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Author Spotlight: Robert Sabuda

Festival Staff / February 5, 2016

Call Robert Sabuda an artist or an illustrator, but truly, the Michigan native is a master paper engineer. His acclaimed pop-up books are beautiful works of art that make stories not only come alive, but become touchable tales for young and old.

Sabuda, who is making his second appearance at the Tucson Festival of Books, took some time to answer our questions.

What inspires you to create your books?

I've always been an artist, even as a very young boy, and have always been a big reader, so books were always a part of my life. I suppose these two things, art and books, were preordained for me as a grown-up artist. I'm really inspired by the world around me. I love nature and animals and holidays and everything in between. All of this deeply affects my waking world and flows through me as an artist.

What special access did you request and get for your latest book, “The White House: A Pop-up of Our Nation’s Home” or did you create your artwork from pictures?

I wish I could say I got a private tour, but in 2016 that kind of thing is rarely possible! I've been to the White House many times (and have a personal passion for Federalist architecture) and still remember it quite vividly. Fortunately, today we have the internet, which is a boundless source of visual reference and inspiration.

What is a fun memory of creating one of your books in regards to implementing an idea or handling production?

When I was designing the Oval Office in “The White House” I distinctly recall when the walls, through some luck and tricky paper engineering, actually began to curve just like in the real room. I was SO excited! Most of the design work that goes into making a pop-up book is really trial and error. I can always hope that a design works or is successful, but there's no guarantee.

What does the day-to-day business of being a book artist actually look like for you?

A messy whirlwind of insecurity! Being a book artist is terribly demanding on many levels. There are expectations from the publisher, the public, even my mother! It's all I can do to keep all the juggling balls in the air at once. It's challenging, but ultimately satisfying.

What advice would you give to aspiring book artists?

Although it sounds a bit hokey, Pratt Institute (my art school alma mater in New York City) has a great motto: “Be true to your work and your work will be true to you.” When I was 18 years old, that sounded pretty lame, but now after having had a very fulfilling career I see how very true that is. An artist needs to see their personal vision all the way through to its final result, no matter how challenging.

What are you working on right now?

I've just finished up a book about the Nativity called “The First Christmas.” As I'm sure you know, I LOVE the holidays and have never had a chance to create a book based on this wonderful story.

Besides creating paper art, Sabuda has illustrated 15 books. Most of his 27 pop-up books are available for purchase everywhere.

Find Robert Sabuda during the Tucson Festival of Books:Pop-Up Magic: The Art of Paper EngineeringandRobert Sabuda Hands-Onon Saturday, March 12, andPop-In to a Pop-Up Workshop, A Workshop for Kidson Sunday, March 13. He will be available in the corresponding signing areas after each of these events, and books will be made available for purchase. Learn more about Sabuda from his website.

Elena Acoba is a Tucson writer and editor who helps companies and organizations tell their stories and craft their messages. She also writes feature stories on assignment, including for the Arizona Daily Star and the Arizona Office of Tourism. Acoba has participated in the Tucson Festival of Books as a panelist and by writing author profiles for the TFOB website.

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