We tend to think of props as accessories—one of any number of set-design elements intended to offer tasteful support to a photo or film’s main subject. Sometimes, though, prop design is the sneaky star attraction. That’s definitely the case with Belgium-born, Berlin-based art director and props-maker Victoria Bee. In ads for a host of international clients and throughout her own personal designs, Victoria’s colorful, Surrealist-inspired props—usually crafted from paper, be it shiny, glossy, or matte, and often deliriously oversize—immediately grab the viewer’s eye and imagination, all while remaining in service to the scene.
We chatted with Victoria about her process, inspiration, and how her old career in advertising has proven beneficial for her current freelance creative work.
How did you get involved in making paper props?
It totally came to me [by happenstance]. After making some 2D paper-cut illustrations for myself and some friends, a guy in Brussels asked me to build some paper bird-head masks for his art project. I accepted and decided to see how it would go, but I knew already I had a good vision for size and volume. It worked out really well, and I got a lot of positive feedback. I accepted a few other projects and started to build a portfolio—until the day I had enough work samples to apply for a position at a creative studio in London, which needed people to make props out of paper. “Yes!,” I thought. That was my chance. I was quickly hired and from there it became official: I could make a living out of this.
What is your design process like?
Discussion about the concept, sketches, then presentation. When everything is outlined, I immediately start to build at my studio, sometimes alone, sometimes with the help of another person or two. I send work in progress, but not too early, otherwise the client could misunderstand the process and be scared that the end result won’t match what we discussed. I mostly try to keep the building process under wraps before everything is finished. Then, depending on the project, I’ll photograph the composition and do some more post-production work before sending along the final pictures—and some making-of photos—to the client. Or I deliver everything well-packaged to another destination, where it’s taken care of by someone else on the project.
The work you do is very specialized. How did you go about building a clientele?
Like you can imagine, it’s difficult indeed to have a recurring clientele, as not many people or businesses need oversize props every day! So it’s a lot of exchanging of business cards and patience, plus portfolio presentation and online communication. And I work with two agencies: 2Agenten, for clients in German-speaking countries, and Colagene, Creative Clinic, for those in French-speaking areas. Then I gain more visibility and can work for bigger clients.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
On paper, of course. I have a box full of sketchbooks, lonely sheets of paper, Post-its, napkins … all waiting to be presented and used. I also keep all the sketches from previous projects. They’re not useful anymore, but I have fondness for them. I can recall the time I discussed that idea with someone and scribbled out the project. It’s not just a napkin anymore; it’s a real memory!
Has your background in advertising helped in your creative career?
Definitely, yes. As a freelancer I have to start the communication process myself and create all sorts of visuals, and being able to deftly employ all the tools from the advertising world is very useful. On top of that, if I work on a project and that client is from an advertising company, it’s much easier for me to understand what they need and expect, and what the full process is from their perspective.
Edited for clarity.