Cutting Flaps Research

I can see there are needs to research into both process and meaning. there are valuable lessons in both. However, many artists are with-holding of their process. Understandably. This means I have to try and find clues and like a detective solve the puzzle of ‘how’ and ‘in what way’. Meaning and expression are more easily accessible. This is a curious position. Back to the medieval ‘mystery of the artist’ – the secrets of the guilds!

Su Blackwell is another of my favourite Paper Sculptors. Whilst she has never claimed to be the Scottish Poetry Library sculptress there are many similarities for me to feel they are one and the same person. I am particularly taken by her work when she scales up her book art to become set designs and when she translates her techniques into textile installations. She was originally trained in Textiles at Bradford College, and followed this with an MA in Textiles from the Royal College of Arts; Justin Croft is quoted as saying on her website, ‘I can see the influence of her textiles training, too – there are multiple repeats and each letter is like a stitch. It’s as if she’s weaving with words’.

First, her set design for ‘The Snow Queen’ at The Rose Theatre in Kingston (2011) appeals to me because the text and cut-out paper designs are enlarged so that the actors are diminished to illustration size. They become players on the page. The pieces are formed from the text of the story with key words being carefully placed. Trees and lampposts make for a fragile light and shadow enhanced by the stage lighting. Interestingly, the artists feels that some of the intimacy is lost on the large scale works, but on this occasion I find I feel drawn into the scene in the same way one is drawn into the pages of a book. I wish to consider this as my own work grow… how I can draw the audience into my pieces removing that observer barrier, perhaps creating a position of favoured witness? 

In Part 2 of ATV, I struggled to animate the fabric surface, my paper samples had been lively and interactive but I had failed to transform the fabric surface effectively. In this part of MMT we are being encouraged to manipulate the surface, so I get another chance to develop what was emerging in Part 5 of ATV. I need to take a lesson from Su Blackwell in answer to one of the question that is posted on her website as part of an interview:

‘What are the differences in-between your paper and your fabric work?

I treat the materials the same. Paper is more malleable to the hand, it has a visible memory. I am not tired of working with paper, in fact the more I work with it, the more fascinating it becomes. Fabric is less forgiving than paper.’

Looking at her dress installations (which incidentally will be on exhibition at the Museum Sinclair Haus near Frankfurt from October 2016) I am struck by the paperiness of the fabric cut-outs. I need to learn how to translate what I feel when working with paper into fabric, and I suppose the only way this can be done is by familarity with an increasing range of fabrics and papers, and experiments with process in both. It should also be noted that alongside her installation and book art and paper sculptures Su Blackwell has also fulfilled commission for fabric design from Liberty Art Fabrics, London.

Her cut-outs are ornate, intricate flaps – some of which have freed themselves from the surface and become separate entities! The design of ‘While You Were Sleeping (Revisited)’ 92014) and the earlier ‘The Grass Grows Between Her Toes’ (2010) bit have an ethereal lift and fragility to them. The very dresses are destroyed to create a moment of beauty captured as if a point in time photographed. I would love to see these pieces in exhibition in order to fully appreciate the transformation  of the dresses and understand the process by which the sculpture is formed.



‘The Fairytale Princess’, Su Blackwell & Wendy Jones; Thames and Hudson 2013

T1: MMT; Pt1; Pj2: ex5: Creating Flaps

I cannot share my samples for this activity without first introducing 2 paper/book artists/sculptors whose work I value. The first is the artist who created the book sculptures for The Scottish Poetry Library. Her work is documented in the beautiful book, ‘Gifted’. I cannot turn to this exercise without acknowledging the influence (conscious and otherwise) that this artist has on how I manipulate and handle paper when tearing and cutting. In my next post I will discuss the work and influence of my 2nd artist Su Blackwell.

The Scottish Poetry Library book sculptor’s gift of 7 December and its opening is posted here. I find this artist valuable to my visual store because she makes paper grow into story – she releases the words from the pages and causes leaves of grass to grown from the page, waves form across the lines and she composes works that fall off edges and seem to spill out and over the frame of the book. (I call the artists ‘she’ as her work is donated anonymously and I find it easier to refer to ‘her’ perhaps it is the handwriting on the cards – and the book refers to ‘her’). There is an intricacy and delicacy as well as solidity. Her message is powerful even if the work seems fragile. She plays with textures and scale – sometimes minute figures struggle through planes of man-height grass, at other times T-Rex emerges form the spine of a book. When I look at this work with my ‘creating flaps’ focus on I see how precise her cuts are, how clean are the lines she makes. The paper by being cut can become feather and fur, foliage and fiend. She can layer the paper up to create space and form, and leave it single ply to exploit transparency as well as expolioting the interplay of light and shadow. The text on the page becomes both decoration and printed base as well as label and sign. Significant words are highlighted by cutting and placement.

In the section, ‘A Word from the Artist’, -the conclusion to the above mentioned book, is the shared concept:

‘In making sculptures from books I saw a pale shadow of the wonder that is reading, where black marks can become scientific theories, romantic poems…gruesome stories. This raises the question ‘does a book on being read remain a book?

And so I chose to transform the books into other things.’ a

Isn’t this what we are aiming to do when we exercise manipulating the surface? Transforming that surface into other things, changing it from being a surface to an interface where artists and audience meet.

With this is mind I turned to create flaps!

The first sample being flat allowed me to play with positioning and angle of flaps. The process made me consider how Mondrian worked when he composed. At first I kept the direction unilateral, but then the flaps went off on the diagonal and I wanted to ensure the flap and hole were not uniform in size or position. I also experimented with double-sided flaps like windows. This immediately leapt in my mind to Hundertwasser and the next sample revealed itself in my mind. To create flaps in a tube creating almost windows in a tower – for me a nod to Hundertwasser’s architecture. I added some photos of his work to my sketchbook as this idea became more developed in my mind. I wondered what it would be like to be in looking out and what you could see through the windows, thus the bottom 2 right hand photos.

After the cardboard tube I returned to the printer paper to explore this structure but using different flaps. I experimented with 2 samples – one with triangular flaps all facing the same direction, and a second where the flaps going in opposite directions. These were then rolled into tubes. When curved the single-directional flaps resembled thorns so I rolled this with the flaps pointing outward to push this notion further. AS contrast I rolled the other tube with the flaps facing the inside. It is this piece that gives me the most satisfaction. It seems to be full of potential story and meaning. The shadows and shapes cast looking down into the tube are exciting and animated. There seems to be much movement in the shape and form of this piece. I have blown up this photo in my sketchbook as it works for me as a drawing with the camera.

I worked on in a range of materials aiming for a range of texture and surface before I altered it with flaps. Some fabrics were more amenable to this process than others. For example the bottom right hand photo shows the sailbag fabric that was a nightmare to cut a flap into. It found it so very difficult to cut – even using a craft knife. The flaps were reluctant to lift and create any dynamism with light. I felt the sliver stretch leatherette fabric is worth experimenting with further using a different process. I also felt the sheer fabric tore in a visually appealing way and feel it would be more effective layered or put in relationship to a contrasting fabric.

And because my fingers still wouldn’t rest:

‘Art is the window to man’s soul. Without it, he would never be able to see beyond his immediate world; nor could the world see the man within.’

Lady Bird Johnson


“Lady Bird Johnson.” Xplore Inc, 2016. 8 February 2016.

‘Gifted – The Tale of 10 Mysterious Book Sculptures Gifted to the City of Words and Ideas’, Polygon Books, 2013 pg. 86,87

T1: MMT; Pt1; Pj2: Tearing and Cutting

Ex 2: Cutting edges:

After a morning breather at the beach – where the aqua calm belies the storm we are expecting tonight – the only clue being an incredibly high tide on the river.

Started following the exercise suggestion closely at first in A4 printer paper then went off at my own tangent.

Started to play with the forms:

The sample above has incredible strength and reminds me of a backbone!

Next, on to different materials using similar processes of cutting:

Clear parallels between finds on the beach and sample making:

Calling it a day with digital sketches:

My new book on semiotics has arrived… looking forward to some reading tonight!