In Paul Johnson’s Ark

Paul-Johnson’s-Ark, detail

This past Tuesday the North Main Gallery in Salem. New York hosted an Art Party for Paul Johnson’s work, which included an animated presentation by the artist himself.

Paul Johnson’s opening

Johnson’s  Noah’s Ark pop-up book was part of the presentation, though not part of this generous show. During his talk, Johnson first showed us the ark as a completely flat piece, then with a dramatic flick of the wrist, he expanded into a structure that was so detailed and dimensional that we gasped. He threatened to teach us how to make one of our own in the workshops the following day.

Model for students, Paul Johnson simplified ark
Model for students, Paul Johnson simplified ark

Which, fortunately, was not true. We were challenged enough with this diminished version, especially when it came to filling it with animals.

Keith’s and Susan’s Arks (I think)

Rather than make two of every animal, Keith filled his ark with cattle couples, and Susan feautured Noah. Each of the dozen students came up with their own solutions.

We also made a pop-up theater card, which Johnson successfully taught us in ten minutes flat (lunch was in the offing).

Model for Pop-Up Theater Card
Model for Pop-Up Theater Card

And then there was what he called the Vaudeville Theater, which gave us a chance to try out the dimensional slot-and-tab techniques that Johnson uses in many of his mulit- layered books.

Vaudeville  slot-and-tab Theater construction directions by Paul Johnson
Vaudeville slot-and-tab Theater construction directions by Paul Johnson

The highlight of the day for me was asking Paul Johnson about the dovetail joint technique that he sometimes uses to create hinges. I had studied the look of this method of building a hinge, and but my attempts at making mine work had failed entirely. Left to my own devices I know would have persevered beyond reason to figure this out, so I was, gulp, really really happy that I could actually show him the self-disassembling box that I had sort of put together.  Turns out that my way of thinking about the dovetail joint was all wrong. If you can imagine a dovetail joint you will know that it is made with two trapezoids: one negative, one positive. I had wrongly envisioned that these two trapezoids echo each other exactly in their shape. Instead, what’s going on is that top(short side) of the positive dovetail/trapezoid is the same length of the longest (base) side of the negative dovetail. If this made no sense to you, well, know that it made no sense to me either. So Paul showed me a model that he had prepared for just this kind of inquiry (aw, there’s always one…) and gave it to me since no one else had asked. Thank you! Passing on the favor I made this template:

Dovetail template for making hinged panels, inspired by Paul Johnson
Dovetail template for making hinged panels, inspired by Paul Johnson

from which I made this lovely box which lies flat…

Paper panels, with dovetailed attachments
Paper panels, with dovetailed attachments

.and then opens into three dimensions. Yeah!

Paper Box with Dovetail hinges
Paper Box with Dovetail hinges

I made this 4″ cube with Hammermill 80 lb Color Copy Digital Cover Paper. Paul Johnson makes his constructions with 140 lb Saunders Watercolor Paper.
Okay, this is it for my Paul Johnson posts. Fact is I could probably do another 20 posts of the books in this show (which is up until October 4) but I won’t…

the Good-bye Hippos on Paul Johnson's Noah's Ark
..the Good-bye Hippos on Paul Johnson’s Noah’s Ark

…so it’s time to say goodbye. And many thanks to Ruth Sauer’s North Main Gallery for opening the doors for this show, and hurrah to Paul Johnson for visiting our little village of Salem here in upstate New York, and thanks to Ed for his hand in making this all come together well. What a gift!

Book Art · Book Artists

Jonah, the Whale, and Paul Johnson

Jonah and the Whale by Paul Johnson. Photo by Paula Beardell Krieg
Jonah and the Whale by Paul Johnson

Yes, this sculptural construction is a book. Ed was setting up this piece at Paul Johnson’s show at North Main Gallery in Salem, New York (up until October 4) when I questioned him, because I just didn’t see how this piece could possibly “close.” So he closed it for me. It’s many thick pages long  –here, below is a peek of some of the inner pages…

Inside Jonah and the Whale by Paul Johnson
Inside “Jonah and the Whale ” by Paul Johnson

… which includes a magnificent view of the whale’s tail–and I couldn’t fathom how this undulating, many layered, detailed piece could be shut. In the interest of showing off as much of this book as is reasonable in a blog post, here’s another view of the book with the explanation that I needed in order to structurally understand what’s going on to support the visuals.

Jonah and the Whale, by Paul Johnson, left side
Jonah and the Whale, by Paul Johnson, photo take from the left side

The thick spine of this book doubles as the whale that is about to consume poor Jonah. The alternating  right and blue stripes on the pole, which are on either side of the whale/spine are hinges, known in the bookmaking world as piano hinges, which allow the book to open and close.  Enough said about that. Now for a closer look at the artwork.

detail of Jonah and the Whale by Paul Johnson
detail of Jonah and the Whale by Paul Johnson

These pages, I’m told, are constructed out of heavy weight watercolor paper.

Poor Jonah
a close up of Jonah and the Whale by Paul Johnson

Here’s poor Jonah, just before the decisive moment.  I’ve noticed the house-like structures in many of Johnson’s books: the sweetness of these little structures resonate with the homebody part of me ( I love my home).

Ursula's Garden by Paul Johnson
Ursula’s Garden by Paul Johnson

Here’s another piece in the show with a little house. The writing up top identifies this a Johnson’s mother-in-law’s garden. The writing to left says ” In total contrast to the brilliant colors in my unique pop-up books, my editions are softer in tone comprising pencil crayon and delicate penwork illustration. The laser printed originals are hand cut and hand assembled.”

One more view of Jonah before I sign off on this post. I doubt I will ever again have the opportunity to see this extraordinary piece, so I want to keep these images of it around.

detail of Jonah and the Whale, Paul Johnson
detail of Jonah and the Whale, Paul Johnson

If you are happening to read this post on the date that I’ve written it, and you are within driving distance, this message is for you:

ART PARTY at North Main Gallery, Salem, NY on Tuesday September 23, 6-8 p.m.

You are invited! Paul Johnson will be in the building, giving a talk and showing us books that have never been seen before. At least that’s what I’ve been told. Ed Hutchins assures me that there will be plenty of Saratoga water, local cheeses and other gastronomic delights on hand to round out the evening. You can take it on my word that there will be lots of good company.

If you aren’t nearby, I have some good news for you, too. I have a handful of catalogs that I would like to give away. I will send out copies to up to eight people who request one. I don’t expect I will be inundated by requests, but if I am I will give preference to anyone who has previously left a comment on this blog at any time before today.

I will be attending Johnson’s workshop on Wednesday, so expect one more Paul Johnson post soon!

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.