I’m Elly MacKay, a.k.a Theater Clouds. I live in Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada with my husband Simon and little ones, Lily and Koen. I live a short drive from where I grew up – in an old church in Big Bay. I am an artist, making scenes using paper, light and photography. I refer to it as paper theater, lightbox illustrations or illuminated papercraft… It has been several years, but I am still working on a name for this technique.
I went to the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and the University of Canterbury for illustration, printmaking and electronic art. However, it wasn’t until the birth of my daughter Lily, that I began working in this way.
Well, sort of…
I used to spend a great deal of time as a kid making dioramas and tunnel books. As a teen, I sold them at 1st Hand Gallery in Toronto. I stopped making them when I went off to art school to explore other interests. After graduating I was enjoying working at a gallery but the birth of my daughter sparked something in me. I wanted to create things in the way that I had in my youth. I wanted to make things for the simple pleasure of making… to create my own little worlds and explore childhood again through my daughter’s eyes. I told my husband about my wish and he made me a beautiful little theater to work in. These illuminated paper scenes are a return to working with layers of paper like the dioramas and tunnel books I had made as a kid, but with the addition of lighting and photography. I set up layers of drawings on a small scale in my very tiny stage. They are wonderfully fun to create. You can take a look at my process page, to see how I make them.
I use this technique to create photographic prints (that I sell here) and illustrations for children’s books (found here). At times I have worked on a larger scale, creating installations. In the future I hope to do some animation as well. Simon recently made an animation table so hopefully I will be able to show you my simple stop-motion animations.
My work often plays with the themes of childhood, and the ephemeral. I look to my own childhood, and to my experience as a mother.
I have a fascination with Victorian curiosities, and set design. I love anything that involves a trick of the eye – zoetropes, paper theaters, tunnel books, pop-ups, etc. As a teen, I took a trip to meet members of The Movable Book Society with my Mom, Joan Irvine. She is a paper-engineer and author. The trip was an education in papercraft.
I am also always looking to the land and weather here on Georgian Bay for inspiration. One of the first projects I made was a cabinet of weather using this technique, “collecting” some of the more interesting types of weather that pass by. This is the cabinet and one of the scenes.
Here are a few features and interviews:
I am represented by the Bright Agency and am a member of the Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers.