Paper Engineering


When Chronicle Books first contacted me about a pop-up book for the adult market, they had sex on their mind. Chronicle Books has a fun collection of lighthearted books that would make great pop-up books! However, I wasn’t sure that that was the type of book I wanted to work on, so I gave them some other suggestions, one of which was a book of flower arrangements. I’d had this idea back in 2003 and it was something I still wanted to tackle. I thought the idea had an outside chance at best, but it still fit in with Chronicle’s style. To my surprise my editor loved the idea. They proposed it at their next board meeting, and it was given the green light.

Now the idea that worked so well in my head had to become a reality in paper and I was somewhat unsure just how to go about it! ​ Not only was I attempting to recreate these wonders of nature out of paper (the irony of which was not lost on me) but this was a book without structure, story or text. No beginning, middle, or end. It was going to be eye-candy only.

We all met at Chronicle to brainstorm about what the content should be. Which flowers did we like, should this be seasonal, regional, or maybe symbolic? There were several angles we could take, but in the end the paper would dictate us.

It became apparent that I needed to know something about flower arranging and so I set off down the research path. I gathered books on flower arranging, catalogs from FTD, trawled the Internet, considered a course in ikebana, and wondered what Martha Stewart would do. Then I realized just what I’d gotten myself into. So many of the flowers were either too small or too complicated to open as a page was turned. This was very different to origami or paper sculpture flowers. I was beginning to feel overwhelmed by choice:  Was it florally correct to group this flower with this flower, or this foliage with this foliage? For a day or so I just felt dizzy from considering all the options!

It then occurred to me that a better approach might be to look at things from the more practical angle: What could I actually make? I started to take a closer look at the structure of flowers. How were they “built”? How many petals were there? Were they in layers? After a while this too became a little overwhelming and I decided that I was trying to be too literal, after all what was the point of trying to replicate a real flower arrangement? I should let the medium dictate how the flowers looked. They were mine, I could make them how I wanted, and if people thought they looked like a certain flower–even better! So the book took on a more sculptural feel, the very nature (excuse the pun) of paper engineering was determining that. Now when I look at the finished book with it’s clean, almost Japanese quality about it, I can see that it’s because we began to see this as a decorative item made of paper and not just flowers.

Along the way someone came up with the clever idea of building elastic loops into the book jacket so that the book could be held open and displayed flat. This was a great idea because it was included in a staging for an open house! I guess to good effect because other realtors within the company wanted copies of their own.

Slowly the book began to take shape as I developed a collection of built flowers. The “arrangements” were being somewhat dictated by the flowers themselves, how much space they need to open into, and how they would nest (fold flat). Sometimes I was amazed when they nested successfully from the first position I had put them. Other times I shifted them around like an amateur garderner trying to find the best bedding spot.

Some flowers seemed to take forever to develop and others came together very quickly. I now have a great respect for roses and would still like to find a better way to make them.

When the first spread was complete we sent it out for costing. This is the spread we call the Springtime Bouquet, a complex interlocking grid of flowers and foliage that has additional flowers (and some butterflies) added in between the grid. I had a real challenge trying to keep track of which piece backed up to which, and labeling it all for artworking!

As I figured out how each flower would be constructed, I hand drew tissue dielines of it and scanned them into the computer.  I then created a digital dieline of each one so that I could scale the flowers if necessary and print out as many as I needed. Side note: Digital dielines are sent to the printer, along with the artwork, for the construction of the metal cutting and scoring blades that stamp out the pop-up pieces. These are then meticulously assembled to form the dramatic pop-up arrangements you see.  Creating these early was an unusual step for me because I had yet to figure out the whole composition, but necessary because we had repeating objects. One of my biggest challenges was finalizing what size each flower would be. Every time I added a new flower or piece of foliage it would have some bearing on either the placement or functionality of the other pieces. As I “arranged” each flower in the composition I filled in the gaps with other decorative features.

Needless to say some spreads were easier to work out than others. A couple made the cutting room floor, and two mechanisms I’m itching to use couldn’t be made to fit in. I particularly enjoyed the challenge of nesting a vase of lilies, creating a bird of paradise, and watching the Springtime Bouquet evolve. The lotus flowers were also very satisfying to design, they have such a wonderful shape and composition and are turning out to be a surprising favorite with people who have seen them. As much as I love Heliconias (they look like lobster claws), they gave me the biggest headache, along with the roses.

After each spread was completed, Chronicle’s digital artist added the color, detail, and subtle patterning.  This is a very challenging and brain stretching stage where you have to have to understand how all the individual pieces come together in 3D by looking at the assembled pop-up and then finding that same shape in the flat digital file. Having done that you can then add the color and patterning to it. It was a tedious process, but one that gave us a great opportunity to consider every aspect of color in the pop-ups: Should these rose petals be brick red or soft mango? Should the leaves have a vein pattern on them? How should the dragonfly’s wings be colored?

Nature was ours to recreate – my small stint in this process only made my appreciation for the beauty of flowers grow even more.