Making That Paper

Allen Chamberland is finding the next evolution of his art at Fab@CIC.

Where most of us would see a blank sheet of paper, Allen Chamberland sees art — and the potential to make a living doing what he loves. He says the machines at Fab@CIC have revolutionized his ability to do both.


Sidelined from working because of a chronic disability, the 52-year-old Worcester native ran across some papercut pieces online several years back and thought, “I can do that.” Working from photos he took and old maps, Chamberland began to create hand-cut, fine art prints of Boston’s landmarks and topography. Through the Common Art program at Emmanuel Church, Chamberland found out about ArtLifting — an organization that promotes and sells the works of homeless and disabled artists to socially conscious companies. He says he never imagined people and companies would spend money on his prints, but he was wrong.

“People couldn’t get enough of what I was doing,” Chamberland remembers, adding that Art Lifting sales account for almost all his sales these days.

His artistry may be evolving yet again, thanks to Fab@CIC.

Chamberland, a community member since February, has been a regular user of the Epilog Fusion M2 Laser Cutter, which he uses to create layered, textured geometric pieces of art. It starts with a single shape — a square or a star — created in Adobe Illustrator. He then creates 30 or 40 more individual files in which the shape is rotated slightly, made incrementally smaller, or both. He then sends the files, one at a time, to the laser cutter, which cuts the paper with exact precision in less than 10 seconds. Once the cutouts are printed, he stacks them to create a spiral effect. Where it used to take close to 100 hours with an exacto knife and scalpel cutting by hand a one-dimensional piece, Chamberland can now make a multi-dimensional piece on the laser cutter in less than a day, and he’s already been approached by a MetroWest developer who is interested in showcasing his pieces in new homes.

Besides the professional boost, Chamberland has found in the Fab@CIC a creative and collaborative one as well.

“Creating is a fairly solo experience,” he says. “ Even though I’m working alone, [Fab@CIC] lets me talk to people and bounce ideas off them — collaborate.”

And the fact that he’s been able to quickly learn and use a laser cutter that would cost up to $20,000 to own is not lost on him.

“I was nervous in the beginning,” he remembers. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to break this machine.’”

“That hasn’t happened yet.”