Paper & Possibility

Paper might seem like the most basic of craft ingredients, a tool for drafting up plans before you move onto your more expensive materials. But what a blank piece of paper offers is truly endless possibilities in the boundless scope of your imagination.

Paper as a material has been around since at least ancient Egypt’s First Dynasty, when the first types of paper-like material were made using the plant Cyperus papyrus. In fact, the earliest archaeological evidence of papyrus in use as a document are rolls dated from 2560-2550 BCE which describe the last years of the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

However, papyrus was susceptible to moisture and dryness, as well as being quite fragile. In Europe it was replaced by the more durable and easily produced parchment and vellum, and by the 13th century, pulp paper was spreading around the world from China through the Middle East and medieval Europe. Industrialisation of the paper production process in the 19th century meant that wood pulp paper was cheap and easily accessible to the masses.

Now papercrafts can be found all around the world from Mexico’s papel picado, where intricate designs are cut into tissue paper to create decorative banners, the traditional Polish folk art of wycinanki, Japan’s variation of origami called kirigami (meaning ‘cut picture’), and China’s jianzhi – an art of paper cutting that may date back to the 2nd century CE.

Paintings, stone sculptures, classic works of fiction, embroideries – these creative endeavours are more common than paper artworks and are certainly more well-known. Perhaps the beauty in papercraft isn’t just in the delicacy of the material, but in the fragility of its existence at all.

Prominent Paper Projects

  • Paper art installations, especially on a larger scale, can be awe-inspiring, especially when you consider the simplicity of the materials used. As part of her installation Color Mixing, Emmanuelle Moureaux created a secret garden of over 25,000 colourful paper flowers, all spiralling and spinning in a rainbow shower. Chie Hitotsuyama crafted stunningly detailed sculptures of animals by hand, using nothing but newspapers. And Claire Morgan made a full size gunboat suspended over a functioning spillway, using 5,300 origami paper boats and fishing line.
  • A popular form of papercraft, book sculptures often combine the themes of the book with the artistic inspiration of the sculptor. In one notable period, from 2011 to 2013 an anonymous paper sculpture donated eleven book sculptures to various cultural institutions in the city of Edinburgh, Scotland. Each gifted sculpture was secretly left to be discovered by whoever found them – the mystery identity of their creator was an international sensation which remains unrevealed to this day.
  • Joanna Koerten was a Dutch artist of the 1600s who was renowned for her silhouette papercutting skill. Patronised by the likes of Peter the Great of Russia and William III of England, now only fifteen of her intricate and delicate works remain.

In Issue 15 of Audrey you can find craft projects for you to create your own beautiful paper masterpieces.

This article was originally published Issue 15, Dance Your Cares Away