The Monsters of Anaïs Herd-Smith

The Monsters of Anaïs Herd-Smith

Anabel Herrera Published on 6/14/2024

From the moment we wake up in the morning until we go to bed at night, paper is always there to make our lives easier. It’s in the books we read and in our shopping bags; at picnics in the forms of mats, cups and napkins. It is also in bottles of detergent and items of clothing, though at first glance its presence may not be so obvious.

But only art can transform a material as simple as paper into a masterpiece. This transformative power is what characterises the extraordinary work of Anaïs Herd-Smith, who uses paper to create universes populated with fascinating creatures full of colour. The French artist previously worked as an art director in an advertising agency until she decided to devote herself completely to her personal hobby: paper crafting, a popular and inexpensive material with a crafting tradition dating back centuries. Today, she is part of the Paper Artists Collective, an international community of creators passionate about the art of paper.

“Monstrus”, mythological figures inspired by Japanese culture

Herd-Smith specialises in creating sculptures through paper cut-outs, and in the technique of stop-motion animation. These bright and playful pieces are inspired by mythological monsters and the wonders of the natural world. Her “Monstrus” series (since 2019), for example, is made up of fantastical creatures with multiple eyes and, in some cases, two heads, with alien faces and neon colours, which lend the creatures a cheerful personality.

Fans of Japanese culture can detect its influence on these figures. During her childhood, the paper artist was an enthusiastic fan of the Japanese cartoons which made it to French television and was – and still is – a huge fan of Pokémon. As a teenager, she immersed herself in manga, and as an adult she travelled to Japan, where she discovered that almost everything there is used for illustration.

Oceanic sculptures to illustrate the fragility of the seabed

To mark World Oceans Day in 2021, Guarro Casas, a company with over 300 years’ experience in the creation of paper, and the Paper Artist Collective launched an initiative to raise awareness about the preservation of the oceans and the need to care for the species who inhabit them. The result was a collection of 14 creations made from recycled paper, based on the same concept but resulting in totally different interpretations.

Herd-Smith was one of the artists involved with the project, creating a sculpture of a person made up of highly-detailed figures, reliefs, special painting and three-dimensional structures. The aim was to illustrate the fragile link between humanity and marine life, highlighting the damage we have caused to coral reefs. To achieve this, paint was used which glows under ultraviolet light, symbolising a wake-up call from the reefs, crying out for help.

The Doughnut Theory

We live in a world in which the richest 1% own 50% of the world’s wealth. How can we meet humanity’s basic needs without squeezing the planet’s limited resources? The answer lies in the Doughnut theory or economics, developed in 2012 by English economist Kate Raworth, illustrated by this figure. The outer layer of the doughnut represents the planet which we are depleting bit by bit; the interior are the basic needs of humanity. The spongy dough is the safe, fair and sustainable space we need to build.

The doughnut theory was the starting point for Oxfam’s commission from Natacha Olive and Herd-Smith (2022), who designed two giant doughnuts about 60cm, made from plasticine and paper, to be used in conferences and school presentations.

“Renaissance”: nature as an evolving creature

In 2023, Herd-Smith resurrected an imaginary universe of monsters on behalf of MTV for International Women’s Day. In this animation, produced in collaboration with Mathieu Maillefer, the paper artist draws inspiration from the eco-feminist movement, to highlight the price that a person pays for trying to create a different future. A mask travels through a magical forest, inhabited by monsters covered in scales. Paper, in spite of its fragility, takes the form of a shell to protect the creatures.

Also in 2023, the French artist was tapped by the Italian shirt tailors Xacus to represent one of their core values: sustainability. The idea of “Renaissance” was to transform the cotton offcuts leftover from the manufacture of shirts, usually considered waste, to create new products such as paper or cardboard to be used in the packaging of these items.

Anais Herd Smith all’opera. Fonte:

For the company, “Renaissance” is an abstract expression of the beauty and power of nature. It embodies the essence of an evolving creature, gradually emerging, growing, taking shape and multiplying, just like all living things. Hence the affinity with the work of Herd-Smith, whose technique is based on an environmental approach, both in terms of the subject matter and the creative process. Creating a sculpture takes time, in contrast to the immediacy of contemporary society. The work, made from these reused cotton off-cuts, was exhibited for several weeks in the Xacus store in Brera, Milan.

Creative process

Herd-Smith’s process for creating her paper figures always starts with sketches, as they help her to understand the space and the form they will take. In general, for modelling she uses polystyrene, which she cuts with a hot wire cutter then covers with papier-mâché and tissue paper. For the scales, she cuts the paper with a machine and then folds them one by one. She also uses 3D printing. Depending on the difficulty, it can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks to create one of her sculptures.

While she has not yet fulfilled her dream of making an immersive exhibition, we can continue to enjoy the magical creations of this French paper artists at exhibitions, events, and online.