A FORMER Glasgow journalist, inspired in part by her firefighter dad, has won a top art award for the second year running.

Illustrator Boo Paterson - who is thought to be the only political papercutting artist in the world - won an American Illustration Award for her hard-hitting 3D artwork on the Californian wildfires.

She told the Glasgow Times: "I was commissioned to do this illustration by Stanford Magazine in the US.

"They wanted an image that showed how their alumni are working on non-water-based ways to tackle the deadly wildfires, which devastate thousands of acres every year."

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The illustration - which is made entirely from paper - shows a red-hot thermometer, inside which are scenes showing the devastating impact on human life.

There are people engulfed in flames, houses and trees ablaze, and even real singed vintage photographs of happy families.

Boo, who was a sub-editor on the Glasgow Times in the 90s and early noughties, said: “I used the vintage photos and set fire to the edges because the destruction of mementos like these often has the biggest psychological impact on survivors as they cannot be replaced. 

“I wanted a way to bring home the personal aspect of fire."

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She added: Often, people can’t relate to these tragedies because they’ve no idea what it would be like to caught in a blaze. But I think most people can relate to losing all their photos and their keepsakes.”

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Boo grew up in a household that was completely fire-aware as her dad Tony was a deputy chief fire officer.

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She said: “Dad was constantly on-call. So as a kid, the fire brigade radio would send out his call signal when we were in the car, and he’d slam on the brakes, put his magnetic blue light on the roof, and we’d go roaring full-speed in the opposite direction to attend the blaze.

“It was exciting, but I was also aware that it was deadly serious from dad’s expression. We would sit in the car - sometimes for hours - watching the fires, then dad would get back in reeking of smoke and we’d go home. 

“Sometimes, we’d take injured firefighters to hospital.

"I remember one guy who was happily chatting away to us and the skin on his hand was peeled back like wood shavings. He’d taken off his glove during the firefight. I realise now he must have been in shock because he didn’t seem to be in any pain.”

Glasgow Times:

Boo, who has also recently designed the poster for Renfrewshire's Cycle Arts Festival in August, has another unexpected string to her bow - she is qualified to fight fires on offshore oil rigs.

She said: “I became a journalist after school, and by that time, dad was an expert witness on fire safety in court. He wrote the book Safety Off-Shore, which took in the recommendations of the Cullen Report on the Piper Alpha oil rig disaster. That book now, by law, has to be on every oil rig in the world. 

“As he was researching the book, he asked me to go to Montrose Offshore Fire Training Centre to select pictures and interview various people at the facility for him.

“I ended up doing their Offshore Fire Training Course for my own story - and I think I was only the third woman at that time who had done it.”

Boo recalled: “It was unbelievably gruelling. They had real metal modules that people on rigs live and work in built out the back. They would then set these on fire and we’d have to crawl through them and try to find the exit in thick black smoke with no breathing apparatus. We were told to breathe only through our noses, as this filters the air, but I can tell you your nose stops working pretty quickly.

“Later, we would wear the breathing apparatus - which weighs 30lb - and we’d have to rescue live ‘casualties’ from burning modules. As in real life, the ‘casualties’ were thrashing about, panicking, hitting us in fear. It really left a big impression on me about the pandemonium of being in a fire."

This real-world experience helped Boo create her heart-rending artwork, which won over the awards judges for the second year running.

The illustrated thermometer - which is wreathed in smoke - has scientists in white coats looking inside it, while a satellite sends beams out and a helicopter drops liquid from overhead.

Boo says: “The Stanford Magazine story talked about all these innovative methods of controlling fire. The satellites now assess likely points of ignition so that they can stop fire before it starts. They’re also seeing if dropping gel-like fire retardant from helicopters could be sprayed before the fires so it sticks to plants and prevents the spread, or stops it completely.

"I burned the edge of the background paper, to symbolise the urgency of the situation. That’s one advantage of illustrating with paper rather than on computer - you can’t set the edge of your iPad on fire to get an effect like that.”

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Boo now lives and works in New York and is currently working on an illustrated book on woodworking - another of her passions.

She said: “Paper is wood, wood is paper - for me it’s the same substance and I like working with both types of it.

"I’ve made things with wood since I was a little girl. My dad taught me to use his woodwork tools because he thought it was important for his children to be able to fix things and make anything they needed, rather than buy new stuff. 

“So I’ve renovated seven houses, made wooden tables, boxes, plant stands and benches. Now my publisher wants me to teach novices - especially other women - how to do the same.

“I guess that make-do and mend philosophy has really come back into style - but in my mind it never went out.”

More of Boo’s work can be seen at boopaterson.com.