“Andi possesses a humbleness that does not match her ingenious skill level.”

Andi Burnum is an up-and-coming artist who creates stunning pieces using a unique medium: torn paper. Photos of her work do not do it justice… at all. I had the opportunity to walk within an inch of a commissioned piece she was working on. The extraordinary detail provided me insight to the individual I was about to interview. Andi Burnum is a person with extreme patience, imagination, meticulousness and determination. Her mind constantly operates at a high level of detail and creativity, which makes her work all the more innovative.

It’s important to tell Andi’s backstory as it is a reminder to anyone who attempts to push down what the soul is speaking. Born and raised on a dairy farm in Kansas, Andi learned early on the importance of a strong work ethic and how to work with her hands. From a young age, she enjoyed drawing and painting, and when she entered high school, her art teacher noticed she was using up all the supplies, so she taught Andi the craft of paper tearing to slow her down. From that point forward, Andi incorporated paper into most of her artwork. Although she loved creating, she decided to make it more of a side hobby while she pursued a pre-med degree in Kinesiology from Kansas State. She jumped right into the medical field after she graduated.

Did she enjoy being a medical assistant? Yes, initially. Did she find it stressful and ultimately not the career path for her? Also yes. So, what does an imaginative individual do after leaving a medical career? Start a chocolate company, of course! With no background in chocolate making, Andi took an online chocolatiering course and was on her way to becoming the next Willy Wonka. She enjoyed using her hands and experimenting with different decadent recipes, which nurtured her innate creativity. The business was quite successful, until Andi realized she was spending more time intricately decorating the truffle boxes than on any other part of the business. A lightbulb went off.

Fortunately, while exploring different careers, Andi had continued creating and showing her paper mosaic projects at art galleries. She could no longer deny what brought her the most joy, and in 2014, she let go of the truffle trade and poured all energy into her first love, paper mosaicking and ink and watercolor art.

The paper mosaic art technique takes a tremendous amount of focus, patience and attention to detail. Andi begins with an enlarged photo of the subject, which she divides into quadrants depending on the size of the final piece. She then sketches the subject onto a wooden “canvas.” Once this is complete, she goes to her color-coded file system of torn-out magazine pages and selects the shades and hues necessary to the project at hand. She’ll then use her trusted tweezers to peel away pieces, run them through glue and perfectly place each on the wood to bring to life the image she’s working on.

During my visit to Andi’s inspirational and playful studio, there was a commissioned piece of an adorably happy Golden Retriever in progress. “I like to begin with the eyes first,” she reflected, “because it’s important to nail those.” When I compared the eyes that Andi created using a variety of colored strips of paper (approximately 1⁄4 inch wide by 1-2 inches long) to the actual photo, they were uncannily accurate. Upon further inspection, I was able to see the minute details Andi created through the interplay of hundreds, maybe thousands, of pieces of torn paper (she told me sometimes as small as the size of pencil lead!). As I stepped back away from the canvas, all those details combined to beautifully represent someone’s beloved pet. I had to lift my jaw up off the floor.

Andi possesses a humbleness that does not match her ingenious skill level. Every finished project she showed me was more impressive than the next. As she observed a mosaic of cows on a prairie, Andi mused, “I put my heart into every single piece.” And, boy, does it show.

Paper mosaicking is a truly unique and time-consuming medium. “The most time I can spend working on one piece is anywhere from 3-5 hours,” Andi said. The other productive hours of her day are spent sketching in her journals that are filled with colorful depictions of her daily life, which evolved into a gratitude journal she hopes to publish one day. Andi’s drive and need to create is apparent not only in her artwork, but in the children’s book she wrote, illustrated and self-published, titled “Miss Molly Moo Loves a Selfie (or Two).” After meeting Andi Burnum, I was reminded, more than ever, of how the artistic mind needs to create to feel alive, almost as necessary as food and water.

Check out Andi’s website to see more of her work and see a step-by-step account of her process: andiburnum.com