what's in your toolbox

What’s In Your Toolbox: Lorraine Nam

by Annie Werbler

What's In Your Toolbox: Lorraine Nam, on Design*Sponge

Creating a better reality is a goal that many people have in common this new year. Brooklyn-based paper illustrator Lorraine Nam makes her own fantastical three-dimensional worlds by hand from flat sheets in vibrant colors. She cuts and glues her miniature set props, then styles a scene to photograph or animate for the final piece. Also interested in the spaces where other artists make their work, as she loves “seeing what they’re seeing,” Lorraine is a co-founder of studio visit blog #ffffff walls where she focuses on “artistic practices and the artist studio. We interview different artists creating work in a dedicated studio space and take a snapshot of their work in that moment in time.” Here’s a look at the woman behind all of these scenes. —Annie

Photography by Lorraine Nam

What's In Your Toolbox: Lorraine Nam, on Design*Sponge

What’s in your toolbox?

The tools I use every day consist of steel rulers in 12″and 18″ lengths, a T-square, a cutting mat, an X-ACTO knife, and Sobo glue, but because I’m a hoarder I keep a lot of different tools in my reach like a marbling kit and gold leaf. You never know when an idea will strike and you’ll need that random item! Some tools I don’t use on a daily basis but still use are pencils and paints that I keep in my top drawer, along with some silly things that make me happy like hot pink string, Hello Kitty bubblegum, a small magic eight ball, and a Blow Pop — just in case.

What's In Your Toolbox: Lorraine Nam, on Design*Sponge

Fill in the blank, “When I am in my studio, I feel ____________.”

When I am in my studio, I feel happy to do what I love.

What's In Your Toolbox: Lorraine Nam, on Design*Sponge

What’s on the top shelves of your inspiration library right now?

Matisse all day and every day! I love his use of colors and how he’s able to translate that through different mediums — whether it’s his paintings, his cut paper, or even stained glass.

What's In Your Toolbox: Lorraine Nam, on Design*Sponge

How do you keep yourself organized?

I keep notes on my phone for when I have an idea, and I try to keep my desk semi-organized. Getting a flat file definitely changed my life for the better, and it didn’t hurt that I found it for free! I happened to visit a Greenpoint [Brooklyn] studio the day an artist was throwing it away. It’s handmade and made out of solid wood, too!

Something I try to do is keep my paper kind of color-coordinated so it’s easier for me to find the pieces I need. I keep the warm colors like pink, red, yellow, and orange together, and I keep the blues, greens, and purples together. The black and white papers have their own drawer with some more specialty papers like the wood veneer paper. All my finished paper pieces are kind of all over the place. Right now, they’re in a small IKEA cabinet in all the drawers, but I’m quickly realizing that I need something bigger.

What's In Your Toolbox: Lorraine Nam, on Design*Sponge

If you could have one superhero (or magical) power, what would it be and why?

To fly! Traveling would be much easier (less traffic, of course) and I would love to cross off some places on my bucket list. India, Morocco, and Japan are some of the places I’d love to travel to.

What's In Your Toolbox: Lorraine Nam, on Design*Sponge

What is the best advice you have ever received, and what is the one piece of advice you would offer to a young artist, maker, or designer?

I’m not sure about the best advice I’ve ever received, but there is a quote from Ira Glass that has really resonated with me. “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

Right after college, I felt like everything I was making was unoriginal and just not up to par to my standards. I was really frustrated and there were some long lulls in between working on projects. This quote reminds me that it’s all a process and it’s only through doing that you’ll get better.

What's In Your Toolbox: Lorraine Nam, on Design*Sponge

How do you combat creative blocks?

By working through it. I have creative blocks from time to time and I’ve found that if I continue to work on something, even if it’s a silly idea, it’ll sprout more ideas. I always feel more satisfied at the end of a studio day if I power through by working than by aimlessly thinking about what to do.

What's In Your Toolbox: Lorraine Nam, on Design*Sponge

Where do you like to look or shop for inspiration?

Lately I’ve been finding a lot of inspiration through Instagram. A lot of my friends are artists and creatives and I love seeing what they’re creating and what they’re seeing. I also love the explore feature and finding new accounts that curate their view.

Another creative outlet for me is seeing art. I have this blog (called #ffffff walls) that I co-created with Jonathan Chapline. We go to different artist studios and interview the artists on their work and their processes. Seeing and meeting creative people with the drive to make really inspires me to do the same.

In terms of stores, I love stopping by ABC Home in Union Square. Every object feels so special and precious and they really put an emphasis on handmade, artisan, and anything truly unique.

What's In Your Toolbox: Lorraine Nam, on Design*Sponge

If you could peek inside the studio or toolbox of any artist, maker, designer, or craftsperson, whose would it be and why?

I would love to peek at Matisse’s studio and see his process — especially his cut paper!

What's In Your Toolbox: Lorraine Nam, on Design*Sponge

What’s on your inspirational playlist at the moment?

Is it weird that I rarely listen to music? Even when I’m commuting I usually don’t have headphones on. When I’m in studio, I tend to listen to podcasts or watch really bad movies or TV shows on Netflix that don’t require looking at the screen. Podcasts that are always in my queue are This American Life, Radiolab, The Moth, and Mortified for those days when you just need a laugh.

What's In Your Toolbox: Lorraine Nam, on Design*Sponge

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  • Great interview, love it! Lorraine seems so approachable, honest, and fun. Shine on Lorraine!

  • Fantastic interview! I met Lorraine at an open studio event and was in awe of her incredible skill. In additional being super open about her technique, she’s just a really nice person!

  • That quote of Ira’s had a huge impact on me, too. I love how real and approachable Lorraine is. No pretension at all. Thanks for this excellent interview.