Creating with Paper: Basic Forms and Variations

Creating with Paper: Basic Forms and Variations

by Pauline Johnson, Johnson

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"There is no doubt that this is the best manual on paper folding designs available today." — Display World
This comprehensive and superbly illustrated guidebook offers complete instructions for making an almost limitless variety of imaginative and beautiful paper objects — masks, hats, baskets, greeting cards, party decorations, costumes,


"There is no doubt that this is the best manual on paper folding designs available today." — Display World
This comprehensive and superbly illustrated guidebook offers complete instructions for making an almost limitless variety of imaginative and beautiful paper objects — masks, hats, baskets, greeting cards, party decorations, costumes, trees, Christmas decorations, stars, birds, giftwrap, even mobile sculptures.
Art educator Pauline Johnson provides step-by-step instructions and expert advice on every technique involved: cutting, curling, bending, folding, scoring, fastening, and more. Over 470 photographs and 560 diagrams and illustrations accompany the easy-to-follow directions. Best of all, no complicated equipment is needed. Paper, a pair of scissors, an X-ACTO knife, staples, and adhesives are the only tools and supplies required to begin making paper magic!
"By far the most extensive and best treatment of the subject I have seen. A versatile and useful book which should appeal to art educators, classroom teachers, and … to the youngsters themselves." — Art Education
"A most thorough, creative, and beautifully organized book, so complete that it could be the basis for many art and craft projects for all age groups." — Recreation Magazine

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Dover Publications
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8.30(w) x 10.74(h) x 0.57(d)

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Creating with Paper

Basic Forms and Variations


Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1986 Pauline Johnson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14416-0



The sculptural qualities of paper can be observed when a flat sheet is creased, rounded, or pleated to produce three-dimensional form. It then becomes a structure composed of alternating projected convex and concave surfaces which can be sensed visually or by touch, defined by modulations of dark and light values on the various sides. Controlled lighting produces shadows that help intensify the formal qualities, often with dramatic results.

When a lightweight piece of paper (preferably white) is crushed firmly within the hands, a consciousness of form qualities can be grasped as the bulky mass is handled and observed. When the crumpled paper is opened up, and a number of the folds formed by the crushing are emphasized, the paper will stand up like mountain peaks. Each of the flat surfaces produced by the creased edges is called a plane, an essential component also of painting, sculpture, and architecture.

It is well in studying the crushed structure to turn it around in your hands and look at it from all positions, noting the variations of line movement and rhythm. In this way, you will be made more aware of the meaning of abstract qualities and will become more sensitive to the recognition of art values wherever they are found.

Thus, nature can be seen as source and inspiration for creative work rather than something to be copied or imitated. This point of view helps discourage the use of stereotyped subject matter and the production of things which are trite or cute. In paper design it is important to retain an honesty and a paper like feeling in the creations. Esthetic pleasure can then be found in the expressive values of the paper itself.




Bring side ab of a rectangle over to side be and cut off extra piece below.


Fold a square in half on the diagonal, forming a triangle. Fold in half again, and then in half again. Using ab as a measure, mark ac, ad, and ae and cut a connecting arc.


For on equilateral triangle, fold a rectangle in the center to get line ab. Draw a line ce the same length as cd and connect points ed. Or take the radius of a circle, ab, and mark off six times around the circumference. Connect every other point.


Fold a circle and cut fringe.

When cut in certain ways, paper can be stretched and expanded into new and different shapes. A circle folded and cut toward the center will fall into a fringed shape, varied according to the width of the strips and the weight of paper used. A shape cut by following the contour from the outside edge toward the center will automatically be extended into a long form (diagrams B and C). For the plan in diagram D, a square or rectangle is folded and cut alternately from opposite ends along the fold edge. In diagrams E, F, and G, a square, a rectangle, and a circle are shown, folded several times and cut on alternate lines from opposite edges.

Fascinating moving forms can be made from expanded structures like those on the facing page (diagrams E and F, above). The circle in figure 1 is cut and scored down the center of the strip (for scoring, see pages 46-48). The structure in figure 2 is formed of two spiral-cut circles, joined at their widest ends (for cutting circles, see diagram B, page 16). Several circles or squares can be joined to produce the structure at the right; for variety, use different sizes and colors. A plan for cutting the square is shown in diagrams A through D, above; for the circle, see diagram G, page 17. The centers can be removed to facilitate the joining of one part to another. Since forms made from thin papers stretch out longer, heavier paper is more suitable for use at the top to provide strength and rigidity. Colored Christmas balls or other items can be inserted within the structure.


The structures shown here are all variations of one type of shape, where cuts are made either on the fold edge of the paper (diagram D) or on the outside edge (diagram F). The controlled lighting in the photographs helps to emphasize the relationship of planes where dark and light edges meet, so that abstract qualities are pronounced. Examples in the illustrations are used as suggestions showing some of the results made possible by this approach.

The interlocking structure in figure 4 (diagrams A, B, and C) is made by folding the paper in half in the center and creasing it in half again along line cd. The shape is refolded so that the two bottom edges are inside (diagram B). Slits are cut along the lower fold edges to within a half inch or so of the top fold, so that when opened up the structure appears as in diagram C. Alternate strips are bent forward and backward, with those in the left-hand section the reverse of those in the right-hand section. The two sections are then dovetailed.

The example in figure 5 is made by folding a rectangle in half twice and cutting slits part way inward on the folds of the opposite edges.

All of the structures on this page and the next are made from the same plan. Explanations for cutting and shaping the paper into a cylindrical form, held together with staples or cellophane tape, are given in diagrams B and C. Different forms can be achieved by variations in the sizes of the cuts, the weights and types of papers, and the relative proportions used. A multiple structure is produced by fastening several forms together and suspending them from above (diagram E). The use of Christmas tree balls or other ornaments in the enclosure adds a decorative quality.


Some structures are pure in form, like those shown on the previous pages, while others are impressions derived from nature, like the butterfly shape used here for a subject source. The symmetrical cut is explained by the diagrams, and suggested variations with emphasis on a pleasing contour shape are shown in the photographs. In figure 1, several of the shapes are suspended on threads to hang like a mobile. The cutout of figure 2 is defined by placement over a contrasting color. Three symmetrical shapes, stapled together in the center and spread open, result in the form shown in figure 3, with bits of colored papers used for added interest.


For the multiple-fold cut, the paper is folded a number of times and cut, with enough of the fold retained to enforce the structure. Rhythmic patterns of a traditional subject, cut by a child, are shown in figure 1. The cutout sections in the folded rectangle of figure 2 reveal the color of the folded paper underneath. The example in figure 3, of lightweight paper, has perforations made with a punch in the folded paper.


The folded paper technique, which always produces symmetrical shapes, is shown in squares, rectangles, and circles that have been folded alternately lengthwise and across for cutting. The resulting cutout openings make for dramatic contrasts of values, with larger and smaller intervals occurring in the rhythmic pattern. Interest is produced through varying the contours and sizes of the shapes. The dark areas made by cutting away the paper and the light ones that remain are equal in interest and balance and complement each other, creating positive-negative shape relationships. An example is shown in figure 2, where the positive shapes have been removed from the center of the cut and the negative shapes retained as part of the structure of the design. Some of the cutouts shown are traditional snowflake forms, which gain strength through their repetitive cuts.

A Fold square in half from corner to corner, then in half again. Cut shapes out of each side.

The paper cuttings on this page are representative of the folk art of many countries. Figures 1 and 2 are Mexican festival decorations cut from thin colored tissue papers. The Japanese stencil of rather tough paper in figure 3 is used for producing prints, but it has qualities making it beautiful as paper art regardless of the purpose it serves. The cutouts on the facing page are made from lightweight colored papers folded according to the directions in diagram Bon page 27.


Symmetrical window cutouts are made from a folded sheet of paper with a rounded arc cut at the top. Inserts are removed with small, sharp scissors (figure 3). A solid border and part of the center fold should be retained. Figures 1 and 2 emphasize the line pattern; figures 3 and 4 (page 32) employ more solid area. The mantel decoration (page 31) is cut with a sharp knife from black paper and mounted on cardboard, with colored metallic papers inserted into the openings.

In the richly imaginative composition on page 33, each area is removed with a sharp blade from an unfolded sheet of white construction paper, resulting in a rhythmical structural design.



A textured pattern adds interest to paper by changing its surface appearance. For example, when paper is crushed in the hands, creases are produced which break up the surface structure so that it appears different in character. When slits are cut in the folded edges of the paper, opened, and bent outward, a three-dimensional effect is achieved (figure 1). Examples of cuttings made with both curved and straight edges are shown in figure 2, illustrating possibilities for such experiments. An application of this principle can be seen in the tree structure on the next page, where sections cut in the surface add a different textural effect. Figures 4 and 5 are compositions made by children, organizing flat and three-dimensional paper pieces to create surface variations. A paper punch was used for figure 6. An awareness of textured areas in nature as found in the rough patterned bark of a tree or the overlapping bony shell of an armadillo will serve as source and inspiration for creating in paper.

For the contoured lamb above, the flat surface is broken up with a patterned area produced by curling strips cut with a sharp blade and left attached on one side. The negative cutout area balances with the positive shape of the strip, producing a dark-light contrast. The slit-scored ear and the perforated eye are part of the design qualities of the structure.

The rooster in figure 2 has a pleasing pattern on its surface as a result of the triangular shapes that have been slit on the sides and bent outward. The scored lines in the beak, comb, and tail are all part of the three-dimensional effect. (Scoring is explained on pages 46 and 47.) For the fish in figure 3, the paper was folded in half so that the two sides could be cut identically. Then slits were cut along the top fold, and folds were creased for cutting the side slits as shown in figure 1 on page 34. These examples are made of butcher paper and show how effective the use of a texture pattern can be in relieving a monotonous surface.



Curling adds interest and gives paper a three-dimensional quality. All papers, except the lightest in weight, can be curled more easily in one direction than another. By rolling paper in the hands it is possible to determine which direction is the most satisfactory. In some the grain is obvious, as in wood. Four ways to curl paper, using a ruler, pencil, table edge, and scissors, are shown on the facing page. A strip wrapped around the index finger will produce a loose curl, while one wrapped in a spiral around a pencil can be made into a diagonal curl. "Stripping" will make paper pliable so that it will roll easily. This can be done by placing the metal edge of a ruler on the paper, holding with a firm grip, and pulling the paper out from under. The paper is turned over and the process is repeated, the paper being stretched several times, first on one side and then on the other, until it rolls easily. The photograph below shows a fish construction with curled parts. For the lamb on page 112 and the Santa Claus on page 124, several strips are cut in one piece of paper and curled as shown in diagram B.



In the examples on the previous pages we have seen how paper can be modified by cutting and changed in surface character through various textural treatments. We now consider the three-dimensional form qualities of cones and cylinders produced by rolling or bending a sheet of paper into a volume. The cone is shaped from a circle or its parts, varying in proportions according to whether it is cut from a full circle, three-quarter circle, half circle, or quarter circle. The cylinder shape is produced by rounding a rectangle to the desired diameter. Cones and cylinders are used in a well-designed and integrated relationship in the creation of the bird structure, on the opposite page. Human figures, animals, fish, and angels are other subject sources shown in this book in which such forms have been used.



Folding translates paper into simple and exciting abstract three-dimensional formations that are basic to a great many constructions. Lightweight papers can be creased easily by hand without scoring. Papers with a pronounced grain fold more easily in one direction than in another. When folding paper it is helpful to crease it well with the thumbnail or the edge of a ruler. For accordion pleats, the paper is folded in half a number of times as in figure 1 on page 50. The result is a pleasing columnar structure (figure 1 at left) with creases that can be refolded back and forth to produce pleats like those in figure 3 or, spread out, as in diagram D. An application of this form is seen in the functional beauty of the fan. Folds like those in diagrams C and D are effective as back grounds in showcases or with bulletin board arrangements.

The structures here are a continuation of the approach presented on the previous page, with simple folded pleats appearing in different positions. Their beautiful abstract qualities are emphasized by the effects of light upon the sloping surfaces. The form on the facing page has strength as well as eye appeal and is capable of supporting considerable weight. It is rounded into a volume from a pleated rectangle, the edges being secured together with tape. A pleated piece of paper can inspire many experiments and should be explored for possible arrangements. Staples can be used to hold the form in the desired position. Shapes of this nature may suggest angel or bird wings. They can be used in combination with other forms as in the figure structures on pages 122 and 123.


Excerpted from Creating with Paper by PAULINE JOHNSON. Copyright © 1986 Pauline Johnson. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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