Jim Craig has always had a passion for art. Trained as a medical illustrator, Craig found artistic expression as a cartoonist. But it was not until he spotted the Cardboard Boat Regatta in Glen Ellyn, Ill., that he found his true passion – working with cardboard. After competing in the annual cardboard boat races for several years, Craig began to view the corrugated cardboard he used to craft his boats as so much more. So began his most recent artistic endeavor, sculpting with corrugated cardboard.
His first series of sculptures — “American Icons: From the Ridiculous to the Sublime” — featured three truly American animals: a dog, Texas Longhorn and an eagle. Currently, he is at work on his fourth, “Scout the Frisbee Dog.” We spoke with the artist about his love and use of cardboard as a medium of artistic expression.
Q: What made you decide you were going to build and race cardboard boats?
A: I saw the race [Lake Ellyn Cardboard Regatta] one year with my wife. We were walking down one night towards Lake Ellyn and I was hooked the moment I saw it. Then I found out that these boats were made out of cardboard. I was like, What? I said, ‘I’ve got to do that next year.’ And year after year, I kept looking forward to it.
Q: Are you still racing now?
A: No, I transitioned. We teach cardboard building classes for the regatta. We get about anywhere between 50 and 60 boats out there, and it is a pretty serious event. It has gone on for 25 years now.”
Q: What led you from the cardboard boats to cardboard sculpture?
A: I was doing this year after year for the boats, and I really enjoy working with my hands. So I thought, ‘What about doing something other than a boat?’ So my first sculpture was the American Bald Eagle. It took me two years off-and-on working on it.
Q: What is it you like about working with cardboard?
A: What I love about cardboard is that it’s lightweight, it’s strong and it’s durable. You can make it waterproof. You can recycle it. There are just so many great aspects about it that I love. And as soon as I started working on the eagle … I learned an awful lot. What do you do to bend cardboard? How do you break the tension of the surface? How do you keep the [cardboard’s] integrity? How do you put pieces together without using glue?
Q: You specifically work with corrugated cardboard, why is that?
A: It all started years ago where traditionally [the competition] was all corrugated. It was all just boxes. People took regular brown boxes, and they cut them up, made them into boats, duct tape them and that is how they raced them. … With the sculpting [corrugated cardboard] is very forgiving and when making mistakes you can quickly repair it, you can go in and model it … And because once you get a little thicker piece of cardboard that doesn’t have the air, it gets too heavy.”
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am working on my fourth large sculpture right now; it is almost done. It is a Frisbee dog in midair, very athletic pose, reaching for a Frisbee, and will be mounted on a wall ... We are going to show it this year at ArtPrize* in Grand Rapids.
Q: Do you want to work with more than just corrugated cardboard? Perhaps other types of packaging?
A: I am leaning towards exploring those options. Right now, I have so much experience with corrugated cardboard that I can make it do just about anything I want it to. It is just a matter of time and the tools.
Q: What plans do you have beyond ArtPrize?
A: I would like to continue to be a person who is doing creative things with cardboard and paper.
*ArtPrize is an international art competition that takes place each fall in Grand Rapids, Mich., where art is displayed throughout the city. Jim Craig’s “Scout the Frisbee Dog” can be seen at the Grand Rapids Police Department from Sept. 30 through Oct. 8, 2017.