Saturday, September 17, 2005

Pop-Up Books

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peacay said...

Robert Sabuda amazes audiences with intricate books
BY ERIN ANDERSEN / Lincoln Journal Star

In the world of children’s literature there are pop-up books, and then there are Robert Sabuda’s pop-up books.

Sabuda is the indisputable king of pop-up.

All you need to do is open one of his books to be convinced — whether it is the flying reindeer in “The Night Before Christmas,” the towering Statute of Liberty in “America the Beautiful” or the swirling tornado above Dorothy’s house in the “Wizard of Oz.” Sabuda can do with paper what most of us could never imagine in our wildest dreams.

And on Sept. 23 and 24, this renowned author, illustrator and paper engineer comes to Lincoln’s Southeast Community College for two programs — an evening presentation and a morning pop-up workshop in which participants of all ages will learn to make their own paper pop-up creations.

It will be the 40-year-old artist/author/paper engineer’s first trip to the Cornhusker state. And he’s pumped.

“I like going to places I’ve never been before,” Sabuda said in a telephone interview from his New York studio.

Which explains in part how Lincoln was lucky enough to secure the highly demanded artist.

The very first time people see one of Sabuda’s pop-up books there is an almost universal reaction of shock and amazement.

“It’s the type of stuff that is not seen very often,” Sabuda said. “And it is rare today in this technology-driven world that physically something happens with (a book).”

His desire is a wow effect — not only for children, but adults.

He succeeds in both.

Sabuda grew up in a tiny town in southeastern Michigan, the son of a bricklayer and grandson of a carpenter. His mother instilled in him a love of reading and a passion for books.

“With the ability to hold a crayon came the discovery that I was an artist,” Sabuda explains on his Web site.

His teachers were so impressed with his artistic ability that they put him in charge of making their bulletin boards.

“That’s when I really learned to work with paper and shapes. They would say: ‘Here is a pad of construction paper. Here is the theme. Go at it,’” Sabuda said “I don’t remember doing a lot of drawing. But I distinctly remember cutting out big construction paper shapes — and that’s what I am doing now.”

Sabuda’s foray into pop-ups began during a trip to the dentist’s office when he was 8. While waiting his turn in the chair, his mother spied a basket of books in the corner and encouraged her terrified son to find something they could read together and take his mind off the impending cavity filling.

“I went over and pulled out this book, and a paper structure stood up when the page turned,” Sabuda recalled.

That book — “The Adventures of Super Pickle” — changed his life forever.

He went home and practiced folding paper to make it pop up.

His mother, who worked as a secretary for Ford Motor Company, brought him old manila filing folders to cut up and bend.

Every birthday and holiday he received pop-up books.

After high school he left Michigan to study art at Pratt Institute in New York City. An internship at Dial Books for Young Readers taught him about the business of children’s books.

Upon his graduation, Sabuda traveled from book house to book house hoping someone would take him on as an illustrator. In the meantime he supported himself as a package designer creating boxes for ladies underpants and bras.

Eventually, small jobs illustrating coloring books, including one about Rambo, came his way.

His reputation as a children’’s book illustrator grew and Sabuda decided to try his hand at writing and illustrating his own books. His first two were published in 1992.

But deep inside, the urge to make a pop-up book grew and grew. So he pulled out his old pop-up books and “slowly and painfully taught myself through trial and error what it takes to become a paper engineer,” Sabuda said.

His first pop-up book, “The Christmas Alphabet” was published in 1994.

“It was the best book I could do at the time,” Sabuda said. “It was so hard. But it seems so simple now.”

Since then, he has published 20 more books — 17 of them pop-ups.

With each, his work becomes more complex, more challenging.

He spends his weekdays in his New York studio with partner and fellow children’s book writer/illustrator Matthew Reinhart and their staff of creators.

“We literally fold and tape all day long,” Sabuda said. “It is very much a group effort if we are trying to work something out.”

Some of his books have up to 300 individual pieces coming together to make the pop-ups. Many are made on pristine white. Some stay that color; others have colors and illustration details added, such as the delectable delights in his “Cookie Count: A Tasty Pop-Up.”

Multiple drafts are made of each pop-up until it is refined to exactly what Sabuda wants. Once a pop-up is finished, a template of each piece is placed on the computer. The pieces are colored, rebuilt for fine-tuning and then sent to Asia, where each pop-up is hand assembled — usually in runs of 300,000 copies.

While it is the pop-ups that make Sabuda’s work stand out, every book starts with a storyline and a manuscript, he said.

Some are simple ideas — such as alphabet books or Mother Goose tales. “America the Beautiful” is the words to the song. Other books are story classics: The Wizard of Oz and Alice In Wonderland.

His “Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Dinosaurs” is the first of a trilogy of books on prehistoric creatures that eventually will include sharks and sea beasts. Unlike his other works, the trilogy is non-fiction, filled with enough material to serve as classroom reference book, but designed to be eye-catching with their marvelous pop-ups.

Many of his books incorporate techniques from the original pop-up or moveable books of the 1200s and 1700s, said Sabuda, who also is a pop-up historian and collector.

In the 1200s, a monk created the first moveable book with a wheel for charting religious holidays. In the 1700s, a British book binder created flap books, moralistic stories that were folded in a pamphlet-like booklet.

His newest book, “Winter Tale” comes out Sept. 27 — days after his Lincoln appearance and will not be available at his presentations.

“It’s a huge book,” Sabuda said. A book based on his memories of winters in Michigan and his father taking him out in the freshly fallen snow to look at all the animal traces.

He is never lacking for inspiration or ideas, he said. “I see a piece of artwork, or a piece of furniture, I read a blurb about an historical figure — everything inspires me.”

See and learn from Robert Sabuda

Pop-up book artist, author and illustrator Robert Sabuda will present two programs at Southeast Community College:

“An Evening with Robert Sabuda” will be at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 23 at SCC-Continuing Education Center, 301 S. 68th St. Place.

The artist and children’s book creator will talk about the 700-year-old history of pop-up and moveable books and share the stories behind the handwork that goes into making his elaborate pop-up books.

The program is geared toward older youth (age 12 and up) and adults.

“A Pop-Up Workshop” led by Sabuda will be held from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Sept. 24 at the SCC-Continuing Education Center.

The program is open to all ages. Space is limited to 100 people.

Sabuda will teach participants how to make pop-ups with varying degrees of difficulty. Those attending should bring scissors, markers or crayons to the class.

The cost of each program is $20 per person. For tickets call 437-2832 or (800) 828-0072 ext. 2832.

Registration deadline is Friday, Sept. 16.

A tip for fans

Lee Booksellers will have copies of Robert Sabuda’s books for sale at his Sept. 23 presentation and Sabuda will be available to autograph books.

However, fans are encouraged to buy their books in advance, as Sabuda said books sell out quickly at his appearances.

Reach Erin Andersen at 473-7217 or

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