Peter Dahmen

What are pop-up cards and how they are produced, find out from respected Peter Dahmen, a famous graphic designer from Germany.

Peter Dahmen is a graphic designer from Germany who is making beautiful pop-up cards. Paper structures are reaching incredible levels – from far-reaching architectural sculptures to pretty naturals appearances. Specializing in pop up sculptures his work tends to be designed as single, unique pieces utilising great attention to detail to create a masterpiece.

W: To begin with, please introduce us about your work and tell us when did you first became interested in pop-up?

I remember, that I always loved to create things from paper and cardboard, even since I was a child. But it was in the year 1989, during my design studies, when we had the task to create three dimensional objects from paper and cardboard – that I had the problem, how to transport my huge architectural structures to the university. So I decided to create 3D artworks that are foldable – to make them easier to transport. Since then, I create pop up sculptures.

W: Did you have any formal education for this kind of art?

I had no teacher for this kind of art. When I started to create pop up cards, there was no such thing like the internet! But I got a lot of inspiration through some pop up books that I knew from the bookstore – but I did not own a pop up book at that time. So I taught myself to create pop up structures – through hours and hours of personal experience, by trial and error.

W: How long have you been making pop-up sculptures and pop up cards?

I create pop up cards since about 24 years now.

W: What are the most usual themes that can be found in your art?

In my personal artworks, I am mostly interested in architectural themes. It is not my aim, to create “real” buildings, I also like abstract objects which have a certain rhythm, or a repeating pattern. When I work for commercial projects (for clients), the motifs can be nearly everything – from a restaurant scene to a football stadium.



W: What kind of paper do you use for sculptures?

It always depends on the effect, that I want to achieve: For soft things e.g. the wings of a butterfly or the petals of a flower, I use soft paper (e.g. drawing paper) with a weight between 120 g/m2 and 190 g/m2, but when I create architectonical motifs or abstract scenes, I use stronger cardboard (card stock) with a weight up to 340 g/m2. For the backing sheets, I use really strong cardboard with a weight up to 900 g/m2. I like to use offset printing paper (and cardboard) which is also used by offset printing companies – but I don’t think, that you really need a certain paper to create beautiful paper artworks. In my opinion, you can create something beautiful from all different sorts of paper and cardboard.

W: And what about the colour of the paper. How much are the colors important for a pop-up sculpture?

When I create my personal artworks – which are usually created to be single, unique pieces, I prefer to make them in white, or at least with only a few colors. I think, that the form, the structure and the movement are the most important aspects in my kind of art – and color would only distract the view.

When I am working for clients, I usually have to keep in mind, that the pop up cards have to be produced in a large edition (1.000 – 2.000 cards or even more more). Therefore, the cards can only be constructed of very few pieces. In such cases, it is often a good idea to add colorful illustrations – so I don’t need to create the whole structure only through cutted lines and folding lines. Let me give you an example: When I create a pop up card which shows a building with many windows, they would have to be cut out piece by piece – if the pop up card would be completely made from white paper. It would not be a problem, if the pop up sculpture was a single piece. But if the card is a prototype for the serial production, it is a better idea, to add an illustration which shows all the windows – so they don’t have to be cut out in the serial production (which would make the production very expensive).

W: What would you say, how much time do you need for only one single idea?

There is no general answer to this question. It depends on the complexity of the motif. Sometimes, I create a new pop up card design within one single day – but usually, I need several days until every detail fits properly. Sometimes, I work more than 10 days to create a single pop up sculpture. When I design a new 3D object, I start with the creation of very easy models. During the designing process, the next models become more and more complex. Sometimes I have a certain idea, which forces me to solve several problems. Then I often need several attempts – and a lot of trial and error – until I know how I have to build the final pop up sculpture.



W: Is there anything about your process or way of working that you think is unusual or unique?

I don’t know, if it is possible, to create a new pop up card design only by thinking about it, or by the use of a computer – without doing it with your own hands. Maybe some people can design things in that way – but I like to work with the real materials. My first prototypes and sketches are always made by hand. Paper does not always react in the way, that you are expecting, and so it is a good idea, to try things in reality. I think, that it is necessary to play around and to try out different solutions to achieve new ideas. But I don’t think, that this kind of working process is unique or special.

W: Do you feel that the public understands your work?

There is no “statement” or “message” in my artworks, which has to be understood by the audience. I know, that every viewer has his personal thought upon each of my sculptures. People associate different things, when they look at my abstract artworks – and I like it that way! That’s the reason, why most of my paper artworks are untitled. Even if one person may say, that a certain pop up sculpture reminds him or her of a certain building – I would never say that this is right or wrong. If they can see it – it must be there. Even if I did not intend to make each of my pop up sculptures look like “real things” from nature or architecture, many people still look at my sculptures as if they were models of “real things”. I think, that’s OK!

W: Since festive days has overpast, did you prepare something special for Christmas?

I already have prepared something: I made a tutorial video for a “Last Minute Christmas pop up card” It can be found on youtube under the following link:

The template is also free. It can be found here:

W: What inspires you most in life?

Everything can be inspirational. It is difficult to say, were my ideas come from.

W: Finally, what are your plans for the future?

Since I published my first pop up sculptures on youtube – in the year 2010, which is not very long ago – I received very much interest from people all over the world. I have ever expected before, that so many people would like my artworks. I am very thankful for this positive response and I would be very happy, if this interest would also continue in the future.

In the past years, I received orders for wonderful projects, which were more phantastic, than I had ever imagined before. E.g. the creation of the probably largest pop up card in the world (for BMW / MINI), or the collaboration with the ”virtual magician” Marco Tempest. I would be very happy, if I could receive some new projects like these in the future.

More about Peter Dahmen:

Author: Azra Terzić
Photography: cover photo ©Heiko Preller / photogallery © Peter Dahmen

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