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Check out the attention to detail in Cheryl Teo's paper craft. Photos: Instagram/@captain.lulo

Artist Behind The Art: She Transforms Singapore Into Whimsical Paper Creations

Becoming a paper artist was never in the books for Cheryl Teo. In fact, she was struggling to figure out her next page in life after graduation.

“I never thought being an artist could be a possibility for me. I had thought about doing art since I was a kid, but the pragmatic side of me could never imagine it happening,” says Cheryl, who studied photography at Nanyang Technological University.

“I like to think that my job was born because people were keen and curious to work with paper for their projects and campaigns. I just happened to be there at the right time!”

And she has truly wowed us for sure with the way she turns sheets of paper into works of art. Cheryl, better known as Captain LULO on Instagram, has created paper masterpieces for POSB, Zespri, and TV ads with Singtel. She’s also worked on projects with the Asian Civilisation Museum and National Library Board.

So… why of all things, paper? Cheryl cites art classes and happenstance. She was already working with paper during her first year in university, and kept going back to the medium for fun.

“I love that paper is easily accessible, and, back then, I was very inspired by artists who made interesting forms with paper. I was keen to see what I myself could do with this medium,” says Cheryl, having created all sorts of characters and objects, from the Merlion to Sang Nila Utama.

“Living in Singapore also means living in small spaces, so working with paper fits perfectly with my circumstances. As someone who has always enjoyed building things and working with my hands, I love the versatility paper has to offer,” she adds.

We speak to the paper artist about her most memorable collabs, how to dig yourself out of a creative rut, and what fuels her passion to keep making these playful paper sculptures.

Who is “Captain LULO”? Is it your superhero identity?

I wish there was a more inspiring reason for how Captain LULO came about. But it’s honestly just an old Instagram handle that I created 6 years ago when I started selling a mishmash of handcrafted goods. I have thought about changing this name/identity a million times but nothing significant comes to mind! For now, Captain LULO is just an artist that works with paper.

From miniature food to tiny furniture and HDBs, your creations are simply amazing. What inspires you?

I’m inspired by everything and anything! From things that I can see and touch to the way I’m feeling at the very moment. If I’m obsessed about a particular subject or thought at a given time, I will use it to fuel the things I make. Whatever matters or strikes a chord with me is always the best subject matter to use for my art, as I find it has the most emotional currency. If it means something to me, it will probably mean something to someone else too.

Speaking of your creations, can you remember the first thing you ever made with paper?

The first time I used paper was when I was in primary school, I made a collage of a foot stepping on a cockroach.

You have worked on so many commissions and collabs! What are some of your most memorable partnerships and what made them so awesome?

My most memorable partnerships are ones where the client has absolute faith in me and ones where I feel optimally challenged. There were a few projects that came to fruition without showing a single sketch to the client. It is very rare to have that level of trust and understanding as the nature of my work is different from what they might be used to. I definitely do not take it for granted and feel grateful to be able to meet clients that are willing to take a chance on me.

I also enjoy working on projects that align with my style and interest, but also force me to think outside of what I already know.

For example, I had a project to create a cover for a financial magazine based in the US. I never once thought my work would be something a financial magazine would want to use. Would my style even fit a subject so serious? So, it was perfect when I learnt they were looking for something whimsical to address a usually serious topic.

The client and agency were not looking for me to change my style in any way either! I’m always excited for projects like that as it encourages me to keep doing what I’m doing and not be ashamed of what I’m putting out.

It's amazing how you manage to come up with your creations. Which project was your most challenging and, on average, how long does one piece take to complete?

Most projects come to me with new challenges each time, especially if I’m creating something I have never created before or working on a tight timeline (which is most of the time, haha!).

I’m usually only given about 1 week to a month to complete a project. Technically, it can be very challenging as paper craft requires a fair bit of work and there is always a need to factor in time to experiment on a particular shape or object. Time is also needed to construct every piece together by hand.

Sometimes, it takes a while to iron out the client’s vision before I can get started on building anything.

You’re a self-described introvert. Does it help/hinder your role as an artist, especially when it comes to collabs?

Ironically, it doesn’t really affect me! It could be because I’m not around people every single day like in a normal working environment (pre-COVID).

When I used to work in an office setting as a graphic designer, I was very quiet because I’m horrible at small talk (especially if it has to take place 5 days a week!) and it takes a long time for me to feel comfortable opening up to a stranger.

But, in my current situation, it works very well for me because I’m just talking business most of the time when I’m approached for a job. And introverts really light up when you talk to them about things that are related to their interests.

You mentioned recently on Instagram that you were stuck in a creative rut. We’re so sorry to hear that - how’s everything coming along? Do you have any advice for fellow artists who find themselves in the same situation?

A lot of times, being in a creative rut for me comes from either being burnt out or overthinking everything that I’m working on. I’m not entirely sure if I’m the best person to give out any advice.

I find what helps me is to either do something completely opposite of what is occupying your mind or find sources of inspiration that gives you a creative assignment that you can take on without constantly thinking that you have to reinvent the wheel. You can come up with a list of things you enjoy doing but haven’t done so in a while. It helps take your mind away and gives you time to recharge your creative muscles while still doing something that you like.

When my mind is overburdened by other thoughts, I find that it prevents me from producing creative work. I would take the time to figure out what’s bothering me and address that first.

Having a creative career can be very draining and it’s not easy to juggle passion projects and client projects at the same time. So, it's okay if you just want to stop creating for a while.

We love the mini chair DIY craft kit on LULO Paper Studio! These are a great way for newbies to get into papercraft. What sort of feedback have you received about them?

It’s been great and unexpected, honestly! It’s given me that boost of confidence I needed to come up with more paper craft kits in the future.

I used to think - why would anyone want to get a craft kit when they can just do it themselves? But I realised everyone needs an outlet to be creative but [don't necessarily want] to think about the steps to get there. It’s also the reason why I enjoy going for creative workshops as everything is planned and thought out for me. All I need to do is show up!

What keeps you going?

I find a few motivators have kept me going. Some important ones include still finding my work challenging and seeing personal growth each year. I want to keep learning new things and I want to continue finding opportunities that are meaningful to me. Doing art or just being creative in general gives me that motivation.

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