The Grammar of Corrugated Cardboard

Corrugated Cardboard

Following the suggestion of what I call the “Grammar of Matter”, we should try to observe things as if we were seeing them for the first time; with respect and curiosity, without already having a goal or a precise outcome in mind.

This chapter of the grammar is dedicated to corrugated cardboard: what are its transformative potentials? Or in other words, what transformations do its characteristics suggest to us? Let’s start with a small scrap piece, derived from a box of cookies.

I pick it up: the strips in relief are immediately an irresistible invitation to cut, while the two folding lines show where to stop cutting.

Now it can move in many ways, it seems to come alive, it becomes a tunnel, a millipede, a carnivorous plant…

Another action, generally associated with corrugated cardboard, is “rolling up”. If we combine it with cutting (or we put it in relation to other objects), various shapes can be created, in turn composable and combinable with each other.

On the left: picture by RobertapucciLab – On the right: picture from the book Créations en papier, mgf atelier

There are different kind of corrugated cardboard: as we have seens, it is used for small food packagings, while other colored ones are available in art supply shops, or you even can buy large rolls, generally used as industrial packaging.

What happens if we try to remake the same shape in a much larger size? A detail, a small decoration becomes a high impact presence.

Setting and workshop by RobertapucciLab for the public library “Il Castello dei Ragazzi” (Carpi, Italy)

The rolled strip that looked like a small sprout, can become a tree if using the maximum size of the roll. And then, more trees can generate a forest within a room… The setting of these images was designed as part of a creative workshop for a public library (in Carpi, Italy). Some tables were set with some materials and tools, ready to welcome adults and children to create colorful flowers for the trees.

“The grammar of matter” invites us to put the qualities and properties of a material in relation with the context around. Here is an example of how this can happen. One morning, the Swedish educator and atelierista Maria Kozlowska saw a large roll of cardboard standing in the storeroom and had the idea of making a corrugated cardboard labytinth for 2/3-years-olds children.

Pictures by Maria Kozlowska

It is a single length of corrugated cardboard that the children shape and reshape, explains Maria. The children form new “rooms” by pinching the paper together and closing into these spaces, alone or together. They open and close the rooms and the walls are changed by their actions, while organically shaped passages are formed.

By very actively investigating the material, children become aware of how their actions create new patterns and formations in the space. They also move their fingers on the corrugated cardboard wall and create sounds. In fact, noise is a characteristic aspect of corrugated cardboard.

“They are creaking footsteps” says Denise, the four-year-old author of this work entitled “The creaking house”, clearly inspired by the sound of material. The image is taken from the beautiful book “Mosaic of marks, words, material” published by Reggio Children, which clearly illustrates how children are able to be listening and in relation to the nature of the material they are using.

Pictures from the book Mosaic of marks, words, material, Reggio Children

The corrugated cardboard can fold and has got stripes: so the rainbow was a spontaneous association for Lorena, a three-year-old child struggling with a strip of cardboard and indelible markers. In most of their explorations, children spontaneously adopt an empathetic approach of curious researchers that we, as adults, can rediscover only with a certain, initial effort of awareness and intentionality.

Folon, Voyage brun, 2000

By what magical alchemy does the French artist Folon manage to transform an anonymous piece of corrugated cardboard into such an evocative and poetic seascape? I believe that for any professional, a respectful and curious dialogue with the material is an indispensable element to reach a good level both from an aesthetic and functional point of view, as demonstrated by many examples in the field of art and design.
The great Italian designer Bruno Munari reminds us that the observation of natural shapes is very useful to the designer, who gets used to choosing materials for their nature, for their technical characteristics, and not to use iron where it would be better using wood (or glass where plastic would work better, and so on).

There is a limit we cannot go beyond, in the sense of constructive simplicity.

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Architecture scale model in a design exposition, MAXXI Museum, Rome

If you are interested in the creative exploration of materials, you are welcome to join the Facebook group “The grammar of matter” and to eventually share your cardboard research.

A special thanks to Maria Kozlowska for her precious contribution and beautiful pictures, including the cover one.

#thegrammarofmatter

Markers’ Explorations

Markers

They are in almost all our homes, schools and backpacks. They are attractive and easy to use. It is not necessary to “draw something”, that is to represent something recognizable. Just to remember for those who get stuck with I can’t draw or I don’t know what to draw. How many types of points, lines and marks can be invented? In how many ways and patterns can these signs be placed on the sheet of paper?

How many ways can we cover an area with color or create a shape?

Try to explore all the possible movements of your wrist, hand, arm and observe the traces left by the marker during the movement. You can also move or rotate the sheet of paper below.

Each sign can be repeated creating various kind of textures, according to different degrees of rarefaction or thickening. What is gradually taking shape in the sheet of paper, will probably give us new suggestions for continuing the work.

How many ways can points and lines interact? A point is a moving line, or as Paul Klee said, “a line is a point going for a walk”?

What is the difference between drawing through colored lines and drawing through patches of color?

Who leades: the eye, the hand or the idea? Does a color “call” the other one?

In my studio, next to the markers, there is a small box full of white papers, all the same, and next to this box, some drawn papers (of the pictures above). These drawn cards can be joined on one side to form an accordion booklet, otherwise left loose, so that they can be individually taken (very useful solution in a group). In some situations, this kit was a useful support, providing a starting point easier than a large white sheet.

The setting and the way of presenting materials is an important aspect that can affect the creative process as well. How are the various color shades presented? Are they all visible? In case of a groups, how do members have access to them? Also the container itself can influence the perception of the content. From which container would you prefer to take a marker (between the ones above) and why? If you are interested, in the post “Container and Contained” by Nona Orbach you will find more about this specific issue.

I noticed that sometimes, in groups where the markers were placed in jars in the center of the table, the colors were not carefully chosen and the markers were not put back, scattering all over the table. By offering the markers in the center of the table, on a long folded strip of paper, these inconveniences disappeared by themselves. The paper strips are also very easy to fold or carry. If the markers are displayed on a shelf or used by one person at a time, shorter strips can be available for placing the chosen colors.

As Nona Orbach e Lilach Galkin wrote in “The Spirit of Matter”, The main characteristic of markers is that it is possible to achieve a nice result without much effort. They offer clean, aesthetic work, and are suitable for ornamental and decorative purposes. There is repetition in the workflow by opening and closing the marker and filling surfaces with short contiguous lines. This is significant for people who are intrigued and organized by ritual and rhythm. There is not much need for hesitation when working with markers; they afford pleasure from an easily created aesthetic outcome.

I would add that a marker’s sign can not be erased: this could be a bit frightening for some adults or older children, that want to obtain a “nice” work, especially at the beginning of this kind of exploration. But then, it can be very liberating and releasing, precisely because no way to adjust what you did… so just let it go!

And now I think you are looking forward to take a marker and start your exploration… Enjoy!

Identity Investigations

I have always been fascinated by variations: how identity can change and remaining recognizable at the same time? In other words, while changing, at what point that identity is no longer recognizable? And what is that make it recognizable through changes?
There are many ways to explore these questions using images and materials. Or even by playing with Esther. But who is Esther?

Initially, it was a paper strip, a processing waste of a paper work lying on my desk among other materials. It was casually folded in three parts and this folding gave to the piece of paper a special kind of balance so that it “seemed something”… I touched it softly: it began to swing and I began to see it alive. As its identity was taking shape in my mind, I tried to shape it with scissors and here she is: hello Esther!

Once her identity was defined, I just played with it. How does she move in the space, how many positions can she take? How can she relate with different shapes or contexts?

How can her characteristcs be transformed in order to create variations? For example: changing dimensions, material, texture, the shape of some folders or details…

In his book “Fantasia”, the designer Bruno Munari lists a number of creative techniques to transform a known object by changing its characteristics, in order to develop imagination. Here are some of his suggestions:

  • using opposites and antonyms (a fast turtle)
  • multiplying a part of a whole (a dragon with seven heads)
  • changing dimensions (a huge ladybug)
  • changing color (a blue bread)
  • changing material (a sponge hammer)
  • changing the function (a shoe used as a flower vase)
  • changing the context (a ship in the middle of a meadow)

The identity of every character will also evolve within a narrative frame, through encounters, stories, adventures. For example, what if Esther met a cat?

The topic of identity and its possible transformations through variations is also developed in many picture books for children. Here is an example of some pictures from “Hyppopposites” by Janik Coat, where the hippo identity is explored through different colors and textures.

The exploration of the possible variations of an object (of a character or an image) makes us investigate the limits, the potential and the essence of its identity: at what point of the transformation we can say that something has completely turned in something else? Which elements determine and affect one’s own identity?
Like Munari said, “a fish with horns is still a fish”?

Enjoy your identity exploration and don’t miss Esther Trilogy on robertapuccilab Youtube channel!

The grammar of plastic bottles

artificial flowers built with plastic bottles

How many shapes are hidden in a plastic bottle? Have you ever tried to break it down? Rings, cylinders, cones, hemispheres, spirals, towers, domes and others will unexpectedly come out of it… Then, these elements can be combined together in order to create more complex structures. Let’s play with them, without already having a specific goal in mind. The shapes themselves will guide us, revealing unexpected paths. It is a dialogue between us and matter, a mutual interaction in which the material is not forced in our “a priori” idea.

the different parts of a plastic bottles

Some of the bottle’s pieces can be used as a module, that is a repeated element forming more complex structures. For example, I made a curtain among trees (you can see below) using a plastic ring as a module.

a curtain made of plastic bottles

The interaction between colored plastic and natural or artificial light can generate interesting, almost magical effects.

After having explored “the rules of its grammar”, we will be able to use the material in a creative way, consistent either with its nature and our purpose in a specific context. Here is a short example: some pencil flowers I designed to celebrate the birthday of a public Library.

artificial flowers made with plastic bottles

I did not have in my mind images of real flowers to be copied: the shape of the final flowers was inspired by the shapes and characteristics of the various parts of the bottles, recombining them. In many cases, the cap was drilled and used as a connector between the pencil and the plastic part.
What is your favorite one? Many other species are waiting to be discovered… You are very welcome to send a picture of new flowers, in order to broaden a common Plastic Herbarium. Enjoy!

#thegrammarofmatter

artificial flowers made with plastic bottles
artificial flowers made with plastic bottles