Tell us a bit about yourself.
Hello everyone, my name is Elly MacKay, a.k.a. Theater Clouds. I make little worlds out of paper and photograph them. I was raised in an old church in Big Bay. It is a beautiful spot below the bluffs on the edge of Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada. I went to university out in Halifax, where I met my wonderful husband. We now live with our daughter (and soon a son) in a little brick house by the harbour in Owen Sound. I am due any day now!
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
M days are spent with my little girl, Lily. As any parent knows, life is so busy with a 3-year-old child, so most of the hobbies I have now are things Lily can do with me. We like to garden, read children’s stories, make up our own stories, dance, go for walks and meet friends, and bake cupcakes and cookies.
What would be the title of your memoir? Why?
The title of my memoir would be, In Her Hand She Held Both Rhinestones and Stars. I am a daydreamer, but I also feel lucky to have the life I do.
Where does your inspiration come from?
I found my inspiration through playing with Victorian inventions. I love tunnel books, magic lanterns, stereoscopes, paper theaters, and zoetropes — they are so magical. My daughter inspires the stories my images tell. In some ways I feel I’ve entered a second childhood and I’m able to see the world through her eyes. She sees the world in such a fantastical way. The other day she made little parcels for the spider that has taken up residence in our bathroom.
What does handmade mean to you?
Handmade means made with hand and heart.
Who has been most influential in your craft?
I think we absorb things from the people around us. My grandmother was a painter and my parents are both makers, too. My father is a potter and photographer and my mother an author and artist. They influenced me to become a maker. It seemed like a natural occupation to go into. However, when I was a teen my mother took me on a train trip through the United States to meet members of the Movable Book Society. That was a turning point for me. I began making dioramas with moving parts and selling them at a gallery in Toronto. The little worlds I make now are a return to working in this way.
When did you know you were an artist/maker?
I’ve always loved making things.
How would you describe your creative process?
My creative process usually begins with an idea and title; the image follows close behind. I have a big whiteboard in my studio and I play with themes — weather, creatures, botany, etc. I do really loose drawings there. I keep them up for a while to see what comes from them. I love experimenting as well…. I make a few cut elements from yupo paper and ink or play with the ones I “store” on the wall. Once I have enough layers I begin to install them in my theater. I use filters of coloured tissue to create a distant landscape or clouds and then I take many, many photos of the scene, changing little things here or there.
If you could peek inside the studio of any artist, designer or craftsman (dead or alive), who would it be?
I would like to visit David Hoffos’s studio. He combines video and dioramas. The worlds he makes are so intriguing, eerie and lovely. I would also like to see how Yuriy Norshteyn works. He does paper cut animations, layering his figures and backgrounds on different layers of glass.
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
My most cherished handmade possession is my miniature theater that my husband sweetly made for me at Christmas two years ago. The theater is exactly as I imagined. He is a woodworker and took such care in making it — there are even little holes in the sides so that I can string wires and it is open on the sides so that I can add extra lighting.
How do you get out of your creative ruts?
I get out of my creative ruts by making and making. I expect that I won’t like anything I do for the first couple of days, but then something happens and suddenly I have ideas again. I also turn to making scenes with my little boats…. It is relaxing, playful and a good way to meditate on other things that I would like to create.
Where would you like to be in ten years?
Well, I’d like to be doing what I am doing now, and taking the odd adventure — perhaps a family trip to Spain or a year on a houseboat? I’d like to work on some children’s books, create some animation and just live a creative life. My husband and I talk of what we want in 40 years. We imagine an arts center with a kinetic sculpture garden out in Big Bay. It’s fun to dream about.