Today we're catching up with one of our incredibly talented paper engineers Glen Coleman. We wanted to get to know a little more about Glen and the world of paper engineering, what inspires him and how his intricate creations come about! So grab a cuppa and read on for more!
Where do you live/work?
I live in the Southeast corner of the UK, in the middle of Kent. By day, I work at a local
secondary school as their Art, Design & Technology Technician. By night, I work from
home as freelance creative paper engineer & toy designer.
What do you love about working there?
Its great to be able to support the kids as they work on their practical projects. Their enthusiasm and excitement is a joy to see as they learn new making skills for the first time. They love making things… After the day job, I get to experience that same enthusiasm and excitement for myself when I get to design and make something cool for a client. I love making things too…
What are your dislikes?
I'm a, 'glass half full’ kinda guy. So tend not to dwell on the negatives. It’ll all work out OK in the end…
How did you get into paper engineering? Did you study or are you self-taught?
I’ve been making things from paper and cardboard ever since I was 7 years old and am constantly teaching myself new skills even now. I have a degree in Three Dimensional Design which covered loads of different materials and techniques but still prefer working with paper and cardboard.
It was Weetabix that actually got me hooked on paper engineering, way back in the 80’s. Breakfast time back then was almost akin to Christmas morning thanks to an abundance of promotional gifts found within most cereal packets of the era. Back then Weetabix launched a new animated advertising campaign and introduced us all to, Dunk, Bixie, Crunch, Brains & Brian. aka. 'The Neet Weet Gang'.
As part of one of their promotions Weetabix printed, ‘cut-out and make’ models of these characters onto the back of the packaging. Each packet had a different character to make and collect. It was a genius idea, and an eleven year old me was hooked.
Once I had collected and made the full set, I began to understand how these net patterns worked and remember using these techniques and templates to create my own custom variations. It then dawned on me that I could make my own ‘toys’… 36 years later, I've been making a living out of all these accumulated skills...
What do you love most about your work?
The challenge. No two projects are ever the same, and paper engineering can utilise a wide variety of both constructional and mechanical techniques, from pop-up books to origami. I really love discovering a creative solution that best solves our clients requirements.
How do you work – what are your techniques?
I prefer to work digitally because it's is very accurate and measurements are a key
component within paper engineering. It is also much quicker to make any alterations if
ever they're required. When I receive a clients brief the first thing I always do is a bit of research. This usually means saucing tonnes of imagery based on the project's theme. These images will help me to generate some initial thoughts. After doodling a few ideas onto a sheet of paper I usually jump right in and start cutting out some shapes, stick them together and create an initial sketch model or two. These are very rough paper models that are often just taped together so that they can be quickly reshaped using a pair of scissors and easily dismantled if needed.They help me explore and experiment with the shape of these net patterns and how they interact and connect with each other.
When I think I’m close to a solution, I prefer to digitise the paper templates that I've created. After I have scanned them into the computer, I'll trace around them in Illustrator and begin to re-size them, making them dimensionally accurate to the within tolerances I need for the assembled structure to work properly.
Once done, the blank prototype can be printed out onto the correct thickness of card, assembled & tested. This process is repeated if any further alterations are required until the client and I are happy.
The paper engineer may also be required to provide the client with additional information and files once the prototype has been completed. Especially when creating pop-up books. These files are often illustrator guides, die cutter guides, nesting plans and assembly instructions. Each file supports the next chain in the manufacturing process in order to get a product to market.
What is your favourite thing to create?
For me it's not so much the 'thing' but more about the construction method. Simple slot together designs are always a joy to work on. The challenge there is trying to creatively disguise the slots, tabs & joints.
Are there any tricky parts to the job?
It can be tricky to predict when the next job is coming because market trends tend to ebb and flow. One minute your services and skills are in constant demand. The next, you might not hear a peep from anyone for ages... Hence the day job.
What or who are you inspired by?
Illustrators and concept artists' personal work. Their passion projects if you will. I’m constantly looking online, seeing what I can find. I love all the different art styles, especially their fun, creative design ideas and am constantly thinking, “Oh! That’ll make a great model” or “I’d love to make a pop-up book out of that”…
Do you have a favourite author or illustrator?
At the moment it's Ian McQue. Ian is a concept artist working within the computer games industry, but it’s the work he does in his spare time that really captures my imagination. Ian loves to design and illustrate flying ships, floating dockyards, and ramshackle robots. It’s not clear if they all belong in the same world or not, He likes to keep that to himself, but he sells books and prints of this personal work online. They’re awesome! Some of his designs have even been turned into garage kits. (which I’ve also bought and added to my growing collection).
What were your favourite books as a child?
I wasn't an avid book reader as a child but did read A LOT of comics. Especially anything to do with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Duckula or Danger Mouse.
Still got my Duckula comics…
What do you like to do in your spare time when you’re not working?
Er? Spending the money I’ve earn’t… I treated myself to a 3D printer this year. This will help me push a few of my own personal projects forward which is what I’m usually tinkering on when I get a bit of spare time to myself.
Do you have three tips for those also wishing to pursue a career in paper engineering?
Sheet materials can only be bent/curved in one direction. Learning about paper engineering is a great skill to have because you start to understand this in practical terms and learn how best to cut this material so that it can bend and curve in the directions you need. Once you master these ‘pattern cutting’ techniques you can practically make anything and in any sheet material. This will also open your career paths far beyond just paper engineering. From Costume designer to Architect, they all experiment with paper first as they begin to explore how their designs can work as a three dimensional object.
My tips for you would be:
1. "Practice makes perfect": The more you make, the better you get. There's loads of free downloadable paper craft on the Internet now-a-days. Try to make some of them. As you do, you'll learn about their various construction techniques and styles. Hopefully you’ll become inspired to experiment and create designs of your very own.
2. Tools: Accidents generally happen because of blunt tools. Change your cutting blades often. Cutting through paper and card will blunt them quicker than cutting through any other material. Oh, and don’t rush. Take your time cutting out your shapes. It’s all about accuracy not speed. I would also recommend investing in a large A1 sized self healing cutting mat, a metal ruler, and an embossing tool which will make those all important crisp fold marks. A Japanese Hole punch is also a very useful tool to have in your tool box at some point in the future too.
3. "If you make it, they will come": Get your own work “out there”. Social media makes this so easy to do and its often free. So there are no excuses. Who knows what opportunities will fall your way as a result.
I had noticed that there was no Red Dwarf paper craft online so the first paper model that I ever posted onto the internet was a full sized portrait of Kryten. Later, as word spread, a german publishers asked me to contribute to their latest paper craft book. Robert Llewellyn, the actor who played Kryten had posted some great comments online about my project. I even met him at a convention a few years later, and gave him the prototype. In return he gave me a signed copy of his new book, “Man in the Rubber Mask”. Later he even posted a tweet to me to say thank you.I could never have predicted in a million years that any of this would happen as a result of just designing this one particular paper model… Lets see what you can do!
What was the last book you read? What did you think?
It was an awesome graphic novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley, called, ‘Seconds’. This is his next graphic novel after having written the Scott Pilgrim series, which got turned into a movie. Seconds tells the story of a talented chef, Katie, who is opening a new restaurant. But, things start to go wrong. After finding a mysterious box containing a note book, instruction card and a mushroom. Katie discovers how to change the mistake she made that day. Before bed, she writes down her mistake in the note pad. Eats the mushroom and then falls asleep. The next day, life continues as if her mistake and its consequences had been wiped from history. Unfortunately Katie now wants to make things perfect which is against the rules… She is about to experience the unintended consequences of her good intentions…
I love Bryan’s playful writing style. For example, in this book the lead character can hear the exposition the narrator is telling us, and is constantly contradicting ‘him’. It was a fun read with great artwork.
What’s your ultimate dream?
There are number of projects I would love to be able to get to market. From instructional books about making various themed masks & costume elements for cosplayers. I have a couple of Boardgames ideas too that I would love to be able to produce. But it would be really cool to go full circle and have one of my cut-out and make designs printed onto the back of a cereal packet…
We hope you enjoyed learning more about the world of paper engineering - we certainly did! Do check out more of Glen's remarkable work here! Our paper engineers offer a wealth of experience and talent so please don't hesitate to drop us a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org for any of your paper engineering needs!