Monday, 27 February 2012

Elephant No. 148: Tissue Paper Cutout

I came across this technique on a grade-school art website, and thought it was rather charming. Given that this is a fairly heavy work day, it seemed like the perfect activity for today's elephant.

Oddly enough, toilet paper was the precursor to wrapping tissue. Paper of various weights had been used as wrapping and padding in China since the second century B.C., but thinner paper for use in the water closet was not produced for another 800 years. Over the ensuing centuries, the use of toilet tissue fell out of favour, and wasn't truly popularized until 1857, when American inventor Joseph Gayetty developed the first commercial toilet paper.

In 1863, tailor Ebenezer Butterick, who had been using sheets of thin paper for his patterns, conceived of using similar paper as gift wrap and packaging. He and his wife produced some coloured versions of the thin, strong paper, and what we now commonly call "tissue paper" was born.

Tissue paper is produced on a machine called a "yankee dryer" that has a large steam-heated drying cylinder and a hot-air hood. The cylinder is sprayed with adhesives to make the paper stick, and pulp is passed over the cylinder, creating a thin, strong paper that holds up well when wet. Crepe paper is made on the same machine, albeit with a different type of adhesive and a "doctor blade" that scrapes the dry paper off the blade, giving crepe paper its characteristic wrinkles.

Yankee dryers in action.

Approximately 21 million tonnes of tissue paper are produced in the world each year, six million of which are made in Europe. North America and the Far East manufacture most of the rest. North Americans are among the world's largest users of tissue paper, consuming three times as much as Europeans.

For today's elephant, I used the lesson plan from this website, which calls for a very simple process: cut tissue paper of various colours into squares; glue onto white paper or card stock; cut into shape of an elephant.

Tissue collage elephants by Grade 1 students.

I started by pulling out a bunch of coloured tissue papers from my wrapping supplies, and cut a number of one-inch squares.

I glued these to a piece of white good-quality bristol board in a pattern that pleased me. There's no rule for this activity, other than lay down colours that you like, in a pattern that you like.

I used white glue, which I squirted onto a piece of waxed paper. I then used a flat paintbrush to coat one side of each tissue paper square I used. This was the most time-consuming part of the whole activity, but I don't think there's any other way to do it that wouldn't have made me crazy. As it was, I had to keep wiping my fingers to keep them from sticking to the tissue paper. A few times the squares stuck to my fingers so bad that they shredded when I tried to gently extricate them.

I didn't worry too much about wrinkles, but I found it best to float the tissue paper square onto the bristol board, rather than trying to lay it down. To smooth each square, I pressed it with my fingers, rather than smoothing it. Tissue paper takes moisture quite well, but it's not indestructible, and had a tendency to shred if I tried to smooth it out with my fingertips.

Layering is important to this activity, and will definitely enhance the final effect. Because of the translucency of the papers, layering creates some very interesting effects, and some pretty colour combinations.

This was the final sheet I created:

Once the layering was done and the piece had a chance to dry, I cut out an elephant shape freehand.

Because I wanted to keep this relatively simple, I cut out an ear and a tail, but nothing else.

I then simply assembled the parts. This turned out a lot better than I expected it to, and it's actually quite pretty in real life. It's very easy, if a bit messy during the gluing stage, but took under an hour in terms of cutting out the tissue squares, gluing them down, then cutting and assembling the final elephant.

I can see using this as an illustration technique, or even as a rough outline for a painting. I'm not sure I'd rush to do this again, as I hate having gluey fingers, but it's pretty enough that I'm not ruling it out.

Elephant Lore of the Day
In the Winnie the Pooh stories by A.A. Milne, Heffalumps are often mentioned, but never appear. They are believed to physically resemble elephants—and, indeed, Ernest Shepard's illustration of a Heffalump depicts an Asian elephant.

In the fifth chapter of Winnie the Pooh (1926), Piglet and Pooh try to capture a Heffalump in a trap, and in The House at Pooh Corner (1928) they actually end up falling into the Heffalump trap they'd set. Throughout the entire Winnie the Pooh cycle of books, however, no Heffalumps are ever caught, and no one ever meets one of the mysterious creatures.

The closest any of the characters comes to seeing a Heffalump is when Pooh counts Heffalumps as he tries to fall asleep. As he counts, "every Heffalump that he counted was making straight for a pot of Pooh's honey [and when] the five hundred and eighty-seven Heffalumps were licking their jaws, and saying to themselves, 'Very good honey this, I don't know when I've tasted better,' Pooh could bear it no longer."

Winnie the Pooh dreams of a Heffalump.
From Winnie the Pooh (1926) by A.A. Milne,
illustration by E.H. Shepard.

Since their appearance in Winnie the Pooh, Heffalumps have entered pop culture. In the animated adventures of Winnie the Pooh and his friends, Heffalumps are primarily rascally honey-thieves. In political journalism, the term "heffalump trap" is sometimes used to describe a trap set for a political opponent, which snags the trap-setter instead. And in Sweden, the annual Expressen's Heffalump is a literary prize awarded to the Swedish author of the year's best book for children and young adults.

Heffalump from the Disney Winnie the Pooh animated series.

Elephant's World (Thailand)


  1. That was a beautiful kind of arts. The colorful cutout animation looks more better than the white paper cutout animation. I really like the work you have shared here. cutout animation videos - VideoJeeves

  2. Merely a smiling visitant here to share the love (:, btw outstanding style. napkin folding machine