An Interview with Stephan J. Smith

Stephan J. Smith is the artist behind Artsmith Craftworks, creates hand made airship models to decorate Steampunk homes and other beautiful works from paper and papier-mâché. I got the opportunity to pull him away from he preparations for the World Steam Expo to tell me a bit about his art.

How did you learn to craft your art?
I’ve been an artist at heart since I was a little kid, but I started formally as a graphic designer – went to Ferris State University in Michigan. Even though that was mainly related to advertising and marketing, I always loved the fine art field as well and have always been fascinated by paper.

How did you decide to craft model airships?
I was commissioned by an interior designer friend of mine, (Betsy Rackliffe), to construct one for a Steampunk bookstore, (Off the Beaten Path), she was designing the interior for. There was such a terrific response and interest that it was suggested that I do others and offer them for sale.

Tell me a bit about Artsmith Craftworks.
Artsmith Craftworks is the name I chose that both reflected my name and the “craft” of art that I do. As I mentioned, I love paper, so anything that involves paper interests me. I like cut paper sculpture, papier mache, hand-cast paper from recycled pulp, and many other paper media. I DO also have a great affinity for mosaic. Ceramic, glass, stone and even paper mosaic…such a beautiful art form! So I guess that’s what Artsmith Craftworks is about.

Tell me more about the importance you place on recycled and repurposed materials.
Well, my own personal “mission” is to create art using something that would have gotten thrown away otherwise. Like I said before, I like making hand-cast sheets of paper using old scrap that I have pulped, thereby making something beautiful and useful out of it again. Papier mache allows me to use scrap paper to built things with “junk” paper. I often do cut paper sculptures using scrap paper company swatch books. I use bottle lids, random plastic pieces, cut foam, wooden dowels, paper and plastic tubes, etc., and I cut them, paint them and they become something else. Most of the mosaics I do use broken tile or glass that was garbage bound and I do scrap paper mosaics as well. It just feels good to do something cool with discarded materials that would have gone into a landfill otherwise.

Recycled Tinkertoys form parts ofan airship's propellers

Any upcoming projects you’d like to tell people about?
I plan to be at the World Steam Expo in Dearborn, Michigan on Memorial Day weekend. I’ll have a couple new large airships as well as some Do-It-Yourself little airship kits. In fact, the plan is that I’ll be running a couple panels showing people how to construct the little airships with the kits I put together. True to form, these kits are made with recycled/repurposed materials! I’ve also been contacted by an independent filmaker who wants me to build an airship for a Steampunk film he’s currently working on. The airship will be shot against green screen with background dropped in during post production…very exciting stuff!

What is your favorite and least favorite medium/material with which to work? Why?
Of course, paper is my favorite and I like tile & stone in mosaic too. I think paper represents something renewable, very earthy and natural and is a very flexible and forgiving medium to work with. I don’t think I have a least favorite. I’ve worked with a lot of different materials, some not my favorites, but none that I dislike really.

What does Steampunk mean to you?
To me, Steampunk represents an exciting age when the possibilities of new materials, energies and knowledge were being discovered and utilized. To us, it represents an age of whimsical innocence, seemingly free of the hustle and bustle of modern life, but brimming with its own gadgets and wonder.

Visit the Showcase Gallery

Where can people purchase your art?
Currently, my blog has a page with pieces for sale, but they are sparse at this point as I prepare for World Steam. I plan to have an Etsy store in the not-too-distant future.

Anything else you’d like to add?
Only that I appreciate the warm welcome and reception that I’ve gotten from the Steampunk community. Everyone has been very complimentary and excited when they’ve seen my pieces. And, Audelia, I’d like to invite you and anyone you’re connected with to visit my blog and have a look around and feel free to comment. I’d also like to thank you for the opportunity to be interviewed on your blog!


Airships in dry dock

To learn more about Artsmith Craftworks and stay up to date on all of Stephan’s latest activities, please be sure to drop by his website and like him on Facebook!

Graphic 45

I’m currently in the process of getting rid of a large portion of my worldly possessions. Nearly everything is up for sale and donation as I get ready to relocate… well, almost everything. My Steampunk gear and my books are the only items being spared in The Great Purge.

I am, after all, a true bibliophile and I adore the written word. I think, though, that I’m also in love with paper… the texture, the smell… there’s nothing quite like holding quality paper.

Which is why I wish I hadn’t discovered today’s site until after my move, because I want these prints! Gah!

Graphic 45 is a scrapbooking and papercraft company that offers a plethora of awesome vintage printed paper for your Steam and Dieselpunk art projects. They even have a special Steampunk Debutante line that is positively irresistible.

While you can’t order this paper as an individual customer, you can use Graphic 45’s Store Locator to find a retailer nearby that carries the paper. Field trip, yay!

Steampunk Time Machine

Everyone needs a time machine. I think that there’s a few times in everyone’s life that could be made better by a little reset button… like a stupid statement, a bad decision, a car wreck. Yeah, a time machine would be awesome.

Until we can figure out the finer aspects of time-travel, however, we will have to make due with the present limitations of technology. And if you’re still itching to build a time machine… any time machine at all, then I have a small offering for you that may temporarily satisfy the chrononaut within. Rather than bolts and wrenches, however, I’ll need to to take out your scissors and glue.

This is a papercraft “Train Time Machine,’ and believe it or not, it’s made entirely from paper. The plans to build your own time-hopping steam engine are free on the website Beginners of the art of papercraft should be aware that these plans are rather complex, and certainly not for the faint of heart or paper cut prone.

It looks like fun! Tedious, probably, but ultimately very fun, and very cool to keep about.

Papercraft Robot Skull

Skull-A-Day was a project started by Noah Scalin on June 4th 2007. On that day with the initial crafting of an orange paper skull, Noah determined to make an original skull for every day of the year. It’s really impressive to see all of the different skulls that are created by what Noah has on hand at the moment. In October 2008 a book based on the Skull-A-Day, SKULLS was published by Lark Books and featured150 images from the first half of the project’s first year.

Skull-A-Day has now completed two years of skull crafting, which you can view on their website.

Recently, a semi-Steampunk papercraft skull was created and posted to the blog:

It’s very neat on its own, but it is even cooler when the PDF of this skull is available free of charge here. So print out a copy and break out those scissors and glue! This would be great decoration for a desk, especially with Halloween not that far off.

If you are in love with Skull-A-Day, you should mark your calendars for June 4, 2011, for the first official international Skull Appreciation Day.

Papercraft Steampunk Warwalker and Phillip Valdez Masks

Yesterday, I was forwarded this picture of a Steampunk Warwalker by my internet ninja friend. It is a submission by Phillip Valdez for 1000 Steampunk Inspirations, an upcoming book by Barbe Saint John (which is accepting submissions until June 1, so if you want to submit something, hurry!). It’s really an impressive work, but the fact that this contraption is made entirely from paper, glue, and paint just blows my mind.

Simply astounding what a person can do with paper, paint, and glue. Which, naturally, got me wondering what other sorts of projects Mr. Valdez undertakes, which let me to his website and blog, wherein I found such marvels as:

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Oh my… these are AWESOME! So dramatic and delicate, these masks would be sure to be the center of attention at a masquerade. I’m a big fan of the last three masks that represent cards in the standard tarot deck. The death mask is stunning, especially when offset with the black and red of the model’s attire. I want one of these so badly. Nevermind that transporting it to any function would be a pain and that I would probably spend the entire masquerade worrying about someone tearing my mask…these are beautiful! And this is just a small sampling of Mr. Valdez’s incredible talent.

Too bad the masquerade for A-Kon happens right after the Abney Park concert and requires formal wear. There’s just no chance that I’d change out of my Steampunk attire and go to the masquerade rather than pass up the opportunity for some autographs and to chat with Abney Park after the concert. Perhaps they’ll have a masquerade at SteamCon…

A.G. Paper Toys

Sometimes, one needs to break out the scissors and glue and create something purely for amusement’s sake. It’s just something for yourself to get your mind off of the stresses of the work week or something to do with friends while chatting over tea.

Today, I’m bringing you one of those divertissements, a collection of papercraft toys by Alexander Gwynne, with a focus on his more recent release, the Steam Rider:

This paper contraption reminds me of the tin toy soldiers of yester-year and has all the look of a vintage toy. It’s totally free to print out and make your own papercraft Steam Rider.

If you liked the art of papercraft, there’s all sorts of different patterns for your enjoyment on Alexander Gwynne’s page, including a pair of Steampunk robots that remind me of R2D2 and C3PO. There’s other patterns too for your friends who don’t quite understand but tolerate your Steampunk obsessions, and best of all, they are all free!