Sketching on her lunch breaks became an outlet for Manda Lane when she was working full-time as a data analyst. She’d sit in Melbourne’s CBD and draw the architecture and the people before her focus turned to plants. As her artistic skills grew, so did her interest in other mediums. She began working on murals and, in 2020, made her first paper-cut artworks. In summer 2022, the mural artist’s work was part of the NGV Architecture Commission’s Temple of Boom, designed by Adam Newman and Kelvin Tsang, which was a colourful reimagining of the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens. Here, the paper artist and muralist talks about her creative process and her love of all things botanical.
Getting a Creative Start
“In about 2016, I got into drawing. Mainly it was sketching in my lunch breaks and after work. I work as a data analyst and am fully focused on computers, so during my lunch break I needed an excuse to get away from them – something to pull me away from technology. Drawing was a way of ironing out my brain a bit.
“It's kind of ironic, because now I do end up using the [tablet] quite a bit [for my drawing]. But I think that's why I still like drawing plants so much – you don't have to analyse if everything is perfect.”
The Botanical Connection
“I have an obsession with plants. I love the detail in them and I could draw them forever. My art became about exploring ways to create plants, then how they take on a different appearance depending on the way you do them. Compared to in a sketchbook, if you put them on the street [as a mural] they take on a different meaning. The street adds context, almost like they're growing.”
Making the First Cut
“Paper cutting started during lockdown. After being surrounded by a lot of friends who are stencil artists, I wanted to give stencilling a go. I started making one and really enjoyed the process. That got me obsessed with paper cutting and wanting to push how big you can go or how detailed you can get. Paper is quite delicate, but you can do so much with it.
“Because nature is quite random – it’s perfect, but also imperfect – if you cut out something that's wrong, you can tweak it. If it’s another form, like portraiture, when something goes wrong or you make a mistake, it's so obvious. But in nature, things break off, go in different directions or just go a bit rogue. It’s that kind of subject matter. It’s friendly to tweak and there's room for error.”
Finding the Right Studio Space
“I’ve been at Redbox Studios since 2021, and there are about 70 artists in the building. It’s an old factory that was built in the late 1800s. The key thing for me is the natural light.”
The Creative Process
“First, I get my reference photos, which I take on my phone. I go through existing images, work out what I want to create then shape a show around that. I’ve got back-to-back exhibitions coming up. One of the galleries has morning glory outside it and I’ve been inspired by that. I want to try to integrate it if I can get it through the window of the space, then sort of work around that.
“I always want to sketch and that's something I try to do when I’m on the train or lunch break. That’s never really gone away. That underlies everything. Then I work out whether the sketches would be fun to paint as a mural or to make into a paper cut. If an opportunity comes up to create a paper cut for something like a group show or if we're going painting, I work out which plants would be fun to put into it.”
Splitting Time Between Art and Data
“For the moment, I have three-and-a-half days at work, so my week is split down the middle. It's a good balance. It’d be great to do this all the time, but I like the idea of stepping out of this world and into that one. It’s like having separate lives.
“The art is usually crammed into every spare moment, but it also depends on where I am in the process. Sketching or working out stuff on the [tablet] can be done in those in-between moments because I can carry it with me. Paper cutting is done here in the studio because I've got a nice big table where I can roll it out.”
A Day in the Studio
“Every day varies. Today I was taking photos of artwork, then I met with some fabricators for a project. Back here [at the studio], I did some sketching and tonight I’m going to an art show. But it’s based on priorities and what I'm working on. I do try to get to the studio early and treat it like a work day unless I have different errands or things to do. It’s good having that kind of flexibility, but every day feels so valuable I don't want to waste it.”
The Essential Creativity Kit
“I get my scalpels from Officeworks, as well as pens and pencils and sharpeners. I use sketchbooks, too. The bigger sheets of art paper in 200 or 300gsm you can buy are good for the smaller paper cuts, but I get the big rolls from somewhere else. The [tablet] is key to creating new murals or doing digital work. Everything for the fabricators on the project I’m working on at the moment is done on the [tablet].
“For murals, I like chalking them up before painting them. I use exterior paint for the works, but I like to use basic paint brushes. If you’re painting a wall that’s brick, brushes just get wrecked, so it's good having affordable ones you don't have to be too precious about.”
Start the Creative Process by Having Fun
“If you enjoy creating art, don’t get too worried about how it comes out or how it looks. If that does worry you, change the subject matter to something that's easier. Many people paint and think it has to be perfect, but it could take a whole lifetime to get to that stage. You just have to follow the joy and not get too caught up on things being perfect.”
What To Try
- Paper Mate InkJoy 100 Ballpoint Pens Black 10 Pack
- Faber-Castell 9000 Art Pencil 2B
- Studymate Metal Wedge 2 Hole Sharpener
- Derwent Academy A3 Sketch Book Portrait
- Crayola Chalk White 12 Pack
- Born Round Flat Paintbrush Set Natural Hair 7 Pack
- Born Hog Paintbrush Paste Set 3 Pack
- Quill A3 200gsm Board White 25 Pack