It all started with a phone call. Some friends of mine were leaving town and shifting back to France, and I was left wondering what I could possibly give them as a parting gift. An international move is no simple task and so giving my friends a domesticated Indian elephant or anything similarly cumbersome was out of the question. I would have to stick to something simple like a card – easy to carry, and it can say and mean so much if done properly.
It had to be really special though, so I thought I would up the ante and make it a pop up card. Paper crafts have been an obsession of mine since well before I can remember. I’ve always loved the feeling of creating something out of seemingly nothing and creating three dimensions out of two. In recent times all my paper projects have been heavily based on computer layouts and imagery, but due to time constraints on this one I decided to go caveman and create this card in the good old-fashioned digital-free way that I used in a time before keyboards, mice, bits and bytes.
The experience was extremely rewarding and I think everyone should do this sort of non-digital creative work on occasion to jolt your thinking a little. Here are some general pointers on how you can go about it for best results, along with the story of my pop up card about ‘home’.
1] Brain storm an idea
Every good piece of creative work is based on a good concept, or at least an appropriate one. In the case of my pop up card, I knew it had to be relevant to the situation. Random cute puppies or kittens (as cute as they can be) just would not do. I myself have shifted across borders on four occasions in my lifetime, so I do have some idea of what it feels like. Shifting is more than a change of address, and it often begs the question of what or where home actually is. So I knew that to mean something, this card needed to be about home. Now the next step was to figure what was going to be in it.
I don’t know about you, but when I am faced with this sort of question, my brain switches into unconscious solo brainstorming mode. What that means is that the cogs in my head go into over drive and somewhere in the back of my brain, I look for a solution to the problem. It doesn’t stop until an appropriate solution is stumbled upon or formulated.
At 5:30 am one morning I sat up, suddenly lucid in my bed. I reached for a notebook that was close by and scratched out a few words that were hovering about on the edges of my consciousness. Unwittingly I had formulated the last line of a little rhyming piece of prose. The next day I went back to my half incoherent scrawls and slowly filled in the many lines that would lead to the divined closing sentence. In the end I had the content I had been looking for.
2] Scribble. Doodle. Sketch.
Always scribble, always doodle, always sketch. This is something that we modern computer junkies often discount, jumping straight into our expensive creative software suites. That is usually the beginning of the end of truly outstanding ideas, because everything comes out looking so “beautiful” from the first draft and we forget to ask ourselves whether what we are creating is actually good beyond the pretty surface.
After I had come up with the words for my card, I knew I needed a visual representation of my idea of home. I wrote out my thoughts and finally settled on a simple iconic sketch of home that I came up with along the way. This would serve as my blueprint. While I wasn’t overly concerned with following my initial drawing with precision and accuracy, having a basic layout idea gave me the confidence to forge ahead whenever I doubted the next step.
So always sketch and plan ahead. Not only does it clarify your ideas for your finished piece but it also often brings to the forefront flaws in your idea which you might not otherwise have caught until much later.
3] Use the resources and materials you have
You can often find a wealth of materials for any crafts at home. Once again, trying to use at least some materials that you have forces you to think in new tangents and often leads to ideas and solutions that you would not have come up with if you were depending on 160gsm glossy photo inkjet paper as the solution to all your problems.
A pop up card works best when the card has a certain stiffness to it. When I set out to try out materials and designs for my pop up card, I ransacked the stack of paper in my home that was waiting to be sent for recycling. This of course included everything from paper bags, to cardboard boxes, to miscellaneous scraps.
I came across a shoe box which had the right consistency for the card, and quite by chance it had a rich blue colour which inspired the use of the same rich blue as a sky in my pop up landscape. The pale green grass base also happened because my recycling stack had old green coloured paper bags which I used as a surface to mock-up my design.
4] Experiment and play
Part of my digging through stacks of recycling paper was simply playing around with what I found and seeing if and how I could use a particular colour or thickness of paper. This sort of random play with the materials at hand is an important aspect of paper crafts. Since the material is the whole and soul of this kind of work, a bit of experimentation allows the material to suggest it’s own answers to your creative questions.
But, this goes beyond materials. While sketches and plans are all well and good, when it comes down to execution, some plans simply don’t work because you’ve miscalculated something or you simply haven’t come up with the best solution. In my case, for a while I was considering creating a 180 degree pop up where a full 3D cube-house would stand on the flat opened card. I made good progress in that direction, but my rough paper experiments with it convinced me that I just hadn’t thought it out deeply enough to execute well in the time I had. My roughs of the 90 degree structure however, did work well, and so the decision was taken based on proof rather than on conjecture.
5] Be spontaneous
At some point when working on pop ups and other pieces of paper craft, you run out of plans and decisions. Then it is time to take the paper bull by the horns and simply make a few brave cuts into the heart of the matter.
Once I had decided on the idea, the colours, the materials, and the structure of my pop up card it was time to execute the actual pop up pieces that would go inside the card. For the first time in years I had no computer print-out to follow, no detailed art work to look at and no well defined lines to cut into. I could have made more finished hand-drawn artwork than I had in my sketch of course, but by now I was running out of time and running out of patience for my usually meticulous process. Throwing caution to the wind, I took up a blank white sheet of paper and a pair of scissors, and began cutting the shapes of the house and the tree and the others I knew I needed, straight into the sheet.
It was the most fun I had executing a design in years. There was no tension of straying away from the designated shape. Only a free flow of cutting into the paper without fear and knowing that if anything went wrong, you could try again till you got it right. I never needed to do anything a second time. My blindly cut shapes probably had more character than most well drawn and planned things I had done before and they worked perfectly for what I had in mind.
I strongly recommend this sort of freehand cutting to all out there. If you think sketching is liberating, you have to try this one. It’s a whole new high, and you can achieve a strange paradoxical simplicity combined with complexity which you wouldn’t think would be possible. If you really loose yourself in the process, I guarantee you will be surprised with the level of accomplishment of what you produce.
On the final day of reckoning, I had made all my decisions and created the all important shapes that would form the heart of the pop up card. I had the right card stock for the job, and the correct blue for the sky. Along the way I rediscovered a small packet of Japanese hand-made origami paper I had picked up a couple of years ago. A pale green square from that pack formed the ‘grass’ of my landscape and the stage on which my words would be written. I used some bright red pieces to form a bold outer covering for the card, and a loop of orange craft paper formed a label and a simple device to hold the card shut.
It was finally done. I was very pleased with the final piece, which was just the right mix of well finished and hand made that I like to aim for. My well rehearsed but honest words were quickly scrawled into the card and it finally found it’s way into the hands of the lucky recipients. My friends were very pleased with the card and my efforts were vindicated. One of the couple specifically wanted to protect it from their kids. Any toy that makes parents want to compete with their kids for it is a perfect specimen in my book.
Thus my mission was accomplished, and I do hope more people would try out the process of creating and producing a finished piece of work like this without the interference of a computer. I found it to be very refreshing and rejuvenating. It made me find new solutions. It made me think in new ways. Or maybe they are old ways and I’m just happy because it made me feel like a child again. Then again, how can that ever be a bad thing?