FMP 3 Paper Is Alive


What is art today? And what is illustration? The boundaries between the separate art practices have been blurred as never before and thus the artwork produced has been more exciting than ever.

Your task is to rethink the meaning and the medium of the modern day art and design and come up with:

An interesting  technique that is innovative and expressive and visualizes things  that we see, draw, photograph, collect etc. in our everyday life but in an original way.

Consider texture, pattern, movement, shape etc.   



In response to the brief for this project I have decided to look into paper as it is still one of the most used materials even in this modern day and age. Paper is used for packaging, drawing, recording, writing, printing, decoration, building etc. and it plays a huge part in the modern art ( even the digital form of it).

Throughout the past year I have turned paper into one of the main interests and materials for my projects and thus I have done a lot of research on the subject of paper history texture, recycling, use etc.

Some of the books that helped me for my research on paper are:

Londerberg K.(1972) Papier und Form: Desing in der Rapierverarbeiting; Scherde Verlag Krefeld: Hamburg; 

Basbanes N. (2013) On Paper: The Everything of Its Two – Thousand-Year History; Alfred A Knope: New York;

Jackson Paul (2011) Folding Techniques For Designers: From Sheet to Form; Laurence King Publishing Ltd: London;

Vyzoviti S. (2006) Supersurfaces: Folding as a method of generating forms for architecture, products and fashion; BIS: Amsterdam;

After all the research and my obvious interest in paper I decided that namely PAPER is the “object” that I want to re-imagine in this new project as it is a crucial part of our everyday life.

From money to toilet paper- paper is everywhere and we use it non stop.

We use it for homework, money, checks, books, letters, wallpaper, and greeting cards. We have paper towels, napkins plates, cups, and tissues. We print the news every day on newspaper. Our history and knowledge is written on paper. Without paper, our lives would be completely different. From the very beginning of time, people have tried to record their thoughts and lives and main tool for this have always been paper even in the modern day of digitalisation as paper is a physical thing thus feels closer to us, warmer and more real than the computer screen. Paper is strong and fragile which makes it feel like a living thing that you can share through or with.

This is exactly the main focus of my approach to paper for this project.

Is paper a living thing? What are its characteristics that bring it closer to a living thing? 

In the development of my project and for my final outcome I intend to visualize paper as an actual living organism similar to the plants it has been made out of. In my further experimentation I will be viewing and talking about it as such in order to develop an abstract portrait of an organism called Paper. ( despite the fact that scientifically there are not any cells alive in paper due to the chemicals it is being treated and produced with.)


Even though my final outcome will be an abstract representation of paper, in order to fully understand its nature and structure I decided to research the process of its production.

1 A great scientific response to the question” Is paper alive I discover online:

The answer was stating:

Paper is made from trees, so we’ll start there. Trees are part of the plant kingdom. There are several common characteristics that all plants share, one is that their cells are covered in cell walls. This cell wall is in addition to the cell membrane, which is what every other cell in the world is covered in (all the cells in your body are covered in cell membranes, but not cell walls). Cell walls are different from cell membranes in many ways, but one is that they are made from cellulose, a complex molecule that plants can make. The
cellulose is a type of sugar molecule and is formed into fibers in the cell wall. It helps make the plant cells tougher.

In the process of making paper, a portion of the tree is turned into pulp by grinding the tree up (like in a blender). Tree pulp is kind of similar to the pulp you would get in orange juice (hey, what does
that pulp come from?). After the tree is ground into pulp most of the trees cells have pretty much burst. The pulp is made of a bunch of cell material, including most importantly, the cell wall. The pulp is dried, bleached, and further processed to remove most of the cellular material other than the cellulose. In the end you have paper. So paper is mostly made of cellulose. And by the end of the whole process there wouldn’t be any whole cells left, they would have been all destroyed in the process of making the paper. 

2 Another source of information on paper production was the University library which has a substantial collection of books on the subject.


All of these books provided me with information and visual material on the subject of paper and its production as well as its structure. Most of them had detailed microscopic images of the fibers that paper was formed of and provided a lot of information for their thickness, strength, the way they stick to each other and different methods used for treating them on order to produce different types of paper.

   Explanation of the production process of paper.


Microscopic photograph of paper fibers. 


In order to fully understand the process of paper production from forestry to manufacturing I decided to support my researach with some video materials that I found online.

Traditional wood paper production:

Cotton fabric paper production. Traditional method is explained in the video below:



My first visual approach to the idea of paper being alive is representing it as a living thing and more specifically as a flower bud as it symbolises life, growth, rebirth.


My inspiration for this idea came entirely from nature and the structure and pattern of flowers. The new estimate is that there are about 400,000 flowering plant species, with over 600,000 to be deleted from the list as duplicate names. Each one of them has a unique colour pallet and between all of them there isn’t a colour that does not exist. Looking into the textures, and colouring of flowers I became thinking about galaxies and universes of colour which made we want to represent that idea in the flower I am producing out of paper. But I decided to do the colour galaxy of a plant on the inside of the bud so that It is only visual when the flower “blooms” which is exactly what happens in nature too. The most beautiful parts of the flower are only seen when the flower is ready to show them ( when it has developed and bloomed).

I tried to produce a paper flower bud that was able to be opened gradually ( from fully closed to blooming flower) in order to represent the idea that beneath the surface of paper as being something ordinary that usually ends up in the bin it is much more. It is a complicated living organism that has memory and is capable to transform, turn into something else (grow) and that it has a natural life cycle- birth to death.


The first flower I did was coloured in red on the outside but then I decided I want to keep the outside of it quite plain and simple in order to make a contrast with the colourful inside.


The other reason for me to represent paper as a flower was that flower is something natural that people observe, use, pick, eat etc in their everyday life and it is often treated the same way as paper ( not fully appreciated and even neglected) . The other thing that people forget about flowers  they’ve picked and paper they’ve thrown away is the fact that they were once a living thing.

This way of thinking provoked me into looking deeper into the question of paper and its relation to plants and more specifically trees. Having in mind that my subject (fictional) is the living paper It was only natural to connect it visually to its forefathers- the trees.



The most important source of information for my research on the Plant kingdom and trees in particular was the BBC movie ‘ The Private Life of Plants’ which combines detailed explanation with amazing close- up video footage that demonstrates the way things work in the kingdom of plants (flora).

The movie examined different types of trees while explaining the main principle of life in the forests. Every plant is fighting for territory, food and sunlight. In order to do that all of the plants are mutual enemies that fight for survival.

One of the most inspiring part of the movie is the visual representation of the way trees support each other and feed on each other. When a tree is dead, new trees use its trunk to climb high into the sunlight and then consume it from the inside out in order to feed themselves on the minerals that it  provides.

Proof of all that can be found in the link below which contains the full documentary:

After watching the movie I decided to conduct a strictly visual research on the way trees overcome different obstacles and grow around fences, houses etc in order to survive.


Trees eating on other trees:


The first sign of a dying tree is the death of its crown. As soon as the leaves fall down the sunlight reaches deeper in the wood and touches the ground, providing small seeds with light, necessary for them to grow. When the seeds start developing into plants they begin climbing and feeding on the tree untill eventually they consume it and grow to replace it.A definite sign of this process is when you see a tree has a hollow center. Contrary to the common belief that a hollow tree is a drying dead tree, it is quite the opposite.  This is how trees are reviving and regenerating themselves which is exactly what inspired me for the design and creation of my Paper Organism. I decided that I will assign all the survival and reproduction qualities of trees as there is a natural connection between paper and trees even outside of the fictional boundaries of my idea. 

My main idea was to use a ball of crunched paper that was thrown away ( to die) as a base and then on top of it recreate a growing new organism inspired by the way trees grow. For this purpose I decided to use brown paper as it was closer to the shade of trees and felt much more natural then white or colourful paper.



In order to design the structure of the paper organism that would grow on top of the ‘dying’ piece of paper, I decided to continue my visual research on trees by looking underneath the surface

The first thing that you notice when you cut a trunk are the tree rings, also known as growth rings:

 The main scientific use of the tree rings, also called DENDROCHRONOLOGY is a process of calgulating the age of the tree with the help of its rings. This process lay an important role in order to:

  1. to put the present in proper historical context
  2. to better understand current environmental processes and conditions
  3. to improve understanding of possible future environmental issues

 More information on the subject I found on the links below:

It is apparent that the rings of a tree can provide a significant information important for the environment, which automatically turns them into a symbol of life.  Having that in mind I am considering basing the design of my organism on them, but before that I am planning to dig even deeper into the structure of trees.


Tree_secondary_growth_diagram Wood, in the strict sense, is yielded by trees, which increase in diameter by the formation, between the existing wood and the inner bark, of new woody layers which envelop the entire stem, living branches, and roots. This process is known as secondary growth; it is the result of cell division in the vascular cambium, a lateral meristem, and subsequent expansion of the new cells. These cells then go on to form thickened secondary cell walls, composed mainly of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. Where there are clear seasons, growth can occur in a discrete annual or seasonal pattern, leading to growth rings; these can usually be most clearly seen on the end of a log, but are also visible on the other surfaces. If these seasons are annual these growth rings are referred to as annual rings. Where there is no seasonal difference growth rings are likely to be indistinct or absent.

If there are differences within a growth ring, then the part of a growth ring nearest the center of the tree, and formed early in the growing season when growth is rapid, is usually composed of wider elements. It is usually lighter in color than that near the outer portion of the ring, and is known as earlywood or springwood. The outer portion formed later in the season is then known as the latewood or summerwood.[6] However, there are major differences, depending on the kind of wood.

More about the growth ring and their types I read on:

It was only nature for me to look into microscopic images of the wood cells that are responsible for the formation of the tree rings and the tree itself, in order to come up with the design for the  visualisation of my final piece ( Paper Organism).



EN-Raeumliche Darstellung_Nadelholzsoftwoodblockjaic40-01-004-ch4fg5 (1)img0015-1xylwood




After doing all the research on trees as living organisms and their growth rings and cell systems I started doing some experiments with visualising cells. I wanted to try different illustrated visualisations of what would the cell of my fictional organism – ‘Paper’ look like. I used fine tip pen and postcards. Later on I decided ( as I was pleased with them even though they would not be my final piece) that I want to design a case for them, again related to cells and this is the result of it all:


The case:



For my final outcome I wanted to produce an actual 3D artificial( fictional) representation of paper that mimics the life and growth characteristic of threes, I decided it would be a good idea to execute some research on the subject of mimicry in nature.

I got across a very interesting book in the university library called ‘ Industry of nature: Another Approach to Ecology” :


This book provided me with a lot of information on Mimicry, which is a life-saving reflex possessed by different species in nature. This reflex is the ability of a certain specimen to transform itself and mimic the visual or mechanical characteristics of  another specimen.

The main theme of the book, however was Biomimetics, which is specific methodology that takes inspiration from nature in order to mimic and create. This is exactly what the purpose of my project is. I am going to mimic the functions of growth of trees into the Paper organism that I am designing.


Having in mind that for my final outcome I wanted to make an actual 3D organism, rather than a flat image I moved on from the traditional drawing and started experimenting with 3D cell sculptures made out of paper.I tried a few different variations and designs:


 Even tough I find those cell designs visually pleasing I was not quite satisfied with them, mainly because it was impossible to produce them in a much smaller scale without loosing their shape and detail which made me think about a way to create a single cell that could be reproduced in different sizes and in a huge number as I wanted to create two final outcomes. One of the process of growing of the new organism while feeding on the dead paper and another – of a grown organism that has a hollow center as it has already consumed its dead predecessor.


Looking back into wood cells and the way they form the rings of a tree I decided that I will try and produce a cell that visually resembles both the cell and the rings of a tree. In order to do that I cut long strips of brown recycled paper and began rolling them into the shape of a cell.


I produced several  sizes of paper cells over the course of a few months which was an enormous amount of work.The time that I spent in process of rolling the cells made me think about the annual rings of a tree (again) and the way they are used to measure time.

I decided to measure how much time it takes me to rill each of the cells (according to size).  13288606_1227894993901099_2081914915_o

In this way another characteristic of the trees was being transferred into my Paper Organism, namely the ability to measure time.

23145 time jars

After deciding that these paper cells will be the final components for the construction of my Paper Organism I started experimenting with ways to join them together in order to create a cell wall or the structure of the whole organism.

I began experimenting on flat surface as a starting point:


As I was quite please with the visual outcome of the design on a flat surface I began the process of the final production of my two final organisms: 1 that is in a process of growth and development, feeding on the dead paper, and the second one, that is an already formed organism with a hollow inside, where the consumed paper used to be.






I booked a photography studio in order to make high quality pictures that were capable of showing the details and depth of the final piece.

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Overall, I am very pleased with my final outcome for this project. The next step I will be taking is to come up with a way to present it as I want to use if for the final exhibition.

 I am planning to present it closed with a small crack alike opening in between the two halves that will make it look as if it is cracking open any time in order to reveal what is inside.

In the future I am planning to develop this project further by coming up with a blossom like Paper plant to be coming from the inside of the organism in order to complete the full cycle of my fictional Paper Organism – growing, blossoming, paper production ( instead of seeds) and  death.