Paper. It’s really wild what people do with it these days. Kelly Anderson made a wedding invitation that doubles as a playable record and record player. In this digital age, when some soothsayers were claiming that we’d lose interest in the tactile, I see paper making a strong resurgence. Not only in collateral and packaging. We also see artists use paper to craft scenes and illustrations, conveying abstract ideas.
As a designer turned photographer, papercraft’s interplay of form, color, and light fascinates me, especially when working with three-dimensional (3D) pieces. Admittedly, I’m in the early stages of exploring papercraft, but I’ve learned some things I’d like to share. And you know what your momma always said: Sharing is caring.
First, with every 3D papercraft, I start with a series of sketches. This is mostly to ideate on a concept. How can I uniquely and simply convey the message? While I’m iterating, I also play around with compositions, depths of layers, construction ideas, and lighting techniques.
Next, I enter the world of Illustrator to build out vector shapes. Though in my sketches I show perspective, I create my vectors with none. Then these vectors get pushed through my Cricut, which is my not-so-secret-weapon to cut paper.
Once the paper is cut, it’s time to construct and iterate, using cheap, white paper. Since math and I have an arduous history, it takes me a bit to figure out the correct angles and lengths for items.This is where patience, and glue, are key.
Speaking of glue, I really love Aleene’s Fast Grab Tacky Glue. Even though that specific glue generally stays put, it helps to keep constant pressure while it’s hardening. For that, I dig the reverse-action tweezers. These fancy tweezers have a closed resting point, working as a tiny clamp.
When constructing the final piece, I focus on the main subject then move to the supporting elements. This helps me stay aware of scale and depth as I progress. My favorite part is next: the lighting!
The softness and color of light can help further the message. For me, it’s a particular interest that I pay lots of attention to. Adding layers of light creates another phase of iteration.
After capturing many angles of my paper still-life, my next objective is to retouch it. Sure, this means adjusting colors and fixing blemishes, but there’s much more to it. Sometimes retouching means adding extra life to the image that it was lacking. Either by compositing a couple different images, adding sparkle, deepening shadows, or embedding additional elements, I caress the image into its final state.
Depending on the complexity of the paper still-life, this process might take four hours or twenty – for one image. Regardless, it’s worth the paper cuts and Pythagorean theorems.
Here are some of my faves.