Trompe l’oeil

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Kitti Touzeau, vellum blossom

Kitti Touzeau is something of a crazy cat lady. Okay, she’s more like a crazy art lady, but that’s not too different. She wears shawls and funky jewelry, she’s a classic introvert, and she’s slightly batty- in the most endearing way.

“I’m going to have to sleep for a day to recover from all this talking,” she said partway through our interview. “I don’t want to talk about art, I want to make art.”

Touzeau is the owner and sole employee of Tornheart Paper Designs. It’s a fine art and greeting card company she formed after years of designing for advertising agencies. “Sometimes I would think, ‘If I could just sit down and do something I want to do,'” she said. “‘But is it going to sell?'”

Inspired by Braveheart, Joel 2:13, and a stint working for a greeting card company, Touzeau struck out on her own with a novel idea: “Everything will be torn.” She’s now a professional paper ripper, piecing together tiny, hand-torn scraps of fiber into intricate floral designs. She’s also my friend Danika’s aunt, which is how I connected with her. As Danika explained to me a few weeks ago, the Beaverton artist is trying to break into the Eugene art scene.

“She just needs to get out there,” Danika said. That’s what Touzeau did all Friday, with varying results. She visited several local galleries (one bite so far), met up with a team of UO P.R. students who are promoting her (lots of enthusiasm), and finally sat down to teach me how to tear.

“As you rip, just move your thumb and imagine the curve,” said Touzeau, gracefully conjuring a daisy petal from a square of watercolor paper. It was so delicate and natural, as though she could see the petal in the paper before she started.

To create an entire piece, Touzeau will rip out hundreds of components, dabbing them with glue and inserting them into her whirling, dynamic compositions. Her assembly process is as surgical as that of a clockmaker, though she’s not nearly as concerned with perfection.

“I want to create the feeling of looking into nature,” explained Touzeau. Her key is to balance creation’s intrinsic order with spring’s exuberant chaos. Of course, even her artistic disorder is carefully controlled. “Don’t press that down too hard or I’ll smack you!” she said as I attached the center of a pink blossom we’d constructed from scratch.

Touzeau and I headed off across a drizzly campus, carefully cradling our creation. I perched the blossom on the bare branch of a particular tree and positioned Touzeau next to it. At first, she seemed hesitant.

“Is this good?” she asked wearily as she struck a pose. That’s when I caught sight of a twinkle in her eye. Despite her grumbling, she seemed please with the peculiar magic of the unfolding blossom on the bare, hibernating tree.

“I think we’re done,” I said, satisfied with what I’d captured.

“Thank goodness,” said Touzeau, breathing a sigh of relief. As we walked back, however, there was still a bit of a glow about her. Our flower was crumpling in the rain, but Kitti Touzeau seemed to be opening up to a new beginning.

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