How did you discover your passion for paper art? When I was little, I loved pop-up books, and when I was at university, the paper trend was just starting. People like Rob Ryan were beginning to emerge, and I was drawn to the precision that is involved in paper engineering. In my first year at university, I made a pop-up card as part of a typography project. I enjoyed the process of prototyping and making the work as much as designing it, and I started using paper in lots of my projects. It’s been a natural evolution to the work I make now.
You refer to your work as “paper engineering.” How do you balance creativity with engineering or structural integrity? For most of the models I make, structural integrity isn’t much of an issue. Pieces usually have to last for the length of a photoshoot, and although paper looks fragile, it is incredibly strong when it’s folded. The main consideration is time—how long I have to design and make a piece. Sometimes if a deadline is short, I’ll ask a client to consider using a 2-D style, which is much faster. I’d rather design something simple and successful than risk a complicated build that won’t meet the deadline. Budget is also a factor; if a client has a restricted budget, I can always suggest ways we can work around that.
Tell us about your paper collection. Are you always on the lookout for new finds? I’m pretty loyal when it comes to paper. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I use the Colorplan collection by G . F Smith. It’s strong, easy to work with, and comes in a huge range of colors and weights. A few years ago, I asked a carpenter friend to build me a custom desk to hold my collection. I have an A0 cutting mat built into the top and below are slots with papers divided into size and color. It’s made keeping track of what I have far easier. I rarely buy new paper now; I’ve been overbuying for every project for the past decade.
You also design and illustrate interactive books. What does interactivity in book design look like to you in the next few years? I hope that the success of incredible titles like Kelli Anderson’s This Book is a Planetarium will give publishers the confidence to continue producing books that mix the best of interactivity with nonfiction topics. Despite the easy availability of screens, pop-up and puzzle books remain popular. We’ll probably never see a return to the hugely complex pop-ups that were being produced twenty years ago, but as long as publishers commission books that are elegant and interesting, I’m sure that won’t be a problem.
What personal experiences or circumstances have most influenced your work and style? I read and listen to a lot of sci-fi and psychology books and podcasts. Science, math and psychology have always been themes in my personal work, and I often persuade clients to let me introduce these elements to my commercial work as well. Also, I just created my most recent book, Hoakes Island: A Fiendish Puzzle Adventure, with my dad. We have a similar sense of humor and I hope that humor is something that comes across in my work.
What tools do you find most useful for your work? My best tool is a plotter, which is designed to cut vinyl but works perfectly for paper. I use a Graphtec Craft ROBO Pro. It’s thirteen years old, but still going strong. It helps me take on projects with much shorter deadlines and complicated cutting jobs.
What insights did you take away from modeling a building out of paper for the Touch Test, a special BBC Radio 4 program on a new study investigating the role of touch? Science has always been a theme in my work, and participating alongside a panel of experts was a fantastic experience. I was asked to make something during the show, and the brief was completely open. I wanted to create something that would come across on radio, and a model of the Broadcasting House, the headquarters of the BBC, seemed appropriate. It was a surreal experience to sit and create in the corner of the studio while the show was recording. I perforated the model and asked the panel to tear it open at the end of the recording. The thought of tearing an object that had so much work put into it was very conflicting, but people find it hard to resist tearing perforations!
You cofounded the London chapter of Ladies, Wine & Design with Emilie Chen in 2016. How do you think this initiative has helped women working in the creative industries? Emilie and I were introduced to the Ladies, Wine & Design team in New York when we got in touch to ask if we could start a London chapter. The numbers alone showed how much of a need there was for it. We started with groups of six women, all huddled around tables in the bar at the National Theatre. Now we work with organizations like the D&AD New Blood Festival, General Assembly and Design Bridge and have a community of thousands. We find that many of our members are new, either to the city or to the creative community. London can be a hard place to make friends and we pride ourselves on keeping our events friendly, open and informal. We try to respond to the suggestions of our community when planning events, and have hosted talks on a huge range of issues, including mental health, money and the representation of women of color in the creative community. Many of our members have made new friends and contacts and some have even found jobs through Ladies, Wine & Design.
What does the paper art community look like, and what excites you about it today? When I first started, the paper community was very small and supportive. It’s certainly not as small now, but it’s still supportive. The group of paper engineers that I started with still like to pass on jobs to one another if they’re busy. The atmosphere has always been collaborative.