The Sunflowers Are Watching

If you would slowly walk past this piece, you might say it’s a trippy one. It’s  spell is cast by seeming to turn itself inside out to follow your gaze. Or rather, it has two faces on the front, which are entwined symmetrically.


It’s kind of like this –


On my drawing board, its plan looks like this:

Sunflowers drawing board

The whole  piece will be folded from a single piece of printed paper. The upper part (the photo) will be printed on the front, and the pattern below will be printed on the back to guide my blade and my embossing tip.  The four colored shapes only emphasize that the structure is formed of four non-overlapping domains. Each will be folded separately.

This the first kirigami that I’ve done which can be displayed in a shadow-box frame.

(c) William James 2018, all rights reserved.


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. 

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



A cache of sunny cubes

A second sister to my recent prior floating cube piece. The whole relief is an intact, single piece of paper. A second flat graphic, attached behind the relief one, fills in the gap from which the relief sprang forth. It is not a pop-up.

A wider view is here.


Copyright William James 2017, general reproduction rights reserved, but images may be pinned or linked out elsewhere if  this post is credited as the source.

Cubes let the colors out

As always in Kirigami, only one sheet of worked paper makes the 3D object, and it is still intact. The folding of all the forms out and forward from the prime axis leaves a hole where that material was lifted away from the middle of the paper. The piece shown here is attached to an identical sheet behind it. This is done to fill the hole as though the sheet were both cut and uncut, and it enhances the 3D effect as follows.

Turning the piece,  one finds many unique angles at which the eye projects from a color streak on the 3D figure, back to its place of overlap on the two background planes. Follow the colored stripes outward as the colors merge in certain frames.


The cubes are sitting in a sunny space where they may be grazed by color streaks. Or, maybe the colors have just streaked out of them because they were opened?



Popping boxes

Happy holidays! Here’s a Kirigami of mock gift boxes, like a store window display. I’m avidly learning the basic methods for designing cut-and -fold pop-ups, these days. This is my first original Kirigami form.

In two dimensions, unadorned, it looks like this:


And like this with the graphics added:


… and when folded, like this in time and space:


All images copyright William James, 2016.


Kirigamis in Copper Plate

Traditionally, Kirigamis are made from paper, yet, perhaps they could be made from metal? What would the advantages be? A typical piece of paper is limited by having an even texture, color and thickness. Etched metal can display its own color, surface relief and texture. As is best known to print makers and jewelers, metal’s properties can be varied in hundreds of interesting ways. A metal sheet of thicker gauges isn’t fragile, like papers or foils. Many kinds of oxidizing agents and paints can be applied to its surface.  My own intention has recently been to translate to metals the photo-Kirigami fusion process I had developed in my paper projects, as were displayed in my 2015 blog posts.

Hand made Kirigamis in metal 

To start with, I made a version of Guy Petzall’s Ullagami pattern, ‘3×3 Obloid‘, in thinnish, gold tone aluminum foil, which I cut and scored by hand using an Exacto knife (dimensions: 7.7 cm w x 10.2 cm h before folding x 38 gauge foil).


Pleased with this little piece, I next got some copper plate which had been pre-treated with a lovely dark patina on the surface, and used it in following model. The structure Kirigami (or Ullagami) , is a version of Guy Petzall’s ‘Mandala 1’ design (dimensions 12.7 cm x 12.6 cm before folding x 5 mil thickness). It was hand cut and scored with a box cutter. Some people have liked the rounded folds which give it a more hand-made feel.


I was now ready to attempt a metal piece meant to combine: a) an original graphic design, b) an original Kirigami design, and c) a sturdy metal plate too thick for cutting by hand.

Chemically Etched Plates

To serve this purpose, I learned and adapted a completely different technique,  UV resist etching.  Sherri Haab‘s jewelry-making tutorial was useful; also I bought and used UV photo resist material from her store. The Kiri lines would be chemically etched instead of hand inscribed, and coincidentally the process would be used to apply my own graphic design elements. My first etched model was inspired by the textbook, “Cut and Fold Techniques for Graphic Designs“. To the model graphic I added mechanical motifs which suggest steam punk style, by shadowing-on some small watch parts during the UV resist step. The appearance or disappearance of the graphics was dramatically affected by varying the angle of the light.


The visible markings were etched into the depth of the metal.  Score lines guide folding but not cutting; those are needed to construct a Kirigami. Score lines that will be folded up/out will make the peaks seen from the front. Those that will be folded down/in will make the complementary valleys. Score lines are made by allowing the etch to incise into the surface, either only from the front (for out-set folds) or only from the back (for in-set folds). All score lines on both sides of the sheet must go only half way through the thickness of the plate. The thickness of metal that remains in the score lines after etching should yield to hand folding much as stiff paper does.

The through-cuts that entirely penetrate the plate, making horizontal and curved cut lines, are etched into both the front and back sides so they overlap lengthwise. Those must penetrate  halfway into the plate to meet within the thickness. The final etching time was found by simply noticing an interval until light was seen to pass through all of the cut lines, yet it was not seen through any score lines.

Next, I was very excited to work out a way to add a photographic component to the piece while using same process. Below is a frame removed from the featured animated image at the top of this posting. This is my first such successful piece (dimensions 8.7 cm w x 6.9 cm h x 20 gauge thickness). When lit from a certain angle it has a subtle iridescent patina.


In my first try, the piece was etched for too long:

Emma crouch flat plate overetched

Interestingly, the very thin, lacy ‘metal foam’ which formed in the woman’s body could be used in the future for dramatic effects. I couldn’t fold this piece, for the foam would have broken off at the folds. (Size before folding: 8.7 cm w. x 6.9 cm h. x 36 gauge thickness.)

All still photos and animations in this blog post are subject to copyright by William M. James, 2016.





Flow, elasticity, parcels of space

Upward, downward and forward flows

Right-angled reliefs

These Ulligami formats generally do not entail a major pivot axis of rotation for the piece.

Locomotive on 3X3 Obloid
Locomotive on 3X3 Obloid


In this cinematic treatment, with a foreshortened perspective, smoke shoots aloft to the treetops as the engine speeds toward the camera. Accentuating the mobilization, the smoke is floating atop 3D prisms, while the narrow central gap in the circles suggest two quick frames taken in instantaneous succession. To exaggerate the animation:

Steam Loco - 3X3 Obloid

The GIF animation can capture horizontal, vertical or mixed rotations. Both are limited in comparison to actual binocular experience of the real models. For example, two GIFs of color swooshes (on a 5X5 Eck Cross Ullagami), and below it, two GIFs of a rock climber (on 5X5 Obloid Spiral Ullagami):

Color swooshes - vertical panvertical pivot

Swooshes on 5X5 Eck Cross - horizontal turn

horizontal pivot

Rock climber on 5X5 Obloid spiral - vertical pivot
Rock climber on 5X5 Obloid spiral – vertical pivot

Climbers on 5X5 Obloid spiral, H pivot



When one holds such models in one’s hands. the natural thing is to want move it every which way, to explore the emergent parcels of space and their mutual perspectives.

‘Zebra’s eye’ (on 7X7 Zigzag Ullagami) conjures free-form elastic the stripes like rubber bands projecting across the tops of a zigzag relief of delicate paper bands.

Zebra eye

Below is ‘Star Clipper’ (on 3X3 Obloid), as pictured from my precarious seat on top of the bowsprit (at the very front end of the ship). We were then under sail toward Grand Canary Island in the Atlantic Ocean. The model’s setbacks seem to heighten the loftier upper sails.

Star Clipper - 3X3 Obloid

Star Clipper from bow


Here’s a pair of Olympic Ice skaters doing a very difficult thrown jump (also on 5X5 Obloid spiral Ullagami). She is smiling while spinning two meters up in midair !

Skate throw jump 5X5 Obloid Spiral
Pairs event skaters do a throw jump – 5X5  Obloid Spiral Ullagami
Woman rocky perch
Emma in Italy – 9X9 Obloid Zigzag Ullagami


Original photo

Here is a landscape, shown both right side out and inside out. The photo was taken on a country lane in the fall. Although the normally folded piece is the more sculptural, the inversion piece opens up inwardly, orienting the beholder within it, and confronting more active folks with a challenging hike. 

Orange trees 7X7 Spiral + fold
Lane in Fall on 7X7 Spiral Ullagami – normal folding
Orange Trees 7X7 Spriral -Fold
Lane on 7X7 Spiral Ullagami – inverted folding
Ornage symmetric tree road Japan
Photo found on Pinterest

The next piece is reverse-folded, and like that above, although it is less  sculptural, this inversion piece opens up inwardly, orienting the beholder within its spaces. 

Antelope Canyon, UT - KopiSusu - inverse fold

The Wave Utah
The Wave, Utah

Obliquely tessellated reliefs – Torsion Ullagamis

The following pieces are photo transformations into the Torsion series. 

Very gentle seepage of seawater is implied by elevation with the Torsion 5 Ullagami. The photo is of my partner Betsy’s feet once seen on Cannon Beach in Oregon (the shiny blob is a jellyfish):

Feet On Beach - Torsion 3
Betsy’s feet – Torsion 5 Ullagami


Torsion 5 Ullagami
Stamps 1 Torsion 3
Hearts and Minds. Custom rubber stamps on Torsion 5 Ullagami

Here is a photo of the Potomac River near my Maryland home. The scene is colonial era fish ladder built in a side channel. I rotated and mirrored Guy Petzall’s Torsion 3 Ullagami,  to align it to the flow of the current, which gushes forward.

Potomac River Chute - Torsion 3
Potomac River on Torsion 3 Ullagami
Torsion 3 Ullagami
Rock Climber v2 Torsion 3
Photo credit: on Vexilloid Ullagami

GIFs were made by me using the program, Webrotate 360 SpotEditor, available for free at

All Ullagami patterns used were purchased at Guy Petzall’s Etsy store

All works shown are © William James, 2015.. Creative Commons License Type BY  Attribution