drawing, paper cut and Photoshop, and it’s so fun! 

Camping Pop Up
Photo by Jean Baptiste Pellerin

Who or what are your main influences and inspirations?

I am curious and I like to observe around me: beauty of nature, life, people. Everything can nourish my imagination.

But I love the traditional patterns of the world, in particular, anything to do with Japan. Japanese culture, its patterns, its refinement are an inexhaustible source of inspiration for me.

Traveling inspires and nourishes me as well. Even if during these periods I am not necessarily very productive, they are moments of deep renewal and necessary for my balance. Just like nature, I love walking in nature.

I also read a lot of books on personal development, spirituality and on the careers of artists. In particular, I like to understand what drives them, their way of seeing life, the world and their art. I am fascinated by the way human beings function, what motivates them, how they grow through hardship.

When I’m looking for specific ideas, I explore a lot on Pinterest or I go to a bookstore. I browse books not only in DIY, but I also look at comics and children’s books.

Kirigami book cover

What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your books, especially your new title, Beginner’s Guide to Kirigami? What is kirigami? 

The Kirigami – from Kiru: cut and gami: paper – has its source in one of the oldest traditional Chinese arts, the “Jianzhi” or the art of paper cutting. When this art of paper cutting arrived in Japan, it was enriched by the art of folded paper (Origami) and it give birth to the current Kirigami.

I would like readers to go slowly, in no hurry. I would like them to enjoy taking the time to express their creativity in a moment of connection with themselves, a nourishing moment for their souls. In addition to the satisfaction and pleasure of creating their own projects of course!

I would like them to accept to start from where they are without judging themselves or demanding an immediate and “perfect” result. It’s not so simple to give yourself time to “learn” or improve and practice in a world where everything is just a click away.

The Kirigami asks you to take that time, with precision, concentration and a lot of attention. Without that, you risk getting hurt very easily! The Kirigami offers us the possibility to bring us back to the present moment. It’s a real gift! For me, it’s a kind of active meditation.

Pop up of Paris
Photo by Fabrice Besse

What does being creative mean to you?

What a big question! Thank you so much for this question! 

It means a lot for me, because I think that creativity is a super food for the soul! I’m deeply convinced that everyone is creative even if they are not aware about that!

Being creative means that I follow my soul to accomplish what makes me happy. For me it took the appearance of an an artistic work. Sometimes drawing, sometimes cooking, taking a picture of my amazing view from my workplace, dancing or having a break. It’s a way of looking at life: with curiosity, joy and amazement. And everyone has their own way to express their specific creativity, according to their own tastes and affinities.

Right after Beginner’s Guide to Kirigami was published in France, I wrote a book about creativity, 365 Days to Unleash Your Creativity, which was published in France. It’s about how to connect with your own creativity, how to overcome fears, creative blocks, how to surpass yourself and keep a beautiful creative energy while getting to know yourself better and function better with your own creativity. And I’m so happy to announce that this book is going to be translated in English and is going to be published in the USA in 2020! Creativity is one of my favourite subjects!

How can people overcome the challenges they feel to their creative ability?

I think the best idea is to reconnect with what we like to do the most, what we are passionate about, without putting pressure on ourselves. Demanding a quick and immediate result from oneself often blocks creativity! It’s really important to regain pleasure and enthusiasm for doing things, without pressure, just for fun!

If we have a difficulty on a creative project, we can also try to find out why this subject interested us, did it fascinate us? What did we like about this project? What inspired us? Going back to what makes sense renews our enthusiasm, makes us gain energy, inspires us. If it’s no longer the case, it allows us to see that we don’t really want to go in that direction anymore. In this case, it is better to choose another project that we are more passionate about!

There can really be all sorts of difficulties. Another idea would be to try to identify what is blocking, if it is linked to a lack of self-confidence, a lack of enthusiasm, a fear of not succeeding, a fear of the gaze of others. There would still be a thousand things to say on this subject! And I love to go on that field! The subject is really vast and exciting for me!

Flower Kirigami
Photo by Fabrice Besse

Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?

Yes, I have a studio dedicated to my creative work. I used to say that it’s my magic cauldron, where I create my work, explore creativity, and create myself, by the way. I have a lot of stuff in it, all in boxes.

With two offices, I have one space for everything computer-related and the other for everything manual. There’s lots of pots for crayons and felt-tip pens. I have a lot of boxes full of creative material, to work with paper but also pieces of fabric, strings, beads, wool, inks, paints. And I probably forget some!

I also have a lot of documentation books, drawing boxes filled with sheets of paper and a phenomenal quantity of notebooks. When necessary, I have everything I need to improvise a photo studio corner! Some days, I dream of sorting and lightening all this to save space, but I get scared when I see all I have!!!

What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?

My basic tools are rather classic! Pencil, cutter, scalpel, eraser, ruler, brushes, markers and coloured pencils. In fact, the list is long! Nevertheless, I always start writing down my ideas with pencils, sketches and note-taking.

Afterwards, technology comes in and is a great help to me! I use computer, printer, scanner and camera very regularly in my creative process. I share sketches with my clients either through my phone or scanner. When I work for a magazine, like Marie Claire Idées, I regularly show the work in progress in order to have each step validated. This is necessary to respond well to my clients’ requests; it avoids disappointments.

The light table is very useful for me to redraw a pattern easily. A scanner and the printer are also indispensable to rework my ideas. The scanner saves me a lot of time when I have to supply a pattern, because I can rework it directly on the computer. It also often happens that I enlarge a sketch, print it on a very light sheet of paper, stick it on the back of a colored sheet of paper and cut out directly, improving my drawing!

Paper ornament by Ghylenn Descamps

What is your favorite tip for organizing your stash of creative supplies?

My favourite advice is to arrange the creative material thematically in boxes with a label. When I move, I remember that such and such material is in such and such a box and I don’t have to look for it, since it’s always on the same shelf, in the same box. The idea is to be super organized right from the start, otherwise it can quickly become a headache. And I admit I don’t want to embarrass myself with that!

What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?

Hearing music has a big place in my creative journey. In fact, it depends what I’m doing! I really enjoy music and working with music.

I have a different kind of music for each step of my process! When I need concentration because of the first step of creativity, when I need to find new ideas, I need silence or very, very soft music. If I need energy, I put epic music, rock N roll or music that makes me want to dance! When I need to soften my energy I hear fractal music, or delta waves, or music for sleep. Most of the time I appreciate indie pop rock music. I love discovering new artists, often in English.

Ghyleen's little Pepita cartoon character

Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?

Well, I’m really crazy about notebooks and sketchbooks! I have plenty of them. When I read the famous book of Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way – a Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, it was the first time I heard  about the “3 morning pages”. I was so excited by the idea that I started immediately! I have one notebook for my everyday gratitudes, another one for my everyday ideas, another one for my creative process, or for special drawings. Writing ideas and thoughts is one of my favourite hobbies.

Some are for my everydays writings.

I always have one notebook with me, at least, often two! The first reserved for sketches and ideas for a comic book character and the second for thoughts and ideas that come to my mind and go through my head. Without a precise goal. And I love it!

When I need to come up with an idea, I look at what I’ve drawn in my notebook. Either it gives me new ideas, or, if I am less inspired and need an idea quickly, I choose one that I rework. In any case, looking at my notebook puts me back in a good creative energy! I write down my ideas when I’m very inspired, it helps me free my brain when it’s boiling too much! This can happen to me at any time. Sometimes at night I wake up and write down ideas!

When I wrote my book on creativity, I jotted down all my ideas in bulk so as not to limit myself. I didn’t want to limit myself from the start. I wanted to let my creativity express itself. Afterwards, I rewrote everything in the computer by reorganizing my thoughts. That allowed me to structure my ideas.

Sometimes I notice that an idea comes up several times. It’s usually a sign that it’s important to me!

I have so many notebooks for different subjects or projects in progress and sometimes I get a bit tangled up!

Small paper ornaments by Ghylenn Descamps

When beginning a project, do you pre plan your entire endeavor or do you simply follow where your inspiration takes you?

Actually, it depends on the project. But I always start by letting go of my ideas, leaving them as free as possible to stay open to what I don’t expect, to the unexpected, to be as much fun as possible. I leave myself time to think about my ideas. So I look, I observe, I search, I note. I love this phase of inspiration. For me, it’s easier to be inspired in a global and general way. I love doing research, dreaming a project. I draw a lot in these stages, even if I don’t use all my ideas afterwards.

When this phase is well advanced, I gather and organize my ideas. And that’s when I start planning because my editor asks me to provide him with a summary, even though I know that the summary will necessarily change! With experience, I realized that the more precise I was in my preparatory sketches, the more pleasant and easy it was to make them.

Then I move on to implementation, starting with the ideas that are the most successful. On the other hand I always leave myself, finally, as much as possible, the freedom to change my mind if I block on a creation. And as I’ve noted, more design ideas than there will be in the book. In the end, I have a reserve for cases like that!

How many projects do you have going at once? Or do you focus on one creative project at a time?

Actually, it depends on the moment!

When I work on a book, I start several creations at the same time. Over time, I realized that I functioned better by starting several projects at the same time rather than one after the other. This allows me to move easily from one to the other. When I get stuck on something, instead of insisting and getting angry, I prefer to move on to another project because I know I’ll find the solution later. I let go more easily by moving on to another project.

After that it depends on the size of the project, but I’ve worked on two books at the same time with one or more subjects for a magazine and other clients. But it shouldn’t last too long, it’s a bit of a sport! The ideal for me is to have 2 or 3 projects in progress.

Paper lantern by Ghylenn Descamps
Photo by Fabrice Besse

What was the biggest challenge that you encountered on your creative journey? What did you learn from it?

Oh, my God, I’ve had so many! I’ll tell you about the latest one, since it’s the one I remember best. I was working on two books at the same time in addition to collaborations with Marie Claire Idées magazine and other clients!

Previously, I had committed to making a book to show how to get started and create your first Pop-up, when I couldn’t resist my publisher’s proposal to write the book on creativity (365 Days of Creativity) I told you about earlier! I was extremely excited and at the same time extremely freaked out by the very short timing. I wanted to do it so badly! And it was the first time I’d ever written a book with only text, no creations to rely on!

I had to get resources inside me that I didn’t suspect! After a while I realized that this challenge could actually be an opportunity, because when I was stuck on creating a pop-up, I thought: how can I use it to help people who would encounter this difficulty? And that gave me ideas! It was relaxing to move from one project to another.

But at the same time I had miscalculated how long this book was going to take and I was very late. This forced me to find solutions so as not to block the graphic designer who had a lot of work to do. I learned to talk more openly to my publisher about it and to feel less guilty about being late. I learned that when I was really super motivated, I could devote myself to a project in a constant, regular and intensive way and I didn’t see this as a sacrifice, even if from the outside my entourage found it excessive. Importantly, I also learned to ask for help!

I learned to surpass myself even more, to trust myself even more and I was able to improve the way I write. Having tight timing also taught me to let go of perfectionism faster! I came to feel at what point working longer on a text would have been of little use. I agreed to admit that I wasn’t perfect, that what I had done was a reflection of my thinking today and that I’ll probably change my mind in a few years time! But in the end it doesn’t matter, because I gave my best and that’s the most important thing!

I admit that accepting to finish this book wasn’t easy either, because I wanted to stay in this energy of writing and creativity. When you have a project that is so dear to your heart, it’s not so easy to finish it! On the one hand, there was the relief of getting to the end and on the other hand: am I going to find a project that I’m so passionate about? Fortunately, I had the obligations to publish the book!

But I had a big setback after the end of this very intense period and a kind of baby blues for the author! It took me some time to get over it and realize that it was really great to do this, but that if I had to do it again, I would take better care of myself and that I would probably refuse a few small orders to be less stressed!

Ghylenn Descamps Quote

What’s next for you?

Currently, I am working on an illustration project. I have created an illustrated character “Pépita” which is both a drawn symbol of my inner child and a kind of spokesperson for creativity. I would like it to inspire people to reconnect with their creative source with humour and lightness. This character allows me to mix techniques (drawing, cutting, photography and colouring on Photoshop) and to renew myself in my work. I have many ideas with Pépita, including a comic book.

Right now, I feel at a turning point in my work. I love to learn and I realize that I also love to accompany people in their own creative projects. The mechanism of creativity fascinates me! I can draw on my rich and varied creative life experience. I would love to offer workshops and create programs online, but it’s still very fuzzy and I need time to let it mature!

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