ACCA Art Kitchen # 5: Making Paper Hats with James Nguyen


Ever wanted to know how to create your own hat? Join Contemporary Artist James Nguyen to learn how to create a personalised unique hat using paper. Nguyen will share with you creative ideas on how to build and strengthen your form with staples, scissors and tape. You will also hear about why Nguyen likes to work collaboratively with his family and friends and how this enriches his creative process. 

The resources on this page provide a step-by-step guide to creating your unique paper hat using white paper.

Appropriate age groups/school levels: 

The Art Kitchen workshops have been developed to appeal to students and teachers from a range of levels. Please use discretion when deciding on the appropriateness of each workshop for your students.

Key terminology:

Collaboration – is the process of two or more people or organisations working together to complete a task or achieve a goal. An art collaboration involves multiple artists working on the same artwork or project. Collaborations can span short and long periods of time.

About the Artist:

James Nguyen was born in Bảo Lộc, Việt Nam in 1982. He currently lives and works in Naarm, Melbourne. Nguyen’s interdisciplinary practice examines strategies of decolonisation, while also interrogating the politics of family history, language, displacement and diaspora. 

Nguyen has presented work throughout Australia and abroad since 2013, regularly doing performances for local and international exhibitions, festivals, and community events. Notable presentations include Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, Guangzhou, 2014; the Australian War Memorial and the Australian Government at Sàn Art, Hồ Chí Minh City, 2018; alongside collaborative projects including Sentient: Murray River with Abigail Moncrief at the Murry Art Museum Albury, 2018; CONNECT with Victoria Pham, curated by Tamsen Hopkinson at Footscray Community Arts Centre, 2021; Re-Tuning in collaboration with Victoria Pham, curated by Michael Do at the Sydney Opera House, 2022.

Nguyen graduated in 2005 with a Bachelor of Pharmacy at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga. Trained in palliative and aged care pharmacy, he made a turn to art and completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Hons) at the National Art School, with the support of the Clitheroe Foundation Art Prize in 2012. Nguyen then completed a Master of Fine Arts at Sydney College of Arts, University of Sydney in 2014 which then saw him complete a residency at Parramatta Artists Studios, travelling to Beijing as part of the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art Residency, and then New York City to complete a Collaborative Fellowship at Union Docs, Centre for Contemporary Documentary Arts with the support of the Anne and Gordan Samstag Travelling Fellowship. Returning to Sydney in 2016, Nguyen began a Three-Year Residency at PACT Centre for Emerging Artists. In 2018 Nguyen joined the Gertrude Artists Studio Program and completed a PhD from the University of NSW in 2021.

“What’s really important to me is to make new connections with people, to build friendships and to really think about in these friendships how I can ask uncomfortable questions and how [I] can share beautiful moments…I want to be making art that means something to my family and my friends. I want to be making art that asks difficult questions, that’s slightly uncomfortable. Those are the kinds of things that make me want to keep making art.”
James Nguyen 2023

Examples of the Artist’s Artworks on Display:

What you will need:

·  Paper (white or coloured)

·  Scissors

·  Stapler and staples

·  Tape (optional)


Step 1:
Set up your workspace with all your materials and equipment.

Step 2:
Begin by cutting your paper in its longest direction about 10cm wide. You can choose to use white paper like James or coloured and recycled paper. Cut 25 lengths.

Step 3:
Fold your paper in half lengthways and then fold that in half again to create a double fold for your headband. This strengthens the paper and thus strengthens band.

Step 4:
To make your first headband, curl the paper around your head to get the circumference. Circumference is the size all around your head.

Step 5:
When you have the right size for your head, staple the paper together. Remember to press the stapler on the inside so the smooth side of the staple is on the inside of your headband and the bumpy parts of the staple are on the outside. This is so it doesn’t get caught in your hair.

Step 6:
To make your second headband follow steps 3-5.

Step 7:
Now you are ready to build your hat. Using additional lengths of paper which you have double-folded begin to staple these long pieces to the headband. Depending on the shape you would like to create you can begin to join sections of paper together with the stapler.

Step 8:
It is always good to pause and check your hat as you’re making it to check if there are any emerging forms or shapes that you like. You may like to create a hat that looks like something you know or perhaps you’re creating something abstract with your imagination.

Step 9:
Once you are happy with your shape, look at any spots where it can be strengthened by using thinner double-folded pieces of paper.

Step 10:
As some finishing decorations; you may like to cut other abstract shapes such as a zig-zag, spiral, rose or tassel.

Extension: Collaborative art making is important to James Nguyen. To build on your collaborative skills create a dance or theatre performance with your family and friends in your hats. Remember to take photos. How does your hat change the way you think and move? How does working with collaborators change your artwork?

Inquiry questions:

1. Did you start with a preconceived idea of what you wanted to create or did your idea develop as you started making? 

2. How did your choice of paper (white/coloured or size) determine the form and size of your sculpture?

3. How did you find the experience of creating your hat? What were some of the successes and practical challenges of constructing your three-dimensional form?

4. What does your artwork say about you as an artist? Does it represent your personality, identity or interests in any way? 

5. What do you think a viewer would imagine about you if they saw this artwork before meeting you?

Examples of Collaborative Practice from Past ACCA Exhibitions…