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Rock (make believe) – Paper – Scissors: The Art of Children's Pop-Up Book Engineer Bruce Foster

“My children have never torn up a pop-up book because we would look at them together and they understood that the pop-up book was a delicate craft, a special hand-made thing,”  says Bruce Foster, paper- engineer.  He’s sculpted the page spreads of  more than 40 pop-up books, including a graphic novel.  He’s  also known for movie-related pop-up projects.

Read the interview with Bruce and see the opening sequence from “Enchanted” at the How To Be a Children’s Book Illustrator blog.

Bruce has done all the paper-sculpting for a new pop-up book celebrating the Harry Potter movies.  Harry Potter – a Pop-Up Book is due out in November —  three days before the release of the new movie.  Illustrations for the book were painted by Andrew Williamson, who’s been the lead concept artist for all of the Harry Potter movies.

A pop-up book requires teamwork, Bruce explains, beginning with the paper engineer’s white paper mock-up or dummy for the page spreads. The illustrator must then illustrate the shapes — the puzzle pieces that will be used to assemble the 3-D page spreads.

"Gutenber'gs Gift"

Bruce sculpted the paper scenes with moving parts for "Gutenberg's Gift" by Nancy Willard and illustrated by Bryan Leister

The video below  from an ongoing Smithsonian Institution exhibit on the art and science  of pop-up books, Fold, Pull, Pop and Turn features Foster and pop-up artist Chuck Fischer working together on  the book Angels.

Later in the day after our visit in his studio, Bruce joined me and my brothers and sister in law for a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, where we listened to a gallery talk by Jon Evans  on “The Interactive Book.”

Evans is the director of the museum’s Hirsch Library, where one can make an appointment to see some of the world’s most intriguing interactive books by artists ranging from pop artist Jasper Johns to color and design gurus Josef Albers and Carlos Cruz Diez.

Evans demonstrated one of the 250 editions of the “string books” of book artist and book arts scholar Keith A. Smith.  Smith referred to them as “no picture books.”  There’s a video of another one of the string books below.

“It does away with ink and text and becomes a quiet,  meditative book,” Evans says.  Strings run through punched holes in various configurations throughout the pages. The book’s content?   “The light and shadows of the strings and their interplay. The tone changes as you go through,” Evans explains.

Other interactive books included one with 19th century type face and Victorian era silhouettes —  black cutouts ack  depicting scenes of Antebellum slavery life —  by silhouette artist Kara Walker.

Another by artist John Baldessari consists of accordion-fold postcards with still images from movies and TV) that allows the reader to assemble any story sequence or ending he wishes.

Jon Evans, director of the Hirsch Library of the Houston Museum of Fine Arts discusses pop-up projects of modern American artists in a gallery talk, "the Interactive Book"

Jon Evans, director of the Hirsch Library of the Houston Museum of Fine Arts discusses pop-up projects of modern American artists in a gallery talk, "the Interactive Book"

Here’s  “string book” #28 by Keith Smith:

Bruce Foster and Jon Evans, Director of the Hirsch Library, Museum of Fine Arts examine a popup castle

Bruce Foster and Jon Evans, Director of the Hirsch Library, Museum of Fine Arts of Houston examine a (humorously) classic children's castle pop-up in Andy Warhol's "Index Book" published by Random House in 1967.

Bruce Foster's Popup Designs for "A Christmas Carol" by Chuck Fische

Bruce's popup designs for "A Christmas Carol" illustrated by Sergio Martinez.

Bruce believes that an elegant pop-up book The 12 Days of Christmas by Robert Sabuda “synthesized everything that was right about pop-up books and kicked off the new golden age of pop-up books.”

Bruce Foster shows off Robert Sabuda's seminal pop-up book "The 12 Days of Christmas"

Bruce shows off Robert Sabuda's seminal pop-up book "The 12 Days of Christmas" published in 1996.

“Robert took all his sensibility as a designer and combined it with his skill in paper-engineering to create not just a perfect pop-up book but a perfect graphic book,” Bruce  says.

Robert Sabuda's "12 Days of Christmas"

Robert Sabuda's The 12 Days of Christmas

Bruce shows Robert Sabuda's "!2 Days of Christmas"

Bruce displays Robert Sabuda's "The !2 Days of Christmas" which he says revitalized the publishing of pop-up books

A Pop up project designed by Bruce for the Metropolitan Museum of Art

A pop up by Bruce for "Visionaire "Surprise", a collection of art and photographer pops. This was a translation of an original art piece installation for the Guggenheim by Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang.

Lift a flap and a magical snake coils on the page spread of “Harry Potter – a Pop-Up Book”
Bruce Foster showing Hogwarts

Bruce shows off Hogwarts (from the new Harry Potter pop-up book) to a delighted museum goer.

For more of the interview on Bruce Foster and popup books see the How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator blog. You’ll also find photos from the Austin SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Picture Perfect workshop featuring picture book author Lisa Wheeler that occurred October 9 at St. Edwards University.

To download  a free, fascinating PDF history of pop-up books (the craft dates back hundreds of years) go here.

For a great “secret” on drawing better click here.

* * * * *
Article, photos and several of the videos by Mark Mitchell. Mark hosts the Illustration Course, How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator and Painting Instruction blogs.

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  1. Shelley Jackson

    Hi Mark, This is an amazing post! Jeff and I have been toying with the idea of trying popup elements out on a book proposal, so we’ve been researching them lately and this is a wealth of information! I am so impressed with your reporting skills and inspired by the materials you’ve presented. Can just anyone schedule an appointment to see the books at the Hirsch Library? Thanks for the information! You rock!

    • admin

      Yes, Shelley, anyone can make an appointment to see the materials in the Hirsch Library. You could call Jon Evans or any of the museum staffers probably.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Bruce Foster, a Houstonian and Houston SCBWIer is also fun to talk to.
      Nice seeing you and Jeff the other night at AMOA.

      • admin

        Thank you for your comments, by the way, Shelley! 🙂


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