For some time now, I have been creating whimsical pictures of animals using torn scraps of interesting paper. This began as a project when both of my children were toddlers. It was a rainy week, and we were all sitting together downstairs, with a bright array of origami paper spread out on the floor around us. I had been making them little origami creatures, boats, and planes. When the kids were frustrated that they couldn’t fold the paper the same way, I decided to try something different. I took a blank book and began tearing up pieces of paper. I glued the pieces together in the book to make a picture out of the collage of paper scraps.
My first subject was our cat, who dislikes rain and spends his time as close to his humans as possible when it is wet outside. The kids were thrilled, and immediately began tearing up paper and gluing them into their own blank books. They had a wonderful time, and I was happy to have something that we could all do together.
Fast forward a few years. My son, who shall herein be known as SuperDude, began Pre-K. For a few hours a day, he was with other kids in a big school. He wasn’t sure how to make friends and didn’t know how to express himself. We did not know at the time, but he was also experiencing pain in his joints due to Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. SuperDude had a hard time communicating with the other children, but he managed to make a few friends.
(The above picture is from a little later on, but it’s one of my favorites). When SuperDude entered Kindergarten, he was at school for a full day, and somehow wound up in a class that none of the children he knew from Pre-K were in. On his first day, the very tall father of a classmate had started talking to him and frightened him. So, when it was time for parents to leave, he was pretty anxious. Over the course of the next month or so, SuperDude was unable to sit still in his seat. I began to realize that this was not as much an over-abundance of energy, but him adjusting because the growing pains one gets with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome are very intense, and movement helps to distract one from the pain. I should know, as I was always fidgety for the same reasons as a child – we just never knew that there was something causing it.
So, here he was, the youngest child in his class, with a very high IQ, and a constant, unpleasant amount of pain. He was a little on-edge. He wanted to make new friends, but he wasn’t sure how. He would become frustrated with the fact that other children in the class already knew each other, but all of his classmates were new to him. His teacher thought he had ADHD and moved him to a desk by himself in the corner insteadof keeping him at a table with other children. He was jealous of the children who easily related to others. He began to act out. This is where the story of Alligator originated.
I made up stories about the adventures of an alligator who did not know how to make new friends. Like SuperDude, Alligator had a difficult time understanding how to approach others. Alligator was jealous of those receiving attention, and felt left out. Alligator began getting into mischief to try and gain attention, and his attempts backfired. My kids enjoyed hearing the stories about Alligator. We had SuperDude moved to a new class, and he stopped acting out. He made some new friends.
When my daughter was in 4th grade (and SuperDude in 2nd), she made a paper map of New York City’s five boroughs. We took a trip to the craft store, and she selected a variety of interesting paper and supplies for her project. When she was done, there was extra paper. I saved that paper, and began making paper animals again for fun. When I shared the images of the paper animals with friends and family, they got a great response.
I realized that I could create the story of Alligator and his plight to make new friends by making paper collage illustrations of the animals Alligator encountered on his adventures. I began writing down the story of Alligator, and I started sketching out animals, which I then fill in with colored paper scraps. The newer animals are more detailed than the originals because they are done with a bigger variety of paper. I try to make them colorful and interesting, and I love incorporating new textures into the mix.
As you may have guessed, I am turning Alligator’s story into a book about making friends and learning to be yourself. I believe this is a lesson that we can learn even as adults. I now have an IndieGoGo Campaign for Alligator’s Friends. I am hoping to raise enough to get a great variety of paper for all of the animals, to obtain high-res scans of all the animal pictures (instead of snaps from my phone), and to have the book professionally edited and laid out for production. Once that is done, I plan to do some targeted marketing for the book as well.
Please take a moment to check out the IndieGogo campaign for Alligator’s Friends. Watch the video to see how the process of making the paper animals works. Stop by the Alligator’s Friends Facebook page for info and updates on what is happening! And, if you have any friends who are parents or teachers, or who simply love animals or papercrafts, please share!