DIY Paper Cut Art

After linocuts, paper cut art seemed like the next logical craft to learn in my amateur adventures. I have lusted after the work of quite a few paper artists for some time (Bovey Lee, Woodland Paper Cuts, Chloe Fleury). From my obsessive internet searches I finally came to the conclusion that this is a simple, budget-friendly craft with some truly incredible possibilities. With practice I knew that I could take my own ideas to new, colorful levels.

When I say budget-friendly, I really mean it. You can check out my arsenal of paper cutting supplies below, but in reality all you need is a craft knife, a self-healing cutting mat, a pencil, paper, and patience.

As I have learned (through trial, error and the internet), there are many different ways to approach paper cutting. In fact, paper cutting goes way back, and many different cultures have their own styles (German, Chinese, Mexican, etc.). For this post, I will go over two different ways I have approached paper cutting: drawing the design on the back and using a stencil.

Method 1:

Drawing on the back is pretty straightforward. This works well if your final piece will be on a thick paper like cardstock, where your pen marks or pencil indents won’t affect the front side of the paper. In this method, draw your design on the backside of your paper. Because it is on the back, the image needs to be drawn in reverse. It’s important to keep this in mind and double-check your work, especially when drawing letters and words.

One way to easily create a reverse image is to transfer it with tracing paper, as explained in this tutorial. I recently bought tracing paper at a nearby 99 cents store and have yet to try this method. I really should since, ironically enough, the cut pictured above actually took me two attempts (the first time I spelled “once” as O-C-N-E).

Method 2:

I prefer the stencil method when the paper that I am using for my final product is flimsier than cardstock and won’t hold up to drawing on the back. After finalizing your design, draw it on a piece of paper (I have been re-using printer paper, but I suppose tracing paper would be a smart choice because it is thin and you can trace the image, duh). This will be your stencil.

Lay your stencil over the paper you want to use for your final product and secure the two together. Some people staple the papers together (on the edges that you will eventually cut off, not in the middle of your design). I have been using temporary adhesive to bond the papers together. Regardless, make sure your stencil does not shift throughout the process.

From there, use your knife to carefully cut the design out of both papers simultaneously. Here are a few useful tips and tricks that I have learned:

  1. Cut the details first, starting in the center and working your way out. The more you cut out, the flimsier your paper becomes, so it is good to do the details first.
  2. Make clean cuts around a detail before removing it. No hanging chads! When you rip off a piece that was hanging by a tiny connecting sliver of paper, you chance tearing your art or leaving an annoying fuzzy piece of paper that is really difficult to remove later on, when you want to clean up your finished artwork.
  3. Be patient.
  4. Embrace the imperfections! Cut paper is beautiful in part because it is handmade and each piece is unique. Sure, you could make a similarly graphic image or quote on a design program, but isn’t it lovely when you can hold it in your hand and feel the ridges, bumps, and edges that you created with your hand?
  5. Take a break and stretch. A complex piece takes stamina and, without thinking, you could spend hours hunched over a tiny piece of paper, wreaking havoc on your back and neck.

For me, paper cut art has been incredibly rewarding. In such a digital world, we often forget the joy that comes with making tangible things. It is so easy to go through the daily grind of life and feel like you aren’t contributing anything. Through exploring paper cutting I get the thrill of producing something beautiful and meaningful to myself.  With each piece I shift my brain to a lower gear, one that prioritizes patience and focus. In my regular mode, I am clicking through 10 different tabs, checking 6 different social media accounts, carrying on at least three conversations over various mediums, and making a million plans. It creates a false sense of importance, but one that I am so used to having that my brain works hard to maintain it. Paper cutting shuts all of that down, at least for a few hours.

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