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  • Writer's pictureAmy Burvall

Series Theories: or, Confessions of a Serial Creator Using Paper by 53 for iPhone

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For better or for worse, I’ve always been a tad obsessive (let’s blame my maternal grandmother, who purchased 5 of the same type of sweater sets or perhaps my paternal grandfather, who’d make the same special “recipe” for weeks on end – we called it “a kick”).  Creatively, this can be beneficial. I have a weird internal engine that propels me to make as many as of whatever-I’m-currently-into-at-the moment as possible. Of course I inevitably get bored and move on, but there are always new ideas.

I’ve been using the iPad drawing app Paper by Fifty Three for a couple years now, and have developed all kinds of “serial” projects, including, among others:











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#englishbeat (this one was recent)



Note that an important part in the modern, social and connected era of sharing (if you intend to share your work as I do all of mine), is to develop a hashtag. Often I think of the hashtag first, and the catchier the better. I love wordplay, and often try to use portmanteaux.

Just a few weeks ago Fifty Three released its new version of the app, including a version for iPhone. I had the privilege to beta test, or play around with it a little prior to public release. There are admittedly some things I lament (like the loss of the notebook organization, which is why I haven’t updated my iPad yet). I also have a small, cracked iPhone 5 (a 6 would be better for sketching, let’s face it!). But I decided to focus on the following:

What could the new tools do that I couldn’t do before?

What could having Paper on the iPhone offer me as a unique experience (in other words, what would make me choose that over iPad?)


The main tool I wanted to play with is the auto-shape creator. My friend Sean Ziebarth uses it to make what I deemed “swanky” midcentury-looking typography.


I generally do NOT like perfection in shapes in my own work, but I have to say I have had fun mixing perfect shapes with hand-drawn lines (like my tear drops in #salvadordollies) and I adore the colour overlay effect that happens when you “double up” (as seen in my “Autumn Leaves” film). For the #sarcastiki project (which didn’t take off yet), I really thought the shapes would lend themselves to the mid-century modern feel.



Perhaps the most revolutionary thing has been the ability to play with photos and screenshots. I am a big remixer, so anytime I can annotate, re-design, or mark-up an appropriated work is FUN by me 🙂

I started with my own selfies in the #salvadordollies project (all explained below), then moved on to adding text to re-contextualize in #vivavirgil and both text and line doodles in #faitfulltofashion. Hacking tweets has been quite fun as well- just take a screen shot, upload to Paper on iPhone, and draw as you wish…then export to camera roll and send back to the initial tweeter. As always, it helps to have a signature colour people recognize as you.



Back to Query Number 2…

Without hesitation the most important factor is convenience – it’s the same reason I’ve abandoned my DSLR Nikon and simply use my iPhone with tons of filters.  Your phone is with you, and it’s small and handy. So, for #faithfulltofashion, I managed to create a few at the doctor’s office, waiting a a stoplight (shhh), in the bank line, that sort of thing. One thing I was hoping with the #loveisblind project is that it would allow me to be on the road, meet interesting people and interview them on the spot after I take their photo. Thus the phone becomes a sort of ethnography tool.



This is basically a remix of my own selfies (and some of my daughter) with a “surrealist / Chola / Anna Sui” vibe I like to say. I might even put some captions on them (they are getting more grotesque by the minute)…now they are more “Tammy Faye meets Man Ray”. You can search the tag on Twitter or Instagram.



I’ve only done one! SO not quite a series yet but it’s in my head (you can see above). Basically, use the auto shape thing to make the tikis then have them spout out sarcastic comments.


I was planning to do my usual sketchquote treatment for the Latin poet Virgil’s birthday, when it hit me that most of his quips are really biker-esque. I mean, they seem like they could be tattooed or emblazoned on some leather jacket. So I made this series, re-contextualizing the quotes for a modern age. Search tag on Twitter or Instagram or check out the Pinterest.





I’ve always dug Marianne Faithfull’s sense of style- in all its incarnations…and I was just about to post a collage of images of her to Facebook when I thought they would be so much better “pinkified”…One of my favourite Warhol tricks is this line over bold colour block:


So, I thought, what if I made all the Marianne photos black and white and did my varying shades of hot pink highlights to certain parts of her fashion elements? When I write text (this time using only my finger and zooming in on the phone) I like to give a little Sex Pistols vibe) like so:


so here is the final result (I used Instasize for the lip border and to fit into Instagram):





So far I’ve made about 20 and you can find them with the hashtag on Twitter, Instagram or check out Pinterest.


I wanted to leverage the power of the notes feature (you can add text to contextualize an image). I thought about interviewing people about their partners- asking them to share quirky things only they would love, then blocking their eyes out to show “love is blind”. Here’s my proposal and two samples (though in these, the subjects did their own).



#verse (could be #shards )

I haven’t yet started this! But my idea is to illustrate random snippets of song lyrics – just bits of out of context verse or “shards”. We shall see where this goes, but I am always thinking about these when driving or running errands.

Autumn Leaves

I wanted to see if I could mashup simple sketches of leaves and hearts to make an animated version of a quote I liked. In the end I made two short films – one just falling leaves!

The process was, draw a variety of leaves and email them to myself, then throw them into Apple Keynote, where I used Magic Move to make some magic. I then exported to Quicktime, imported to iMovie and fiddled around with timing.

Here are some of the “raw leaves”




and hearts…


Final VIDEO (quote by Andrea Gibson):

These are just some of the projects from the first few weeks of using Paper for iPhone. Hopefully I’ll keep finding my muse. But there’s a bigger picture, isn’t there?

Why Students Should Memeify Content

Paper by 53 is an app that makes it easy to create series-based art – in fact, you can duplicate any piece or create a template (like I do with my frame for #oneword and replicate that). But this is a much grander idea… students (or any creator, really) should think about the possibilities of developing a theme and/or  riffing on it. Think like a marketer…I’ll never forget the Apple “Think Different” campaign, with the simple, poignant message and all those cool famous movers and shakers on black and white posters (circa 2000).

If students create a piece of art or writing, or…? ask them to think about how they would develop a following for it – or at least inquiry about it. Shepard Fairey did this successfully with his Andre the Giant Has a Posse  sticker campaign in the late eighties – what he called “an experiment in “phenomenology”. I think students should look to the art world, fashion design and marketing industries, and of course street artists to see how social psychology is tied with the intellectual and creative arts and how they can perhaps leverage some of the techniques used outside of academia to further their own scholarly (and other) careers.

Quick and Dirty Tips

  1. How can I make this a series?

  2. How can I make this make a statement about society, politics, etc. that people might want to listen to?

  3. What might I call this series? Is it “hashtaggable”? Would the hashtag be easy to write? Unique enough? Memorable? Easy to search? Could I use alliteration or rhyme? What about making a portmanteau?

  4. On what multiple channels could I share this series?

  5. Could I make this series interactive in some way? Could I do some sort of collaborative or crowdsourced art?

Just one last shout out to Paper by 53 for all their hard work in getting this amazing tool out to everyone. If you dear readers have any ideas please let me know!

#serial #art #series #fiftythree #creativity #seanziebarth #meme #app #projects #twitter #paperby53 #mobile #amyburvall #visualthinking

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