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The Inside Scoop on Su Blackwell’s Sculptures

Paper book sculpture by Su Blackwell
Johanna Parkin
How does she make those extraordinary pieces or art? You’ll find the answer in a book (literally).

If you’ve read Real Simple’s June 2013 feature “50 Books That Will Change Your Life,” you’ve seen Su Blackwell’s paper sculptures and may have wondered: Could those really have been made from the pages of a book? The answer: Incredibly, yes. The British artist—who has created 142 book sculptures to date—answered a few questions about her process.

Q. What attracted you to making art from books?

A. My love of reading—and my love of paper. I began experimenting with paper after a trip to Southeast Asia, where origami is everywhere and where paper-folding techniques are used in spiritual ceremonies. I was studying for a master’s in embroidered textiles at the Royal College of Art in London at the time, and when I came home I began making paper art.

Q. How do you go about making a book sculpture?

A. I start by reading the book, then I pick out a word or a phrase and a scene that inspires me. To depict my selected passage, I sketch my idea onto paper, cut out shapes from the pages of the book, and then paste the words from the scene onto them. Essentially, I’m physically building images from the words on the page. I also use illustrations from the books to incorporate color, but I prefer working with monochromatic white paper and printed text.

Q. How long does the process take?

A. Usually three to four days per sculpture, but sometimes longer. There’s also a day or two of preparation beforehand, such as sourcing the book, reading the story, and then making sketches.

Q. Did the assignment for Real Simple pose any unique challenge? 

A. It brought me into contact with books I hadn’t previously read, such as The Little Engine That Could, which has become one of my favorite books to read to my young daughter. And I love Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, so I was happy to see that it made the list. It was difficult—but exciting—to make the characters appear to be falling into the book (see above).

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