It is amazing how many ways a paper roll can be transformed.
Have you ever tried? I really had much fun, just using a so simple, waste material…
First of all, observe and handle a roll from different points of view, without thinking of any precise goal. What does it “suggest” you to do? The starting point can be whatever very simple action, like a cut. Then, see where it will take you and enjoy the process.
The simple action of cutting opens an endless range of possibilities, by varying the number, the direction, the width or the lenght of cuts, and then combining these variations.
What happens if the cut parts are folded in many different ways? Again, the possible transformations multiply.
You could try both a geometrical, mathematical approach (as shown in the image below on the left) and a completely random one, making new discoveries by chance.
For example, I found a shape just randomly cutting in different directions and that shape (image below on the right) inspired me to roll the cut stripes like waves. Then I explored this specific action (that was new for me) through several variations with other rolls, in a more systematic way.
It is also very interesting to investigate all the movements and sounds that are made possible by the transformations. This kind of process is led by hands and by the characteristics of the material.
As you can see in the video below, hands “are thinking”.
What about an encounter between the paper roll and another material?
How can they dialogue?
Several paper rolls or parts of them can be combined together for creating more complex structures.
We can also divide the paper roll into small parts and use them for create patterns.
What is the difference between using paper rolls for kids crafts vs exploring the grammar of the same material?
A kids craft is a a goal itself, a ready product that encloses the final outcome and the way to get it from the very beginning – so that the creative process is often a repetitive execution of instructions.
By exploring the grammar of paper rolls, on the other hand, unexpected paths will unfold through both limits and potential of the material. And you will probably come to some unexpected outcomes: the beauty of action is not lost!
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.
What about the language of 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.
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.
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.
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, the possibility of making noise with it is a typical 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.
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.
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.
A special thanks to Maria Kozlowska for her precious contribution and beautiful pictures, including the cover one.
If you are interested in the creative exploration of materials, you are also welcome to join the Facebook group The grammar of matter.
I perceive every magazine as a rich storage with many shelves full of different kind of characters, environments, objects, words, animals. Have you ever used or offered magazines as a creative material?
First, just immerse your eyes in this richness, looking for pictures that attract you, observing carefully the details, textures, shapes, colors. Choosing an image from a magazine is a selection “from the whole”, like fishing from the ocean of pictures an item that, for some reason, calls your attention.
Cutting with scissors makes this selection a concrete action, by isolating the image from its context. It is quite a powerful action, made with an effective, sharp tool. From that moment, the image becomes alive, aquires her own identity and personality.
The various images can interact with each other from a “visual” point of view, by following a kind of visual balance and associations, and so creating an aesthetic composition. Other possible connections are “narrative”: what would the images tell each other? But these two ways can also go together, weaving a story of words and images: what if a huge mouse meets a tiny cat? Or if a fish is swimming in a forest, through the trees?
An entire story could unfold from a picture that sounds especially meaningful to us. During an activity with magazines with a five years old group, I remember a very shy and delicate boy choosing a huge kangaroo that was standing up as a bold fighter, while a little girl that was usually smiling, talking and laughing, chose a sad, sullen, defiantly dark-style teenager. I wondered if these children were silently spoken to their cut-out figures. I invited them to invent a story. In fact, the kangaroo and the girl of the stories were quite the opposite of how the children were used to appear in everyday life. I am sure it was a significant process for the children, both creatively and emotionally.
Magazines, along with collage technique, offer an endless playing and creative potential, that we can use according to our specific context and goals. Combining cut-out images, the real proportions and usual contexts of things are often changed, creating new surprising worlds.
A creative activity I love, is exploring a theme or a subject through its variations. In the examples abow, the subject is a Christmas tree, while below it is my good friend Esther (you can find her at robertpuccilab YouTube channel). She generally has a pretty minimal look, but I wanted to make her have some fun using textures, accessories and fabrics cut from fashion magazines.
Even a tiny detail has got its own creative potential. Just put it on a sheet of paper: what does it recall you? What sign could complete it, what shape could it become part of? Take a pencil or another tool and try to draw it…
Another interesting visual exercise (or visual game) consists of observing an image only in its shapes and colors, regardless of what it represents; then selecting part of it and transform it into something else – that is giving a new meaning. In the couples of examples below, I cut out two portions of the same picture to create the faces, seen in profile, of two characters that somehow are interacting. Of course, in this game, the initial picture could turn in different shapes, depending on the observer’s interpretation. How many images are hidden and “contained” in the same image?
The only parts I added are the facial details (eyes, mouth, eyebrow), that I cut-out from the same initial picture and glued on the second one. Very unexpected personalities came out that I could not have imagined by myself, without the inspiration of the starting material! I put together a serie of these cards, that I called “Face to face”, as an invitation to combine them and invent a dialogue between the two. How many other ways could we play with these cards?
As with any other technique or material, I think that the initial exploration of the potential of collage – quite free and for its own sake – can become an increasingly focused tool to express one’s uniqueness, through one’s own expressive style. You are welcome to share your works and processes for enriching this collage repertoire. Enjoy!
Imagine you are seeing a sheet of paper for the first time in your life: who’s that? The sheet speaks to your eyes, only by its presence: color, shape, size, location in the space. Maybe it speaks to your nose by its light smell. Then for the first time you take it in your hands. It communicates through its texture, hardness or softness, consistency, humidity, weight, and also with its sounds.
If you are curious, with an open mind while observing and touching it, the sheet will reveal you its possible transformations. For example, you immediately guess you can fold or roll it: it seems the sheet itself, for its characteristics, invite you to do such actions, as other ones like crumpling or tearing. What objects and tools seem to be attuned to interacting with this material? Scissors, stapler, hole punch, needle, nail, fork… And why not water? In how many ways the sheet can be transformed with these tools?
Each one of these actions can be developed through endless variations. For example, as far as folding, you could use different fold’s sizes, inclinations, proportions, different shapes of the starting sheet, different rhythms… Then, you can combine all these actions: cutting and folding, wetting and crumpling, and so on. Moreover, choosing different types of paper each one will react differently.
You can see as even a simple material like a sheet of paper holds within itself an entire world, waiting to be discovered. BUT in every dialogue there are two partecipants. Until now, we have considered only the material. What about the other one (me, you or the child that handles it)? Every action on matter evokes some kind of associations, emotions or memories. For example tearing and cutting are probably perceived in different ways by the same person. Thus, each person has got some favourite actions she likes doing with a specific material. In the meantime, everyone will do the same action in her own way (with a certain speed, muscle tone, care, pressure, mood, focus, etc.). This is why every encounter is unique. Isn’t this amazing?
In the beautiful book “The spirit of matter”, Nona Orbach and Lilach Galkin deeply investigate just that: the connection between our inner world and materials. They write: Each individual has a way to internal dialogue, usually words, images and metaphors. Living a close relationship to art materials, we find ourselves conversing through them in our personal creative process, as well as when observing others’ development. Physical matter is not merely an object, tool, paste or powder. It is words taken from the concrete world, which undergo personalization and serve to express an internal world.
Now, imagine you wants to create (or you ask children to create) with a sheet of paper a specific product, for example a little boat of a certain shape. In this case, you will not really “see” that sheet in all its potential, as you are focused on your predefined goal and will use paper only as a means. Of course nothing bad with it… But the approach I am speaking about is something else. It is a mutual interaction in which both the two partecipants are playing, so that the material is not completely forced in a prior idea.
This could also be an interesting metaphor of a dialogue between two persons. If one of them is not interested in the other and only talks about himself without listening, whatever person he will have in front of him, he will say the same words. In the meantime, the other one will be totally passive and between the two there will not be any kind of exchange. Instead, being in relationship will open new and unexpected paths. Of course, there are many possible balances, symmetrical or not, between the two parts. For example, you could have a quite precise idea to realize, like a paper boat, but you will let the material suggest the better shape or dimensions, according to its characteristics.
So, how can you describe your dialogue with a material? Who leads, who follows? The leader and the follower can switch during the same creative process: how does this happen?
In the relational approach I tried to describe, the personality of matter meets the personality of the creator. Before the creative process takes place, both the potentials were already there, but silent. While transforming the material, you are making visible your unique essence; in the meantime, while the material is transformed, its nature unfolds.
Every human being holds within them a combined heritage of characteristics, likes and dislikes that make them who they are. Actions imprinted upon matter may represent this richness. All of these qualities, when assembled and marked down on paper, clay, etc., leave visual signs that create a unique ﬁngerprint. This essential imprint will develop and become enriched throughout our life, if given the chance. This is how the artist and art therapist Nona Orbach beautifully describes the unique essence that every person reveals through matter in the creative process. In other words, it is a mutual enrichment, respecting the specific potential and limits of both parties. An ecological, empathic approach towards world, to whatever big and tiny thing we meet.
Join The Grammar of Matter Course for dialoguing with materials! Life access, yearly updates and periodic free online meetings reserved to participants.