Monday, 13 February 2012

Elephant No. 134: Pop-Up Card

I've loved pop-up books since I was about eight and my Uncle Bill gave me The Bennett Cerf Book of Pop-Up Riddles. That first book has since become a fairly sizeable collection, despite the fact that I've never remotely tried to make a pop-up anything. I've even had a pretty basic book on making pop-up cards for years, which you'd think would make me at least attempt something. I think I've avoided it because pop-ups seemed to be something that would involve engineering and accuracy—two things that are definitely not my gift.

Pop-up cards evolved out of pop-up books, which were originally made for adults, rather than children. There are several categories of pop-up books and cards, including volvelles, which involve revolving disks; transformations which have two sets of slats manipulated by pulling a tab; tunnel books which allowed the reader to view the book through a window; as well as elaborate pop-ups and mechanics.

The first paper mechanics in a manuscript probably appeared in an astrological book published in 1306. Spanish mystic and poet Ramon Llull included a revolving disk, or volvelle, to help illustrate his theories. The second moveable book was Cosmographia Petri Apiani, published in 1564, and soon the medical profession in particular was using the format extensively, including flaps, layers and volvelles to teach anatomy. Even the famous English landscape designer Capability Brown (1716–1783) used flaps to help illustrate the difference his work would make to the grounds of a stately home.

Volvelle from Cosmographica Petri Apiani, 1540.

It wasn't until the eighteenth century that pop-up books moved out of the realm of science and education and into the realm of entertainment. The first real pop-up books were produced by Ernest Lister and Lothar Meggendorfer, and were highly popular during the nineteenth century in both Germany and Britain. I have reprints of two Meggendorfer books in my collection, and they are incredibly intricate, featuring paper mechanics that are more like clockwork than the clumsy folded thing I made today.

Panel from the Lothar Meggendorfer book, The Monkey Theatre, 1893.
To see this panel in action, go to the source website at:

Pop-up books for children truly came into their own, however, with the 1929 publication of the first Daily Express Children's Annual in Britain, featuring "pictures that spring up in model form." The team of Louis Giraud and Theodore Brown produced four more issues before breaking away to form Strand Publications, producing the beautiful and elaborate Bookano pop-up series. The United States followed suit in the 1930s with Blue Ribbon books, which were the first to use the term "pop-up" to describe the format.

Panel from Bookano Stories No. 2, 1935.

Interestingly—to me, anyway—the first book by Waldo Hunt, one of the stars of 1960s pop-up books, is my very own Bennett Cerf's Pop-Up Riddle Book. Published by Random House as a promotion for Maxwell House Coffee, the book was originally intended to showcase the work of humourist Bennett Cerf, who was president of Random House at the time. The team of Waldo Hunt and Christopher Cerf went on to create a total of 30 more children's pop-up books for Random House, including a Sesame Street book—which, weirdly, I also own, along with several others engineered by Hunt. You'd think this would have inspired me to try making something long ago. Sadly, no.

Apparently pop-up books were quite profitable for Random House at the time, and the 1960s and 1970s are seen by some as the genre's golden age. Since then, pop-up books have been produced featuring the works of artists such as M.C. Escher and Leonardo da Vinci, along with books on every conceivable topic, from dinosaurs to Star Wars. Some even include lights and music, and one oddity in my collection came with four clip-on plastic elves.

Pop-up cards have largely followed suit. You can get cards that explode giant dogs, frogs and birthday cakes out of the top; cards that play music; cards that have moving parts; and cards that simply pop forward in low-relief.

For today's elephant, I was definitely going low-tech. No music, no lights, no things that sproing into the air. Those would all require an even more elaborate form of engineering, so . . . no. 

Quite convinced that I was going to screw this up if I didn't have a template I could just cut out, I combed the Internet for something to use. The closest I got to an actual set of instructions and printable template was Robert Sabuda's woolly mammoth, which was kind of cool, but not what I wanted.

I found lots of elaborate non-elephant pop-up cards with templates and instructions, and some nice elephant cards without instructions. I finally decided, after staring at some very basic pop-ups for awhile, and reading more than one set of mystifying instructions—mystifying only because I think you need to be making the thing for it to make sense—that I could probably figure it out on my own.

The first thing I noticed is that you need to mark the primary fold in your card—in other words, where the card will fold when closed. You also need a decent weight of card stock to hold the shape of your pop-up. I used a piece of 96 lb. bristol board, but you could probably use 70 or 80 lb. and still be okay.

Once I had the main fold marked, I drew an elephant, with the feet about 1.5 cm (0.6 inch) below this line. This is to ensure that, when I cut and folded the final design, the elephant would stand away from the background. At the top of the elephant, I also drew two tabs sticking out of the head and back respectively. These were to support the elephant at the top, also pushing it away from the background. Then, because it's Valentine's Day tomorrow, I added a few little hearts.

When I was reasonably happy with the design, I took a sharp craft knife—sadly, not always quite sharp enough for this particular card stock—and cut along the lines. I cut all the way around, careful not to sever the tabs from the elephant, then cut down the sides of each tab. I made sure all of the tabs were the same length, thinking that this might have some bearing on how the elephant stood away from the background. Width is more or less immaterial, depending more on your design than any practical engineering-type consideration.  

To complete the design, I cut out the hearts, and cut some thin lines to make it a little more interesting. I also poked some circular holes in various places with different sizes of tapestry needle, again just for visual interest. Finally, I scored all the fold lines lightly with the same craft knife. The score lines are as follows: along the main fold (being careful not to score through the legs), along the bottom of each foot, and along both top and bottom of the tabs sprouting out of the elephant's back and head.

When it was finished, I cut a piece of red paper for the backing, and glued it all around the edges. I could have glued most of the bottom half of the card to the red paper, but the top half needs to be mostly just the edges, to avoid glue lines showing through the cut-out areas.

I was surprised at how well this worked out. It stands up properly, and doesn't look ridiculous. It took me about an hour to draw and cut this (after an hour or so spent trying to figure out how these things work), and about half an hour for the glue to dry. 

I won't be making a ton of these, but now that the evil spell is broken, I may try a couple of different designs sometime, just for fun. And I don't call paper engineering "fun" very often.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Mounting research suggests that elephants, like whales, communicate to a significant extent at infrasonic ranges: levels far beyond the range of human hearing. Infrasonic sound travels over incredibly long distances, and is now thought to be a means of elephant communication across vast territory. There is similar evidence that whales communicate in the same way across hundreds of miles of ocean.

Interestingly, there are also stories told of possible communication between elephants and whales. In his book Elephantoms: Tracking the Wild Elephant (2003), the late biologist Lyall Watson tells the story of an older female elephant standing at the head of a cliff, waving her trunk and rumbling. Wondering what she was doing, given that there were no other elephants around, he approached and looked over the cliff. He was astonished to see that she appeared to be communicating with a whale in the bay below.

I've read a couple of similar stories, although they are not backed up as yet by research. However, given that both species communicate using infrasonic sound, and given that elephants appear to be keen mimics, it may not be completely beyond the realm of possibility. 

To Support Elephant Welfare
World Wildlife Fund
World Society for the Protection of Animals
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Performing Animal Welfare Society
Bring the Elephant Home
African Wildlife Foundation 


  1. Very cool! Thanks for explaining how to make one.

  2. Thank you in advance.. Have you ever see the wholesale handmade cards. I found them on google, their website : If you want to find a pop-up cards supplier, dont forget them.