Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Art Form of Paper Cutting!

I had taught quilting and design for many years and while I enjoyed this beautiful form of Art, I wanted a new challenge. One evening, a friend invited me to attend a course  being given at a college in NYC. on Wycinanki, the traditional paper cutting of the Ukraine. It is so many years ago now, that I am sorry to say that this lovely and patient woman's name escapes me. She was an accomplished cutter and provided a new art direction for me that I never expected.

I was an antique dealer selling country furniture and paintings.The wonderful love cuttings, memorials cuttings, Frakturs and painting were familiar to me, These beautiful pieces were similar to an American Sampler but in paper. Antique quilts were another form of American folk art that I had knowledge of, and in my mind paper was just another textile.

While the Wycinanki is beautiful, with vibrant and bold colors, often layered, I was more traditional in my tastes. I began to practice, seek out more knowledge and take courses. Like most people bought books and frankly I was not very good at this in the beginning.  I wanted to do my own designing.  The cutting above is quite large, I did this several years ago, it is titled , The building of the Nest"

Jianzhi is probably the first recorded type of paper cutting since paper was invented in the Han Dynasty. Every country has their own form and name of it. Jewish paper cutting has been practiced since the middle ages and is often a piece of art made to celebrate customs, religion and ceremonies. Scherenschnitte is the German word for scissor cuts. This is the form I am most interested in, but in the piece below, which I named

"Mysteries Under the Sea"  was scissor and knife cut all from one large piece of French Silhouette paper. This was great fun and not at all in the traditional design as I usually worked. All large pieces are my own design, but let us be honest. We all take a piece of idea from life, and others, as well as our own creativity.
The German immigrant brought this folk art to America in the 18th century, but Nuns in convents, Mothers and children and Men had been creating paper cuts long before they came to America.

Silhouette work was often done by itinerant cutters who would come to your home, for bed and board and do cuts of the family. Some became very famous and today we collect and covet their work. I myself have a few that I love to see on the wall.

It has always amazed me to see the different tools that are used.  I watched a Chinese cutter at a show I was doing cut with amazing dexterity and produce very quickly a cutting with movement. He was using scissors that I associate with tailoring.  I myself experimented with many different things.  I settled on, a self sealing Mat, which can be purchased in any art store, a scalpel and then an Exacto knife with a very fine blade and my small Gingher scissors.The ones I like the best are pewter and I kept at least 10 pair at all times, I have a honing stone, but once a year would send them back to the factory for professional sharpening. It is like any craft or art form you decide to do, the best tools, kept in good condition do a better job

There are some wonderful and innovative cutters working  today. To do good work, is not easy, one wrong cut can destroy everything. There are basic cuts, mirror image, single image, and symmetrical mirror designs working with folded paper. Think of Origami, Danish and Swedish Paper mobiles. All cut forms.

I did shows all over the Northeast, and I began to see Laser cuttings appearing on the market. I know that this art form is a labor of love, we are not adequately compensated for the time spent designing and cutting original work, but for me, something is missing when we send our designs to be laser cut into 100s of pieces. Perhaps I am old fashioned, but that is how I feel about all original art. The piece below took me a week just to design it and I probably will never do it again. All pieces touch one another and it is made from one piece of paper which was folded in part, unfolded and folded again. The circle which to me is the World and is being held up by the children, " The Future Should have Peace"  The cutting itself took me over a week of working in bits and pieces of time. I love this art form, it appeals to my sense of geometrics, and symmetry. I like the graphic affect. I do the drawing on a fine tracing paper and then working on the mat cut the parchment paper. My darling Mr. Dude has always done my matting and makes all the frames--we do not purchase frames, I never make the same size again in the large sizes.

 Today there are some wonderful cutters doing all types  of work, painted, modern design. traditional design, religious, Architectural and so much more. I am always thrilled to see the work that others are doing and how creative they are.

There is a great U tube out there of a Phil Ponce in Chicago. Worth watching --his work is wonderful

We all do work to pay the booth rent or meet the market need  I have a few of those in my etsy shop. SandybeesStudio
I found many great cutters on etsy

Now my arthritic hands  make it difficult for me to work for long periods of time.  I once was a member of the Guild of American Papercutters. Today I leave large productions to those younger than myself. In the Spring of 1998 the issue of the guild's news letter " First Cut" features one of the Finest Contemprary cutters in America today. Claudia Hopf. Her work always inspires me.

I hope that I have inspired someone out there who would like to create art from paper. There are courses, teachers and mentors who are there for you to find. Exhibitions, Guilds, Museum shows are always a wonderful source of inspiration.


  1. Sandy, those are beautiful!! I remember watching a woman cutting at the downtown market in Tallahassee. She had a booth which was overflowing and I was in awe. I'll have to see if I can find her since we know the person in charge of the event. She was talking and cutting at the same time!! I don't think I've ever seen anyone doing that since.

  2. Thank you Jane, this art form has been a joy for me. I was also able to work with paints which is another love. Sadly I don't have any of those pieces left.

  3. Love the work. You should have kept some for the family to have.
    I cannot see your ads at all.

    1. Thank you Kim. The large ones are the only ones I have kept. Check your e-mails today.

  4. Wow! Amazing!!! Thank you for sharing! These are absolutely amazing!