Shelley Hanmo's paper collage creations summon Asian folklore and her love of music

At Creative Boom, we always like to keep an eye out for emerging illustration talent, and here's an artist everyone should know about.

Based in Indianapolis, Shelley Hanmo is a self-taught illustrator specialising in paper collage illustration. She's worked with clients throughout the US, creating children's book illustrations, editorial designs, promotional illustrations, puzzles, seed packets, and more.

Shelley loves exploring different possibilities of colours, shapes, layers, and textures in pieces of paper. She also incorporates watercolour, coloured pencils, and digital mediums into her final illustrations.

As someone passionate about nature conservation and eco-living, most of her paper materials are sourced from old calendars, paper magazines, paper bags and catalogues.

Asian influences

As a self-taught illustrator, Shelley Hanmo often seeks her artistic inspiration from her Asian roots and things she grew up learning and experiencing in China; she moved to the US at age 18.

In her series The Adventures of Mimi and Momo, her two characters, Mimi (panda) and Momo (red panda), go on adventures to explore the busy city streets of Chengdu (in Downtown Impression); enjoy a relaxing time In The Meadow; and discover a mysterious "ghost" right in their house (in Bed Time Ghost).

Asian folklore stories are among her biggest inspirations. Growing up in China, Shelley's parents provided her with many reading materials, from children's books to the Tang Dynasty poems and the four classic Chinese novels: Journey to the West, Outlaws of the March, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and Dream of the Red Chamber.

For Folktale Week 2022, an annual global artist challenge, she created a series of paper cut collage illustrations based on some of the Asian folklore from her childhood. For example, Clever Fox is about a cunning fox who could turn into a beautiful woman at night to lure unsuspecting men.

Although it's a dark tale about deceit and misrepresentation, Shelley says she could resonate with the women from ancient China who had no voice nor right to decide their fate. So, the "fox" became a symbol for women to rebel against a patriarchal society.

International inspiration

Shelley's work is not just focused on China, though: she's also passionate about recreating story scenes of folktales from around the world. She recently designed four children's picture book cover mockups featuring some of her favourite childhood stories: Thumbelina, Hansel & Gretel, The New Golden Song Book, and The Shy Little Kitten.

She wanted to evoke a sense of mystery and enchantment in these designs by using a consistently darker colour palette and design elements. This project is an ongoing effort to reimagine folktale and fairytale book covers in Shelley's hand-cut paper collage style.

Being a professional pianist and music teacher for many years, another of Shelley's passions is to write and illustrate children's books on themes about music, such as inspiring musicians, diversity in music, music styles from around the world, and fun musical instruments.

She is often drawn to stories about music because she believes music is crucial in life. After all, music is always around us. "Everywhere you go, there is music," she notes. "What can be more amazing than creating stories and illustrations that teach our children about music?"

In Shelley's two recent works, Blue For Jazz and Time To Dazzle, she wanted to spotlight legendary African-American musicians from the 20th century. These two paper-cut collage artworks not only capture their on-stage glories but the joy of their off-stage audience, too.

Love of nature

Finally, Shelley often enjoys illustrating stories about ocean and wildlife conservation. During World Ocean Day this June, she created a series of paper-cut collage illustrations about two ocean scientists travelling into the deep sea to research how to better protect our oceans. The two selected illustrations, World Ocean Day 2023 and Mysterious Depth, feature exciting moments during their scientific expedition.

Shelley is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and Illustrators For Hire. Earlier this year, she was selected as one of 22 illustrators for the AOI Mentorship Scheme.


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