4.5 Paper Circus


The circus is coming to town! Create a poster advertising what’s on, where and when, but only use paper to do it. Use coloured paper, work with collage, cutting and layering, folding or sculpting. Be creative in your approach to image-making and typography. Scan or photograph your final piece and reflect on how the limitation of only being able to use one material has affected how creative you can be. Was this limitation a help or a hindrance?
Reflect on the results in your learning log.


I do not like the idea of using circus animals so I wanted to focus on human circus performers – acrobats and clowns. Initially I thought of an African/Ethiopian focus. But possibly also drawing on African religious traditions of dance puppets to represent animals. There was a UNESCO celebration of African circus performers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in  2015. The videos from this gave a lot of material.

African Circus

But in the end I decided to use some of my own photos from the Aldeburgh carnival. This had children and people in wheelchairs dressed up as clowns and animals in very colourful costumes. I started with preliminary ideas for an alternative ‘Cirque des Freaks – featuring the very enabled’ modelled on the paralympics.

My research on Paper Art showed a range of 2D and 3D possibilities, including work on the Circus by Matisse and some powerful silhouette work by Kara Walker. This provided my starting point – printing out cropped versions of the photographs to cut and manipulate with coloured paper.

I began by cutting out the parts of the photographs that I enjoyed.

I turned the cutouts over and photographed them to produce silhouettes on my iPad before sticking them in my sketchbook for colour reference. To see what the silhouettes would look like.

Page of silhouettes on my iPad

The cutting also left rather different shapes in the paper left behind that could be incorporated.

Mockup in Procreate

 I need to know more about the relative size of the elements and have a basic design in mind before collaging, or I end up just trying to fit together jigsaws – as happened in my caricature of Bob Geldof in Project 4.1. Also which elements would be in which colour. Using my iPad silhouette photos I experimented with size, design and colour in Procreate. I liked the jagged edges of the silhouettes, and thought of using some of the figures as text. I was also interested in the reversals of image and text in the word ‘Cirque’.

But this still needs quite a lot more work to transfer to paper. And to maintain my original ‘Cirque des Freaks’ idea showing enabled skills. The cycle and acrobats could be replaced by wheelchairs on tightrope, and the main figure with the weight could have a chimp face etc. But I now need to look carefully at the paralympics and what people in wheelchairs are actually doing – creating new silhouettes from other photos. This issue will need a lot of thought to really challenge stereotypes and make it clear to the viewer.