Undercover Artist: Kate Bufton, Transformer of Books

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, well with Kate Bufton that is certainly true! She sees books as much more than a mere storage area for words and ideas, but as the starting point for some incredible pieces of artwork.

Based in Warrington, in the North West of England, Kate says her creative side was nurtured by her teachers at school and college. “It was only at university when I started to realise that art and craft are so closely linked, yet so far apart. I consider myself both an artisan and a crafts maker,” she notes.

Kate creates amazing shapes and designs by manipulating old and unwanted books through a variety of cuts and folds. “I love manipulating the pages of the book and transforming the books from a carrier of text to an object of art,” she explains. “The pages take on a whole new and innovative life, forcing the books to be open and the pages to be displayed for all to see.”

The inspiration to use books in her work came in Kate’s first year at university, when she was given a project to complete 500 drawings.

“I was always a maker and sculptor, so I began to fold and manipulate books with 500 pages in them. I created a series of sculptures in my first year and continued pushing the boundaries of old books through to my second and third years at university. In my second year I was made aware of book fairs and realised that there was a market for book art—after that there was no stopping me and the sculptures began to take over.” 

The time required to create a piece can depend on so many factors, such as how many pages in the book, how complex the fold is and whether Kate is enjoying doing it.

“Its like reading a book, after the first chapter you know whether or not it is going to be a good read,” she says. “With me, after the first hundred pages you know whether or not it is going to be a great sculpture. If I get into a rhythm the same as not being able to put a book down, I can fold quite happily for hours. In all honesty I do it because I enjoy it, so I never time myself.”

Kate has two pieces which are particular favourites: “I have two sculptures that will stay with me forever, both take on a circular format. I am not sure why but circles seem to be a dominant feature to my sculptures—they all seem to have elements of curves even though the pages are quite straight edged. Both were made within the same period of time,” she says.

One is called “The Waitress.” In it, the book has been cut and splayed open in such a way that it resembles a plate. Kate explained: “While studying at university I was working part time as a waitress so it was an iconic piece for me as an artist, the fight between practicalities of earning a living but wanting to do it through my work. I exhibit this piece on odd occasions but will never part with it.” 

The second is one of Kate’s first rounded sculptural pieces: “I can still remember cutting into and folding in the workshop at university. My technicians at university gave me so much of their time and energy that I use to love working in there, I owe a lot of my degree to them both. The workshop was my studio as I was forever in there and I cut into this book and began to fold it quite naturally, until it completed a full circle. I have never named this piece but I have had commissions from it, its shape is so strong and rigid yet it has such a fluid movement to it,” she says. 

Not content to work alone, Kate is spreading the word further by inspiring young people to try their hands at giving new life to old, worn out books.

“Working in a school as an artist in residence has allowed me to teach young students bookbinding techniques and elements of paper craft,” she notes. “It has also pushed me—as it has allowed me to experiment with materials that I would never have considered before. Being in art lessons and surrounded by teachers has developed my practice a great deal.”

She also works in the community with the Creative Remedies organisation, which is based upon arts on prescription. “It has been an invaluable experience so far,” she adds. “I teach paper techniques and elements of folding to a variety of adults. They thrive off my ideas and are always full of enthusiasm in my sessions.

“This then encourages me to experiment more within my field and push the boundaries for me as an artist. The group inspire me as much as I inspire them.” 

She concludes: “My work is developing in an area that I have no control over, I am just following my ambitions to teach and inspire others. It’s an incredible journey and every experience, commission and session that I have taught has been incredibly rewarding.”

Kate Bufton Book Transformations: www.katebufton.co.uk

The Creative Remedies book sculptures exhibition is on display at Orford Jubilee Library, Orford, Warrington.


Sandra Mangan recently moved to Blackpool, a seaside resort in the north west of England, to a new home that is definitely a work in progress. She is an avid reader, with crime fiction at the top of her wish list—though an occasional Nora Roberts manages to creep onto the bookshelf. You can also follow her on Twitter as @OfTheTimesShop

Read all posts by Sandra Mangan for Criminal Element.

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