From blooming paper flowers and bejeweled hot air balloons to Rolex watches and industrial cogs, Julie Wilkinson and Joyanne Horscroft create worlds with materials as banal as they come—plain sheets of paper. For five years now the pair have run The Makerie Studio, where they craft paper sculptures for window installations, magazine editorials, advertisements, events, and private collections. They’ve been friends for even longer, and they owe it all to a chance dorm-room visit and a certain self-help book.
“Julie had this book on her bedside table. It’d be really uncommon for anyone to read, but I had it as well,” Joyanne, or Joy recalls. “It was The Power of Now. I think it was about seizing the day. I remember seeing it and thinking ‘Oh, I’m going to notice you.’”
“It’s funny, it’s probably the most important book we ever read, even it we can’t remember much of it now,” Wilkinson says.
They may have retained more than they let on. Not long after becoming friends at university in Bath, they moved past their mutual interest in graphic design (“It’s better than maths, isn’t it?” Horscroft notes) and zeroed in on their real passion: 3D art. They both cite the books of Stefan Sagmeister and Tibor Kalman as early inspirations, and quickly gravitated toward more sculptural projects, citing the draw of interactive pieces and fully-realized figures. Wilkinson remembers “I really loved book and editorial design in school, but at the end of the day, you just want to see it in real life, don’t you?”
Like any recent grads, they needed time to find their footing. Horscroft apprenticed with paper artist and former fashion designer Zoe Bradley, while Wilkinson headed back to Italy to work with an advertising firm. But they didn’t let the distance stop them. The two friends would Skype regularly and talk out ideas, each realizing they weren’t totally fulfilled in their current jobs. They kept Skyping and sketching, completing projects on weekends and vacations, until Wilkinson netted their first job.
“We basically just sold ourselves to them,” Horscroft says.
“I walked into the store and said, ‘Do you want this in your window?” Wilkinson remembers. “And then they asked how much it would cost, and it was a bit like ‘Wait, you want to pay us?’”
After Horscroft came over from England, the two began building the The Makerie Studio in earnest. It was, as they call it, a very soft launch. Both remained at their jobs and used those experiences as the basis for their initial portfolio. As clients came calling and paid commissions started to conflict with their day jobs, they decided to make a go of it. “We were really lucky in that it happened quite naturally,” Wilkinson says. “It’s not like we didn’t eat for eight months or something like that. Now it’s full-time, and it’s overtime—and we’re lucky for that as well. It’s really lovely.”
Since then, Makerie has done editorial work for Wallpaper* and Men’s Health, ad campaigns for Johnny Walker and Dior Beauty, and window displays at Harrod’s and Kate Spade. Their elegantly conceived, intricately detailed pieces can sometimes have an antique sensibility, but skeletons and X-rays are as likely a reference point as butterflies and Fabergé eggs. They both mention the V&A and the Met as sources of inspiration, alongside dramatic, expressive designers like Alexander McQueen. “Our aesthetics are bleeding together,” Wilkinson says. “In five years you won’t be able to tell the difference between us.”
But for now, it’s the distance between Wilkinson and Horscroft that keeps Makerie a unique, international operation. We met during a rare reunion in their Brooklyn studio, but Horscroft usually works in London, Wilkinson in Manhattan, meaning their post-college Skype habit is alive and well. They start every day with a virtual meeting, catching up on their lives and their work agendas. And while the women spearhead the assignments in their respective countries, they consult frequently on each project.
“A lot of people are confused by how we work separately, but for us it’s become an asset,” Wilkinson says. “It means there’s always someone with perspective and the same mentality as you to say, ‘Okay no, what you need to do is change this,’ which is really good, when you need it.”
“Or you’re like ‘Why does this look so shit?’ and you hold it up to the camera and Julie’s like ‘Oh, it’s not shit,’ and you’re like ‘Really?’ She’s great for a pep talk,” Horscroft says. “The other good thing is she can take holiday and I’m still available.”
“Especially now with the time zones, someone’s always awake.”
Which isn’t to say the work hasn’t come with its share of obstacles. Early in their careers, the women found themselves working non-stop in Wilkinson’s mother’s basement crafting 37 larger-than-life Gucci bags. Projects on a grand scale are always the toughest. “Covering large distances with one sheet of paper means if you get just a little nick or somebody touches it, the whole thing is ruined,” Horscroft says.
Another commission required eight-story tall curtains of paper swans. “You can’t really work out those things because we’re not engineers. Over eight floors, the collective weight at the bottom means the fishing wire connecting everything is really stretching. Will it snap? There’s so much uncertainty about anything covering a huge amount of distance.”
It’s taught them to be honest with clients about the limits of their material—you’ll never see a Colossus of Rhodes rendered in tissue paper, and they’ll be the first to tell you so. As Horscroft explains, “A client may say ‘I really like this color’ and you’re like ‘That’s fine, that comes in letter format.’ Then they ask, ‘How are we going to make a giant tree out of that?’ and we’ll say ‘We can’t. That’s not it.’ But we’ll make the leaves, and the tree we’ll carve out of something else.”
“We’re becoming more comfortable with that now, using other materials to complement pieces when we need it,” Julie adds. “We’re finding the best techniques so that it looks like our aesthetic but still works, rather than trying to mold paper into these impossible shapes.”
New Yorkers can see Makerie’s latest work at the Opening Ceremony storefront on Howard Street: a solid paper wall radiating with chrysanthemum-like bursts of red, blue, white, and black (and there’s plenty more to scope out on their site and their Instagram feed). They’ve got a full docket of projects they’re not quite ready to divulge, but the next time you see a paper installation that stops you in your tracks, there’s a good chance the women of The Makerie Studio (hard at work with their scalpels and their Skype connection) are responsible.