Kelli Nyman of Kaleidowall Paper Craft working in her studio.
Some creatives make things and dream of having a business. Kelli Nyman dreamed of having a business, then searched for a product, something that embraced both her creative needs and her pragmatic business training.
It’s not surprising that she found her niche in a clean, modern, geometric form of modular origami and created Kaleidowall Paper Craft, selling unique paper wall art. The interlocked triangular, folded paper shapes in her creations form dimensional, textural pieces that offer a varying viewing experience depending on lighting, time of day, and viewing vantage point, while the soothing neutral color palettes present a sleek, clean aesthetic.
This dynamic combination – more linear than traditional origami forms — helps set her work apart from other origami artists.
Her pieces are informed not just by shape and composition, which “is verygeometric and sort of rigid,” but also her neutral color palette. “My goal was to blend that neat and orderly art form (into) something organic, imaginative; something you haven’t seen before but is pleasing and harmonious; a cross between loose and different, but also neat and straight.”Nyman uses various shades and textures of paper, including translucent vellum, layering them to create different effects.
“I’m almost painting with the paper, blending the colors together,” Nyman explains. “Even though I’m literally just fitting the (papers) into each other, I’m choosing which colors sit next to each other, creating different compositions that aren’t symmetrical and predictable.”
Kelli Nyman’s modern take on origami encompasses clean, seemingly simple geometric forms that are dimensional, textural and offer a varying viewing experience depending on lighting, time of day, and viewing vantage.
Despite an early interest in fashion and design, Nyman started college as a business major, because it was practical. But she soon changed her major to design and merchandising, which gave her “a nice blend of business, marketing, and design classes.”
“I was always business minded and entrepreneurial,” says the Pennsylvania native who now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “I’m very practical and results driven, but I also love things to be beautiful.”
She worked in merchandising and marketing at several fashion stores, but found the work low paying and stressful, so transitioned to a small digital advertising agency.
Nyman’s creative soul was invigorated while planning her wedding, doing “all the DIY things,” including making a paper backdrop using varying sizes and types of paper.
“I always wanted to be creative, and dreamed of having an Etsy shop,” she says, recalling how much fun she had as a youngster making everything from jewelry and key chains to cards and friendship bracelets, which she sold to classmates.
Nyman’s linear origami and her use of a neutral palette are a few of things that set her art apart from traditional origami art.
While surfing the Internet, she happened upon a tutorial showing how to fold and connect paper pieces to create a type of geometric origami wall art. The clean lines appealed to her and she began experimenting.
“I felt I could really do something with this, using different paper, different substrates,” she says. Tuning in to her analytical/entrepreneurial side, she scoured Etsy to see if anyone else was doing this type of paper art. There was plenty of origami art, but none had her distinctive vision.
“I bought some inexpensive colorful paper, a canvas panel, a frame, and thought, ‘I’m just going to make some pieces and put them in an Etsy shop.’ Something about it just captured me. I could see so many possibilities.”
She started making a few pieces in 2016. But true to form, before jumping to open a shop, she did her research, learning all she could about “best Etsy practices” for selling. She opened her shop in 2017 with 12 framed pieces ranging from $40 5×7 inch pieces to a 16×20 inch piece that sold for $170. Each piece takes about eight hours to complete. “The most challenging part is getting the pieces to sit straight on the canvas.”
She promoted her shop on social media and a few weeks later she was excited – and a little stunned – to hear the “ka-ching” sound of an Etsy sale.
Nyman’s company, Kaleidowall, takes its name from the Greek words kalos, which means beautiful, and eidos, which means wall. Her collections also bear Greek names, such as Themis, Nyx, and Gaia.
The hardest part was how to package these dimensional, sort-of fragile, paper-made pieces. “That was a whole iterative process,” she explains. While the structure of the triangle-shaped pieces and the way they are interlocked with each other makes the pieces relatively strong, paper, she notes, “can be crushed. The challenge was to create a box that fits and secures the piece so the box top doesn’t make contact with top of the art.”
In the beginning, she refashioned old boxes to suit her needs, but she wanted the package itself to be attractive enough to be “giftable.” She bought large sheets of strong cardboard and, with the help of her husband, created a lidded box with notches on the bottom and sides, where rubber bands hold the piece securely in the base. Each box is made to fit a specific piece. For shipping, the box then gets bubble wrapped and placed in a separate shipping box. “The art is very protected.”
When Nyman first started her business, she thought it be would customers looking for small pieces to hang in their home. Taking commissions was never part of the dream. She had a vision of her art and “wanted it to be what I wanted it to be,” she says with a laugh. “What if people want me to do ugly, horrible colors? I was against it.”
But when a friend asked her for a custom piece using family birthstone colors, Nyman was intrigued. She researched the stones, searched for suitable papers, and found that creating this custom piece was fun and fulfilling because “it was so special to her.”
A commission to create a four-panel piece for the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington, D.C., was a turning point in for her business. Each panel measures 40 inches by 40 inches and is an abstract representation of the interior dome in the Capitol Rotunda.
She has done several commissions since then, learning valuable lessons along the way. For instance, she had a bad experience with a client whose design idea was quite different from Nyman’s aesthetic and style. After much back-and-forth, and many hours of work and revisions, the customer was still unhappy and Nyman issued a refund.
This taught Nyman the value of clarifying such things as a refund policy for custom work, pre-approval of paper and design, and more, including “learning to follow my instincts” and say no if the job doesn’t feel like a good fit.
“It was a tough lesson to learn, but invaluable.”
A commission to create a four-panel abstract representation of the interior dome in the Capitol Rotunda for the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington, D.C., took her business to next level.
“That was the moment I realized that this is a whole other thing I can do,” says Nyman, who was approached in 2017 by an art marketing company. “It was fun. It was a great combination of having the external constraints (of a client) but bringing my own eye to it. Seeing I could do that, and work within that and be successful, was very exciting.”
And, finally, a satisfying meld of business and art.
Roberta G. Wax
Roberta Wax is an award-winning journalist and imperfect crafter. A former news reporter, her freelance articles and projects have appeared in a variety of newspapers and magazines, from the Los Angeles Times and Emmy magazine to Cloth Paper Scissors, Somerset Studio, Craftideas, Belle Armoire, etc. She has also designed for craft companies. Although she has no art background she was a crafty Girl Scout leader. www.creativeunblock.com