Seen on the Street


Breaking the smooth surface, his head pops out of an upper plane, while several cymbals  pop out of others. An avenue near the top is deeply inset between arcs of step-like folds. Those arcs surround the busker and the viewer, placing us inside of a little urban niche.

All the cut lines are gentle curves, so as to emphasize  the centering effect of the curvilinear perspective, itself the effect of using a wide-angle camera lens. Fold lines always need to be straight in the one-piece kirigami format.

Turning the piece vertically, you would see this:


This work is the second part of my original series (also see Airshow).

This photo ocured in a news report about a band called Urban Funk Machine.

Printed on Red River 80 lb. Luster Card Duo #1986 in an Epson SC-P600.

All rights reserved by William M. James © 2018 .

Jets Paint Contrails Above a City Skyline


In a nearly tangible sense, these jets arise fast, high and vivid into the airspace far above a modern city. Although the original photo itself was a beautiful capture, the wonder of free flight seems amplified in the three dimensional sculpture. The third dimension has opened up a spatial fracture. The lofty but rigidly confining urban skyline very nicely offsets the wide-open, fluid domain of the airspace. The upper pictorial space is folded convex, and the lower space is folded concave, which provides an almost cinematic sense of uplift.

You can glimpse the internal design of the spaces in the left/right scan of the piece above. A vertical scan makes a different impression, almost like a spectator’s view.


Although it is usual to use right angle folds in Kirigami crafts, by using only 60 degree folds the positive spaces are nested in behind the negative foreground space. In the unmodified photo, perspective foreshortens the contrails back into the lower left. The pleating of the sky by the folding also suggests to me a visual simile for a sonic wave front being lead forward by the airplanes.  Or, in a different sense, the pleating also evokes  billowy cumulus clouds.

This design came to me because I was dissatisfied with the original version and had decided to try to do something different with it. There was still an unused flexibility in the paper structure, because contained in the design, there are actually two independently foldable Kirigami motifs. So, those can each be folded in two different ways.


In my first version, just below, the two Kirigami domains had been folded with the same polarity, so the jets and the skyline occupied one simple, continuous space.


Which was exactly how I saw that space in the original photo (credited below).  Have I  gilded a perfect lily; or has some value been added? You will decide.

Color trails oblique & spiral Pinterest ec8ca578c7d45f7b197c8802037c03c7

Photo credit: Mohamed Mostafa

Posted: April 16, 2015

Title: UAE, National Day Celebrations

Rights: Public

A 3D Quilt Made of Paper


With it’s pliable folds, the right angles can be changed from introverted to extroverted in many combinations. Pleasing asymmetries can be caused to appear. For example:


See them turn here.



An brief explanation of my methodology follows, if you like. The upper and lower forms have their inner and outer colors inverted. Two identical paper strips were printed with a row of colored rectangles, with different colors on the front and back sides. Although identical at first, I folded them in an opposite sense: all angles were folded in the opposite ways. When partially  folded, one strip looked this way:


These surfaces would faced outward when this upper module was fully folded.

The other side of that same strip looked like this:


All of these surfaces would be glued together to finish the upper module. These almost hidden colors show up only inside the middle pinches.

The lower module as was folded inversely, so its coloration is inside out vs. the upper one.

Copyrights William M. James, 2017.


Arches, Loops and Louvers

When any graphic is stretched over a three-dimensional folded Kirigami form, as I enjoy doing, its basic property of being anchored upon a flat ground plane is undermined. Pure visual form is bent or ‘refracted’ by clinging to the physical lattice of linked planes. A graphic form may be fragmented by the physical form, but it is not necessarily subverted entirely.  Instead, a tangible form and a graphic form can be merged in a way that develops new insight about them.

Here is a ‘popup’ base, made up of a group of five half-arches. The outer four parts intersect in the middle, where they form a secondary folding axis, upon which a fifth half-arch pops up.  I’ve shone a luminous aura of concentric, circular color fields over this form. This picture shows a captured image in Adobe Illustrator, as rendered in 3D using the Origami plug-in.



Such a simple, static thing, although pleasing as such, could serve as a good base platform for something more complex. I wanted to couple a translucent graphic image to it that would cling to it very loosely and lightly. Some great potential pairings were found when I considered images created by a 20th century master graphic artist, Josef Albers.

My first piece here references Albers’ woodcut, “Embraced” (1933). Albers’ graphic art is known for implying a third dimension in subtle and ambiguous ways. He would differently shade adjacent areas within outlines, so a shaded areas could belong to more than one plane.




My second piece here references Albers’ lithograph, “Shrine” (1942).





In these Kirigamis, you as a viewer are invited to reconstruct the referenced graphic, which cannot be seen in its entirety from any single angle of view. As if refracted through prisms, the lines can variously appear both broken or continuous, depending on a specific angle of view.  Albers’ consciously ambiguous shadings can still be enjoyed in the Kirigamis, but a viewer has to actively move his or her their head (or turn the piece) through a wide range of viewing angles (say, 60o horizontally by 30vertically) to take in all of these new implications.

The animation camera does a part of this work for you here. Such optics can be sensed by viewing my animations, yet they do not give you the same perceptive experience as does active viewing.

The outer color field also shines through from within both pieces. It can be glimpsed between the slats and in the wider openings, where it blends visually with the surface color field. Like the drawn graphic, it leads the viewer to look for the blending effects as seen from different angles. It’s other role is to show a positive space inside of the form, not a shadowy void.

Albers himself was fascinated with paper folding, and he gave popular classes about it.


A technical note. I conceived this form using a program called Popup Card Studio, which I learned to use by following a series of online tutorials. I applied graphic overlays to it in Adobe Illustrator. Popup Card Studio provides a built-in tool for drawing half-arches, which are made of steps. The step risers are designed to become gradually smaller toward one side of a half-arch (two half arches are usually joined at the top to make a full arch, but not so in this construction). 

I use the word “referenced” above to mean that my use of these graphics is consistent with the legal concept of “fair Use”. These pieces transform the viewer’s personal action toward and  perception of those referenced graphics. 

Flags in a sea breeze


frames-tone-crop-900x827_pixelsIn this paper sculpture, flags are flapping as though in an onshore sea breeze. They are seaman’s international maritime signal flags.  The borrowed painting, The Calm Sea was painted by Gustave Courbet in Normandy in 1869.

I played here with a formal model which was seen in a graphic art textbook.

Jackson 5.1.2_2B seven base folds

I re-arranged the elements to synchronize the 3D form with the picture. A second picture layer is attached behind the first layer to fill in the openings where the flags were folded out.

frontal view adjusted


Harmoniously Askew

Emma visited the “Defibrillator Performance Arts Gallery” in Chicago with Joshua, where he took this photo of her.

In Chicago March 2017

It’s almost like a charmed stage set, with lovely highlights and shadows, the bow arch and the shadow profile of her, even the little puff of vapor. And so, I’ve rendered it as a  Kirigami!


The flowing waters behind the pop-up form may evoke her feelings for the ongoing  performance. Might this piece also try to infer his feelings (the photographer’s) for her?

This is my first use of skewed forms in a one-piece, right-angle pop-up (a Kirigami). Without the photo on the front, it looks like this.

Basic form

The concept is shown by a simple design diagram, as the form is visualized when opened out flat. It would be so before doing the physical preparation for folding (that is, before cutting and scoring).

Diagram of Kiri



Call me Trouper

This old guy is a large Amazon Green parrot named Trouper. And vocally militant he can sometimes be. I had some fun scrambling his portrait to caricature my impression of his ‘dark side’. He looks so much sweeter in the original photo shown here [in my blog].


His claws and beak have drawn blood. “Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!” – Lewis Carrol

With my apologies to his indentured  caregiver, N.L.P.


A quickly paced technical tutorial on the method that I used in Photoshop is at



Crystalline Kirigami

Three paper shells comprise this crystalline 3-D model: the folded surface shell, folded middle shell and a flat back shell. It has two, nested interior volumes. One is behind the front shell, and the other, behind the middle shell.

In the digitally designed model, these shells were a sequence of three planes. Those  planes were linked into one continuous, accordion-folded zig-zag. I suppose the product of this interesting method could still be classified among all other Kirigamis, although some might surmise I’m bending the definition to fit. In the digital model, as visualized with the origami plugin, it is one inflected but unbroken object. I had to print, cut and fold three separate paper prints to make it, in practice. It would have been too cumbersome to handle with two hands, otherwise.


My recent post showed the same Kirigami form in a single shelled design. I imagined there still could be a way to impart more depth and volume than that one had. The outer ‘butterfly wing web’ was a fun design project while learning how to make a color gradient mosaic in Adobe Illustrator.

Strathmore 451-1 paper, watercolor textured, 8″ x 9″ unfolded; Epson P-600 pigment ink printer. Copyright 2017, rights reserved by William James. It’s OK to pin or link images to a noncommercial blog, and please credit this post as the source.


A classical form in an improvised space

The 2D pattern for this 3D volume developed as I played with the idea of a pyramid of interlocking planes.



It was my partner Betsy’s creative quilting practice that inspired me to put a batik-like graphic on a Kirigami popup. I picked the tonally coordinated color pallet for my pyramid, and then a vibrantly colored random network which seemed the best as my base image (credit: Adobe stock image bank, “Wired”).


Printed 20 cm x 20 cm flat.

Like a quilt, it will only ever be one sheet of paper (except for the backing sheet), even after folding as a 3D sculpture:


Folding a 3D form is a gradual process that takes a couple of hours. (In the diagram above: Black = cut; red = fold forward, blue = fold backward.)  Tensions arise, both physically and emotionally,  while trying to coordinate the gradual folding of more than 100 right angles. All of those angles most be partially folded in small changes through many cycles.  Like all Kirigami forms, one might either open it back out again to retrieve a single flat layer, or continue to collapse it inward almost to flatness, except for the thickness of four layers of folded paper.

A strong but disorderly web of vivid red links and nodes binds the pyramid to the seven edges of its two framing planes (one edge is shared). It appears as though the pyramid is nested into two sides of a partial outer box or prism. As both the pyramid and its ‘container’ are classical rectilinear forms, I was excited to find that the linking lines which connect those appear messy, improvised, exploratory, non-classical.

Text and images copyright William James, 2016; reproduction is allowed.

Rennaissance girl ISO radar boy for vivid copper patinas

Earthly contours seem to bake to warm and crusty orange in the sunlight. But when in shadow, this same topography appears fluid, more like a body of wind-rippled  water at night. Eerily greenish auroras billow across boundaries.  I like to imagine this as a conflation of a pagan icon from a Renaissance map with a data driven, aerial radar survey.

The vivid patinas of orange and green appeared spontaneously, without any treatment after etching. However, the etching fluid was already much used. I may never see this particular color effect again!

The dark blue resist film still there on this surface could be dissolved away to expose pure, shiny copper (see below). Other artists have advised me to leave this piece just as it is, to preserve the excitement of its strong contrasts.

When I had used exactly the same graphic image before, for the first time (below), copper surfaces that were actively etched by the chemicals took on a blackish cast, different to the orange and green.  Because I had stripped off the  blue resist film after etching, the lately-exposed bare copper slowly oxidized to a fetchingly iridescent sheen. The blob of blue in the center was a naive experiment with a patinating chemical.


This may display as a GIF animation. If not, here are the other angles:






Lines purposely etched into the copper allowed me to neatly fold the sheet with some slight angles and curves.   Because of folding, the visual drama of this darker piece is truly revealed only under dynamic lighting. (It’s supposed to display here as a GIF animation.)

Both pieces are 12.4 x 19.4 cm.

All images copyright William James, 2016.