Among the many charming pieces in Steph Werning’s illustration portfolio, her “Paperheroes” project jumped out at me as a seamless marriage of style and concept. Undertaken as a project for Steph’s MFA at Tyler School of Art, the set of paper dolls features fictional women in STEM, complete with rich backdrops and rich backstories.
In creating these character concepts, Steph drew partially from real women in STEM; among her muses are astronaut Mae Jemison, biochemist Gertrude Elion, and her PHD-holding cousin, Sarah Werning.
The backstories Steph wrote like a toned-down nod to super-hero origin stories. For example, “Amber the paleontologist dug up a fossil in her backyard as a child, and her discovery led her on a journey to a career in paleontology.”
The illustrated backgrounds all contain fun elements, and enough detail that kids will have an easy time eventing stories for the characters.
Steph’s favorite environment to draw is Olivia the biochemist’s: “I wanted it to look like a work space, but with a lot of floral elements to liven it up.”
The biggest challenge Steph had to work through—aided by her professor, Kelly Holohan—was the function of the dolls. Whereas most paper dolls are one-size-fits-all in order for the parts to be interchangeable, Steph decided it was important to her that each doll be unique. While the body type diversity could be pushed even further, this individuality of the dolls’ bodies and props help remind that a role model is not just a representative, but a unique individual as well.
Unfortunately the paper dolls haven’t yet been mass produced for retail (someone change this!), but you can view additional images from this project and more at Steph Werning’s portfolio. Steph—whose personal “warning” logo tickles my fancy—is available for freelance and collaborations on branding, editorial work, and book illustration.