Technique Tuesdays: Tips for Folded Books and Paper Art

Today we’re kicking off a regular series called Technique Tuesdays, where we’ll give you useful and fun tips for all types of mixed-media art. This first installment focuses on making accordion books and folded paper art projects. These types of books and projects are some of my favorites–so many variations exist for making art journals and sketchbooks, and for turning paper into 3-D art pieces.

Folded book sculpture
These sculptures were made from discarded books. (Art by Johwey Reddington, photo by Sharon White Photography.)

From a humble and inexpensive sheet of paper great artworks can come. These tips, from articles published in Cloth Paper Scissors, Pages, and I Heart Paper magazines, will help your projects go more smoothly, give you better results, and add that extra punch. If you’re inspired to make something, be sure to post it in our Member Gallery!

1. Knowing the grain of the paper you’re working with can be a big help when making neat, flat folds. Lisa Occhipinti says to determine the grain of a piece of paper, “hold the ends of a sheet and bow it toward you. If you feel resistance, you are bending against the grain; the grain side will bend easily and softly.” When making accordion folds, it’s best to fold with the grain; folding against the grain, she adds, “may cause the paper to crack or buckle.”

2. Whenever you’re working with a new type of paper, give it a test run. Lisa suggests painting on it, gluing it, folding it, and whatever else you have planned, “to determine its limitations.”

3. A slot-and-tab folded book is a super easy structure that requires no sewing, only folds and simple cuts—even kids can do it. These books are most often made with paper or cardstock, but here’s a tip from Indira Govindan: try making them from fabric, or a combination of the two. She discovered how versatile the technique is when she decided to use old saris for slot-and-tab book pages and covers. To decorate them Indira used textile paint, plus fabric markers and pens, and created backgrounds with stencils. “My saris have many memories associated with them, and the artwork on the pages reflects those memories,” she says.

Slot-and-tab book
A slot-and-tab book made with fabric. (Art by Indira Govindan, photo by Sharon White Photography.)

4. Nothing gives paper texture and adds fullness than this unbelievably simple technique: scrunching it up and flattening it out with your hands. Angela Chavez incorporated this method to add heft to a folded paper wreath, but you can try it on other projects to give them extra dimension, such as origami and paper flowers and leaves. For even more interest, run an inkpad lightly over the wrinkled paper, which further highlights the crinkled surface and adds depth.

5. Here’s a great idea from Christine Plummer for creating a cover for an accordion book: Glue magazine pages or images together so they measure about 26″ x 5″, and iron stabilizer to the wrong side. Tear or cut paper and fabric scraps into similar-sized strips. Glue them to the magazine pages in rows, leaving gaps here and there, and use a contrasting thread to stitch everything in place. Fold the outer edges to the middle, and stitch across the bottom. Fold in half again to create the covers. Cut a curvy line along the top, if desired, to create more interest.

Accordion book cover
A collaged accordion book cover (Art by Christine Plummer, photo by Larry Stein.)

6. Use painted Tyvek for the spine of an accordion book. Tyvek is a manufactured paper-like material that paper and book artists love because it’s both strong and lightweight, and can easily be colored (you can repurpose an overnight shipping envelope). Jill K. Berry suggests painting both sides of a 7″ x 12″ piece with acrylic paint, letting it dry, then folding it into 16 ¾” panels along the 12″ side. To create the book, glue folded art journal pages onto the front and back single panels, and onto the seven mountain folds.

Folded spine book
Follow this diagram to create a book with a folded spine.

7. Envelopes glued flap-to-back make terrific accordion structures. Caitlin Van de Walle recommends jazzing them up with bright watercolors, and then lining them with the insides of business envelopes, which have interesting patterns. Use the envelope flaps as templates.

8. Create pop-ups using rubber stamped images. For this technique Suzanne Pagnucci used her own carved stamps, but commercial stamps are fine to use as well. Choose ones that are large enough to be cut around easily. Stamp the images down the center of a long panel of paper, then fold the paper into an accordion. Choose an image that straddles a fold, score it on both sides of the fold (see the straight lines below), and cut across the fold from one score line to the other (see the dotted lines). Then, pop the image out to create dimension.

Pop-up book
Rubber stamped images make great pop-ups. (Artwork by Suzanne Pagnucci, photo by Sharon White Photography.)

9. The right tools can sometimes make or break a project. A bone folder is an inexpensive folding tool that can create crisp, neat folds. Usually made of cow bone, they’re also made from plastic and Teflon, and can be used for scoring and smoothing paper. Mastering this tool will make your folded paper and book projects look and work incredibly well.

10. If you’re working with heavy cardstock or Bristol board, scoring the paper first will help make a neat fold, even when folding with the grain. Try using a scoring tool, which is a metal stylus with a small ball at the end. Hold the tool against a metal ruler where you want the fold, and press lightly as you pull it along the edge of the ruler to create the score. This works with lighter weight papers too; just be sure not to press too hard, or you may tear the paper.

Folded Books and Paper Art

Want to get started on some projects? We’ve got a great new eMagazine, Folded Books and Paper Art, that includes many favorite projects from our magazines. They’re all in one place, so you don’t have to clip and sort articles–we’ve done the work for you!

Download it today and get started making fun books, 3-D artwork, and more.


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