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Journeys in paper-cutting

Updated: Jun 15, 2023

I'll begin this post by adding some photo-documentation. A quick note, however, that most of these papercuts were quite spontaneous - a lot less planning went into them than the collages and etchings. I quite enjoyed the free-flowed change of pace.

As always, I began with tiny trials:

And just dropping bits of paper on top of each other to see how they interact.

I'm playing with all sorts of little trials here - painting on different Japanese papers as well as painting mini cut-outs. I almost always trial before diving into a polished version of a project - especially if I need to learn or re-learn a process or how materials behave and interact with one another.

I also experimented on old prints (below) as I'm using the same papers. Since I rarely throw proofs away, it gives me a chance to repurpose them or use them in trials that require painting, paper cutting or collage.

I had tried making monoprinting stencils with Yupo. Because the Yupo I chose was so thick, it made it quite a pain to cut. I ended up giving up on the one below - it was far too time consuming and a strain on my hand and wrist. If I had used thinner Yupo, I may not have ditched it so quickly!

The design below was easier to cut with Yupo - although I have yet to print it! These were early cutouts that I did back in March. I thought I could print multiples of them on gampi to layer between pages, but further down the track I thought it would be much more interesting to just make one-off paper-cuts.

I had also attempted to paint prior to cutting. I wasn't really satisfied with the results - I think it would have been more interesting to paint random patterns that were completely different to the papercut. I found following the lines rather tedious, and painting post papercutting was much easier.

I'd recently discovered a Japanese-American artist named Kako Ueda, who creates exquisite paper cuts. I find the way she handcolours them quite captivating, and thought I might be able to achieve something similar in my page-making.

'Vanitas', by Kako Ueda:

At the moment, the papercutting I'm doing is entirely spontaneous. I'll fold a piece of paper once, or perhaps twice, draw on the back of it with pencil and start cutting the design with a stencil knife. I've realised that Kozo paper is the best for this, as the fibres are the longest, and therefore the paper is the strongest out of all of the options I have. Because it's also still quite thin, it's easy to cut - much easier than rag paper, which, as you can see here, I gave up on - although, I still might try this on the Kozo paper:

Here are process photos of papercuts on Kozo paper. I started with unfolded pages, then started playing around with folding to see what results I'd come up with.

Here's the first papercut I made. It is slightly smaller than the rest as, at the time, I had a planned to make a book with smaller dimensions.

Here's the second paper cut, folded to have a two-page spread. Note that I had to consider the book spine in the paper cut, demonstrated by the margin drawn on the far left. I have to include 'spine space' for all the pages I make, to be sure that there is enough paper for it to be stitched. In the event I fail at this, however, there are options to paste an extra margin in, but I'd rather avoid that to ensure the pages maintain their strength.

Initially, I didn't think I'd handpaint the papercuts, thinking that it might be overdoing it, but when I came across Ueda's work, I thought I should give it a try and I'm glad I did - I do, however, have to mindful about which pages to layer them with.

I also tried papercutting with Gampi, which unfortunately, is way to thin. Gampi is so silky you almost don't even notice that you're touching it, and after cutting away bits of it, it almost starts to float as you handle it, making it difficult to behave like a normal page. It was worth a try, but I'll stick to printing etchings with it.

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