Handmade Conversations: Carol Barton, Paper Engineer

Posted by on May 15, 2012

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In our "Handmade Conversations" series, we ask amazing people in the craft, food and fashion industries a few questions that provide you with a glimpse into their world.

This week's Featured Person is Carol Barton, an author and paper engineer. Carol is the founder of Popular Kinetics Press, a brand dedicated to showcasing the beauty of the book form and teaching through pop-up books. Carol's stunning work is held in numerous collections, including The Smithsonian Institution and The Getty Museum. Additionally, she is the author of many books, including "The Pocket Paper Engineer" and "Five Luminous Towers." 

A young Carol playing with pots and pans
What was the first craft item you made?

It's hard to pinpoint the first one. I was always making things as a child: potholders, doll dresses, wooden toys. I distinctly remember a large house my sister Wanda and I made out of refrigerator boxes. The house had several rooms, and we cut doors and windows into the walls. We wallpapered the insides and made cardboard furniture. I think my love of architecture and mechanics derived from these early experiences. My father was a diesel engine mechanic, so he did a lot of building and deconstructing in his shop.

What is your art/craft medium of choice? Why do you prefer that one?

My artform is the artist's book, and I specialize in paper engineering (the design of pop-ups) and sculptural book forms such as the carousel book and the tunnel book. I love working with paper because it's such an inexpensive yet versatile material. It can be delicate or extremely strong, depending on how it's manipulated.

Who or what inspires your creativity?

My inspiration comes from varied sources: reading, historical references, functional objects (furniture, jewelry and kinetic toys), architecture and other artists' books. The book is a flexible framework for these influences and can accommodate a wide range of media, including photography, printmaking, mixed media, origami, creative writing, painting and illustration.

Carol Barton's "Five Luminous Towers, a Book to be Read in the Dark"
Which of your projects took the longest to finish?

My artist's book "Five Luminous Towers, A Book to Be Read in the Dark" took two years to complete. It required many different stages of development: writing the poems, designing the pop-up towers, engineering the lighting system that illuminates the text and towers. Another large project is the one I just completed: the writing and publication of three interactive books that teach readers how to design their own pop-ups. Also, "The Pocket Paper Engineer" workbooks took nine years to complete.
Carol's work studio
Tell us about your art/craft experience.

I think it's important for people to think about the cycles of their days and the seasons to figure out when they are most creative. I do my best work in the afternoons and early evenings, and I usually work for four to five hours. I reserve the fall for new creative projects and do most of my teaching during the spring and summer months. Everyone has their own creative rhythms, and recognizing that helps them to develop their craft.

What is your dream craft project?

I've always thought it would be fun to design large-scale pop-ups to use as sets for a ballet or theater production.

Describe your personal style in three words. 

Quirky, thoughtful, dimensional

In addition to art/crafting, what other talents do you have?

I enjoy gardening and traveling, and I am a real movie buff.

What advice would you give to aspiring craft authors?

In teaching, it's important to remember what it was like to be a beginner. I never assume people know the steps in making something, and try to explain each step thoroughly. Even if someone has experience with a process, it doesn't hurt to hear it explained in a new way or to see someone do it in a slightly different manner.

If you were only allowed to send out one tweet or Facebook post for the rest of the year, what would you say?

Learning to make pop-ups is fun for a lifetime.

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