I just recently discovered paper cutting (how did I not know about this before?!?) and was blown away by the things that these skilled artists are creating with just paper and scissors (or knives). I also realized I have done lots of paper cutting myself without knowing that that’s what it technically was, and I’m sure you have too. In grade school, we used to make paper snowflake garlands to decorate the classroom with around Christmas. You folded a piece of paper several times and cut a bunch of little pieces out of it; then when you unfolded it, it had magically turned into an artful snowflake (well, artful might be pushing it, but anyway). It was fun and I loved it, but had totally forgotten about it. I have to give it a try again! (Note: I did try it and here is the result as displayed as part of our “Christmas card mobile”. I think I’ll stick to writing and only cut paper as a hobby. :-))
A (brief) History of Paper Cutting
The art of paper cutting originated in China (where paper itself was first invented) sometime in the 5th or 6th century (the oldest surviving paper cut is from the 6th century), and really took off as a serious art form in the seventh to tenth century.
The technique spread across the globe and arrived in Europe in the 15th century, where it first became popular in Germany and Switzerland (it is called Scherenschnitte in German, meaning “scissor cuts”). It was used for creating stencils, patterns and greeting cards, among other things. Paper cutting in general, and silhouette cutting in particular, soon became a favorite pastime among the upper class in Europe, but was quickly adopted by “the common man” as well, and is today considered a “folk art”. Paper cutting techniques vary throughout the world: some artists use scissors on flat sheets of paper, others use knives, some fold the paper once, others several times.
Here are five outstanding artists and a few examples of their art:
I came across Su when I was reading the very inspiring book “Playing with Books” and could not believe the work she does (my husband, who is an author and normally does not enjoy seeing books “maimed”, was equally impressed). With a background in textiles, she took up paper cutting after buying a second-hand book in Thailand from which she carved “The Quiet American”. She creates amazing landscapes, scenes and sculptures from books, as well as does installations and commercial work (for clients such as Fairmont Resorts, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Cartier, Harrods, etc.).
Photos: Su Blackwell
Sara Morpeth worked as attorney in London for many years before completely changing course. She went back to school (Manchester Metropolitan University), got a degree in embroidery, and started her new career as an artist. She works in paper and fabric and has a fascination with British movies from the 1940s, especially Powell & Pressburger’s “I Know Where I’m Going”, which has inspired many of her works (the photo in the middle below is a gallery installation containing every word from that movie!).
Photos: Sarah Morpeth
Emma van Leest
The intricacy in the cuttings by Melbourne (Australia) artist Emma van Leest is just astonishing. Ranging from smallish images to large installations (one was 65 feet!), the scenes are inspired by folk art, fairy tales, nature, saints and Hindu literature (many actually remind me of Chinoiserie wallpaper). Emma taught herself the art of paper cutting while studying painting at RMIT Melbourne, and she says the pieces can take anywhere from half an hour to several months to complete. Her work is in many private collections and has been featured in tons of group and solo exhibitions.
Photos: Emma van Leest
Dutch paper architect and artist Ingrid Siliakus creates paper buildings that take ones breath away. She studied the works of Professor Masahiro Chatani (who invented this artform) for years before giving it a go herself. Today, she is a famous, award winning and widely exhibited and published artist (including solo exhibits and the cover of The New York Times Key Magazine) in her own right. Amazingly, each of her pieces are cut from one single piece of paper, and she usually goes through at least 25 prototypes before the final product is created. Ingrid has also published a book (The Paper Architect: Fold-It-Yourself Buildings and Structures) with instructions for how to create these masterpieces yourself.
Photos: Ingrid Siliakus
Pittsburg artist Bovey Lee cuts scenes and stories out of Chinese rice paper with silk backing. She has an MFA in Fine as well as Digital Arts, and she draws from both when creating these pieces. She starts with a drawing, then creates a digital template, and finally cuts the entire thing with an x-acto knife. Her works have been included in many books, and can be found in private as well as museum collections.
Photos: Bovey Lee