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  • Writer's pictureAmy Burvall

Making like Charlemagne: Paper 53 Takeover on Instagram


This weekend I had the supreme privilege of doing a #53takeover of the Instagram account of my favourite app – Paper, by Fifty-Three (@fiftythree). The folks at Fifty-Three have been nothing but lovely in all respects and the app has veritably changed my life and how I work – both professionally and creatively – so needless to say I was tickled. 

I approached the takeover from a teaching perspective – to me it wasn’t about showcasing my art but rather a few thematic “lessons”, shown by exemplar for how one can use the app and all its facets in unique ways. I’ll discuss those in this post but first I need to acknowledge a few problems I had:

The Time Difference:

Paper is in NYC so they go by EST, however their Instagram following (all 21k+) is truly global. They were generous to let me in Thursday night, Hawaii time, so I could, here in the middle of the Pacific, start taking advantage of the time I had (which was Friday-Sunday). That said, I started posting right before bed Thursday night, and did most of my posting upon waking Friday. But as Craziness Happens this was exactly when Instagram was doing a major upgrade and was DOWN. That’s right, for about 40 minutes no Instagram!

Which leads us to problem #2:

My Exuberance

On my own Instagram I tend to average 6-8 posts a day…mostly because I do a variety of art and several series projects that require this consistency, plus I do indeed post all the art I do. My followers have never minded me being prolific -slash- admittedly obsessive. I do acknowledge I can get into creative frenzies sometimes, as discussed in this post on what Van Gogh calls “active melancholy”.

I learned a lesson the hard way, however, when I posted a bit to much and too frequently the first day. It might have been the Instagram timeline updates, because I know if I follow 600 people or so no matter how much someone posts it does not feel overwhelming to me. But apparently to some that is just not cool, and they were not afraid to say. And in social media, despite however many likes it seems that one hurtful comment is much stickier (perhaps because they took precious time and energy out of their day to do so?). Fortunately I have grown thick skin from my days in History for Music Lovers, and my motto has become “Create, Don’t Hate”. I believe that if you have time to sling some snark then you have time to make something and contribute positively to the world. Anyway, I took the hint, went to bed, and toned it way down the next two days.

Pre-Takeover Shenanigans

I wanted to “advertise” the takeover in a clever fashion so I created a series (!) of historical conquerors, famed for “taking over”. I posted one a day leading up to my takeover and then made a little film. Charlemagne is my favourite, so he came last.

Pro Tip: Duplicate images and add ephemeral elements to the duplicates. I made the guys first, duplicated so I have a pristine copy, and added the “53” and takeover message later.














To introduce myself I posted a version of the film and a photo of me with “aloha”, as well as a link to my visual projects on the web.  I also posted examples (in collage form) of two projects I am working on now: #womenshistorymonth and #alphabettys for #36daysoftype.

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Also right of the bat was an excerpt from my #makeoutpoetry series, because I think it is interesting to mix analog with digital (and really the Paper sketch was only a “frame” for the wordplay).  I also chose 1 sketchquote purposefully not in my signature pink and black palette and explained that I often use the app to illustrate poignant quotations.

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Theme One: Extending the App / Bringing Images to Life

One of the most intriguing things I’ve been able to do with the Paper app is mix it with other apps to bring my still images to life. I shared excerpts from these, including a gif  (not shown here but linked), and

a voiceover made with ShadowPuppet app

a simple stopmotion made with Apple Keynote

My Major Tom old-school stopmotion (also with Keynote)

The Happy Birthday Dave Wakeling stopmotion

In Flanders Fields Poem animation (with Keynote and iMovie sound effects)

and the Learning in 20 video, which is a live-speed-sketch style using Reflector App

Maximizing the App: The Many Uses of Paper

I then wanted to show a variety of styles as well as purposes for the app.

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Duplication (as seen above) is one of my favourite features, since you can remix existing work for other purposes. But you have to remember to do so ahead of time! I really liked this head I drew while doing some graphic facilitation for Ed TechTeam in their brand colours, so I saved it and was able to use it later for my whimsy (let love out, in this case).


Another great feature in the latest version of the app is the ability to draw over photos. Since April is Poetry Month, I thought I’d include these two  (the one on the left is a photo of type-written text I’ve sketched over).


Speaking of poetry, I wanted to share my weekly project with friend Erin Olson, called #visualverse volley. Every Sunday she pings me an original poem and I respond with a gut reaction visual. Sometimes it’s just a sketch and other times I animate my Paper illustrations to create a little movie.

I never thought I’d use the “notes” feature, but did in this #funfriedrich series showcasing the lighter side of Nietzsche


Paper is not just for drawing! I love the wordplay I can do in old-school cursive (which has not really improved since I was in second grade). This game I’ve dubbed “line and carrot”, and file it under #lessandmore. The object is to change the word drastically by changing it as little as possible – either by crossing out letters and/or replacing them, or by adding letters.


Another take on wordplay is my metaphorical alphabet, which I was able to depict as images in Paper. This one is “Why not?”



I love re-contextualizing things and giving them new meaning – or creating parodies of sorts on pop culture. My #reposed series takes vintage (corny!) fashion ads and juxtaposes them with modern trendy phrases or music lyrics.


I did a little project around Valentine’s based on the parody portmanteau #cupididdy – a mashup of Baroque cupids (this one from Caravaggio) and lyrical excerpts from the hip-hop artist P-Diddy.


Many post about #fridayfeeling on various social media platforms, and one day I thought of #friDEGASfeeling and did a whole series of his paintings with the tag. Things like this are not what most would consider art, but it’s playful and fun and I like it.


I started an entire Twitter account called Tweatles (@tweatles21) in which I re-imagine Beatles songs as minimalist posters.




 These are excerpts from my #oneword project. I duplicated the frame so that I had a booklet (a stack in the new version of the app). Each day I would distill my day into one word and attempt to depict that word in metaphorical typography. Another, cheekier, diary type are these vintage voice bubble girls. I record my true thoughts and reactions to things in my day …things that would actually be too dramatic for me to really articulate.


When doing more abstract art in Paper I wondered what it would be like to use art as a communication tool to one’s doctor. I suffer from chronic pain due to cancer treatments and always find it difficult to articulate with accuracy the type and intensity of pain I am feeling. One day I did a series of red and black abstracts that showed how I felt.


I really do think this could be useful for patients too weak to talk and/or fuzzy headed from medication (been there done that).

 Tips, Tricks and Brush Hacks

I did want to devote some time of the takeover sharing a few brush hacks I’ve learned from experimentation.


These Rothko-esque abstracts were perfect to do whilst in line at the bank. I layered the water colour brush and changed the way it looked a a bit in Instagram with filters.


These Cheshire cat- inspired faces are part of my #blueseries, which indicates both colour and emotion. I wanted to get that kitschy velvet painting effect so used the water colour brush mixed with small pen over black background and made it “glow” with Instagram filters.


I shared that adding water colour in the same shade to an existing pen element will make it look like it glows. I use this effect for lightbulbs all the time.


Perhaps my all time favourite brush hack is for the #swiperight series. I wanted to emulate a giant bristled paintbrush for these vintage fashion inspired ladies. I used the water colour brush and overlayed pencil lines of the same hue.

Paper on the Go: Travel Ideas

Two ideas I have for using Paper when you travel:


Go on “wonder walks” and play with your environment, annotating the shots you take of the things around you. I like to find faces in things, obviously.


Instead of drawing realistically, why not do a series of silhouettes?

Fun and Games: The Pencil Giveaway

This was by far the most fun and had the most audience interaction. The folks at Paper generously offered to make a Pencil stylus giveaway one of the features of my takeover. I wanted to think of a challenge that was not too difficult but required some effort, even though choosing the winner was completely random.


The challenge:

“My premise is that the Pencil is mightier than the sword. Swords used to be given names which personified them and alluded to their enchanted quality (think Excalibur, Kusangi-no-Tsurugi, Durendal, or even Nasril in #LOTR). I own all three pencils and would love names for them!”

Participants were asked to provide three clever names and follow @fiftythree, and just for doing so would be eligible for the Pencil “drawing”.

This post received 266 likes and 145 comments, and you can read all of the suggestions here.

I wanted to acknowledge the author of my favourite names, even though he didn’t “win” the random drawing.


I just really dug the alliteration, the simplicity, the use of different languages, and the metaphor (as in knot is an allusion to the walnut one).

All in all my #53takeover was a great privilege and quite fun. I hope people got some new ideas and will benefit from some of the tips and hacks. Paper is SO much more than a drawing app, and I don’t think I could do any work I do without it. I didn’t even share how much I use it to create original images for blog posts or slide decks for my speaking engagements. I signed off with an example of a selfie remix using the draw-over-photo feature and my adopted motto from Henry Miller.


#art #paperapp #sketchnotes #socialmedia #paper53 #Instagram #53takeover #remix #drawing

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