Paper art and book alteration


This is Linda Toigo. She has been living in England for over ten years and, after several years spent in London, she moved to Bristol, three hours drive to the west, i.e. to the city where the famous board was invented. She was probably naturally destined to end up there, i.e. to a place that welcomed and stimulated her interest for paper, which began as early as 2009.

Linda Togo was born in Trieste, where she studied at the classical lyceum to then move to Milan to study architecture at the local Polytechnic University. She soon understood that she was more interested in the creative, rather than in the structural part, yet she continued her studies and enrolled in courses that were more in line with her interests, managing to pass her most complex exams until she graduated.

Linda Togo worked as urban planning architect for some years, until a friend made her know London and convinced her to study for a year in a school of arts and design, i.e. the London College of Communication. It was there that she discovered the joy of printing and book creation and learnt how to bind her books and hand print her illustrations. «My approach to learning was very experimental», she says. «Every test, and every mistake, were welcome and even encouraged. I studied my material of choice, i.e. paper, with passion and amusement. I discovered the material beauty of books and learnt how to build my paper structures. My end-of-year work was the revisiting of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, in which the reader was requested a higher level of interaction simply when browsing the pages, with letters to open, booklets to combine, transparencies and mirrors. To access the book’s last chapter, the reader had to tear the pages and open the pages contained inside, thus choosing to renounce the integrity of the book to disclose its content».

Linda Togo then moved from London to Bristol, i.e. a «lively and artistic city, much smaller than the capital, and yet full of beautiful initiatives and child-friendly» – the artist has two little kids, a 3-year-old and a child of 10 months. Plus, «nature around Bristol is extraordinary, you can reach the woods in few minutes and the sea in half an hour: everybody cycles here in spite of the numerous hills and the long autumn rains. People smile a lot and has more time to stop and chat with foreigners».

She now shares her workshop with about fifty other artists and designers in an old warehouse that has been turned into a creative space near the city center: «Each of us is a specialist in a specific field, and it is wonderful to walk along the corridor every morning and observe the various materials piled up in every corner: pieces of cloth, armchairs, theatre costumes, pieces of wood, paintings, plants, frames, illustrations… This is a constant source of inspiration and a network of support and collaboration».

Paper is at the core of her work and her creativity is expressed in book art, paper art and illustrations. Let’s revisit with her the steps of her refined evolution in this interview.

Linda, when did you start processing paper?

«In 2009 during my studies at the London College of Communication. While I was exploring my capacities through experimentation, I was also discovering a new city, i.e. London, which had plenty of areas and corners to explore. Small shops full of second-hand items where one of my favourite destinations. For a few pounds I often found books of any kind, which became the basis for my experimentations: the paper of books, once a container, had become a material to discover».

How was your passion born?

«Slightly after the end of my studies in London I was invited to talk about my work on Jekyll and Hyde at a conference on paper and its uses in art at Birkbeck University. For the first time, my book was not considered a graphic product, but rather a work of art. The recognition of the artistic value of my work has encouraged me to delve deeper into my creative potential and I continued to use paper as my preferred material of expression: paper is a fantastic material, which is fragile and long-lasting at the same time; it is bi-dimensional, and yet it can acquire a third dimension just by slightly bending it; it is a noble and ancient material, but it is at the same time easily available, economical and democratic.

Very diverse communities from diametrically opposite locations in the world use paper cut as an expression of the popular art, and for centuries they have used it to decorate windows, churches or entire cities with pieces of cut paper: from Papel Picado in Mexico to Wycinanki in Poland, from Scherenschnitte in Germany to Jianzhi in China and Taiwan».

What techniques do you use?

«The common element in my work is the alteration of paper, which I carry out mainly through a cutter and very sharp surgical blades. A self-healing mat is fundamental, as are various tools to pierce, bend, sew and burn paper.

When altering books I consider paper as a sculpture material, which I carve away from the initial volume with thin cuts until I get to the desired shape. I am fascinated by the possibility to initiate a dialogue with all the levels already present in the book as an object: images, text, print, as well as interactions with the readers who have held the book in their hands before me.

I sometimes add my images in pencil, acrylic paint pen or with manual printing methods, like linoleum engraving, or I use old illustrations, which I directly print on the pages of the book by overlapping them to pre-existing images and text.

The paper cut illustrations have been initially designed on light-weight paper sheets. Once all details are defined, I use this trace to cut the design from the support chosen: I work with coloured papers, boards or with large sheets obtained from book pages glued together».

What are the stages of your work?

«The design stage is the most complicated, as every element must be connected with the others and create a organic whole.

The cutting stage is long, laborious and meditative. With patience and concentration, and supported by the right music, I cut paper by following a pencil trace with Swann Morton no.11 blades, and I change them often in order to maintain a sharp cut. Certain paper cuts require days of work and dozens of blades. I try not to make mistakes, but if a cut goes in the wrong direction I try and adjust my design to incorporate the sudden change.

I like to work on different scales: I create books and illustrations that can be accommodated in a frame, as well as big rolls and installations covering entire walls».

Book art, paper art and illustrations… Let’s start from book art, which features real works of art. Examples are “collins family cookery”, “modern economic society” “ballroom dancing”. How have works of art like these conceived? What technique and materials have you used?

«Several works of art take their shape from the original book; title, cover, book theme, type of paper and illustrations inspire and guide my work.

I usually lay the book on the table and observe it, browse it and smells it. I read some chapters and identify illustrations that I would like to appear in the altered object. I am aware of the destructive action I am about to perform, therefore I study the best way possible to respect the nature of the book. When I am satisfied, I take a deep breath, mount a new blade and start cutting.

“Collins Family Cookery” and “Modern Economic Society” have originated in this way.

Moving from the top to the bottom, I have cut organic shapes one page at a time and made sure I protected the underlying sheets by adding a thin rigid plastic sheet, i.e. a styrene, and deviated the trace by a millimetre as long as I was cutting towards the inside of the volume.

The cut paper has thus turned into a landscape rich in valleys, caves, letters and images.

“Ballroom dancing” was created with a different technique: I carefully cut some pages at regular intervals along the line. I then printed some images taken from books on botanics on these pages using an office printer; I then put the pages back in place with a thin bio-adhesive layer. Finally, I carefully cut the images around their edges to create a composition of paper flowers inside the book».

Let’s talk about Paper Art: what is the difference between Paper Art and Book Art?

«Book Art is a form of art that uses books to express a concept. In some cases books are created (Artists’ Books), while in others they are destroyed or altered (Book Alteration).

Paper Art is, instead, a form of express that uses paper as raw material by exploiting its physical properties to create small-scale images and forms or big works like walls. Books are, obviously, made of paper and paper works of art can be books, that is why it is often easy for the two concepts to overlap and intertwine».

How was “A Pop-Up Breakfast” conceived and how did you implement it?

«“A Pop-Up Breakfast” is a pop-up book that originated from the collaboration with a Dutch musician and an Israeli director. It was designed and built together with other objects for a music video for Saturday Morning, i.e. a melodic ballad that deals with ordinary life feelings and beauty.

The protagonist of the book is a young woman, who happens to find the book in an old book store, brings it home and, while browsing it on the table still set for breakfast, she takes her boyfriend inside the 3D scenes built on its pages.

I had already applied the pop-up technique for previous projects, but not on this scale. Before creating the book, which is about 40×60 cm, I made several small mock-ups to search and optimize structures and opening mechanisms. I studied several paper engineering projects and applied the techniques I learnt to my ideas.

My style can be recognized from the pages of old books, in which I printed images taken from encyclopaedias, illustration books and digital archives.

The principle at the basis of pop up books is very simple: folds made in the right place which are capable of lifting whole structures and creating breathtaking movements when opening the pages. Theory, though, has to be combined with the knowledge of materials and a long experience: the masters of this technique have perfectioned it in decades of study and work, and I have just started practising it».

As regards illustrations, instead, some illustrations have been created for “Olga di carta”: can you tell us how this collaboration originated?

«The Salani publishing house put me in contact with the writer Elisabetta Gnone, who was looking for a style of illustrations in line with her children’s book Olga di Carta. I prepared some samples that she liked, and that is how the collaboration started. I made the illustrations for the three series volumes, the first and third in color and the second in black and white.

The first part of my process consisted in reading and understanding the text, as well as producing increasingly detailed samples of the illustration that I would then cut.

As soon as the sketches were revised and then approved, I could finally cut the illustrations: the sketch was copied in pencil on a white fine-grained sheet of paper of 140 gsm.

I then started the long and meticulous cutting process, which required great concentration and did not allow any mistakes. For the backgrounds I chose coloured cardboards on different levels to create bas-reliefs that would accompany and give depth to the illustrations.

The illustrations, published in groups of three, describe several moments of Olga’s journey; for each moment I chose a precise colour sensation and used papers in the same colour; some colours keep on repeating from one group to the other so as to guarantee consistency to the whole book.

Finally, the pictures: for each painting lights should be regulated to the millimetre to create fine plays of shades and lights, to draw the attention to the strength of the material, the grain of the paper and the light contact between one level and the other».

Who are your clients?

«Most of the times I work on commission for clients who have seen my works of art on Instagram or in an art gallery, and would like to have one for themselves. I also have an Etsy store, where I sell smaller pieces and editions, and I participate in trade shows for artist books to sell my limited editions, as well as to get in touch with local artists and their works.

I love working for publishing houses and following a specific brief while maintaining my creative autonomy, and seeing my works in book stores or in the hands of unknown individuals».

Do you also organize shows or exhibitions?

«To me, it is always very important to participate in collective exhibitions, which give me the chance to get in touch with extraordinary artists and curators. At the moment, a paper cut illustration of mine that is about three metres long is in Taiwan, where next December it will be displayed together with the works of Taiwanese and Japanese paper artists. I also invest a lot of time and energy in the organization of my personal exhibitions: this allows me to focus on an organic set of works, which are often created on purpose. The display area is very important, so I always try to create an all-embracing installation that enables my visitors to interact and have fun.

Besides traditional display areas, I have exhibited in the shop-windows of stores, book stores, offices and once even in the bell tower of a church».

What are your future projects?

«After several months, in which I was on maternity leave, now it’s time to go back to work. I have several ideas in mind: illustrated books, working on my editions and finding the best place for a new exhibition, maybe in Bristol or finally in Italy. I am always open to new collaborations, which often occur by chance, and I really look forward to find out what awaits me».