Brush With Words (2024)

by Mariel Bass, Erik Demaine, and Martin Demaine

This piece explores the connections between words, the paper they're written on, and the brush that creates them. We imagine a giant calligraphic brush filled with magical paper “ink”. As the brush strokes the canvas, the paper ink emerges and folds itself into text according to the user's desires. We use a strip-folding font based on mathematical research about universal hinge patterns for making robotic programmable matter that can fold itself into any shape. The folded text on the page is the title of the piece (BRUSH WITH WORDS) and the shortest word ladder from BRUSH to WORDS (BRUSH → BUSH → BUSY → BUY → BAY → WAY → WAR → WARD → WORD → WORDS), where each English word differs from the previous word by exactly one letter (substitution, insertion, or deletion). Word ladders were invented by Lewis Carroll in 1877; we wrote custom software to design our own.

The brush is around 5 feet long and weighs 35 pounds, and made from hand-blown glass, silver foil, and Canson Mi-Teintes paper. It is part of the “The Book As Sculpture” exhibit (April & May 2024) at The Brush Art Gallery & Studios in Lowell, Massachusetts. You can watch a 9-minute talk about the piece.


A print shows the crease pattern to fold the two messages on the page. Cut the black lines to make the square into a long strip, then fold along the red lines alternating mountain/valley.

Curved Folding

Two curved crease sculptures complement the brush. We imagine that, after the folded paper ink “dries” on a sheet of paper, we can fold it along curved creases to produce a final sculpture.

[0721] “Brush Fire” (2024), Mi-Teintes paper, 12" × 9" × 9" high:

[0722] “Brush Wood” (2024), Mi-Teintes paper, 11" × 10" × 8" high:

The unfolded sheet is a giant word ladder from PAINT to BRUSH to WORDS to BOOKS, written in the strip folding font:


We built two open-source software tools to make this sculpture. You can use them to design your own word ladder or strip folding.

Design your own word ladder!

Fold your own words from a strip!

Other Curved Crease Sculpture by Demaine & Demaine

Last updated April 15, 2024 by Erik Demaine.Accessibility