Interview: Mira Sestan

Mira Sestan is a New York based paper artist. Her meticulous paper compositions resemble nature’s beautiful patterns. She only uses two colors, black and white, as that’s often how she sees the world. Each of her pieces is cut and assembled by hand and layered on top of one another. Due to its detailed nature, her work takes months to produce and creating it becomes a meditative process.

What draws you to a black and white color palette?

Black is my favorite color. I like the limitation that working with two colors imposes. It forces me to consider other methods to add depth - whether that’s through texture, the size of elements or thinking about the way light hits them - in a way to make things more interesting. If I had an entire color wheel to work with, I would never be able to narrow things down. I also like the contrast that you get from having only two colors to work with. Not to say that I won’t explore more colors in the future, but at the moment I’m into a minimalist palette. Less is more.

Where did you initially get inspiration for your current series?

I had originally started with a piece that was a field of white flowers (white wedding). There’s something beautiful in the creation of a flower, every petal is unique and organic - and was pleased how it turned out. So I started wondering what could complement it. Before that piece, my work was primarily 2D collage (with a lot of colors!). It was largely dependent on how photography was used. I found that to be very limiting - and from that - I realized that the next step was the creation of something from nothing. Pieces that were a pure expression of my own ideas, rather than a re-framing of someone else’s. 

With each piece, the outcome started to feel more unique and gave me the confidence to continue. There was no one moment or point of reference that inspired me. Rather, a series of small steps - one after the other - which led me to explore further. I truly believe in the importance of developing faith in your artistic intuition and following it wherever it may lead you. It’s something I’m trying to get better at every day. 

What does your creative process look like? 

It first starts with an image. Perhaps it’s a texture I saw at a store, or when I’m out in nature. It could be a sci-fi film or an image on Instagram. I ruminate on it for weeks. Usually, during that time I’ll see two or three concepts that are in some way connected to it, and from there I development a better sense of how to approach the piece. I use Pinterest to then organize similar elements into boards. This I find to be the most fun part of the process, where I let my imagination run wild and think of all the possibilities. 

From there, I summon the courage to test out some of the ideas. Some of them work, and I continue, but most often than not, that idea I have in mind does not unfold as expected, and ultimately it is put to one side. During that process, I’ll often end up with a concept quite different than the original idea, and I then have to trust the pursuit of that idea. Even the ideas that don’t make it serve as great material for future endeavors. Never consider an abandoned idea to be a waste of time.

Why did you start working with cut paper?

I took a collage class several years ago, to satisfy my creativity outside of work as Graphic Designer. I really loved how easy it was working with paper. Looking back, I realize the biggest influence on me getting into this medium was a show at the Museum of Design called “Slash: Paper Under the Knife”. Until that point, I was playing with collage and 2D, but after seeing so many incredible pieces of work there, as well as the truly innovative ways they used paper - methods I didn’t know were possible up until that point - I knew I wanted to push things further. Since then, I’ve slowly been developing my skills and honing new techniques. The up-side to working with paper? It's cheap and lightweight. You don’t need a pricey studio space, and it’s not overly messy as a material. The worst thing than can happen while working with it - a paper cut.

You say on your website that your work takes months to create, do you typically work on more than one piece at a time? 

More often than not, I work on one or two things at the same time. At some point in the creative process, things get repetitive, and I need something on the side to turn my attention to when my focus starts to wane. As detailed as the work is, it can also be quite meditative when you’re focused on small, simple details. It is many of those small details that result in the bigger piece.

What is your favorite part of the process you use to create your work? 

I love starting on new ideas, gathering inspiration, sketching, and dreaming of all the possibilities. I also love working on the details once the idea is nailed down. Each piece is time-consuming since it is the detail and complexity that shapes the outcome, but I get a lot of pleasure of seeing the work come to life slowly. It is fulfilling to dedicate time - not minutes, hours, or days, but weeks or months - to develop that initial seed of an idea, to the end result. In some ways, much like watching a flower bloom.