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Paper trail

These folks know a thing or two about turning paper into an art form.
Jul 22, 2017 5:50 AM


On Instagram, Cheryl Teo posts everything from instant noodles to birthday cake. But the hundreds of likes she gets for each one isn't because of how delicious they look, but for the fact that her 'edible' creations are actually made of paper.

The graphic designer and community artist has been dabbling in paper art for the last eight years. "It never occurred to me that so much could be made with just one single medium," says Ms Teo, who had been researching artists who work with paper for school when she stumbled on this art form.

She creates 2D and 3D paper artworks which can range from food items, to quirky characters such as a surfing Santa Claus. She favours a playful approach, hence, "I love creating whimsical images of everyday ordinary scenes, sometimes with a touch of humour."

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For her 2D pieces, Ms Teo draws the image digitally before breaking it down into layered paper pieces, which are glued together to form a picture. Once that is complete, she photographs the artwork, with deliberate lighting, playing with light and shadow to create depth to each piece. She then sells these giclee prints on Etsy.

About a year ago, Ms Teo progressed to making 3D pieces to sharpen her skills. "3D paper art is harder, as the thought process that goes into it is a lot different," explains Ms Teo, adding that it gets more complicated because of the depth and scale involved in shaping an object, compared to the relatively straightforward 2D.

Her 3D pieces are diorama scenes which she creates and places on a matchbox structure. Her range is diverse and includes whimsical versions of a sewing machine, boat and even an escalator. Each miniature diorama piece takes her about four to five hours to shape.

She stores them in a cardboard box, and hopes to sell some of them one day, once she figures out the best way to house and ship them safely.

Ms Teo welcomes private commissions, and has been working on small art pieces for her clients' homes. In the past month, she has also started designing paper props for advertisements.

"Paper is such a ubiquitous material that is easily accessible, and yet there is so much a person can do to manipulate its form. The possibilities are endless," she adds.


When Leong Cheng Chit retired from the civil service in 2000, he had plenty of time on his hands. He literally needed something to keep his fingers busy, and chanced upon the art of origami. "I was looking for something creative to take up, something that could make use of my spatial skill and training in engineering," says Mr Leong, who is now the CEO of a start-up company.

He bought several origami books and folded insects and crustaceans. But he wasn't satisfied. "To be a good origami artist, you need to experiment and learn from other advanced artists," he says. "Origami artists are generous in sharing their folding techniques."

Three months after learning origami from books, Mr Leong experimented in creating 3D origami pieces. He has done animals such as elephants, seals, bulls and roosters. They are all folded from a single sheet of paper. They look complex, but Mr Leong says his training in naval architecture has helped in his understanding of 3D folding.

Like how a ship's hull is created by cutting away excess sections of steel plates, rolling them into sections of a cone and welding them together, "for origami, you find ways of folding the excess paper and tucking the folds away", says Mr Leong.

According to him, like music, creating origami comes in two parts: composing and execution. Composing can take a few hours to a couple of days, and folding can take up to a day.

Mr Leong occasionally teaches origami. "I don't teach it as a craft, but instead I see origami as a way of teaching design and mathematics."

He also gets commissions from corporate companies to do 3D origami pieces, and once folded an arowana which he presented to then prime minister Goh Chok Tong for his birthday.

These days, he sells his works to those who appreciate origami as an art form. Mr Leong also folds for charity organisations that auction them to raise money. "I also fold pieces for friends on their birthdays."


Cardboard may be nothing but recycling material to most, but to Adrian Chua, it's his livelihood. And no, he's not a karang guni man, but the founder of Paper Carpenter, which creates 3D objects out of sheets of cardboard.

Even as a child, Mr Chua had been fascinated by pop-up books and how a flat sheet of paper could be transformed into a 3D piece of art.

The idea of using cardboard as a working medium came to him when Mr Chua was a production manager in an advertising firm, and his client wanted a 2m-tall self-standing directional sign that needed to be collapsible, lightweight, eco-friendly and cheap.

Mr Chua proposed using cardboard. The cardboard sign was quickly made and Mr Chua had a happy client. With that, he switched to a career working with paper, and founded Paper Carpenter in 2013.

One of his more notable works is a Christmas tree at Millenia Walk, on which he collaborated with industrial designer Melvin Ong. The 12m-tree even made it into the Singapore Book of Records for the Tallest Cardboard Christmas Tree in 2015. He used wood, metal and cardboard to create the framework, while the external cladding was made of cardboard covered with gold reflective stickers.

Last year, Mr Chua turned Changi Airport in to a veritable paper museum, when his collection of Singapore's iconic landmarks made out of cardboard went on display.

Paper Carpenter gets its cardboard from local stockists and overseas paper mills, and only those that practise responsible forestry. Mr Chua adds that the company is also manufacturing its own cardboard that is fire-retardant and water-resistant.

Mr Chua uses the method of cardboard carpentry to create the structures. This involves making crease and cut lines on a flat sheet of cardboard. The cardboard pieces are folded and slotted into each other to form the structure, using as little glue as possible. If he needs to add weights to stabilise the structure, he uses large PET bottles filled with water, or even used car batteries. "Our products are 100 per cent recyclable and upcycled," he says.

Unlike a discarded box, Mr Chua's cardboard structures are rarely thrown out after use. "Clients are very intrigued that the structures are made of cardboard," notes Mr Chua. "So they keep them, like art pieces."