Running around in the mountains or in the park, picking pebbles and sticks, dancing, touching, painting and using their hands to create… these are the most natural things for kids to do.

Spark, Paper, Scissors

Reading Time:8 min.


Illustrations by: Victoria Nikolova

While most kids were busy playing with toys and dolls, Tsvetana Nedeva was at home imagining a colourful world of her own. Years later, her work has come to prove that in the right hands scissors and paper can do a lot more than settle disputes on the playground. Learn more about the artist’s paper worlds and the spark of inspiration behind them.

Tell us a bit about yourself — childhood, education, first artistic endeavours.

I was born in Botevgrad, and that’s mostly where I grew up. As a child, I wasn’t too much into playing with other kids. I couldn’t fathom the games they were playing. I couldn’t figure out why they would pretend to be grown-ups, cut their dolls’ hair and paint their faces. Why didn’t their dirty clothes bother them? I remember I used to see the world as a large shopping window. I liked imagining I could arrange it any way I wanted and leave it that way for as long as I wanted. It had sheep that my grandparents would take care of, wearing red ribbons tied above their hooves. Rabbits would be dressed in my dolls’ spare dresses, and the chickens would sit with us at the table and eat with forks. Kids were just kids, but always very tidy and well dressed. They would love listening to fairy tales, singing to my father’s accordion, wearing tulle ballet skirts to the ice cream shop, and not skipping a day looking at the sky and thinking of a story with the creatures the clouds would form.

Between grades 1 and 4, I was taking piano lessons and was serious about the piano. At some point a school-mate’s mom, who was a painter, inspired me to take a U-turn and leave the piano for painting. Slowly, I found my way towards fashion and that’s what I studied in high school. Fashion is what I chose for my undergrad degree at New Bulgarian University as well, but I quit after the first year. I am currently finishing my degree in Information and Library Studies at Sofia University, a deeply underappreciated major that I benefited tons from. It was my studies — and my son Kai — that led me to create the Kinderlist blog a few years ago. My original idea for it was to use short texts and pictures to present the books from my home library and my family’s interactions with them.

How would you describe what you do?

It’s what I want to do. What I can do best and what I believe I am good at.

What brought about your love for paper craft? Have you always been interested in that, or did it come with the being-a-mom package?

I’ve always been interested in paper craft.

As a kid, I used to have pop-up books. I was convinced that each one of them was worth half a kingdom, as that’s what the most valuable things used to cost in fairy tales.

It was my kids though who set me off to do work like that myself. It hadn’t occurred to me before.

Do you think it’s important to get along with kids or have your own kids in order to create for them?

I am certain you don’t need to have your own kids to do that. Does one need to get along with kids? Depends on the nature of your work, I guess. You certainly need to be interesting to kids. Authentically so. It’s not about being a clown or creating absurd things to attract kids’ attention, but easily inciting their curiosity and interest in art and the artist’s personality.

What drives your creativity: is it your everyday life, other artists’ work or anything else?

It‘s my daily life that inspires me, and my wish to make it feel like a page from a book worth half a kingdom. I’m inspired by the sheep wearing ribbons above their hooves; the games that I would play.

Your kids also create paper craft. How do they partake, and which is their favourite task?

Kai loves handing me the supplies and tools, browsing through them and possibly using them in-between. Very often he wishes to know what I am doing, asking if I want his help or showing me how he would do something. Pirina likes gathering the cutouts, drawing on them and creating her own installations. My project sketches are almost always used as colouring and application templates after I’ve finished working with them. They never go back into my archives but turn into posters or postcards instead.

Lead us through the steps of creating a small paper world. Do you figure out the theme and stories way ahead, or is it a more spontaneous process?

I always plan before starting work on a project. I very often change some things in the working process, but I never start without knowing what end-result I am after, and without a technological map. I have got the experience to know that it’s better to take a week to think it all through, and then sit down and create it in just a few hours, than wander around aimlessly, wasting energy and art supplies in actions that have not been well thought through. I have found that’s how I work more smoothly, productively, and pleasurably.

You publish your creations often. How do you manage to store them? Do you reuse old materials, or do you start each creation from scratch?

A great part of what I create for my kids stays with them as part of their games and our home. Some projects I have done just for photo shoots, and have then stored them back in boxes, being unable to throw them away. Some pieces I give to friends and relatives that I know will like them, or to people who have shown interest in them. I do reuse the materials I have used in old and outlived projects. I am aware that my work could generate a lot of waste, and try to not be wasteful with my materials, but recycle instead. What also interests me is the origin of the things I put into my projects.

Digital devices take up a great part of our kids’ lives today. Do you think more old-school pastimes, like books, magazines and paper and other crafts are still of great interest to kids? Do you find those beneficial?

Kids depend highly on their parents for what interests them. The family is the first environment kids find themselves in. It’s what forms them. Kindergarten and school could only build upon what we have established at home.

If we, the parents, only open Google, but never any books, to search for information, that’s what our kids will be doing tomorrow too.

If we love reading and our pleasure shows, kids will notice. If we take the time to tell them fairy tales or play with them, instead of playing them shows on a screen, kids will know those possibilities exist, and will love exploring them.

If we show them how to make a house out of a paper box, and have a cup of tea with them inside, tomorrow kids will know what happiness is, and that anything is possible.

At the end of the day, what matters the most is not what is easier and most convenient for us, the grown-ups, or whether we’ve folded the laundry and met our work deadline, but whether we’ve managed to broaden our kids’ horizons and given them the confidence to explore them.

I believe what is important in the first years of kids’ lives is to show them the possibilities and opportunities they have, the endless horizons of imagination, and the pleasure of having your own interests, of being curious, trying new things repeatedly, being creative and not shying away from taking the longer route.

A lot has been written on the benefits of arts and crafts for kids, and that’s publicly available information. What is more important though, is to stop using our busy lives and the world we live in as an excuse, and start paying attention to what is really important in life. Digital devices are more often a compromise, than an asset. The sooner we realize that, the happier we will be with ourselves, our kids and the relationship between us in the future. Then we shall be able to discuss the benefits of modern technologies.

Do you think technology and paper editions could work together? How could we find the golden mean?

Of course they could. State-of-the-art technologies have been helping digitalize some rare and precious paper editions that can now reach a much larger audience. Sometimes e-books are much more convenient than the classic paper tom. Paper editions however could go where digital devices still cannot.

There are brilliant pop-up books that could stir you up in an incomparable way. No digital creation could replace them, but it could complement them.

Both have their benefits, so why look for a golden mean? If we simply try not to head for the extremes, we’ll see there has long been room for both in our homes.

Do you think there is a future for kids’ arts and crafts? Are they turning into a trend again?

Of course they have a future. I wouldn’t even say they have ever been out of trend. It’s more like new opportunities have come along that kids want to try, and that’s normal.

Running around in the mountains or in the park, picking pebbles and sticks, dancing, touching, painting and using their hands to create… these are the most natural things for kids to do.

It’s part of a kid’s getting to know the world and growing up — there is no shortcutting that.

You can see more children’s books now that include creative ideas or other crafts. I am witness to the interest generated by ideas and crafts workshops and social media profiles. There is a reason why those things are getting attention. They are not arbitrary. Nor is it that someone just wishes to revolutionize childcare in the modern world. Kids still want to experience the world with all their senses, while parents need more diversity in the things they do with their kids.

What are your plans for the future? Have you ever considered bringing your work together in an exhibition, a collection or a publication?

I have no specific goals in the long run. I have ideas that I take the time to think and dream about until I feel them bursting with potential to materialize. I currently work on the setup of a few shopping windows that you will be able to see in Sofia very soon. I love how pleasurable that work is. It’s what I like to do, and I feel I am more excited about the creative process on those projects than about what I will be doing during the holidays.

I also work on a project to present the Bulgarian alphabet through animal origami. My project “Wild letters” is about to get a mini version soon, and that will probably place in motion other projects that I am working on. I also keep my monthly presentations of book-inspired craft ideas at the “Big Books for Little Kids” literary club of Raketa publishing house.

The creations I have shown so far are too diverse to be brought together in a single exhibition or a similar medium. I’ve been thinking about making a book though, or rather a series of books with children’s crafts ideas. All I have so far are drafts though. Their time will come too.

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Some additional questions for your two kids, Kai and Pirina:

What do you like the best about a small paper world?

Kai: That I can think of it and make it together with my mom.
Pirina: That I can play with my dolls there.

Which is your favourite of your mom’s creations? And who is your favourite character?

Kai: I love the framed animals. (Note from T.N.: He refers to the origami animals.)
Pirina: The house for my Minnie Mouse.

Which is the next paper creation you wish to make with your mom?

Kai: A jungle with monkeys and dinosaurs, and water with sharks inside.
Pirina: Paper sand.

Translation and editing — Elitsa Videnova,