Meet PGS Member Anandamayi Arnold

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Anandamayi Arnold's lifelike crepe-paper creations pose the question, "Destroy or enjoy?"

If you’ve ever been given a surprise ball, then you’ve been faced with a very important decision: whether to keep the exquisitely made crepe-paper sculpture as is, or to unwind its many layers of colorful streamers to reveal the tiny toys hidden inside.

Berkeley-based artist Anandamayi Arnold has been posing this conundrum to the countless fans of her work ever since she began crafting her brilliant surprise balls more than 20 years ago. She says she doesn’t mind what people decide. “There’s a little magic and mystery bound up in them,” Anandamayi says, “even if people never open them.”

Anandamayi begins each surprise ball by wrapping a length of crepe-paper streamer tightly around a tiny trinket, such as a whistle, a toy animal, or a miniature pack of playing cards, until it is completely covered. A new toy is held in place against the shape and bound in more layers of crepe, one after another, and the surprise ball begins to take form.

“I started out with simple shapes, like balls and rabbit heads,” Anandamayi says. “As I figured out more techniques, more shapes became possible.”

 Anandamayi incorporates impressive lifelike details into her surprise balls, as seen in this photo she took of her crepe-paper garlic bulbs.

Anandamayi incorporates impressive lifelike details into her surprise balls, as seen in this photo she took of her crepe-paper garlic bulbs.

Her repertoire has grown to include a vast array of seasonal fruits, vegetables, and flowers, each made to exacting standards of size, shape, and coloration. Anandamayi says she prefers to work from live specimens when making a surprise ball, looking underneath a leaf, for example, to see how the stem attaches, or checking the hue of a fruit or blossom against the range of colors she keeps in her crepe paper stash. Final details such as stems, leaves, and buds are crafted from cut paper and wire before being glued into place.

To apply gradations of color, such as a fruit’s ripening skin, Anandamayi uses an airbrush filled with fountain pen ink. “It soaks right into the paper,” she says. “Remember to wear your respirator.

Crepe-paper crafting was relatively unknown in the United States when Anandamayi began making surprise balls, so when Castle in the Air opened in 2001, she encouraged the shop to import German and Italian crepe, beloved for its variety of weights and colors and its ability to be pinched and twisted into sculptural shapes. Anandamayi taught classes in paper-flower making at Castle in the Air to encourage the craft and help people understand the possibilities of working with quality crepe paper.

“As far as I know, there isn’t another place to shop such an assortment,” she says. “I’m always thrilled to have the opportunity to feel the crepe paper and look at it in person. If you can’t feel it, how do you know if it will work for your project?”

Anandamayi’s work has caught the attention of collectors both locally and around the world. In recent years her surprise balls have been featured in World of Interiors and Vogue, and she has had solo shows in Tokyo and Osaka. Despite her creations’ growing popularity, she says she loves to see what other paper gardeners are making.

“There weren’t too many artists working with crepe paper when I started,” she says. “Now lots of people are pushing the medium. It’s exciting.”

See Anandamayi Arnold’s latest work on Instagram at @lynxandtelescope.

 Anandamayi uses an airbrush to apply color gradations to these persimmon surprise balls.

Anandamayi uses an airbrush to apply color gradations to these persimmon surprise balls.