Article Type Making Art Together Making Art Together Categories At Home Art Studio Bookmaking Collage

Pop-Ups and Paper Construction

Meg Nicoll

This week, we invite our At Home Art Studio community to explore pop-ups! Using paper and a pair of scissors, you can create images that leap off the page and surprise the viewer. Much like lift-flaps and cut-outs, we often return to pop-ups in the Art Studio to encourage storytelling and make art that is interactive. In this post, we will show some of the pop-up techniques we’ve explored to create sculptural cards and books.

Sara made this pop-up octopus a few weeks ago, which made us realize that while pop-ups feature in many Art Studio projects, we’ve never written a blog post about them. We thought it would be a great time to explore this topic with the At Home Art Studio community.

While we provide some step-by-step instructions below, the pop-up structures we chose to explore can be used as the starting point for many kinds of sculptural storytelling.

Accordion-Fold Pop-Ups 

Accordion pop-up folds are wonderful because you can add as many as you like into your card or book. To start, fold a paper in half to make the card or choose two facing pages in a book for the pop-up to appear. 

Three images: One with a folded piece of blank paper with four cut strips of paper and a pair of scissors. The second image shows a hand accordion-folding the paper strip in half and then into fourths. The third image shows the accordion fold, shaped like an “M”.

To make the accordion-fold pop-up, cut a long rectangle of paper, fold the paper in half, then fold each end back to the middle. It will look like an “M” or a “W.” 

Two images: On the left, an accordion folded paper is glued on one side to a page in a blank book. On the right, the accordion fold is glued on both ends to the opposing pages, spanning the gutter of the book.

Now that you have an accordion fold, you can attach it so that it spans the gutter of your book or card. Glue or tape one end of your accordion fold onto a page of the book or card. (We recommend you glue the accordion fold close to the gutter so that your page or card can open all the way.) To attach the other end of the accordion to the facing page, put glue on it and close the card or book.  

Two images: One shows an accordion fold pop-up where the outer tabs that are glued to the pages are more hidden by being glued to the pages so the outer tabs face towards the spine. The other image shows the pop-up octopus again.

The first time Sara glued the accordion in, she realized that the tabs were visible on the page. After experimenting, she discovered that you can glue the tabs facing in rather than out, making a more hidden transition to the pop-up structure, as seen in the image above. The pop-up structure is now ready to have art added to it for surprises to pop out of the page! 

There are two images of the same book, where collaged fish are swimming and jumping out of collaged water.

Another way you can use the accordion fold to create a pop-up is to glue only one end to the page. Janet used this technique and made her cut-out fish looked like they were leaping out of the stream! 

Cut-out pop-ups 

Three images showing the process of making cut-out pop-ups. Two images showing a hand folding the cut-out rectangle back and forth to form a crease. One image showing the pop-up after it has been pushed through the card.

Cut-out pop-ups are great because you don’t need adhesives. To create a cut-out pop-up, cut two parallel lines in the spine of your card (or loose book pages) and then fold the tab, created by these cuts, back and forth to make a crease. Then, open the card and push the tab through to the inside to make a reverse fold.

A red, cut-out pop-up nestled into the fold of a pink card.

Mackenzie decided to make a pop-up card for her grandparents using the cut-out technique. She thought that it would be a fun surprise to celebrate springtime! She created a two-color card by gluing the smaller red pop-up card into a larger pink card.

Two images of a springtime-themed card. The front of the card has collaged clouds, raindrops, and brown earth with the words “April showers...” written on the cover. The middle of the card has a large, colorful pop-up flower with the words “bring May flowers!” written on the pink card border around the red, cut-out pop-up structure.

On the front of Mackenzie’s card, she used scrap watercolor paper for the raindrops, tissue paper for the ground and a cloud, and magazine paper for another cloud. Mackenzie loved how the flower on the inside of her card turned out! She made it from tissue paper and watercolor paper scraps and attached it to her pop-out structure. 


Using the accordion fold and cut-out techniques as a starting point, you can begin to explore endless pop-up possibilities, Here are just some of the ways we experimented. 

Four images showing how to make a triangle pop-up. Hands cut one line into the crease of a folded piece of paper. The cut flap is creased and folded back and forth into a triangle shape. The triangle shape is pushed through to the inside of the card. The final image shows a triangle pop-up.

A triangle can be made by cutting one line into the spine of a folded piece of paper. After cutting the straight line, fold the paper over to make a small triangle, then open the card to push the shape through. 

Two images showing how to make an oval pop-up. The one to the left shows the two cut, curved lines that start at the folded paper but do not meet. The one to the right shows the pop-up after the shape has been pushed through so an orange oval pops out of the card.

Sara learned that by cutting two lines in the fold that don’t meet, you can create a whole variety of shapes. Sara decided to make an oval shape out of her orange textured paper by cutting curved lines. 

Scissors cutting a spiral out of black, textured paper.

Sara also made spirals to spring out of her card. 

Pop-Up Projects 

Two images showing an abstract pop-up card. The one to the left shows many different cut-out pop ups including triangles, circles, spirals, squares, and rectangles. Each cut-out has been glued into the folds of other pop-ups. The one to the right is a closer view of the spiral, oval, and beak shape.

Sara combined the different shapes she had made by gluing them into a larger card. She found that the small pop-ups could be glued into any fold in the card, so some larger pop-up structures supported smaller pop-ups. 

Three images showing the process of making a horizontally-oriented, nature-scene pop-up. One shows a card with a cut-out pop-up at the top of the card and a glued-in accordion fold at the lower part of the card. A collaged robin sits on the lower pop-up with green, textured grass. The second image shows a brown, torn-paper tree has been added to the left-hand side of the card. The final image shows another tree has been added to the right-hand side of the card, and a red cardinal is sitting on a branch that is on the upper pop-up.

Meg decided to make a card that incorporated both the accordion-fold and cut-out techniques. Taking inspiration from the birds searching for worms outside her window, she cut a robin out of collage paper, and then glued it to the back of the pop-up structure. Then, using the cut-out at the top of the card, she created three-dimensional tree branches for a cardinal to land on. Meg collaged her trees using torn paper, which created interesting organic shapes, perfect for branches. 

Three images showing a meadow pop-up card. Two showing brightly colored collaged flowers glued to the pop-up structures with a butterfly and bumblebee flying above the flowers in the air. The cut-out pop-ups are different depths and thicknesses. The third image shows that when the card is closed, there are missing cut-out sections where the pop-ups are now inside the card.

Meg wanted to try making another nature scene. This time, she oriented the card so that one page became the ground of a meadow. She cut out a series of four pop-ups, changing the lengths of her cuts to create pop-ups of different heights and depths. Gluing collaged flowers to the pop-ups created a layered landscape. 

Two images showing spiral pop-ups. The one to the left shows a spiral that has been glued on one side to the card, and glue is being applied to the opposite end of the spiral that is facing up. The image to the right shows a blank card filled with red, yellow, and blue spirals that pop-up and entangle when opened.

Sara enjoyed making pop-ups spirals the most. After experimenting, she noticed that the process of attaching them was similar to gluing in accordion folds. She glued one end of the spiral down to a page and applied glue to the other end of the spiral (on the side that faced up). Sara then closed the card, ensuring that the spiral was attached at both ends and spanned across the fold. She repeated this process with different spirals, changing their sizes, shapes, and colors. When she opened it up the card, the spirals were revealed inside. 

Hannah loved pop-up books when she was a kid, so she started her process by looking through the pop-up books on her bookshelf.  

Two images showing a yellow pop-up card with a red tree. The image to the right shows two red silhouettes of a tree, each with a cut in the middle that allows them to be notched together. The image to the right shows the card assembled where the tree is glued to the cut-out pop-up on the yellow card.

Hannah made a cut-out pop-up structure in a yellow card. She was inspired to make a tree that really popped out of her card, and decided to make a tree in two parts. She attached two red tree silhouettes together using cuts (one cut going half-way up the tree from the bottom and the other cut going half-way down from the top) and then sliding them together. 

Seen from a birds-eye view, the red tree is lined up with the accordion fold cut-out so that it can be glued.

She then lined up her tree with the corner of the cut-out and glued it on.  

Two accordion fold pop-ups, the yellow card with the red tree, and a red card with a yellow fence and a tree that has a brown trunk, green canopy, and red fruit. The red card has the tree in the middle and the fence surrounds the tree.

Hannah was interested in exploring other ways she could make a tree pop-up. For her second pop-up, she made a tree that grew out of the middle of the page. Hannah used a similar cut and slide technique for her paper construction. For this card, Hannah did a lot of problem-solving and experimenting. For example, she noticed that if the bases were in line across the crease of the card, the tree didn’t fold properly. To solve this problem, she moved them around to create an offset until the card closed neatly. Similarly, for the fence, she experimented with many different placements until she was happy with how it all folded when the card closed. Hannah had fun figuring out all the different elements in this design.  

As we wrote and edited this post, we realized how much there is to share about pop-ups. The ideas in this post are just the start, and we know we will continue to experiment with these techniques and materials. We hope you enjoy making your own At Home Art Studio pop-ups! 



Meg smiling in the Art Studio.

Meg Nicoll

Art Educator at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art from 2016 to 2023, Meg enjoys working with artists, educators, and people of all ages to create opportunities for art-making.