Final Project: Paper Engineering Experimentation with Andy Singleton and Richard Sweeney

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Paper sculpture from cut out

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Cut out sculpted

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Different angle

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As the project is ticking along, I can’t help thinking about the exhibition and the potential display of my book. As my tutors have suggested there are many ways of thinking about a book, the other avenue is book art .

Traditionally books sit on shelves and are only taken out when we want to read them. They can be more than this. Children’s bookshelves are packed with novelty books filled with pop ups, flaps, folded double pages, cut outs…

This led me to experiment with the possibilities that paper offers as a medium. Yesterday, I was very fortunate to go to a workshop with Andy Singleton and Richard Sweeney at the Victor Felix Gallery in London. It was an exciting day full of cutting and folding.

Andy and Richard demonstrating techniques

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Andy’s work: explores the natural and manmade world through intricate paper cuttings, paper sculpture and hand drawn illustrations. Earlier this year, Andy had a paper installation at the Victoria Revealed exhibition at Kensington Palace. His work was displayed in the  cabinet with Queen Victoria’s original wedding dress!




And yesterday we were lucky to see some of his smaller scale work that enabled us to admire the intricacy ofAndy’s paper cutting:

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Fox cut out

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Owl cut out

Cut outs could become a subproject and be part of the display.  In my case, I would cut a dog and a cat. I could also shorten the story or create a parallel narrative as if the two characters of my picture books were intended for a series. Otherwise, I could maybe create separate panels that could be displayed on the wall.  The possibilities seem endless but time will dictate was is realistic or not…






We started the workshop with cutting techniques.

Cutting a template:

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Cutting a continuous line drawing:

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Cutting blind i.e. creating a picture as one goes along – here I decided on a tree.

For it to be more successful, I would need to use a reference for the bark and the foliage.

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In the afternoon, we moved on to paper folding.

Richard’s work: concentrates on the manipulation of paper to create  sculptures in their own right. He combines disciplines such as 3D design, drawing, and craft. Whilst he uses computer aided design too, he still maintains a hand on approach and maximises the properties of paper. 


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Display at the Victor Felix Gallery







Animal sculpture

It was then up to us to experiment with basic techniques. We started with different types of pleats: diamond pleats and fan pleats

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paper folded as a fan

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Different angle from the same sculpture

Paper folded at 45 degree angle to create a change of direction of folds

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We moved on to scoring the paper with a biro or the xacto blade itself and combine with with the folds described above:

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Paper folded at 45 *angle

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side view

Finally, we cut triangle modules that can be combined with the pleats to make more complex structures

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….. such as Richard’s magnificent work.  (If only!)



It was a wonderful experience.  I was not aware that such intricate and gigantic sculptures could be achieved with paper and paper only.

The quality of the paper is key. To assemble Richard uses watercolour paper that he sprays and pegs together until it is dry.

Many hours of diligent practice would be necessary to achieve only the smallest of their work. Maybe knowledge in physics and aerodynamics? Who knows?

Anyhow, for the final project, I plan to incorporate some of the cut outs for a mini book and possibly explore the possibilities of pop ups.





Final Project: Rubber printing

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Experimentations with rubber printing

Stephen Fowler is an illustrator with lots of experience in rubber printing. We were therefore delighted to attend a workshop with him. Straight away, he invited us to  create our own designs and experiment with the possibilities the technique offers.

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Stephen showing students’ work

First of all, a rough sketch or drawing with a graphite is transferred onto the rubber itself, which is then carved with a craft knife. I opted for a zigzag pattern before embarking on the silhouette of a toddler or a pet. Even with the simple design, I ran into problems straight away as I did not carve away from the artwork. If you do not do this, it weakens the rigidity of the stamp and the print is not as strong as it should be. It took a few attempts to get it right even with the more straight forward designs.

Also another thing to bear in mind:  what to take out and leave on the stamp as well as remembering you will get a reverse image. In other words, planning what you want inked and the negative space is key.  It is a very enjoyable technique but it takes practise to get the desired effect.

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Several attempts at stamps carving


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Works from workshop

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I enjoyed the workshop but am not sure if or how I will use the rubber printing technique in my final project.  I will keep experimenting and decide as I go along if I have any spare time.I am now set on using watercolour for the artwork and as it stands now I have to come up with 16 spreads and incorporating a new medium might prove difficult. I am not sure yet how stamping mixes with the chosen medium.  I also bought some lino to experiment with.

I may have a go for a smaller handmade book if time allows me to do so.

Final Project: Bookbinding

An invitation by Catharine Slade Brooking enabled me to attend a bookbinding workshop with Chris Bradbury.  I feel very lucky to have discovered something new and so exciting.

Here’s a brief summary of some of the steps for the stitched and hard cover binding:

30 A4 pages folded in half


stitching 7 signatures:




The cover is added with glue by including two end papers and allowing movement in the spine:


Laser cutting pages to make the edge regular and neat:

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Book with fabric cover – A5 format

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I was very pleased with the outcome but I wish I had thought of varying the colours.  There are so many ways of binding a book that I would definitely like to experiment further. It may not happen before the completion of the final project though but it is definitely a new skill I will build on.

Final Project – Research Continued

I ‘ve wanted to get to the final project for so long that I find myself intimidated by the task at hand now. I feel more research is necessary before indulging into the creation of my picture book. Having looked at Maurice Sendak’s masterpiece more closely made me realise even more that planning is crucial for a successful outcome. I therefore decided to analyse the work of other successful and more contemporary author/illustrators whose work resonates for various reasons.

It is one thing liking a book and remembering it long after you’ve read it. It is another to understand why this is the case. In some ways, the analysis takes the magic out of the subconscious experience. I guess it is the same process whenever you are trying to create: artists look at old masters, film producers analyse  classic movies, writers analyse books…

First of all, I am invariably coming back to Oliver Jeffers whose style appeals to me for its simplicity and its depth. For the purpose of this blog, I will first of all focus on Lost and Found.

Lost and found front and back

I like the way the back and front cover form a single image

Of particular interest is the use of space – more specifically the negative space that informs the reader on the character’s emotions although the boy’s face itself is devoid of expression. The positioning of a strong horizon line in his landscapes is equally important as the vignettes floating on a white page to give us a breather.  The reasons why it works are twofold: the variety between the settings and layout from page to page and the focus on the main character makes us care for his plea more and more – the boy has to succeed in making the penguin happy / once he realised he didn’t do the right thing, he has to find the penguin no matter what!

  Film effect: the camera is zooming on the boy as we are sharing his doubt about his decision

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Double spread on white background
The character is the focus.

The interaction between the boy and the penguin is kept to a trip to the South pole with a boy telling stories and the penguin listening quietly, followed by an accolade as they part and go their separate way. This adventure is on two colourful double spreads —  as if it is just the two of them in the world – mimicking the centrality of a child in the world. Jeffers makes us look at the world through the boy’s eyes. What else matters? Nothing. But even though not much happens and not much is said (well nothing by the penguin actually), many emotions are shared by the two characters and conveyed to the audience: sadness, doing your best to make a friend happy and loneliness that follows the loss of a friend.

A double spread for a stormy adventure:

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Double spread – Landscape only
Scale of characters and landscape speaks for itself

Simultaneously, the simplicity of the cartoon looking drawings, almost childlike, makes it accessible to a child himself. The boy is a blob with a featureless face and a very prominent nose. His legs are two sticks and footless. The penguin and the boys are lost in a gigantic landscape painted with soft watercolours and a limited palette of blues and green. The scale of their cold surrounding makes their loneliness and fragility believable and makes us care for them. The ‘boys books’ as Jeffers refers to them, namely  How to catch a star, Lost and Found, Up and Down, The way back home, have been a very successful series turned into pop up books, apps or short animations proving that if you respect your audience and that you do not dumb down, everything is possible. Jeffers also agrees that ‘children are smarter than we give them credit for’ and ‘I totally avoid forced content, thinly veiled morals, anything preachy or funny for the sake of it.’ (Brazell, 2011:118)

While it deals with sadness or loneliness at times, the illustrations are full of little and hilarious details that lift the whole story like a mother’s hug. The stories are uplifting and make everything possible. This is why Jeffers’ books are so popular.

Like a pantomime:

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A child will see the arrow on the illustration
This distracts from the tension.

The more unbelievable, the better:

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Double spread from Stuck

Jeffers constantly changes and innovates. For instance, he is passionate about the relationship between text and image and has a background in graphic design and visual communication. He plays and experiments with typography and treats it as illustration itself. He seems to  find routes that connect words and pictures going through one medium to another. A talented artist will create a synergy. In Jeffers The Great Paper Caper, an environmental whodunit, the credit on the opening page is designed as a tree. The text emulates the type of an old typewriter used by detectives to type their report.   Jeffers is totally aware of  how just a few words and the choice of the typeface can totally change the meaning of a picture.

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Credit page for The Great Paper Caper

In the Incredible book eating boy, Henry’s story is wittily told visually and textually. He devours books (the right hand side corner of the back cover has been nibbled too) and acquires knowledge but invariably gets very sick and has to read books instead. The artwork combines collage with drawings onto pages from ancient fly-blown books. The paint used is acrylics and Dulux homepaint. The background is made of lined, square and graph paper as settings for classroom.

Overall, Jeffers can easily be identified as contemporary conceptual artists. His style cannot be classified because he uses a wide range of media and succeeds to convey a remarkable breadth of emotions with very few details and lots of white space in a more linear narrative.

Jeffers has contributed to enhance children’s reading experience and exploration of the world with a unique and innovative approach.


The Incredible Book Eating Boy

Theorizing Picture Books

 Art is introduced to children through picture books, which use a dual system of pictorial and verbal language.  ‘What is the use of a book without pictures or conversation?’ asked Alice in Wonderland. In the increasingly visual world we live in, a book has to do more than sticking to traditional conventions to compete with television, cinema, animations and computer games.  The paradox of picture books is that they have to remain childlike but are increasingly sophisticated.

‘A picture book is text, illustrations, total design: an item of manufacture and a commercial product, a social cultural historical document and foremost an experience for a child.’ (Salisburys, 2012:75) With illustration seen as ‘an original and exciting medium of self expression,’  (Selby, 2003:10) there is an increasing trend for illustrators to also write their own text.  ‘Making a picture book is often a matter of finding solutions to the design problems presented by the story.’ (Hunt, 2009:106)

Since the 1960s, picture books have become one of the most exciting and versatile literary forms and have been the object of acclaimed academic studies in Ways of the illustrator by Joseph Schwarcz, in Introduction to picturebooks codes by William Moebius, in Words and Pictures by Perry Nodelman, for whom reading itself is an ‘act of vision.’

Long gone are the days when they were seen as a simple form with a single and unique interpretation and referred to as ‘closed text’ as defined by Umberto Eco, who applied semiotics to literature. It may have been true for stories whose illustrations echoed the text such as Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit and traditional fairy tales. But as Uri Shulevitz points out there is a distinction between storybook where pictures supplement a text that does not need the pictures to be understood and picture books where pictures complement the text to tell the story.

Picture books are the perfect genre in the context of structuralism. They have their own conventions: thirty-two pages, a story arc, a single main character, a denouement that will empower the main character, a limited amount of words, a varied but logical layout and a linear narrative. The pictures must show what the text does not say in a childlike but easy to understand style. For Nodelman, ‘convention determines not just recognition but meaning. (Nodelman, 1988:14)

But some artists have pushed and experimented with rules to give us an enhanced experience ‘Pictures in contemporary picture books are often intricate in detail and sophisticated in style, even when they accompany a simple text, or even single words.’ (Nodelman, 1988:19) Children use their knowledge and their imagination to find meaning in the narrative that enfolds page after page.

Jean Piaget, an influential psychologist, argued that the children’s state of development dictated how children could make sense of the world around them but that with age came better understanding. Others such as Lev Vygotsky have argued that Piaget’s theory neglected the fact that children were capable of abstract thought before the age of ten. Therefore even before they can read, they are able to make sense of ideas in pictures in a very sophisticated way. 

And this is why picture books are an exciting genre that constantly innovates to capture the imagination of its readers.


Salisbury M; Styles, M (2012) Children’s picturebooks the art of visual storytelling. London:Laurence King.

Salisbury, M (2007) Play Pen New children’s book illustration. London: Laurence King.

Brazell D & Davies J (2011) Making great illustrations.  London: A C Black.

Shulevitz, U (1997) Writing with pictures  how to illustrate children’s books. New York: Watson-Guptill

Final Project: Initial Research

To start with, I thought it most appropriate to look at the works of illustrators even though my pathway is Fine Art.  After all, a lot of illustrators have graduated in that subject. And I also think that divisions between disciplines are artificial and most unhelpful at a time when pluralism has become the norm. Can you imagine Picasso saying when I am drawing I am a fine artist but when I male ceramics I am a craftsman? His oeuvre extended far beyond the realm of traditional painting and nobody has ever regretted it to be the case.

I have chosen to concentrate on authors/illustrators, i.e. the artists who both create picture books juxtaposing text and image. First of all, I looked at the master of picture books’ creator Maurice Sendak. Where the wild things are was published in1963. More than 50 years later, it is still considered a masterpiece and so for many reasons. Before looking at the artwork in detail, I was most fascinated by the way the story was told. We know the protagonist, Max, problem through the images and not really through the text. He is basically very naughty, staring on books, chasing the dog with a fork… We go into Max’s imagination through the images again which is when the plot is further developed. The images do most of the work throughout the story and I will not spoil it by giving all the details. Another striking element of the book is the layout.  Sendak increases the size of the illustration as Max’ imagination goes wilder and wilder and reduces them when the story takes place in Max’s daily life. The last spread is text only. The juxtaposition of text and image makes the whole story coherent and one without the other would lose its strength.  I personally want to explore the interaction in my own work.

Creating a picture book is problematic at best. It has to look simple as it is destined for a children’s audience but it also has to appeal to the adult who will read and share the experience of the child.  The ‘most simple looking’ books are in my view those which have taken more time to create. The artist has thought as much about the story as the composition and the layout of every spread. I will also add that the fewer words there are, the more thinking has gone at the conceptual stage to make the synergy between text and image work

Anybody can say little with a lot of words and lots of art but to say a lot with a limited amount of words and a limited amount of illustrations requires practice and in the case of Sendak’s an incomparable talent.

Where the wild things are is as exciting now than when first published. It was innovative for the time because of the way the story was told and the illustration taking over the narrative and the layout mimicking the action/ the adventure. Those who want to succeed in the genre always refer to it as a benchmark.


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The images of Max in his room grows steadily page after page 


in sync with the forest that grows in his imagination

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and the addition of the wild beasts photo 4




Then the images gradually disappear totally to leave the text tell the ending of the story.

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the end

Final Project – Initial thoughts

This is now the last project for the Access course. This time we choose it.  We are given no brief.  How exciting…  This is what has kept me going through the last months!

I am proposing to write and illustrate a picture book as well as experiment with the format of the book itself. My objective is to explore and play with text and images and see how they can feed from another in an innovative way.  I will keep the storyline linear but the story will be told by each character. We will be in their head and see the story unfold from each point of view.

 Character design is key so I will also explore the use of drawing and composition whilst keeping the number of words to a minimum. Art and text will complement each other and enhance the narrative. This is after all a picture book not a story book in the old sense of the term. I strongly believe that children are capable of understanding a lot more than we give them credit for. They are more visually literate than adults in many ways.

I am not set on the media I will use yet and a lot of roughs will be done before I can decide which one is more appropriate to the story itself.  I anticipate it will be mixed media though and I may even use CG art as I have only a few weeks to come up with a professionally finished product or as close as possible.

I will take the opportunity to research the age of digital media and the impact it has on children’s books. I might even look at the artificial division between fine art and illustration at a time when artists become ‘pluralists’.

To start with I will look at Maurice Sendak’s and Oliver Jeffers’ work.  I’d better get to work then!