The Pizza Box Connoisseur

Photo: Michael Berman

“People are surprised I’m not 600 pounds,” laughs Scott Wiener, who runs a pizza company. Photo: Michael Berman

To the average American, a pizza box is a disposable, oily compilation of cardboard, taking up room in the fridge until the last slice is gone. But to Scott Wiener, a pizza box is a work of art. That’s why he holds the Guinness World Record for largest collection of pizza boxes.

Wiener eats, lives, and breathes pizza. During the day, he runs a pizza tour company, taking groups of tourists to 40 different pizzerias around New York City on a yellow school bus. But the job takes a lot of research, he says. “It’s not just waking up, eating pizza, and getting a paycheck.” 

Nearly six years, 1,500 tours and over 25,000 tour guests later, Wiener is planning a traveling art show featuring pizza boxes around the world, from Brooklyn to Austin, Tex., to the rest of the world. Below, he reveals the country that uses the world’s most intelligent pizza box (not America), how to order pizza the right way, and where his love for dough, red sauce, and cheese first began.

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Revisiting the LEGO Artist: A Times Square Exhibit

Two years ago, No Joe Schmo featured Nathan Sawaya, a lawyer-turned-LEGO artist who builds life-size sculptures with up to 25,000 LEGO bricks featured at corporate events and museums around the world.

This summer in New York City, Sawaya is the subject of the Discovery Times Square exhibit The Art of the Brick. The exhibit features a slew of Sawaya’s work, from LEGO recreations of famous artwork like the Mona Lisa, Starry Night, and Michelangelo’s David to a Tyrannosaurus Rex (very Night at the Museum-esque) to NYC-specific creations like the Statue of Liberty. Take a look below:

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One of my favorite parts of the exhibit, though, came at the very end. Everyone at the exhibit was encouraged to grab a brick, write  their name on it, and add it to a crowdsourced LEGO creation.

crowdsourced legos

The Art of the Brick runs through January 2014. Adult tickets cost $23.50.

NEXT: Think LEGO building is cool? Here are 10 awesome jobs you wanted as a kid

If you have an idea for a great No Joe Schmo, please submit it on the Suggest a No Joe Schmo page.

The Cardstacker (Who Doesn’t Watch House of Cards)

Bryan Berg's recreation of the Dallas skyline used 1,060 decks of cards.

Bryan Berg’s recreation of the Dallas skyline used 1,060 decks of cards. That’s more than 55,000 playing cards.

“There’s this notion that a house of cards is fragile,” says Bryan Berg, who has perfected the art of stacking cards over some 20 years. In fact, he explains, intricate houses can weigh in at hundreds and hundreds of pounds, and often require leaf blowers to take down. “Fragility is relative, right? I can put a brick building up to a tornado, and then you realize that it’s fragile, too.”

Berg, a Guinness World Record Holder at age 38, maneuvers around his freestanding constructions using ladders or scaffolding. His tallest creation, the Dallas skyline, is more than four times his height, towering at 26 feet – the holder of the Guinness World Record for Tallest House of Cards.

Hotels, television networks, and city governments approach Berg with requests for replicas of existing buildings or objects, like creating the largest casino in the world – the Venetian Macao Resort-Hotel in China – during the Chinese New Year in 2010. It took almost two months and 4,000 decks of cards to construct.

Below, Berg describes his 7- or 8-hour workdays, which he mostly spends in silence (except for crunch time, when he cues up electronica on his iPod) and wearing socks.

Age: 38
Graduated from: Bachelor of Architecture from Iowa State University; Master of Design Studies from Harvard
Based in: New Mexico
Years in the business: About 19
Previous jobs: I worked at my dad’s construction company throughout high school, college, and even after. That was part of what allowed me to get my footing with cardstacking.

I captured my [first] Guinness World Record in 1992 when I was a senior in high school. It was 14 feet and 6 inches tall, much higher than anything I had ever built before. But my first paid project didn’t happen until two years later.

Berg built the Beijing Olympic Village at Langham Place Kowloon, Hong Kong's largest shopping center, in celebration of the Beijing Olympics.

Berg built the Beijing Olympic Village at Langham Place Kowloon, Hong Kong’s largest shopping center, in celebration of the Beijing Olympics.

Did a passion for architecture segue into cardstacking, or vice versa? My interests in the built environment led me to cardstacking, and cardstacking led me into the pursuit of architecture.

When did you realize you could make a living by stacking cards? Well through college – if not, after. I considered every project to be an anomaly. Over time, I realized it was more than a fluke, and I took it more seriously.

Do you use novelty cards? Initially, I used whatever I could get my hands on – the cheap decks from the local grocery store. But that created a problem, since [each card] varied in quality and characteristics. So I partnered with this Belgian company Cartamundi to create cards with the ideal height-to-width ratio. I also worked with them to create a special buildable set, with a patent-pending gadget – it’s essentially a training wheel to learn how to stack cards.

Do you use any gadgets? No. But I’m not placing cards in a random or haphazard way – I design every single arrangement in a geometric and orderly method. But there’s no bending or manipulation of cards.

By nature, your art is impermanent – you can’t exactly transport a house of cards. I’ve only used glue with two projects, and I’m very upfront about them: Once, for the Holiday Inn, I glued together key cards for a life-size hotel recreation. Another time, for the World Series of Poker, I glued together poker chips for a full-scale “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign that hung in the air. Watch the time lapse below:

Your technique: There are two principal ways to stack cards: horizontally and vertically. I use both. I also produce a computer-generated rendering for my clients, but the finer points take a lot of improvisation. The musical analogy is that you’re given the time frame and key signature, but you have to fill in the notes.

The deconstruction process: I don’t get upset about knocking [a project] down, as long as I’ve got some good pictures. It’s part of the process; it doesn’t feel complete until I’ve knocked it down. I usually use a leaf blower.

It really requires that much force? A common question I get is, What if you sneeze while you’re working? People don’t realize that a house of cards is very heavy – hundreds and hundreds of pounds. A sneeze won’t do anything. Any damage while I’m building is isolated; it doesn’t spread because of all the partitions.

Best part of your job: Being able to be artistic and to do what I like.

Most challenging part of your job: When people come to us without a clear vision of what they want, or too hardened of an idea.

What would people be surprised to learn about your job? Actually stacking the cards takes a pretty small amount of time compared to planning and coordinating with everyone involved. My wife, Kristin, holds up the business end of things.

Berg was commissioned to break his own record at The Venetian Macao Resort Hotel, the largest casino in the world. The project took 44 days, 219,000 cards, and set a new Guinness World Record.

Replicating the Venetian Macao Resort Hotel, the largest casino in the world, took 44 days, 219,000 cards, and set a new Guinness World Record for Largest House of Cards.

How do you navigate around structures that are taller than you are? With ladders or scaffolding. You don’t want to stack yourself into a corner.

Have you dabbled in real bricks and mortar? I’m actually building a real house for myself right now. I’m the general contractor, so I have a crew.

Any interest in Netflix’s House of Cards? I’ve heard about it, but haven’t seen it.

Some structures must be impossible to recreate using cards. Yes, like the Statue of Liberty’s arm or the Golden Gate Bridge or an airliner’s wings. There’s nothing to support it.

Your required reading: Screw It, Let’s Do It by Richard Branson. It’s about how he made his life fortune by going against the advice of his financial advisors.

Your favorite architectural work: The temples at Angkor in Cambodia and the wooden architecture in Japan.

How do you calculate your rates? It’s a day rate that includes any travel costs. A big part of this is learning to suggest a reasonable price that isn’t a rip-off for [the client] or for me. Over time, you learn what something is worth.

LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER>>
Look at the work of others, but realize that sometimes the best ideas might not come from the human element. They might be outside in nature or in some totally unrelated realm of data or experience.

Follow Bryan Berg on Cardstacker.com, his Facebook page, and at @cardstacker on Twitter.

Next: Meet the SNL cue cards guy, who makes a living with a very different type of cards.

The Sculptor With a Palette of Butter, Chocolate, and Cheese

Jim Victor and Marie Pelton created a life-size chocolate replica of the No. 18 Toyota Camry M&Ms car. Photo: designboom.com

Jim Victor and Marie Pelton created a life-size chocolate replica of the No. 18 Toyota Camry M&Ms car. Photo: designboom.com

When it comes to chiseling 1,000 pounds of butter into life-size manatees or molding a Santa from cream cheese and mascarpone, no one does it better than Jim Victor. Just don’t ask him to use meat. That’s gross.

The food sculptures can take Victor and his wife, Marie Pelton, up to a month in their Philadelphia studio, using heavy-duty cutting tools, whittling implements, and cheese graters.

Age: 68
Graduated from: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Based in: Philadelphia, Pa.
Years in the business: 30 or so. I made my first chocolate sculpture in 1982, but didn’t do any again until 1995.

Did you attend art school with the intention of sculpting food?  No. I started out with wood, and did my first chocolate sculptures in the 80s. But didn’t grow serious about food sculpting until the 90s, when I realized a real demand for it. I actually got my first butter-sculpting job through a wanted ad that my brother saw in a local Harrisburg, Pa. newspaper. As a sculptor, your opportunities are few and far between.

Andy Warhol's "Marilyn Monroe" using marshmallows for the Orange County Fair in 2010.

Andy Warhol’s “Marilyn Monroe” using marshmallows for the Orange County Fair in 2010.

You work with quite a range of materials, from steel and wood to cheese and vegetables. A lot of the same sensibilities come into play; I have to think about textures and colors. But there’s an added concern with perishables, like fruits and vegetables. You have to create them the day before a show.

Your workspace: We have a regular studio and two temperature-controlled trailers for sculpting on the road. The sides of the trailers are windowed so that people can watch. Many fairs also have butter booth facilities.

How do you prevent the butter and chocolate from melting as you handle it? For butter, temperatures must be below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Chocolate is a little more forgiving — it just needs to be away from the sun and moisture, and below 80 degrees. For cheese, we work with harder ones, like hard cheddar.

Favorite edible medium: Parmesan cheese.

Your toolkit: Lots of clay modeling tools, or wooden tools that I carve myself. For something slippery, like butter, I need a big handle.

This butter manatee appears to be floating, but the seaweed supports the mammal's hefty body mass, explains Victor's wife, Marie.

This butter manatee appears to be floating, but the seaweed supports the mammal’s hefty body mass, explains Victor’s wife, Marie. Victor works mostly with unsalted butter, but salted butter is softer and easier to shape.

Which comes first, the subject or the medium? They’re usually commissions from corporate sponsors that want specific materials. After planning, we make armatures from wood, wire, or steel. That’s the skeletal frame around which the sculpture is built. People think we’re cheating, but you need an understructure to hold up the cheese, or chocolate, or whatever.

Your strangest commission: It was for a politically incorrect-themed party in California. We made Fidel Castro out of fruits and veggies, and Hitler out of cheese.

I didn’t see those on your website. It shocked me so much that I left those off.

Is there any food you won’t use for sculpting? For a long time, I said I wouldn’t work with meat. Then I did, but just a little. I don’t want to work with big quantities of meat — I think that could be really gross.

You’re not grossed out by 1,000 pounds of butter? Not really.

The nature of your job involves a sizable waste of food, considering your sculptures are not for human consumption. We use waste butter from dairy plants that would be thrown away anyway. A lot of our butter is turned into biofuel using digesters on farms or at university campuses to run cars.

Does the same go for cheese? No. We give some of [our cheese sculptures] to a food bank in Texas after a job. But for the most part, our sculptures can’t be eaten because we handle the material too much. We’re not chefs.

Best part of your job: Getting commissions to do work you love.

Mark Ingram, Jr., a running back for the New Orleans Saints, recreated in bread, raisins, cranberries, and chicken salad.

Mark Ingram, Jr., a running back for the New Orleans Saints, recreated in bread, raisins, cranberries, and chicken salad.

Most challenging part of your job: The technical challenges and demands that people and corporations throw at us. For Subway, we recreate heads of NFL stars using sandwich materials. It’s like, how do you make [Washington Redskins quarterback] Robert Griffin III out of chicken salad?

What would people be surprised to learn about your job? How difficult it is, both physically and technically. It involves a great deal of engineering and is very physically demanding. We’re lifting hundreds of pounds of butter. It’s also very long hours. For the past month, in preparation for a chocolate show in New Orleans, we’ve been working 10-hour days, seven days per week.

President Jimmy Carter, plaster, 1974.

President Jimmy Carter, plaster, 1974.

Your work in non-perishables is quite popular as well. Your plaster bust of Jimmy Carter currently resides in the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. That’s a funny story. New York magazine commissioned that bust — they wanted to smash it to pieces and then photograph it for their cover, to symbolize [what everyone thought would be] Carter’s failed negotiations for peace in the Middle East. But it turned out that his deal pulled through. So I wrote a letter to Carter, offering him the head for the museum. He accepted.

Average rate: We charge anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 per day, depending on our work. But we don’t always make that much, once you factor in design, shipping, and hiring people to help.

How do you unwind after a long day carving butter? With a stiff drink.

LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER>>
There are only so many jobs you’ll find in the wanted ads. The most successful people figure out what they want to do and make their own jobs. Opportunities are very fleeting; don’t ignore any of them.

Meet more artists with creative palettes: the dirty car artist, the soap maker, and the pop-up paper engineer.

Unless credited otherwise, all photos courtesy of JimVictor.com. Find more of his sculptures below:

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9 Rules For Creative Genius

Photo: uncyclopedia.wikia.com

As an art director at Sideshow Collectibles in Thousand Oaks, Calif., David Igo begins each morning with an inbox stuffed with freelancers’ artwork. Before noon, he sorts through about a dozen sketches from artists vying to work on projects for the retailer that manufactures collectible figures for various movie, film, and television properties, including Lord of the Rings and Star Wars.

The 29-and-a-half-year-old has learned quite a bit about finding success while still being able to laugh at himself. (“That’s how you can gauge my maturity – I add the ½ to my age,” Igo says.) He spews nuggets of wisdom throughout our talk: “If you love something, there’s some way to make it work. You must find joy in your job, not simply use it a means to an end.”

Yet this can be easier said than done. Below, Igo describes 9 ways to get your creative genius on.

1. Don’t be a lemming. In 2004, I went to Comic Con to shoot my portfolio around. There were all these big portfolio review lines, but I skipped them. I went straight up to booths and asked to speak with artists. Sometimes I hit gold and talked to one; other times, I was handed off to a public relations person. I passed out 30 copies of my portfolio that weekend. During the last hour of Comic Con on Sunday, when I’d pretty much given up all hope, one of the guys I had talked to approached me about a job as a concept artist.

2. Find creative balance. A lot of people burn out from being creative on the clock. I’ve worked my way into an art director’s position so that I’m working with amazing artists, but save my personal art energy for my own stuff.

3. Use disadvantages to your advantage. I’m color blind, so I focus more on pose and line art with my mechanical pencil and paper than full-blown paintings.

4. Don’t always feel the need to convey a “deeper meaning” with your product. I’m a huge product of 80s cartoons, like Transformers, G.I. Joe, Dragon Ball Z, and ThunderCats. They are ridiculous, fun, over-the-top stories and visuals. I try to have fun like that when I’m drawing.

5. You can’t make everyone happy. Sometimes, you need to make sacrifices and admit that your idea might not be the best. Don’t sit on your mistakes; find ways to make them better. That said, I try to make as many people as possible happy.

6. Know how and when to assert yourself. If someone screws you over, hold your ground – but not in a malicious way. People will trust and respect you more for it. You just have to put on your daddy pants sometimes.

7. Never say something aloud about someone you wouldn’t say to his or her face. Once, I was venting about one of my bosses, and it turned out he was right around the corner and overheard. But I had that motto in my head, so I wasn’t saying anything I wouldn’t have said to his face. I just wouldn’t have chosen to say those things to his face.

8. Be the guy (or girl) that people want to work with. When you approach someone, don’t make it all about you. Talk with others about what they do and show a genuine interest.

9. Constantly add to your portfolio. Keep improving: working hard and show progress. Then follow up: If there’s a company you really want to work for, you need to stay on its radar. I think there’s a happy medium between a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. Flexibility and dexterous skills will make you that much more valuable; advance with technology and always be on the lookout for what’s next.

More No Joe Schmo tips and advice: 5 rules for finding a job on Twitter and 7 LinkedIn tips for recent grads

Sample David’s artwork and art direction below. Find more of his on Sideshow Collectibles and his personal art site, Satellite Soda.

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The Dirty Car Artist

Scott Wade was dubbed “Lord of the Dust” at an event in Istanbul, Turkey, and “the da Vinci of Dust” by the National Enquirer.

Like many others with families to support and mortgages to pay, Scott Wade works full-time in an office cubicle, glued to his computer screen for a majority of daylight hours.

But in his other life, cars are his art and dirt is his palette.

Wade began doodling in filthy car windows as a way to relieve the stresses of his 9-to-5 job as a graphical user interface designer. He discovered a new meaning of “screen time” — one that involved intricate designs on windshields and 10-foot-tall storefront windows. A hobby that began on small-town dirt roads in Texas evolved into the viral phenomenon of Dirty Car Art, bringing Wade to Lisbon, Istanbul, and London. But his toolkit remains simple: brushes and vegetable oil.

“[My artwork] challenges our perceptions of what’s beautiful,” Wade explains in earnest. “It takes what we think of as an eyesore, and flips that on its head.” But like sidewalk chalk art and sand sculptures at the beach, impermanence comes with the territory. His masterpieces only last until the next rain.

Age: 53
Graduated from: Texas State University, BFA in commercial art
In the business for: 9 years
Based in: Wimberley, Texas (about 30 minutes from Austin)
Previous jobs: Arts and crafts instructor; freelance designer; drummer

The dusty roads in Texas must make for ideal dirty car conditions. I used to live on a long dirt road, and the blend of limestone dust and gravel and clay resulted in a fine white dust that coated the rear window. My first 50 or 60 creations were on cars that got naturally dirty just from driving up and down that road, building up successive layers baked on by heat and humidity.

And now? I don’t live on that dirt road anymore, and I’m doing a lot more creations for events. So I had to figure out a way to make a car dirty that wasn’t. I ordered Fuller’s Earth substitute — the same thing that makes dust clouds in the movies — and made it stick to the windows with a thin coat of vegetable oil. But I still love working on real dirty cars; they look much more three-dimensional. I miss those old days.

Wade creates original drawings as well as representations of recognizable art, such as Girl with a Pearl Earring.

What sparked your realization that a dirty rear window makes the perfect canvas? If you’re a fairly curious person, you can’t resist playing on a dirty car window, even if it’s just a smiley face or a “wash me.” It’s an impermanent canvas, so you’re free to play with it.

It probably helped that you majored in art. I think I picked up drawing from my dad; he was a really good amateur cartoonist. Living on a mile and a half of dirt roads, we never washed our car, so I’d always doodle in the windows. Then, one day, I used my fingernail and a popsicle stick to do some cross-hatching. And then I went inside to get my brushes, and realized that I’d found a real medium.

Your toolkit: A chisel-point rubber paint shaper tool, which acts like a pencil; different-sized fan brushes; and large brushes for the background. I do lot of work in Adobe Photoshop to figure out my designs, but the dirt is forgiving.

Do you carry the brushes with you for unsuspecting dirty cars? Sometimes, actually. That would be a great candid camera TV show: I could hang out at movie theaters, and when a really dirty car pulls up, draw in their windows. Since they’re at a movie theater, you know they’ll be gone for at least an hour or so.

Your first drawing: A reproduction of the Mona Lisa with van Gogh’s Starry Night in the background. I sent it to some friends via email, and bloggers began linking to it. Then I got a call from the National Enquirer.

And then your work went viral. Did that surprise you? Who would have thought people like looking at dirty pictures on the Internet? [Laughs.] I did receive some serious flack for a portrait of my daughter, which looked like she was being abducted. It was supposed to be funny, but it turned out creepy.

Your dream dirt drawing: I want to do a portrait using someone’s cremated ashes on the windows of a hearse. It would be weird, but also compelling.


Best part of your job: Most artists are isolated in their studios, but I’m creating artwork while people look on and talk to me. It took awhile to get used to, but I really enjoy that aspect.

Most challenging part of your job: Dealing with the business side of things, which I think a lot of artists can relate to. The medium itself is also very challenging. Dirt is not uniform, and the results are never what I totally expect.

What would people be surprised to learn about your job? A dirty car is typically an ugly thing. But when people see that dirt can be turned into beautiful art, it really challenges their perceptions.

Best reaction to telling a stranger about your line of work: I always get a cocked eyebrow. I can tell they’re thinking, Oh, it’s probably just some little doodles. Then I show my representation of the Birth of Venus by Botticelli, and they’re totally floored.

Do you wear protective gear to avoid breathing in dirt and dust? I might wear a paper mask, depending on the wind’s direction. When drawing on storefront windows, I wear goggles and a respirator.

You mentioned the medium’s impermanence. How do you justify putting so much effort into something that the rain will wash off in seconds? It’s a lesson in letting go, in understanding that life is just a series of moments passing by. If you try to hang on to something, it causes grief and heartache. If you can just be happy you had the experience, it frees you up.

One of Wade’s most recent works: The Marx Brothers. His creations can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 6 hours.

Fee per job: I charge by the day, not by the car. My corporate rate is $3,500/day, especially overseas. My nonprofit rate ranges from $650/day to $1,200/day.

When you tell your daughter to clean her dirty room, does she argue it’s just “art”? I don’t think she’s ever used that argument, and I’m not going to mention it to her.

LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER>>
There are a lot of people who have made careers out of doing something special in their medium, like Julian Beever’s 3D pavement drawings. Be unique in the way you do art: that’s what gets attention. This type of work can be very rewarding and enriching. Click here for a full gallery of Scott Wade’s work.

Impressed by dirty car art? For more artsy No Joe Schmos, meet the glassblower and the pop-up paper engineer. 

The Pop-Up Paper Engineer

“I always try to push myself in new directions with the engineering,” Reinhart says. “I try not to use similar mechanisms throughout my  books.”

In a small, messy studio in Chelsea, Matthew Reinhart sits at his desk, cutting paper for children’s pop-up books and listening to Howard Stern. Star Wars memorabilia and cutesy anime posters adorn the walls. Interns – along with one full-time staffer – flit in and out.

Reinhart, the author and illustrator of elaborate, awe-inspiring pop-up books like Star Wars: Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy, typically spends about six to eight months conceiving a storyline and cutting out hundreds of pieces for one of his books, some of which are as thin as a piece of thread or as small as a speck of pepper. His newest project – a book involving large transforming robots that he is deliberately vague about – is slated to take even longer.

Many hail his work as sophisticated engineering, but Reinhart remains is bashful. “I’m just this guy who sits in a studio and cuts up paper,” he says. “I’m an art student, not a math student.”

Yet his dedication to art was not always so clearly defined. Below, the author-slash-engineer discusses how gouging out eyes from corpses at New York City morgues made him realize the importance of pursuing a career you love.

Age: 40
Graduated from: Clemson University, biology major; Pratt Institute, industrial design major
In the business for: 13 years
Based in: New York, New York

You studied biology as an undergraduate. Did you always have a hidden passion for art? I always took an interest in making things, but my parents didn’t want me to be a starving artist. They wanted me to be a doctor. So I majored in biology at Clemson, and if I ever had an elective, I took an art course. My notebooks in biology class were out of control – I drew massive ink sketches in the margins.

When did it click that you should study art instead? I got into medical school, but decided to first take a year off and live in New York. I started working at the Eye-Bank for Sight Restoration, through which I went to morgues and took out people’s eyeballs, sometimes in the middle of the night. By the time I was 22, I had been to every morgue in the New York City area. I saw a lot of dead people – a lot of whom were really young. That made me realize that life is short, and I have to do something I love.

So death inspired you to take advantage of life. [Laughs.] I went to my parents and told them I wanted to pursue art, and they were totally behind me.

Why pop-up books? I met [acclaimed children’s book author] Robert Sabuda doing volunteer work together for a local community center. When I graduated from Pratt, I began working with him on a book, and then we began co-authoring books. It grew bigger, and I started my own projects.

At the end of Star Wars, pieces of an Anakin Skywalker pop-up fold away as the light saber turns from blue to red. The pop-up fully transforms into Darth Vader.

What would people be surprised to learn about your job? It’s a lot less technical than people think. I’m an art student, not a math student. I don’t sit here with my trigonometry calculator and figure out the sine or cosine; I cut paper and see if it works.

Which comes first: pop-ups or words? Words are almost always first. Once we agree on a manuscript – which is like writing a term paper only three pages long – we outline what will go on each page. Then, I create the rough pop-ups, cutting and folding paper, which takes two or three months. Next is the cut-paper collage and placement in the digital file. One book might have 200 to 300 separate pieces.

Time span of creation, from start to finish: About six to eight months, but Star Wars took a little longer.

Tools used: 110-lb. cardstock; scissors; white artist’s tape; double-stick tape; white glue (similar to Elmer’s); scanners; and X-Acto blades. I use tweezers to pick up the really small pieces.

Do you use computers for design, or just implementation? Some people make pop-ups totally on the computer, but we don’t. You don’t know how all the pieces are going to fit together unless you’re holding them in front of you.

Last year, eBooks passed print in adult fiction for the first time. Pop-ups can’t exactly be digitized. Do you perceive that as a disadvantage? It’s a really weird time, and there’s a lot of nervousness in the publishing industry. Some of my work has slowed down, but I think kids will always play with [physical] books, especially picture books.

Do you use an eReader? My iPad is easier when I’m traveling, and I can get a lot of different comic book titles on it without worrying about collecting them. But if I find a really beautiful book about graffiti, I want the actual book.

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Best part of your job: Working with amazingly creative people, like DC Comics. And I get to wear shorts to work if it’s hot.

Most challenging part of your job: Deadlines are the worst. The changing economy makes it hard to create something spectacular and also cost-appropriate.

Do you have certain ideas for pop-ups that are simply too expensive to be produced en masse? Yeah, there are certain elements. But I get to put light sabers in books, which is pretty cool.

Were you an avid reader as a kid? It’s funny – throughout my entire childhood, I didn’t really have any pop-up books. I wasn’t a big reader. I remember faking a report for A Wrinkle in Time using the liner notes on the book’s inside flap. I wasn’t even smart enough to use CliffsNotes! So now, I think about how I can pull in young readers who aren’t so interested in reading – the young versions of me.

In the New York Times, David Pogue wrote that calling your Star Wars book a pop-up book was like calling the Great Wall of China a partition. That was one of the most amazing things to have ever been written about me. I truly love this work, and sure, there are times when I’ve neglected my social life or personal life for it. But it’s very much a part of me.

One book character you’re dying to meet: The Cat in the Hat or Horton would be pretty cool. Optimus Prime would also be pretty kickass.

Your required reading: I did a book with Maurice Sendak – rest in peace – I love his work. The artwork of Mercer Mayer and Peter Spier is fantastic, too.

 

LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER>>
1. Paper engineering is a competitive field right now, especially with the emphasis on digital media. Be persistent and look around at what exists – then make sure you’re doing something completely different.

2. Acknowledge that you won’t be on top in the beginning. You’ll spend a lot of time working under someone else, paying your dues and being patient. Don’t assume, I made this book, so it should be published. [Success] doesn’t always come quickly.

3. Invest in a copy of The Elements of Pop-Up by David A. Carter and James Diaz.

Follow Matthew’s work on his blog and learn how to create your own Darth Vader pop-ups on his website.

For more crafty No Joe Schmos, check out the miniature food artist, the roller coaster engineer, and the textile jeweler.