Emma Joseph meets papier mache sculptor Katie Gape, who is on a mission to encourage others to embrace their innate creativity.

"I’ve never considered myself artistic,” says Katie Gape.
Looking at the various sculptures she’s created, I beg to differ. A pair of boxing hares sits on the windowsill, overlooking a strikingly lifelike dog, while a charming model of a man and his pet pooch – aka Bill and Patch, are standing together in the corner.

What makes these creations even more incredible is that they’re constructed from chicken wire and papier mâché.

The talent for making something out nothing comes from Katie’s background in theatre design, where she was tasked with making props with next to no budget.

“I used to work in the West End, then I worked in repertory theatre and then theatre in education,” she says.

“There was never a budget, it was just papier mâché. But that was my favourite thing – when there’s no budget you can just be creative.

“It was brilliant – you never knew what you were going to get asked to make.”

Katie, who lives in Southbourne, now works in occupational therapy, but draws on her love of observational comedy and watching people’s reactions and movements in her work.

“It all fits with each other,” she explains. “When I was training to be an occupational therapist I researched the use of humour in healthcare and spoke at a conference about that.”

Katie’s love of people and animal watching inspired her to go back to her creative roots, and she now works part-time while concentrating on sculpture ideas, exhibitions and commissions.

“I’ve had three exhibitions and I’ve got a website,” she says, almost in disbelief.

“I’ve never done that before – this whole world is opening. I’ve done shop windows and I’ve done commissions in the last few years too. When someone buys your work you know that they’re really connecting with it – that’s a lovely thing.

“Because they’re a bit different and they’re papier mâché, I think people take to them a bit more, and people do read different things into it.”
Katie loves seeing people’s responses to her work – not least Bill and Patch, who were exhibited at last year’s New Forest Show and now live at Bournemouth Library. 

“It’s all sorts of people seeing all sorts of things,” she smiles. “Maybe he reminds them of someone – someone talked about their father to me. Some people think about what he’s looking at. He’s taken on a bit of a life of his own. People just see what they see in it.”

Katie is now in the process of setting up some workshops to encourage others to embrace their creativity – even if they think they don’t have any.

“I think sometimes people think they’re either artistic or they’re not,” she explains, “but actually, it’s about more than that.

“I like the process of it – I like playing about with the materials and seeing what’s going to happen with it.

“I’ve run different workshops in the past as part of being an occupational therapist and there’s just something about when people come together to be creative – it’s really relaxing.”

Katie is looking for homes for the sculptures she has created and, while she is working hard, loves the fact that her journey has taken her back to her roots.

“It just takes me back to my design days when I did theatre and I did technical arts at uni, and it’s just really nice,” she smiles.

“I want these ones to go and find a home and I just want people to be thinking, just to give a different viewpoint on things – get people’s imagination fired up or just reflecting on themselves.”