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Sketchbook: Meet a Pop-Up Book Designer


[Keith] When you open the page, you get literal gasps.

[Margaret] In the basement of his Olmsted Falls home, author Keith Allen puts X-acto blade to paper. The tools of the trade are a little different when you're working on a pop-up book.

[Keith] I'm a paper engineer. I work on greeting cards in American Greetings, and then I also make pop-up books. I love the challenge of a pop-up book. I love the challenge of having something fold completely flat, and then making it come alive when you open it up.

[Margaret] Keith recently published his second book, "What a Mess," a pop-up misadventure.

[Keith] It's inspired by my kids, and they don't like to clean up after themselves which, you know, I know they're unlike many other kids that don't like to clean up. There's not many that I've found that do, so it's just a fun story about that. I want each page to really be exciting and have some kind of big event happening, so that theme really let me do some exciting things on each page, so like the first page, the room explodes with toys, so you get this big explosion. The next page, there's like a mountain of toys, so you can really come off the book like real high. I wanted it to stretch as high as I could possibly push it. The two kids in the story, they're loosely based on my kids, so I also hid my kids toys throughout the whole book, so they like to go around and pick them out.

[Margaret] Going from idea to reality is a process of trial and error.

[Keith] You first have your idea or your theme, and I just immediately start sketching and just sketch a whole bunch of ideas down in a sketch book, and then once I have like a rough idea of where I want to go with that, I start just cutting paper and applying it to my card. It's almost like sketching in three-dimensional, so you just keep building and building until things are working the way you want, and then once you have that, I tear it apart refine all my lines, rebuild it. If it's working great, then I can move on. If not, then I fix things, tear it apart, rebuild, and it's kind of that process over and over and over again until you get something that's working, working really nice.

[Margaret] While he may not be using a pencil, Keith can still run into writer's block.

[Keith] Sometimes, it'll come together like immediately, and it's exactly what you wanted, and you're like, "All right! Well, that was simple and I'm done, and that's great," and then other times, it'll just drive you mad. I had one page in my first book. I spent weeks on it, and I tried this version and this, a million different versions, and it was crazy. This sounds nuts, but I had a dream. Like I went to bed that night frustrated, and I had a dream on how to solve it, and then when I woke up, I sketched it down and then used that mechanic, which it sounds crazy, but yeah.

[Margaret] But it worked.

[Keith] It worked, yeah.