S.T.E.A.M. Part II: Paper Modeling, Mechanics, and Engineering

Paper Models

Note: This is an ongoing project. Check back for new stuff.

Paper art and paper models have long been popular in both Europe and Asia, but have not been as popular in the United States. The exception, however, was the period between 1930 and 1945. Paper was the primary material for toys during both the Great Depression (far cheaper to produce and to sell) and during World War II (other materials were sidetracked for the war effort). Not surprising, the 1930s saw the introduction of cardboard board games (Monopoly), paper dolls (Shirley Temple), and card models. The period is also notable because of the rise of the paper toy printed on the backs of cereal boxes.

Paper modeling is a great way to introduce kids to scale modeling without costing a fortune. For the sites listed below, you will need a printer that can handle the occasional sheet of cardstock, but you do not necessarily need a color printer. Some of the models listed below have color patterns, but you can print in grayscale and let the kids do the coloring. Paper modeling requires the following supplies:

For beginning modeling:

  • A good pair of scissors (although standard safety scissors with the rounded ends will work with the simpler models)
  • A glue stick. Of the available glue sticks, the Melissa & Doug sticks are probably the easiest for youngsters to use and have a faster set rate. They are triangular and are easier for small hands to grip and control.
  • A set of crayons, colored pens, or pencils.
  • White cardstock.

We carry the Melissa and Doug art supplies here at the Toy Station.

For more advanced modelers:

  • A good hobby knife and #11 X-acto blades.
  • A metal ruler or straight edge for more precise cuts
  • A cutting pad (plastic or acrylic sheet that will save your table top). A good source for a work area is a piece of plexiglass from Lowes or Home Depot. They provide a clean work surface give a good place for cutting out pieces and parts, and will save you kitchen table from glue spots.
  • A fast setting paper glue (Elmers will work, but it takes some time to bond. Glue sticks have a rapid bond ratebut are more difficult to control, especially on smaller pieces and parts in the model). Check with your local art supply store (locally in the New River Valley, talk to the folks at Mish Mish first–great store for modeling supplies, including heavy guage papers).
  • Toothpicks (The best way to spread a thin layer of glue. When you are gluing paper models, make sure to not over glue. Too much glue slows down the setting time, gummies up the model, and can result in “slide”–where the paper parts don’t stay in the exact location where they need to be).
  • Wax Paper (the best gluing mat).
  • Colored pencils or pens.
  • Higher grade art paper…10m or higher gauge. Personally, I like the hot press papers. They make a nice model, are easier to color, and react well to glue.

And now to the modeling sites.

  • The Toymaker. (United States) One of our vendors and one our favorites. In addition to her book of paper toys, she has also published a wonderful collection of paper toys, including otter paperdolls on her website.
  • A Strut and Girder Type Paper Construction Set (very cool and does work…although the full set requires a pack of office paper, 24 lb works better than 20 lb, and a couple of ink cartridges) , compliments of Space Station 42.
  • Creative Park . The paper projects are compliments of Canon. Be sure to sent the site’s language to English (upper right side of screen). Stock up on color ink and white glue. The projects can be done using standard office paper (24 lb preferable, 20 lb okay).  The instructions are written in Japanese, so the projects will probably require help from either parents or grandparents, but the quality of design is excellent and most of the projects can be constructed by looking at the images of the constructed models.

Paper projects hint: Pick up a box of plain toothpicks the next time you are at the store. You can control the amount of glue on the tabs by putting a drop of glue on a toothpick and using the toothpick to spread it evenly on the tab. It solves the problem of oozing glue when you attach tab A to tab B. A side note: the same is true if you are building miniatures or a furniture kit. Glue is easier to work with if you control the flow at the beginning rather than trying to remove it after it is on the intended (or unintended) surfaces.

  • Epson Carousel Not to be outdone, Epson also provides free paper models and toys. The site highlights Epson Aquastation, including fish models, dioramas, and other cool stuff. As with the Canon site, the instructions are in Japanese, so there may be some guesswork involved.
  • The Fokker D.VII. (United States) A model from Fiddler’s Green. While we don’t typically do airplane models at the depot, the Fokker D.VII is an exception (a fondness for Snoopy and the Red Baron). The instructions are in English and fairly easy to follow.
  • Paper Puzzle Parade (Georg Egger, Germany)
  • Sasatoku. Ignore the language barrier. This site has some terrific, well designed models. Plans and patterns are in pdf format. You will have to guess at the construction sequence, but the final results are very cool.

Mechanics, Automata, and Paper Machines


Museums & Paper Artists

Cabaret Mechanical Theatre. London. Be sure to check out the artists’ pages. If you would like to see one of their exhibits in person… there are exhibits at the American Visionary Arts Museum in Baltimore, Maryland and Discovery World in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Giuseppe Civitarese (Pino). A former oceanographer turned card model builder and designer. Check out his History of London in paper.

Keith Newstead.  His garden animation is pretty amazing!

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