Wednesday, 5 November 2014

A Guide to Papercutting

I've mentioned paper cutting a few times around here, but often just in passing. As this is something I've grown to love over the last couple of years and have used to make more cards than I can now remember, I thought I'd share with you a guide to my technique - if you can call it that! I'm by no means an expert, and often find myself in awe of some of the delicate pieces of art that can be made out of a simple sheet of paper. Maybe one day I can aspire to more intricate pieces but I think the process I go through here would work on any level, the trick comes down to your design skills and the nimbleness of your cutting.

I use a scalpel for cutting with, along with other drawing tools. 
There are two main ways of creating an image using papercutting - from the positive space or the negative space. For example the owl and flower shown here are created from the negative space (i.e. an owl shaped hole in a piece of paper), whereas the labels are created from the positive space (i.e. the paper is cut away to leave the letters behind). Both can work really well, but it's worth considering from the start which one you're going for as it will affect the way you create your design. Of course you can use both in one piece of art.

I started by defining a border so that my flower would have somewhere to connect to the rest of the card.

1. Start by sketching out your idea. Often at this stage I only have the loosest plan of which bits I'm going to cut out - this is all about having a viable drawing to kick things off. If I'm creating a picture using positive space I'll usually start by marking out a border as then I can make sure my picture touches it in multiple places and is therefore anchored into the rest of the sheet.

I do all my sketching on the back so that I don't need to remove all pencil lines at the end.

2. Once I have my sketch I start working out which pieces I'm going to cut away to create the effect I want. I go over these areas in a bolder pencil line until I'm happy with the design making sure all the details have been picked out. What I'm left with is a series of "holes" and "islands". It's worth checking at this stage that all the islands are connected together, preferably at more than one point for stability.

Building up layers of pieces to cut...

... until all the details I want are picked out.

3. Next it's simply a case of taking a craft knife and cutting away the sections you've marked out. I always try and cut the holes that will create the most instability last - in the case of this flower starting with the inside petal and finishing with the gap between the border and the flower at each point. This is because the thinnest points are when each petal meets the border so I wanted to put these under the lowest amount of strain.

I always work my way methodically round a piece, rotating my paper as I go...

There are three main mistakes I find I frequently make when papercutting:

1. Bad Design: I've created a design where the parts aren't all as well connected as I thought they were and as I'm cutting it falls apart. The only thing to do here is start again, or - depending on what's gone wrong - salvage the rest of it sans the part you've cut away.

2. Cutting through an island. Sometimes you're cutting down a nice long straight or curve and you slip... straight into the next hole. I find this is most likely to happen when my blade is a little dull and I'm having to put more pressure than normal on the knife to achieve the cut. Simplest solution - put a fresh blade on your knife.

Only creating the thinnest part when everything else nearby has been cut...

3. Tearing a part you've previously cut carefully. If you have a specially delicate part of the design you'll often find that it rips as you're cutting somewhere else. The knife has a certain amount of drag and friction to it and this pulls at the paper as it cuts. Partly this is solved by leaving these sections to the end, but what I also do is pin down the paper just above where I'm cutting so that my finger takes the strain, not the paper, paying particular attention to pinning down nearby danger spots.
Here I'm using the middle finger of my left hand to pin down the card just in front of where I'm cutting.

You're done! There's not much to it - just lots of patience and a steady hand.

Finally I add a contrasting colour behind to show off my cut and if a design works well I do it again and everyone gets one!


  1. How very clever...I love them, I'd buy them in a shop! How talented you


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