The Art of Paper Crafting

Interview with Rosie Thorns – Conducted by Lucy Appleyard.


Paper crafting is the fast-growing art form that uses paper and card to create beautifully detailed 2-D and 3-D artwork. Rosie Thorns is a keen enthusiast of the craft, with an Instagram account @rosiethorns88 boasting over 16 thousand followers, all of whom share her love of the art form.

With interest in paper crafting ever-increasing, we ask Rosie what this art form means to her, why she chose it and why paper is her tool of choice for channeling her creativity.

Firstly, what is paper crafting?

My interpretation of paper crafting is an art form that almost entirely uses paper for its shapes, shadows, and colouring. Often it has little or no assistance from other mediums such as paint, to achieve the final piece. It’s a broad spectrum of styles and techniques, including 3D paper sculptures, 2nd layered art, silhouette light-boxes, and even origami! There are no rules on how to make a paper craft, and every person has a different technique and style. The choice to express the art through the forms and textures of paper is what makes the craft so unique.

How did you get into paper crafting?

I was very fond of 3D paper sculpture models when I was in middle school. My father gifted me a paper crafting kit of the Hohenzollern Castle from a trip to Germany and I was hooked. These kits are basically detailed 8.5×11 card-stock prints (about 30 pages) with a flat layout of each piece of the 3D models (usually with extra flaps for glue) that you had to hand cut with an X-Acto knife (a small-scale precision blade) before assembling. It is very similar to how clothing patterns look. The very little instructions included were all in German, so I had to figure it out based on the few finished diagrams. It was like deconstructing and reconstructing a puzzle, and that’s what attracted me to the entire medium. I found free downloads of other paper crafts from popular franchises like Disney, Kingdom Hearts, and Ghibli and could print them out at home and get right to work building my own 3D version of these models!
Unfortunately, it was very damaging to my hand to continuously cut paper for hours on end, so I stopped the hobby around early high school. Years later, with the arrival of tools like Cricut Machines (a small machine used for precision cutting materials such as paper, felt and fabric), it created a new opportunity to re-enter the paper crafting sphere and saved my hand from a lot of hard cutting labour. Not only was I able to jump back in with new vigour, but I would be able to design and create my own “paper craft kits”.

What is your inspiration when making a paper craft piece?

Right now, I’ve been focused in making pieces for the young adult, science fiction / fantasy book genres because I have the freedom to imagine these worlds from my interpretation of the books. Many of my paper crafts focus more on the world building, symbolisms or iconography of the books, rather than dedicated character portraits. The characters are present and are expressive as much as a 5 – 7”-inch paper version can allow, but the true expression comes through in the swooping paper shapes and forms of the scene around them. It is really fun and immersive as a reader to allow the characters to interact within your creation.

Why did you choose paper as your artistic medium in the first place?

Firstly, it’s cheap, and widely accessible in a variety of colours and textures. You can achieve astounding pieces of art with something as simple as printer paper and a box of crayons if you have the passion for it.

Secondly, it’s a medium that is very easy to manipulate. Ripping, cutting, folding, quilling, rolling, colouring, dying, painting, etching, burning, embossing – there are so many ways to manipulating paper with little or no tools. The tools themselves are usually very accessible in craft stores. Other mediums like wood, metal, and even 3D printing require a lot more resources, setup and sometimes even safer environments, to finish a project.

Thirdly, paper is very forgiving. Because it’s cheap and easily manipulated, you can redo or repair mistakes or accidents in your project without it causing any major delays or setbacks with your project. I’ve had characters that I’ve had to re-cut arms of because glue had left a small stain, and I’ve had characters fall off their mounts months later because of the adhesive not adhering well to the waxy surface of coloured pencilled. All very easy to fix, and without damage to the surrounding pieces. I usually hand-draw character expressions so I’ve habitually cut 3 – 4 copies of the faces ahead of time, knowing I will need to test skin colours and shading, and prepare for inevitable mistakes that comes with permanently inking small details. It’s all easy to prep and easy to fix!

Finally, it’s tangible. Just like the appeal of Lego or jigsaw puzzles, you’re building something with your hands. You can see these random scraps of paper start to take shape as you progress through your assembly. It’s just as thrilling to begin to create as it is to finish the piece!

What is your favourite piece you’ve created so far?

I’ve made well over 30 pieces now, and they’ve all used different techniques and styles that have evolved the more I experiment and discover. I try to mix it up and let the concepts of the piece dictate how the paper should form around it. Finding and expressing the symbolism of books are just as important to me as manipulating the paper itself, which is why my favourite piece to this day is an early piece I created for the Ace of Shades series, “The Lovers, Reversed”. It’s one of those pieces where I hit so many epiphanies with the symbolism of the book and tarot cards it references that I was super excited as I was drafting it.

It may not show through my social media as often, but I’m actually very fond of puns in real life. I like to turn around quips and dad jokes whenever conversations allow for it. Making puns requires combining two or more ideas for the pun to successfully work, and the same can be applied to creating visuals for symbolism. They evolve as I start an idea and I’m usually picking up pieces of symbols as I go. My favourite example of this is in “The Lovers, Reversed,” piece, with the giant golden robe of the ‘angel’ figure from the original Lovers tarot, now an angel of death. In reverse, the robe is taking shape of the book’s city setting, but also forms the icon of a spade. The ‘angel’ figure is also a mashup of The Fool (a significant card in the book, representing ‘a timely death’), holding the white rose, walking stick, and feather cap of the traditional tarot card. The specific number of apples and corresponding ropes on each side are also taken from the tarot and have significance to the characters they’re tied to. Even the hoop that Enne (the female character) is swinging on, if you look closely, is the serpent!

Overall, it’s just a really fun piece that meshed together is so many ways and I love revisiting it from time to time. I’m eagerly waiting for upcoming announcements for the series’ final book as I have plans to make similar paper craft concepts for the sequels.

How long does it roughly take you to create a piece?

This is very variable. My simplest papercraft, a 11 x 14″ piece from Kingdom of Ash, I can clock in at 30 hours from concept to finish. I had to build it twice, and that alone takes about 10 – 12 hours of labour from cut to finish. My recent project, which consisted of designing three 31 x 16″ paper crafts inspired by Holly Black’s Folk of the Air series were estimated to be 500 – 600 hours of work due to the size and detail of the pieces.

I’ve had a project that I’ve been working on and off for over a year that I’ve had to set aside due to either time or art restrictions with its concept. I haven’t even started the paper crafting stage for it yet, but I know I’ve easily pushed 300 hours alone on its concept.  On average, I would say a medium project would take about 40 – 60 hours of work from start to finish.

But in reality, I don’t really count the minutes. I usually paper craft in my down time while I’m listening to audiobooks. So, it’s not a chore to spend 300+ hours having a fun time creating.

How would someone new to the art form start paper crafting?

Paper crafting is a very broad art form and has many different styles and techniques that anyone at any level of creativity or experience can dive into. My best advice is to search popular image sharing websites such as Pinterest or Instagram under the hashtags #papercraft or #paperart, find something that appeals to you, and try to copy it! Even if a tutorial is not available, experiment with what you have and make something that you would enjoy making — you will start discovering your own methods and techniques for your own crafting. Even if the end result is not the best at first, passion and practice go hand in hand when developing your own style.

With regards to paper craft character design specifically, study figure drawing basic tutorials with shapes and gestures. Experienced artists will begin their illustrations with basic forms and shapes before adding detail to their characters or scene. Designing characters for paper craft is simplifying those detailed characters back into shapes. Hair can no longer be individual strands, they must be clusters, and clusters that form a pleasing shape. Revisiting form and shape drawing basics can help you develop the skills to see those shapes in your detailed designs.

– End of interview.

This is fantastic use of paper and shows the creative side of using such as a sustainable material. Paper is great for print and packaging as paper is recycled on average 3.5 times a year in Europe. In fact, 72% of paper & paper packaging is recycled into new products.

If you wanted to try paper crafting at home, left over cardboard from cereal boxes or delivery parcels are a great way to start experimenting with the material as they’re malleable yet sturdy. Working with these materials means you are reusing a recyclable medium, so if a mistake is made or you chose not to keep the final result, it can still be recycled afterwards.

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