Pa­per mod­eller Mel Ed­wards ex­plains how she achieves ab­so­lute pre­ci­sion when mak­ing sculp­tures out of pa­per

Computer Arts - - Workshop - Mel Ed­wards


Hav­ing only grad­u­ated last sum­mer, I’m still pretty new to the world of free­lance illustration. My style and process, how­ever, are things that I’ve been de­vel­op­ing for quite some time now. I dab­bled with pa­per dur­ing my A-lev­els and Art Foun­da­tion, but univer­sity was where I truly fell in love with the ma­te­rial.

Ini­tially, I cut ev­ery­thing us­ing a scalpel and pro­duced a lot of lay­ered, two-di­men­sional illustration. This process was ex­tremely time­con­sum­ing and the end re­sult al­ways looked very hand­made. As I pro­gressed, I started work­ing with a laser cut­ter – this gave me the ad­van­tages of speed and pre­ci­sion but it burned the edges of my pa­per. Now, I cut my pa­pers us­ing a plot­ter. The plot­ter also fa­cil­i­tates speed and pre­ci­sion but, in­stead of a laser, it cuts with a blade, which elim­i­nates the un­wanted burn.


The first stage of ev­ery project is plan­ning; in this stage I make lots of rough sketches and notes. How­ever, pa­per (like any ma­te­rial) has prop­er­ties that some­times pose con­straints. These con­strains don’t al­ways be­come ap­par­ent un­til I be­gin mak­ing my cre­ations; so I keep my ini­tial de­signs loose, and leave space for the pa­per to make some of the de­ci­sions.

Once I have a ba­sic idea of what I want to cre­ate, the vis­ual re­search be­gins. I usu­ally start by look­ing on Be­hance, In­sta­gram and Pin­ter­est. That be­ing said, I don’t like to get all of my in­spi­ra­tion from other il­lus­tra­tors and pa­per artists. Though I am in­spired by and ad­mire their work, ul­ti­mately I want to cre­ate some­thing dif­fer­ent, so I like to look for other sources of in­spi­ra­tion too, for ex­am­ple us­ing ar­chi­tec­ture, fash­ion and still-life pho­tog­ra­phy. I col­lect all of this re­search in a file un­til a style or theme be­gins to emerge. I then print off the rel­e­vant

“Peo­ple of­ten as­sume that cutting is the trick­i­est part, but for me, it’s glu­ing”

images and put them up on the wall in front of my table, which is where they stay un­til all of the mod­els for that project are com­plete.


In this stage, I also put to­gether a colour pal­ette. I love the colours used in Toi­let Pa­per Magazine and in the work of Jes­sica Walsh or Alek­san­dra Kingo. Their use of bold tones and un­ex­pected com­bi­na­tions is very strik­ing and as a re­sult, their work of­ten fea­tures heav­ily on the in­spi­ra­tion walls for many of my projects. Once I’ve de­cided upon a colour pal­ette I then buy the pa­pers. For per­sonal projects, 210gsm mul­ti­pack card usu­ally works fine, but it does limit my colour op­tions. When I need some­thing more spe­cific, I order it from Ar­jowig­gins, which has a great se­lec­tion, and I can order as little as one sheet at a time. This is use­ful for smallscale projects or one-off mod­els.


With my colour pal­ettes cho­sen, il­lus­tra­tions planned and pa­per se­lected, I take to Il­lus­tra­tor. The art­work is made up of paths split be­tween two lay­ers – one layer has the paths I want to cut out, and the sec­ond has the paths to score/fold.

Since most of my work is three-di­men­sional, I be­gin by de­sign­ing nets. In my mind, I vi­su­alise how the net will fit to­gether and then art­work that vi­sion us­ing the paths and lay­ers de­scribed. Once I have the ba­sic de­sign, I cut out and test it, but the first draft is rarely ever per­fect. So then, I use a process of trial and er­ror un­til the net is ex­actly how I want it to be. For this part of the process, I use cheap card and work on a very small scale to limit waste. Once I’m happy with the net, I can then scale it up or down.

This stage can be rel­a­tively quick and easy or very long and chal­leng­ing. It de­pends on the project, the scale and the level of com­plex­ity.


Now the de­tail­ing. I take the faces of the net and work out which de­tails will go onto them. Then I cut the de­tails out and stick them to the unassem­bled net us­ing all-pur­pose glue. Fi­nally, I stick the pieces of the net to­gether to com­plete the model.

Peo­ple as­sume that cutting is the trick­i­est part of the pa­per process, but for me glu­ing re­quires the real pa­tience. The glue is ex­tremely runny when it first comes out of the tube so I have to re­main fo­cused to en­sure it doesn’t get on to any ex­posed sec­tions of the model. Once it’s dry, the glue leaves an un­wanted shiny stain on the pa­per so if it does run, I have to dis­card and re-cut all of the af­fected pieces. This is both time-con­sum­ing and waste­ful, which ex­plains why pre­ci­sion is so cru­cial at this stage.


A lot of the time, the dig­i­tal el­e­ments of my process can take just as long as the phys­i­cal ones, and if I’m work­ing on an an­i­ma­tion, then some­times they take even longer.

Pho­tograph­ing the mod­els is the first step to­wards turn­ing my mod­els into dig­i­tal art­work. Though I am keen to work with more pho­tog­ra­phers in the fu­ture, at the moment, I shoot most of the mod­els my­self. To do this, I use soft box light­ing, and a cam­era set up on a tri­pod. Then, to com­plete the process, I edit the images in Pho­to­shop.

02 01Pre­ci­sion is the name of the game for Mel, and don’t even get her started on the glu­ing process! 02 It’s all in the plan­ning, and when the idea comes, the vis­ual re­search fol­lows.




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