Book Art · Book Artists

Paul Johnson’s Outlier Pop-Ups

Detail of Paul Johnson Pop-up Book
Detail of a Paul Johnson Pop-up Book. Can you see what’s going on here at the edge of the book?

“A pop-up needs a fold:” this is what I say whenever I  begin showing a class how to make a pop-up. Ha! Turns out I was wrong!  Paul Johnson’s  show at the North Main Gallery in Salem N.Y. has authoritatively proven me to be completely mistaken. Throughout this generous celebration of structurally engineered books  there is not a fold, in or out of sight.


This is not a show of books with pages that turn to reveal a sequence of cleverly folded and glued structures that seem to magically jump off the page. Instead, in many cases, the books themselves begin as appearing rather flat, then they simply explode into space. And it’s not folds or glues that are responsible for these feats. It’s …

HInged Roof, Paul Johnson
Hinged Roof, Paul Johnson

hinges. Well bust my britches, I never thought about creating non-folded hinges for pop-ups  The roof piece above is joined together by making opposing slits in two separate pieces of paper. Johnson also makes good use of piano hinges -this link is a piano-hinge-tutorial by Wendy Southin- as well as dovetail joints, which I have to say I have never seen a bookbinder use in paper engineering.

PauL Johnson book, detail of attachments
Paul Johnson book, detail of attachments

It was not just a few books here, but rather a plethora of book structures and book sculptures, each one as unusual as inventive as any I’ve seen. Now I know I haven’t stepped back here and given you much of the big picture: that’s more than I can process for one post. The overall look of the show is stunning, as is each book in the show. But those photos will have to wait for a later post. It’s the details that I am so intrigued with today.

Cinderella's-tricycle, Paul Johnson
Cinderella’s-tricycle, Paul Johnson

This show, it’s quite a ride. Up until October 4.

Books written by Pual Johnson
Books written by Paul Johnson

Oh, and if you are an educator and you are wondering if this is the same Paul Johnson who writes prolific amounts about Literacy and Book Arts, yes, this is him.

8 thoughts on “Paul Johnson’s Outlier Pop-Ups

    1. I’m planning to post more views of the show later this month…the Cinderella’s Trike is one of several pieces that are playfully sculptural. I think you will be delighted to see what else he’s come up with. I stopped in at the show again today (without my camera) and was riveted by his small editioned books, and how he’s played with some familiar folding structures but added completely unexpected approaches to them to come up with objects that expands my appreciation of possibilities. By the way, I think it’s wonderful that you and I and Angie are all from different continents but still are able to connect here in this post. I will be sure to remember to send your regards to Paul Johnson when I take his workshop.


  1. I’ve been a big fan of Paul Johnson for years. He was a tutor at Manchester Polytechnic when I trained as a teacher and I even had opportunity to exhibit some work beside him in an exhibition dedicated to paper…. It was at Burnley Mechanics, title and date lost in mists of time around 1988/9?
    Fab post – reminded me of all the book making workshops I’ve done in the past too, I must revisit them!!!


      1. That would be rather lovely!!! I worked with a school in Manchester about 6 years ago where some of the staff were lucky enough to go to his workshops – he ran them in his home and they had tea and cake in his kitchen – what a hero!!!!


  2. Inspiring! I hope that he writes another book and publishes information on these innovations for those of us who don’t live near him or his interesting exhibition. If I could make some variation of these techniques with my students, I know that they would be motivated to try to make their own models.


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