About Art and Craft

The Paper Cut

Custom made cuts

Most people associate the craft of papercutting with their own trials in Kindergarten, where one learned to create patterns or pictures with a pair of scissors and paper. What a lot of people don’t know is that this is actually an old handcraft technique. Usually one cuts into the paper until the remaining paper depicts a scene or motif. Some artists also use a knife or scalpel to create an image, but this is not considered a classic paper cut.

The folding cut technique is where a piece of paper is folded two or more times and cut to form symmetrical patterns in an open piece of paper.

The origin of paper cutting stems from Northern China. The oldest example found is from Xinjiang, dated 600 AD It is still a traditional handcraft in China today, the most cuts being from red paper, which are used as New Year good luck greetings. Each province has it’s own style and colors. The handcraft of paper cuts spread from China, into Japan, India, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Traditional Chinese Paper Cut

Beyond Asia ,from about 1500 AD there was also a development of paper cutting in Switzerland and Germany. This was using black paper, which for it’s effect was then placed on a light colored paper background. Later the technique spread to France, where it was given the name „Silhouette“. These paper cuts were often made depicting the contours of a persons face or the outline of some household or natural object. The name is not only of French origin it’s connection also lies with the finance minister Etienne de Silhouette from 1759. After seven years of war the French folk were told to use this cheaper way (silhouette paper cuts) for commissioning portraits. Other sources also refer to Etienne de Silhouette as being rather mean, so much so that he decorated the walls of his home with silhouette furniture instead of furnishing with real objects. In 1800 the paper cut techniques were brought to America, (Pennsylvania) with immigrants from Europe.

Paper cuts enjoyed high popularity in Germany during Goethe’s years and the 1800’s. In Switzerland in the 1980’s papercutting boomed and large exhibitions were put together to celebrate the tradition of paper cuts. Today there are followers of the modern and traditional art of paper cuts in the art scene.

Swiss paper cut by Christian Schwizgebel (1914-93)

Personal Experience

I learned paper cut techniques about 30 years ago and spent most of my childhood and teenage years with paper and scissors in my hands. I started on a small scale and as I became more practiced, the size of my works grew. My largest work has the dimensions of 1,2 meters x 1,2 meters, which entailed over 200 hours of work!

The paper cut is more known as a handcraft rather than fine art. I think this is open to discussion, one needs an art understanding, a lot of stamina, patience and a good hand to control the fine paper so that it does not rip. The more intricate the cut and composition, the more sensitive and vulnerable the image is. A paper cut should traditionally be formed only from 1 piece of paper. Every artist has probably experienced the sadness of ruining an image after many hours of work, shortly before it is finished, because the paper has ripped.

Such disappointments can happen, but it is not the only strain of the process. The sharp scissors need to go through the paper hundreds of times, the left pointing finger works well as a break so that the cutting of fine areas doesn’t become an unwanted hole. With time one builds up, thank goodness, a thicker layer of skin on the fingers. However when the completed image is unfolded one sees that every strain in the making process was worthwhile.

Gorgo Medusa (Hommage of Gustav Klimt) by Thoth Adan, 1991

I worked for many years with the art of paper cuts, then I concentrated on painting. Now and again I went back to paper cuts. Today the circle is now complete and I continue to use the paper cut technique and other fine art applications that I have learned a long the way.