The Evening Standard is calling her London’s new queen of origami. We wanted to see for ourselves and went to meet Kyla McCallum in her studio.
Her accent reveals that Kyla McCallum comes from Scotland, but it could easily have been neutralised after all the years she’s spent living in London and following her dolphin-training father to different towns around the world. As a child, Kyla and her sister got to play with sea lions while her father worked, balancing balls on the tips of their noses and save floating plastic dolls from their fate.
Almost twenty years later, Kyla McCallum works with her hands instead. For the last few years she has been running Foldability, a design studio that creates bespoke projects inspired by geometry and origami. From a base in the creative hub of east London, she works with a team of freelancers from a range of industries — from product design and interiors, through to set design, visual merchandising, packaging, fashion and events.
From sea lion training to folding and cutting paper is a big leap. When did you first realize that you had a creative and artistic talent?
“In primary school we were given assignments to create a project book on a specific theme. I would usually choose something related to my dad's job, I remember doing one about whales and another about Sweden, where he lived. The purpose of the project was to gather facts and practice writing them, but I would spend hours and hours putting the whole thing together, drawing pictures of animals and creating collages. Throughout school, creative subjects such as art, graphic design and music were what got me the most excited and motivated, so I knew I wanted to do something artistic from a very young age.”
Has there ever been a wow-moment? A moment when you thought ‘I will dedicate my life to this.´
“Yes, in 2012 while I was in the final year of my masters at the Glasgow School of Art, I saw an open call for something called The Deutsche Bank Award. It was a competition to submit a business plan and have the chance to win £10,000 to start a business. I went along to one of the info sessions and the speaker encouraged us to look for the thing that motivates us and makes us happy. He said that as long as you are passionate about the business topic, then you will push your hardest to make it work. At that point I'd been playing with geometric structures and origami for about five years already so it was a great moment coming up with the name of my business, 'Foldability', and putting together a plan for how it could work. I didn't win the prize, but I got to the final three, which really was the spark that kick-started things.”
Your Masters in Design included numerous disciplines and you studied in Germany, Italy, India and Scotland. How did you end up focusing on folding?
“During my year in Cologne, I chose a project where we were asked to design a tree house. It was a group research activity in the beginning where everyone was asked to bring in inspirational imagery. Another student and I both brought in hundreds of pictures of origami so we decided to team up and do the project together. I remember he once said 'imagine having a design studio where all you do is fold all day.' Unfortunately he abandoned me on the last day of the project and I had to stay up all night creating the final model for the presentation myself, but I guess I never forgot his comment!”
What has been the most challenging job you’ve done so far?
“I've recently been working on a display for H&M's flagship store at Oxford Circus. There was a team of four of us making thousands of paper flowers, which was physically quite tough! As the deadline was quite tight it was a bit of a challenge getting everything ready in time, but in the end we managed to deliver early and the pieces are now up in store.”
What project are you most proud of?
“I did the 2015 Christmas cover for Elle Decoration which included a cluster of geometric folded paper shapes that looked a bit like falling snowflakes. That was a really exciting project and I felt quite proud seeing the magazine on newsstands.”
Do you ever get tired of folding?
“Physically, yes. The ideas side, no, as the possibilities are endless!”
How many times a week do you get paper cuts?
“Never! I often slice my hands with scalpels or scissors though and once chopped off the end of my thumb. Luckily, they were able to sew it back on!”
I understand you get inspiration from old mathematics books. Why is that?
“It's the geometric patterns that I'm drawn to, I find them mesmerising because of the precision and repetition. Also, there are equations and codes that can be applied to a particular fold to discover new shapes and forms so it helps me find new ideas.”
Do you have any role model in life?
“Over the last year I've been lucky to have been mentored by one of the directors from Ted Baker, a UK fashion brand. He's quite an inspiring character and has helped motivate me to keep pushing to do what I love. I also have another great mentor called Paul Creavin from the London Small Business Centre who's a really inspiring person and has helped grow my confidence.In terms of work role models, I love the set designer Shona Heath and find her work very inspiring. She creates these enormous fantasy-style sets.
What is it that you like so much about paper and paperboard?
“It's a very versatile material and people are always surprised by its capabilities, which is nice.”
You attended the Iggesund Designer Experience last summer. What was most memorable from that week?
“I was quite taken aback by the scale of the tree-planting process. We visited a nursery that contained over one million planted tree seeds. I enjoyed the symmetry of the space, with the rows and rows of planted seeds going so far back into the distance. I will also never forget the paper reel hall where all the finished rolls are stacked, I had never seen such giant rolls of paper!”
What are you up to right now, when and where will we next get to see work from Foldability?
“I currently have some lights on display at a pop-up by Plinth who sell limited edition works by contemporary artists such as Cornerlia Parker and Richard Deacon. It runs until 19 March 2016 at 44 Great Russell Street, London. I'm also working on a window display at the moment for a brand called Desso who have a showroom in Clerkenwell, London.
I know you dream about doing things on a bigger scale. What would a dream project of yours be?
“I would love to do a large-scale set for the photographer Tim Walker or a project where I get to apply folds to an entire building. Another dream is to do a window for Selfridges or a window on Oxford/Regent Street.”
Do you have any plan to get there?
“I'm hoping to do a Regent Street window in the next few months and the other dreams will hopefully come true in good time!”
See more of Kyla McCallum's work on http://www.foldability.co.uk
TEXT: MIRA DIVAC PHOTO: ANDREAS BLECKMANN