The cut and fold

Workshop held on: 04/05/20.

Duration: 2-hours

Tutor: Hayley Lock



The cut-up technique was used by the Dadaists in the 1920s and then made popular by Brion Gysin and William Burroughs. Their method was very simple. Cut up text and rearrange the section to create something new.

William Burroughs describes the process in an article titled “The Cut-Up Method of Brion Gysin” (Burroughs).


The following instructions took 2-hours to complete and are copied verbatim from the padlet. They were revealed line by line during the workshop, so participants didn’t knwo what was going to happen next.

  1. Lay out a clear sheet of paper or have a clear surface to work on. Some of these working will remain impermanent as well as permanent.
  2. Lay out a clear sheet of paper or have a clear surface to work on. Some of these working will remain impermanent as well as permanent.
  3. Page of text: Slice in half vertically, offset, take photograph
  4. Add an image, either in its entirety or cut up. Take care, cut with care. Place, do not stick, take a photograph.
  5. Carry on cutting up and folding in for a while. DO NOT STICK DOWN, KEEP PHOTOGRAPHING.
  6. Rotate to the right. Add more, cut up, fold in
  7. Hand write over text, rotate. Keep going……photograph. Take up a close up of the work
  8. When happy, stick down.
  9. Make  this  now into a 15cm square
  10. Cut up into vertical strips, 5 cms wide (3 across) wide , offset, take a photograph, cut the same for the width, therefore making a grid.
  11. Make something three dimensional through the folds and the cut
  12. Select and make it into something three – dimensional form.
  13. Rotate, add, fold, remove, cut.

There were 12 participants. We were asked to take regular photographs of the work as a record for reference later. Everyone posted their work up to padlet throughout the workshop.

My cut and fold

My starting point was an old map of Amsterdam and the current version of the Tate magazine that had a photograph of Andy Warhol on the cover.

I started by cutting the map down the centre. This set the scale for the work which at its largest was about 150cm square. I worked on top of the images with Posca Pen and took regular photographs with my iPhone.

The following sequence are in chronological order.


Working with instructions that were revealed as the workshop progressed meant the work was spontaneous and I wasn’t all precious. This made for a very fluid experience.

A lot of work was generated in 2-hours, and bits of it would be interesting to develop/use in other contexts.

To a certain extent the process links back to 1.2 Making mistakes – working fast and cutting up work which was an exercise in Illustration Sketchbooks, although I didn’t fully appreciate the value of the exercise at the time.

It also links to the Body, space and narrative workshop, although the cut up was purely related to texts that were then randomly combined and used as inspiration for creating images.

It feels like this technique could have real value to my practice, but I need to figure out how to give up control (through the cut and fold process), and then reign it in again to shape it into something that meets a brief.


Burroughs, W The Cut-Up Method of Brion Gysin At: (Accessed: 04/05/20)


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