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Rocking Paper More Than Scissors: An Interview with Paper Artist Mary Imbong

by Allana Luta

Paper can be a lot of things, depending on who is handling it. To a reader, it is where the words to a journey are kept safe and permanent. To a writer, it is the canvas of their imagination or an intimidating wall to climb over if it’s blank.

To Mary Imbong, a paper quilling artist, it becomes art.

But what is paper quilling? It is coiling strips of paper to form shapes and designs. All you need are strips of paper, glue and something to roll the strips with. Sounds simple enough, right? But once you see the end results of Mary’s work, it’ll take your breath away and you won’t believe that her art pieces are, in fact, made of paper.

For those of you who, like me, are uninitiated to this artistry, don’t worry. You won’t be ignorant for long. Mary has kindly shared her knowledge on this subject, as well as her passion to inspire people through art, and we are all the better for it.


Mary Imbong is a 23-year-old independent multimedia artist. Follow her @maryimbong.



Hi, Mary! Your work is beautiful. But first of all, could you explain what paper art is? It doesn’t seem to be an especially popular art form in the Philippines.

Paper art is pretty much art pieces made of paper. What I specialize in is called paper quilling. It’s actually relatively popular in the country if you’re involved in or enthusiastic about the crafts movement in the Philippines. There are other art forms such as paper cutting, paper sculpting, advanced origami, etc.

Paper quilling has also been practiced by a lot of arts and crafts enthusiasts here in the Philippines, but I noticed some of these artists I know produce the more traditional type of paper quilling as opposed to on-edge quilling, which I do.

Oops, I stand corrected. So how did you get into paper art? Were you already artistic as a child and it kind of sprung from there or was it something you discovered one day and happened to like?

Growing up, I’ve always been an art junkie. I was the type of kid in grade school who would always be in the art club and whom the teacher would sometimes call out for doodling during class discussions. But paper quilling was a recent obsession for me.

I started around April 2014. I just landed my first job and the first few weeks were still pretty chill so I had a lot of time to kill at home after work and on weekends. The thing is, around that time, I was into studying art and making passion projects.

So I borrowed a few books from my brother (an artist as well), flipped through one called Mid-fi and saw this beautiful artwork by renowned paper quilling artist, Yulia Brodskaya. I got curious on how she did it so I decided to experiment on my own. I cut my own strips of paper, took out a clean folder and some glue, and tried to balance and glue the edges of the strips to the folder. I formed my name, “Mary.”

To my surprise, I was able to make the strips stand and it actually formed something presentable, so I decided to make my first real artwork – “Why.” When that turned out great, I couldn’t stop making more.

A cliché question but I am genuinely curious, where do you get your inspiration from? You mentioned in your website you’re also into photography and street art, so I was wondering if they’re big influences on your work.

Prior to my paper quilling career, I was living in New York in 2013 doing creative work (graphic design, video production, campaign-building) for a youth non-profit organization. I feel like that period in my life was very meaningful and influential to me as an artist because, while in NYC, I was exposed to a lot of art forms that have influenced my style today, mainly street art. I look at a lot of graffiti work and street art in general. I respect the craft so much because there’s so much skill and creativity behind it, but mostly because it’s so raw.

When I came back to Manila, I applied for a job in the advertising industry. I started making paper quilling while I was already working and kept it as a sideline, so my exposure to advertising influenced my work as well, primarily in terms of ideation. I also think that my work there sharpened my eye. That’s where I learned how to make work that people would notice, and how to showcase my work effectively.

I like making contemporary pieces and artworks that my generation likes to see. Also, I don’t want people to see paper quilling as a purely feminine art form so I try to make pieces that guys would also appreciate, hence, my “Nike Air” piece, “Shit”, “Spray Paint” piece and my “Rad” artwork. Basically, I want to be able to “draw” with paper, as one would on paper. That idea seems to amaze people.

Other than these, I get my inspiration from international quilling artists, flowers, art books in general and my Instagram feed.


What’s your favorite piece you’ve done so far? And the most challenging ones to make?

Favorite piece: “Nike Air” piece


Most challenging: I designed Watsons’ 2015 planner last year. I had to do 14 pieces for them (while doing grueling advertising work during the day). No sweat! LOL



How do you go about making a piece? How do you choose the colors and the designs (if they’re not specifically requested by the customer, that is)?

I start with a sketch and then think about the colors I want to use. Color is very important in paper quilling since it’s the stuff that makes the piece stunning. I noticed you could come up with a great sketch or idea, but if you don’t choose the right colors for the paper, it could end up looking like crap. So I try to take some time in choosing colors.

If it’s a complicated piece, I try composing the piece in Adobe Illustrator first so I would know how the colors would blend together. Otherwise, I would just get some swatches and pair them up before I make the actual quilled design.

The pieces featured on your site look beautiful. How long does it take you to make a single artwork? And how long do you prepare for exhibits (like “Looped” and the Watsons 2015 Journal)?

Thank you! ❤

It really depends on the design, the size of the design and how urgent it’s needed. The poster I made for “Looped,” which featured a quilled “Looped,” took me about five to six hours in total, I think (pre-quilling preparations and actual quilling). I generally work fast, especially if it’s urgently needed, and if I’m able to do my pre-quilling work well (sketching, color pairing). But again, it depends on a lot of factors.

Overall, including organizing logistics and promotions, it took me about a month to prepare for my exhibit, “Looped.” Since it was my first, I wanted to feature pieces I’d done since I started quilling so there weren’t that many new pieces to make. I actually only made three new ones, which I was able to accomplish in about two weeks.

The Watsons Journal took about a month and a half, including pre-quilling work since it involved a lot of back-and-forth with the client for the sketches and design suggestions. Actual quilling-wise, it took me about two to three weeks, I think, though, it would have taken me a shorter time to finish them if I didn’t have a day job. I only worked on them on weekends and/or holidays, and some weeknights.

Are there any types of artwork you find difficult to do? Like, would you rather make paper art words or images?

Hmm… I think the difficult part comes in when the design is very complicated. The most complicated one I’ve made is the “Spray Paint” piece (24” x 18”), because I had to cut the base of each part of the piece besides making the quilling (I hope you got that, haha!). If you look at the picture, the colors “inside” are also made of paper, which I manually cut to fill in the spaces. And that 3D spray can in the middle (paper-sculpted, not quilled) took me all night to make.

Generally though, type pieces take more time to make, if the fonstyle has a lot of corners, like Times New Roman or other Serif fonts. But I like making type because if you do them right, they’ll look really awesome.


You’re also doing workshops on paper quilling. How has the response been? Do you think there is a potential that paper art will grow more in the country?

Response is good. I wouldn’t say it’s a craze, but it makes me happy that people are getting more curious about paper quilling. I do think there is potential, but I don’t see it happening very soon (like within the next few months). I think it’s a trend thing… not sure. But people are noticing it so I must be doing something right!

What’s the best thing that’s happened to you since you started doing paper art?

The best thing would probably be the responses I get from people I don’t know. It’s heartwarming and motivating to be recognized and to hear genuine praises from random people because they find my art pretty or cool. Their amazement makes me feel accomplished!

What are your future projects and where can we find your exhibits?

I’m putting up an art blog for tutorials and sneak-peaks on my works, and I’m launching an online workshop SOON! Besides these, I take customized orders.

This is a little random but from your experience as an artist, how do you think art in general helps society, particularly Philippine society, move forward?

My face lit up. This is my favorite question! Hehe.

Another interesting thing about me is that I’m a youth advocate for social development. For three years now, I’ve been working with the World Youth Alliance, an international non-government organization, and it’s my work with them that helped me realize that creative work for social change is my life’s mission.

Artists can really move a society forward. If you think about it, people are the most creative beings on the planet. We do not only have the capacity to solve problems, but also to make creative solutions. Also, people naturally respond to beauty and to creative or “awesome” stuff. So really, artists can do many things because we have the talent to make people notice and more importantly, to make them care.

The Philippines has a lot of problems. But there are also a lot of people, not just artists, who can solve them in many ways. I am particularly inspired by a lot of our local social entrepreneurs because they managed to make people aware of grim social situations and get people involved in improving lives.

As for me, I have yet to discover what my paper art can do, but for now, I’m using my creativity in other mediums and projects.


What is your favorite book and why?

I’m a bookworm, so… very hard question. I don’t have a favorite. I’ll just leave you with a short list of books I really like. :p

  • David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell (Actually, I love ALL of Gladwell’s books)
  • Maximize Your Potential by Jocelyn K. Glei
  • Make Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky
  • Novels by Nick Hornby (especially: A Long Way Down)
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Who is your favorite author and why?

Malcolm Gladwell. He’s a genius.

Any favorite reading/writing/art-related quote?

“Everything stinks ‘til it’s finished.”—Dr. Seuss


2 responses to “Rocking Paper More Than Scissors: An Interview with Paper Artist Mary Imbong”

  1. […] Featured image by Mary Imbong. Read about her paper artistry here. […]


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