Extreme Paper: The Long, Dark Road to a Bright Ideacomments (25) November 24th, 2008
It is three days before Thanksgiving and the holidays are finally OVER!
Allow me to explain. For me, the holidays began back in late July when I started getting calls from clients interested in having me create projects for their holiday window displays. If you think it's difficult to come up with a festive and creative crafting idea for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Hanukkah, try doing it when the temperature is hovering in the 90s and you're sitting seaside in a beach chair staring at the blank pages of a sketchbook. However, publishers, manufacturers, and crafters all live in this season-out-of-synch world where we are busy making snowmen while the rest of the world is busy eating Sno-Cones.
One of my most challenging projects this year was for Tiffany & Company's flagship Fifth Avenue store in Manhattan. Their theme this year is "All That Glitters" (a particularly apt concept for a jewelry store). My job was to create a chandelier out of paper; delicate, ornate, graceful, vaguely French Baroque in style and about three feet tall by two feet wide. At the time I agreed to do the project, I distinctly remember thinking, "How hard can it be?" Clearly, I was delusional from heatstroke and didn't know it.
This is how hard it can be:
1. Paper wilts. This can be easily illustrated by holding out a 12-inch strip of paper at arm's length and willing it to stand at attention without listing to one side or another. Mr. Crafter, meet Mr. Disappointment. Mr. Disappointment, meet Mr. Crafter.
2. Why not use heavier stock paper? It doesn't wilt. It also doesn't lend itself to delicately articulated curves or easy cutting with anything less than a laser beam. Oh, and it wilts, too; it just take a day or two longer to do so.
3. Wouldn't foam board, museum board, matte board, cardboard, chip board, and gator board all be promising solutions? All were promising, yes, but alas, all of them broke their promises. I tried using my craft knife, but by the time I'd finished making my first test piece, my index finger and thumb were cramped, a nasty blister was rising on my middle finger, I had broken the tips of more than 65 craft blades, and my resulting template was lopsided, jagged, and fuzzy at the edges. I tried a Dremel. I even tried a jigsaw. Oh, and while none of these materials could be said to actually "wilt" after a few days, they all buckled or twisted or yawed in one direction or another just like their thinner and more flexible paper cousins had done.
At this point, I was already a few weeks into the project and had little to show for my efforts other than a stack of coarsely cut, unusable templates and a studio adrift in little pieces of paper and a fine dusting of cardboard curlicues from my ever-eager-to-help-but-nonetheless-helpless Dremel tool. With little hope of success, I did what I usually do in such situations: I stopped working completely. I stopped and took a step back. I spent days, sitting in my studio, staring at the evidence of my failures and ruminating on where I'd gone wrong.
I'll spare you details of the long, meandering path my mind took and, instead, cut to my epiphany: grain. I had been working to overcome the liabilities of paper when I should have been trying to transform those liabilities into something I could use. (Could this be an aphorism for crafters everywhere? The strong overcome: the creative, transform!) When I took a moment to think about paper, I realized that I could put its grain to work in my favor.
Paper tends to bend with its grain and it tends to resist bending (ever so slightly, but still) against its grain. By bending my chandelier components against the grain of the paper, I created some little resistance—a slight push-back. Push-back meant tension, and tension, as we all know, is that simple little force of nature that holds up wide-span bridges and cross-girdered skyscrapers.
In the end, I went back to my original, medium-weight paper, creased and folded all of the pieces against the grain, and glued them together to make what is essentially a paper spring. The resulting piece was actually so strong that I delivered it to Tiffany & Co. folded in half lengthwise and tied with a piece of string. When I untied the string, the piece sprung into shape under its own tensile strength and required only a small application of adhesive on the final seam. I then affixed the candles and the piece was complete.
All told, this piece ended up having more than 765 discrete components, 10 feet of dental floss, 15 glue sticks, 6 ounces of white craft glue, and weeks of my time and effort. The resulting chandelier is, I believe...a failure. A beautiful failure, perhaps, but a failure, all the same. I say this because, given the budget I had for this project, it ceased to make much financial sense long before I actually struck upon a solution that allowed me to complete it. I actually lost money. Failure.
However, since I am loath to admit defeat, perhaps I ought to consider amortizing the cost of this project over the coming weeks, months, and years where the lessons learned here will likely pay handsome dividends. Until the balance sheet tips in my favor, I'm happy to offer up for your review my biggest "failure" of the year.
The holidays are over. Hooray! Long live the holidays.
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