Monami Ohno dreamed of being an animator. Like so many other teenagers, the animated masterpiece Neon Genesis Evangelion changed his life. Ever since she watched it, she had dreamed of joining the team that made Evangelion at Tatsunoko Productions. She focused on her art and did what she could to make those dreams come true, enrolling as a student at Osaka University of the Arts.
For a stop-motion animation assignment, Ohno decided to use cardboard as the material to save money. She took discarded cardboard, cut it out with scissors, and put it together to create the materials for her project. At first, she thought nothing of it.
“When I made my animations, I got a lot of praise from people for the cardboard models instead of the animation,” Ohno explains. “So I started to think maybe it was better to focus on the designs themselves.”
I started seeing a lot contradictions in it.
Flash forward 10 years later, and Ohno is still making cardboard models. She made hundreds and hundreds of them – those elaborate, incredibly detailed cardboard statues that remain unpainted and unadorned. Looking at his work, it’s almost as if all the excess cardboard in the world has a hidden heart and comes to life in Ohno’s studio.
At first, she had to stay small. Cardboard is a fragile and fragile material. But over the years, his work has grown and grown stronger, bolstered by sturdy wood or polystyrene interiors. She made cars, tanks, trucks, guns, shoes, robots, turtles, spaceships, saxophones, football gear, chocolate bars, guitars – anything you can imagine . Each creation is rendered in exquisite detail to mimic the original with scales, textures and shading that are indented, sculpted, crimped and cut from the same plain brown cardboard.
“The more I use it, the more I get attached to the cardboard,” says Ohno. “His kindness, his fragility. I began to see many contradictions there.
Ohno is calm and polite, with a short haircut and a thoughtful personality. She freely admits that she was not comfortable promoting her work on social media at first. But his passion for cardboard art shines through, as does his love and fascination with all things pop culture.
Nowadays, cardboard is the material of Amazon parcels. When you take out the object inside, it becomes trash.
A Charizard emitting a breath of fire. A Laputian robot from Castle in THE sky, nuts and bolts in its oversized arms included. A Lego Joker with skulls carved into his mini cardboard tie. The Millennium Falcon. Classic cars and watches. Even a life-size sailor school uniform. A vast majority of Ohno’s creations come from some corner of pop culture, be it movies, TV shows, video games, or some other kind of hobbyist obsession. Ohno’s love for these pop culture franchises shines through in the intimate detail of her works, though she herself has too many pop culture interests to count.
“I usually choose articles based on my own interests,” says Ohno. “If I don’t like something, it’s hard to complete the project. But I get commissions, so I can’t always do the things I love. I try to challenge myself to do all kinds of things, even projects that don’t initially interest me.
Ohno moved away from animation in her cardboard world in college, and it’s been the majority of her work ever since. Being an artist in Japan is as unforgiving as it is in any other country, so she made ends meet with a variety of part-time jobs, first in the service industry but transformed over the years. in companies that produce models for companies, and other work more closely related to its main objective. However, it focuses primarily on cardboard, meeting the demands of customers in Japan and around the world. She slowly built her platform over the years, reaching over 22,000 followers on Instagram, 12,000 on Twitter and 7,000 on Facebook.
Her creative process begins with choosing what she wants to do and what size she wants. From there, she begins to cut cardboard and use tape to assemble her 3D puzzles. The process is as simple as the one on the surface. But with the degree of complexity that goes into a giant-sized Godzilla with a fully textured body of scales, it’s hard to even imagine where it begins.
“At the beginning, creating 3D objects was very difficult, explains Ohno, so I made flatter projects. I mainly focused on rectangular projects, but now I have gradually become able to do more rounded designs. I also became able to do larger sizes — at first I could hardly make my works larger than [a fist]but now I can do much bigger things than that.
Over the years she added more elements to her cardboard game – new sizes, new shapes and new engineering elements to keep her lightweight cardboard creations intact.
“Today, cardboard is Amazon’s packaging material. When you take the object out inside, it becomes a trash can,” says Ohno. “But now I wonder, why is this considered trash? It’s not trash – it’s much more interesting to turn it into something of value.
I started doing this as fan art, but now that I’m a pro I can’t really tell the two apart.
Other artists might experiment with new materials, but Ohno’s love for cardboard is just as dedicated as his love for Marvel and Pokémon. And with each passing year, she discovers a new attraction. Lately, Ohno has started to feel more connected to causes associated with recyclable art movements, which she admits she didn’t even consider at first.
“Back then you had an object and you used it all the time – that was the way of life. But now we buy and throw away. My interests can change at any time, but right now I’m addicted to cardboard.
Ohno’s new elements in his approach also seep into his material. Lately, she’s become more interested in trying to build architecture and human bodies out of cardboard – two areas she’s never tried before. While a part of her will always stick to her guns — cardboard and beloved pop culture — Ohno expresses a steady determination to keep growing.
“I started doing this as fan art, but now that I’m a pro, I can’t quite tell the two apart,” Ohno explains. “Doing fan art for fun was good, but it didn’t lead to enough growth. I thought it was better to strive to do a lot of projects and take risks and challenges.
“I keep both sides: a fan at heart but a professional approach. If I don’t take my job seriously, I won’t like it, because it means I haven’t given it my all.
Ohno was surprised at how widely her work has spread. Due to the copyrighted nature of much of the material, most of his commissions are to make the item rather than sell it. And the coronavirus provided a surprising challenge, cutting off a large amount of commissions that had previously been a steady source of income for Ohno.
Many artists have gone viral with their fan art, but Ohno has made a career out of it. COVID-19 and internet commenting have become nerve-wracking challenges (she tries not to stare at comments), but 10 years after starting her cardboard designs, her enthusiasm and determination make it seem like it’s not. only the beginning.
“I don’t want to give up because of the little things,” Ohno says. It’s a lofty approach to pursuing a creative passion, and it shines through in the steampunk precision – equal parts magic and engineering – of its nerdy, brave, cardboard world.