Wednesday, December 5, 2007

How Mary Beth Cryan became a Paper Engineer and Renaissance Woman

This article appeared in the May 2007 Movable Book Society Newsletter.

By Gina Lapp-Rincker, submitted by Carolyn Hughes, Cincinnati, OH.

What makes a good paper engineer? Creativity, drawing skills, good spatial reasoning, an understanding of geometry, and perhaps even good math skills. These are all qualities possessed by the latest up and coming pop-up artist, Mary Beth Cryan.

But how did Cryan obtain all the above-mentioned skills, many of which come from different personality types? It was not a lifelong determination to be a pop-up artist, but rather a series of happenstance's. Cryan's love of art started at an early age and she says that she became an artist "as soon as she was old enough to hold a crayon without eating it." Further, she has the benefit of being the daughter of a father who is a professional photographer and an art teacher turned stay-at-home-mom. Consequently, she had an early introduction to art and attributes the reason she loves art to her mother's influence and the many art projects they did together. Cryan continued her study of art in college earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration from Syracuse University.

While Cryan reported that she's always been good at math, it was a recent exposure to geometry that helps her in the engineering portion of her pop-up work. Oddly enough, she had this review of geometry as part of prep course for getting into a Master's of Business Administration (MBA) program, which at one time she thought was necessary for starting her own business. She has since discovered the MBA unnecessary as evidenced by her success in just two short years of having her own business. Further, her previous position as a toy designer gave her vital experience that she still draws on. It was at this job at Club Earth that she not only designed toys with an earth theme, but also did packaging design that allowed her to learn how to communicate with printers, another skill that she uses as a paper engineer.

The final twist of fate that led Cryan to paper engineering occurred just three years ago when she was looking for a book on origami, a lifelong interest, and instead stumbled upon one for paper engineering. It was then that she applied all of the above-mentioned skills and taught herself the art of paper engineering. She received encouragement to continue when she attended a Movable Book Society conference; she took some sample pieces and showed them to the leaders in the field who confirmed that she was indeed talented. This gave her the confidence to cold-call companies who use paper engineers and ask them if they could use her services.

All you need to do is peruse her website ( to see that Mary Beth Cryan is a modern day renaissance woman with her fingers in many different forms of creative expression: illustrations, product and toy design, T-shirt designs, and pop-up art. While she wears many hats (paper engineer, product designer, surface pattern designer), her favorite role is that of illustrator and she believes that paper engineering makes her "a unique illustrator." What's different about Cryan though is that she breathes a breath of fresh air in to the market with a focus on more feminine illustrations and subject matter. She has wisely applied this approach to pop-up greeting cards, which are more often purchased by women. Looking through her creations you will find whimsical illustrations of modern women doing distinctly womanly things: window shopping, trying on shoes, getting a makeover, and pushing a jogging stroller.

If you've been shopping for pop-up greeting cards you've probably seen her work. She has 8 cards on the market through Up with Paper, and many more in the production stages that should be out this year. Among her greeting card creations include a woman on a piano, a fishbowl, a gumball machine, a slot machine, and a tea party. If you haven't yet seen her work, you can check out the pop-up cards she designed for Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) for the 2007 Christmas season. But her future as a pop-up artist surely will not stop there. She has aspirations to have her own line of greeting cards and a book. Further, she plans to continue to infuse feminine themes and paper engineering. And as an artist who is true to her own voice, she will only do work in which she does the illustrations as well as the engineering. With such goals she will surely have a great impact on the field, perhaps giving the world of paper engineering a much-needed woman's touch.

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