Guest Post – The Art of Jim Kransberger

The following post is by Jim Kransberger, an artist who has graciously agreed to share his thoughts about his basswood and paper mache sculptures, as well as a few interesting notes about life in general.  (I’ll definitely be watching for that book when it comes out.)

Edit 9/2/2011 – Jim’s work has been showcased in the latest Artsee Magazine. To see the entire Artsee article and all the images of his basswood sculptures, click here (leads to an image-filled pdf file, so give it time to load). Thanks for sharing, Jim.

I came to Papier Mach because of it’s low cost and quickness. Papier Mach  is additive (you pile it on) in construction and does not force a huge commitment, beyond a minimal investment of time, to evaluate the possible success in finishing a work.

My entire life as a maker of anything is all of twenty months. In January of 2010 I bought a couple books on Automata (mechanical) sculpture. Made a couple pieces, entered several judged exhibitions, winning some acceptance, got a few galleries to represent me. Have been included in a new book Humor in Crafts that will be released next Spring.

So who's the potter, Omar?
So who’s the potter, Omar?

This piece was judged into THE BASCOM – AMERICAN CRAFT TODAY exhibition in October, last year. The judge was Carol Sauivon; she’s the executive producer of the PBS TV series Craft In America. She selected is So who’s the potter, Omar?

The material that most automata is built of is basswood. The downside of automata is that there are few fellow automata makers to converse with and even fewer collectors. Automata is fragile and if left on open display, it will be mishandled (broken). So I switched making the sculptured basswood figures without the mechanics. Again, some success and been accepted into the Southern Highlands Craft Guild and will be (hopefully) accepted into the Piedmont Craftsmen Guild at their annual show in November.

Here’s what my basswood looks like: CrownMan . . . The man who thought himself a crow.

CrownMan . . . The man who thought himself a crow
CrownMan . . . The man who thought himself a crow

And, Mime Doing Time

Mime Doing Time
Mime Doing Time

I live in Asheville, North Carolina where there is only one wee hobby shop. That shop basically serves the radio control hobbyist. The bits and pieces of brass rod, and the like, are usually out of stock. So I sought out an alternative set of materials . . . wallah, I found Paper Mache!

My first piece was: Drowned in Red Ink. (Jonni posted it a while back.)

Drowned in Red Ink
Drowned in Red Ink

Sent photos to both political parties and got a “nice work” back from Karl Rove. In this piece, my first piece, I learned to not use strips of Kraft paper. Random pieces don’t produce noticeable parallel lines. My wife is still wondering where her bit of cardboard tube has gotten to.

My second piece was: Goya ‘Odalisque’ Crow.

Goya 'Odalisque' Crow
Goya ‘Odalisque’ Crow

Seems every famous artist does an ‘odalisque’ nude at some point. I may never become famous but I can claim to have completed my ‘odalisque’ piece, should fame ever over take me.

This piece has an #9 fence wire armature. It’s stripped with newsprint and then covered with a slurry of Elmer’s Glue-All, Elmer’s Art Paste and Whiting (chalk, available from a potters supply). I wanted a smooth surface so as to not have to tell everyone I was not using basswood. More often than not, I see a slight curl in the lip of an interested party at the mention of Papier Maché. So don’t pick at scabs.

Next came: End of Indecision

End of Indecision
End of Indecision

The off balance looking piece stays upright due to 1.25 pounds of embedded fishing (lead) weights. Again, a #9 wire armature.

Piece four is: Feathered Friend

Feathered Friend
Feathered Friend

The armature here is a piece of plywood. The crow’s body and the hand are basswood. The crow’s wings are hammered aluminum flashing. The base is just a chunk of wood from Lowes.

Number five is: Flower Girl

Flower Girl
Flower Girl

Fencing wire and some tiny paper flowers that my wife brought back from Mexico. Plywood armature, metal foil, paper strips, and about a quarter inch of very thick paste of Jonni’s formula. Once dried, I smoothed the surface with a Porter-Cable profile sander.

The last four of the five pieces were shown in a gallery’s booth at the Folk Fest show in Atlanta last weekend. Folk Fest is the largest Folk Art presentation in the U.S., over 100 galleries attend. I do not make Folk Art, I make Contemporary sculpture and expected little. The first three pieces were obviously not classifiable as Folk Art, but the fourth, Flower Girl caught someone’s eye and went home with them.

I also had three basswood pieces mixed in with the papeer mache work at Folk Fest. When someone showed interest in my work, I talk a bit about it, until they loosened up, and then asked them which were of wood and which were of paper. They couldn’t tell ! In time, when I can establish that my work equal in both mediums, I came stop this game of which-is-which.

I am really not delighted to explain what I am saying in or with my work. Explaining the point of a piece is admission that someone has missed the point . . . could be me, could be them. In the end, people either get it or they don’t.

My twenty month journey as a maker, has taught me two things: Humor and/or Funny doesn’t sell; people do not spend “good” money easily on work that they can’t brag about. All good work communicates something. Oh, yes, another thing: life is easier when you are cooking for more than one . . . when I have multiple pieces going I keep my fingers out of wet paint and or Jonni glop . . . I don’t have to sit on my hands and wait, wait, wait. If I had to do one piece at a time, I’d soon find myself bored to distraction.

I made a list last night of possible new pieces. Came up with 21 different concepts. Most require that I become a better painter. It is said that “. . . the art is in the edges” and atop everything sits the top edge: paint. So I enrolled in a Beginners Drawing course at our community college yesterday morning. It starts September 13th.

What a great venture making sculpture has become.



27 thoughts on “Guest Post – The Art of Jim Kransberger”

  1. Haven’t posted anything for a while . . . so here’s what’s new.

    I am in the DOG SHOW at the Blue Spiral 1 Gallery here in Asheville. It’s an invitational and am of fifteen artists invited. I provided 4 mechanical pieces of which three were pápier mâché. The paper pieces are:

    Johnny. When cranked the jaw pants and the tail wags.

    WATCHdog. The dog’s head nervously swings back and forth.

    DOGma. The dog walks, looks to be yapping, and eight teats swing.

    Johnny sold the first week and I hope one or more are adopted before the show ends in mid-February.


  2. Hi all. Be sure to see the update that I added to the top of Jim’s post. There’s a link to an article about his work in the latest Artsee magazine. You can see many more of his basswood sculptures through that link.

    • The article really has helped!

      Sent out a dozen emails of the ARTsee article to some galleries late last week. On Saturday my bobber moved and I got a response from a great regional gallery, that is nationally acclaimed, and they invited me to provide three or four pieces in a show running from early January to late February of 2012.


      Asheville, NC

        • Second gallery invitation came last night from Green Hill Center for NC arts because of the ARTsee article.

          I spend nearly half my time promoting my work . . . on the advice of three successful makers. It is beginning to payoff. I doubt very much that my work is any better than half of those making pápier mâché. When in comes to the marketing of my art, I spend fifty percent of my time on promotion. The best of all promotions is recognition. If you enter well judged competitions, you are forced to make better work. If you get accepted, you’ve something to talk about. Simple as that, I am promoting. Be willing to get your feelings hurt, they mend quickly if you get invited to a larger party.

  3. Hey Jonni, thanks so much for the info., I appreciate you taking the time.

    Also Jim I love the honesty in your last comment and it hit a chord with me in relation to my work. I’m definitely not an artist, but a ‘maker’ at this stage and happy to be here.

    I love what I do and appreciate all positive comments I receive. If folks don’t like it that’s fine. Art is such a relative thing, thank goodness we’re not all cast from the same mould or the world would be a much duller place.


    • Claire,

      Had a friend, fact is my was my pledge father in a fraternity in college, who would often remark to people who offered unrequested advice: “If you are not pleased with what I am doing, or the way I am doing it, please notice that is why the put sidewalks on both sides of the street.”

      All comment should be constructive. Life is short; stay on your favorite side of the street.

      You’re right . . . smile!


  4. I am delighted that some like what I am doing. To be honest, I think that the people make humorous art, do it because they find it a safe haven and avoid addressing more serious issues. When I started, I made the artistic equivalent of prat-fall comedy. As my skill level improves, hiding behind something isn’t required. Yet, I have no intention of addressing the world’s problems. My intention is tell people about the little images in life that get overlooked.

    That pápier mâché is an inexpensive substrate is a given. My experience is that good art sells, bad art doesn’t. If your are making art with mâché because you can sell it for less, then you might consider another point-of-view: using a less expense material might be an economic boon to you, not necessarily to be passed to your collector. Unless you are wealthy -I am not!- then don’t give every economy away. First, think about the increase in sales, then the number of pieces you have to sell, to off set your reduction in profit margin. Secondly, aren’t you really undermining the the general reputation of Pápier Mâché in general? The reputation given to the material s damaged enough in kindergarten and the resulting pinch pots.

    Built the armature for a new piece this afternoon. It’s two dancers; maybe I’ll call it something like ” . . . under the stars.” Wish aluminum foil would stick to aluminum foil.

    No, I am not an artist. Maybe someday I will be. Until then, I am just another “maker” and proud to be called that. Have had some small success because I am either stupid or fearless. Remember that just because your family, your friends and especially your children like your work, it doesn’t really matter much to the rest of the world.

    Again, thanks.


    • Hi Jim,

      I consider anybody who creates, an artist. In my opinion if they (John and Jane Q Public) do not agree, they have a problem not you. Paper Mache is just a form of expression like many art mediums, and is a part of who you are as an artist. I make bowls, doll furniture, doll props and not the showy kind of paper mache, but I created the pieces because it is fun to do so. It is my expression, I like to share them, but I do not worry what people think. They can make their own. Art is such a big concept that you can spend eons of time to debate that subject. I guess, art is a very subjective notion. I consider your pieces to be art as I am in awe of what you do. Anything that inspires, is art to me. People will look at your work and make their own supposition weather anything is artistic or not. Do not ever define yourself as stupid. Some of the best art have come out of the simplest things. Sharing is fun and that is part of the charm.

      • Christine,

        I see “maker” a better term. It’s more comfortable term, at least for me.

        If you say, “People will look at your work and make their own supposition weather anything is artistic or not,” then you have to earn the title of Artist from those people. It’s a heavy mantle. There’s an old photographic bit about “an amateur shows their bad work and a professional destroys it.”

        Want to know your best critic: YOU! Just be honest with yourself.

        Whether it is important to you what you are known as, Artist or Maker, is completely up to you. I tend towards be known as a “maker” so that I when I leave the room and someone loses there lunch while looking at my work, I can feel no guilt.

        Do I have fun? Bet your back end! I had a great day today. Got the first coat of mâché on my dancers piece. What are you working on? Show me yours, I’ll show you mine!

        Smile, Have some fun.


  5. Hey Jonni, really enjoyed Jim’s post and pics……

    “people either get your work or they don’t” so true and I’m never offended by people who don’t get it. For every one that doesn’t ‘get it’ there are ten who do!!

    Jonni, I’m wanting to get into a bit of papier mache and found your site and your recipe for papier mache clay. I just wanted to clarify what joint compound actually is, so I can ask at the hardware shop. Is it a powder (plaster) or a liquid used for filling cracks/joints etc.

    Also Elmer’s glue, I’ve never heard of it here in Australia. W0uld any glue do or does Elmers’ have particular properties necessary for the Clay?

    Thanks so much for your time and help. Have loved looking through your site, so inspirational.

    Claire :}

    • Claire, the joint compound is used to fill in the joint between two sheets of drywall/plasterboard on new walls. It’s called drywall filler in Canada and joint filler in the UK. Just make sure your product doesn’t contain any plaster or Portland cement – you need a product made mostly of calcium carbonate (chalk) so your clay will stay workable for a long time.

      The Elmer’s is not available there, but any PVA glue should work. Good luck!

  6. Hi Jim,
    I agree… I think your stuff is very cool and doesn’t need an explanation.
    I have also found that “funny” doesn’t sell that well. People like it, they chuckle, they remember you for it… but i guess it is hard to spend a lot of money on a “joke”. …And I always like to make the joke.
    Thanks for sharing your work. You inspire me to keep on creating!

    • Joke? Why not try a little more serious “joke”? DO NOT make a political comment, which is often proven to be simply a very bad joke differently stated. Make your viewer stop and think. Good work usually has a worthwhile message embedded.


  7. Hi Jim,
    I love your crow man, he made me smile as I have just made a paper mache bird man and entered him in a textile exhibition in Perth, Australia. He was googled at regularly for two weeks, with mixed reactions, some loved him others not to sure what it was, lots of people didn’t think paper was a textile. I would love to send a pic but I don’t know how to attach it to this blog.

    • Hi Julia. We’d love to see your bird man. If you can post it to a file sharing program like Dropmox or photobucket, you can then include a link to the page where it appears on that site and I’ll make it show up in your comment. The process is more complex than I would like, but it does work. I hope you give it a try.

  8. AWESOME!!! Love his work, love his writing and loooooove his attitude! I especially love “people either get it or they dont”, ain’t that the truth? When I make a piece it’s like I’m waiting for that special someone that “get’s it” and when that person comes along it feels like the only reason I even got the idea in the first place was just for that person to come along and find it. It feels great!
    I also love the term “Jonni glop” lol! I haven’t tried it yet but you can bet your shiney hiney I’m going to!
    This whole post just makes me happy! Great work Jim! Thanks for finding your gift and bringing it to the world!

    • skwirl,

      I just started a new piece: a couple dancing. It has an aluminum #9 fence wire armature. It has arms and legs going in all directions. Wrapping the armature and taping the aluminum foil is a not-so-fun finger exercise. My gut feeling is that I should dip the armature in “GLOP” and build it like you make a candle. Just might work?

  9. There is such a deficiency of humor and innocence in modern art that I’m always delighted to see art and craft that loosens things up a bit. When was the last time you saw a genuine smile in a fine art piece? I also like it when artists chose a medium that is common and make uncommon things from it. One nice thing about working in paper mache (or cloth or many other craft mediums) is that you can make art that is affordable to the middle class collector. You can, of course, make things that are priced out of reach of the middle class, and every original work has a priceless aspect, but it’s nice that there is a whole lot of art being made that a person of modest means (like an artist) might be able to save up and buy it. Thanks so much for bringing beautiful, playful art into the world.

    • I am in pápier mâché as a medium because it is cheap to do. It costs a few cents to flesh out an idea. At a few cents cost, you can toss away pieces that don’t cut the mustard. When I try to repair a bad idea, when I am finish fixing it, all I have is a repaired bad idea. With pápier mâché you aren’t required to recover your material costs, nor need you be concerned with the little time you have invested.

      “Middle class collector” is hard to get my mind around. If we segment the ART market mentally, should we not then separate ourselves as “low class,” “middle class,” “high class,” or “upper class” as makers? If we are what we eat, are we not definable by who we sell too? I doubt that there is one among us who wouldn’t drowned their own mother in her own milk for a one man show at the Modern Museum of Art. The drowning thing is merely a figure of speech and we all do, indeed, love of wonderful mothers.


      • Ah, well, I guess there is no really accurate language to talk about people’s financial states and their relationship to art. Sorry to use dated concepts of class structure and I don’t want to categorize anything. I am glad some makers are making things I can afford. I also really just wanted to say I enjoy your art/craft and hope to see more of it. We are a humorous species and I love seeing the things you make.


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