Friday, June 11, 2010

scherenschnitte: the art of papercutting

The art of scherenschnitte, or "scissor cutting," has been around for hundreds of years. Artisans in Europe, Asia, Mexico, and the Middle East have produced beautiful works of art for centuries armed with nothing more than a leaf of paper and a pair of scissors or knife. 

I first read about the art of papercutting a few years ago, and went so far as to contact a few artists with the intention to write a story on the art for a website I used to edit. The story didn't end up happening since I left as an editor last year, but since this art form has popped up as a trending topic in the crafting community recently, I thought I'd share some of the resources I gathered at the time. I spoke with several artists about their work in papercutting, and I've featured three of my favorites below.

The delightful Elsa Mora is well-known in the scherenschnitte circles for her delicate, intricate designs. I love the intelligence and thought that is behind each of her pieces, as well as the minute, feathery details and suggestion of movement in each one. This California-based artist's wonderful blog The Heart of Papercutting is full of generous links and resources for anyone who might want to try out papercutting for themselves, and it was her work that inspired me to try my hand at it. 

I attempted to cut two of the storybook children she designed (as pictured above) with a craft knife and self-healing mat, and surprised myself by finishing within a matter of hours with each one. Though my Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan have sadly slightly misshapen hands and are a bit rough in spots here and there, I think they turned out pretty well for a first attempt, and it was a really satisfying project to try. I finally got around to mounting the two children this week, and put them in wooden frames that I painted a slightly pearlescent grey.

Along with prints of her work, Elsita now also carries simple patterns in her Etsy shop for beginner papercutting enthusiasts, which is a much easier way to learn this beautiful craft than the way I went about it. She also offers her original papercuts for sale through Three Graces Gallery, and the complexity and subtle mystery in her work is truly unforgettable.

Su Blackwell is another scherenschnitte artist whose ethereal artwork makes me catch my breath. This UK-based artist creates dreamy three dimensional works, as with While You Were Sleeping above, and specializes in artwork cut from vintage books. Her 12 Dancing Princesses is just one of her many pieces inspired by fairy tales, although she also does fantastic commercial work for magazines and retailers as well.

Su alerted me last year that her artwork would be included in a Slash: Under the Knife, a group exhibition at Museum of Arts and Design in New York, and I popped in to see it last fall when I was visiting friends. The exhibit was really wonderful (even if I blanched at the admission price to the museum...oh, New York!) and I was glad to see some of Su's work in person. The exhibit just closed this spring, but you can view more of her work on her website or on her blog.

Cindy Ferguson is a graphic designer and artist who lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. She says, "have always loved drawing. When I went to Europe a few years ago, I visited my grandparent's farm in Germany. In their sitting room, there was an old scherenschnitt on the wall. It was so intricate and beautiful. I thought I would like to try my hand at the art and have become quite obsessed with it."

Cindy's Scherenschnitte blog is updated frequently with updates on her most recent projects, as well as with tutorials and free templates to download. Cindy also accepts commissions for custom silhouettes and artwork through her cindymindypindy Etsy site. My very favorite of her creations happens to be her custom piece for a man who wanted a papercut for his wife, whose favorite film is Pride and Prejudice. It features the moving quote featured in a pivotal point, "It taught me to hope," said he, "as I had scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before." I can't even imagine the amount of discipline and fine motor control that Cindy had to use in order to carve out the lovely text. I love all the details in this papercut, from the stripes in the Elizabeth's skirt to the hands in motion to the perfect frame provided by the trees.


Please do visit all three artists online for papercutting inspiration and beauty--the patience and artistry required for each complex work of art is incredible..and perhaps you'll even be inspired to try out this beautiful craft on your own. Photographs courtesy of  the individual artists.

As I was editing this post, I realized that all three of the artisans featured have created artwork centered around books and fairy tales--no wonder I was drawn to them! (Incidentally, Hans Christian Andersen was also very well known for traveling around and telling stories to children while snipping away with scissors to create instant papercuts while he was spinning tales. The book The Amazing Papercuts of Hans Christian Andersen features many of his papercuts, and if you're a fan of his writing, it's nice to learn more about this lesser-known talent.) Two things I really love, books and craft, come together in perfect harmony.

6 comments:

  1. hello friend.
    what breathtaking papercuts!!
    yours are magnificent, i did not even notice the difference in hand sizes until you pointed it out!
    i am shocked that it only took you an hour!
    that looks like it would have taken me all day, and it still would not have turned out as wonderful as yours! (0: oh! and i adore those grey frames!!
    so anthropologie!
    speaking of.. orphan shocked the pants off of me! i never saw that ending coming!
    i assumed it would be something along the lines of her being unstable (i has already figured that she had infatuations with all the fathers) but not that she was 33! it was a twist i never saw coming.(0:
    and one more thing:
    i was wandering through your blog and came across your craft swap and i wanted to tell you how adorable your plushie turned out! that little bear is too cute!!
    ... just wanted to tell you (0:
    have a wonderful day.
    xo

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  3. Oh thanks, VG! The papercuts turned out much better than I expected--and each one actually took me around 5 - 6 hours if I remember correctly. You should definitely give it a try if you're interested, you might just be really good at it.

    As for the frames--they are inexpensive black frames I got from Home Goods. I liked they way they looked on their own, but for our space the black was too much, so I decided to mix together a pretty-but-neutral shade. Glad you like them!

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  4. I love cut paper art, especially Su Blackwell. Saw her stuff at the MAD exhibit SLASH: Under the Knife in NY earlier this year. It was INCREDIBLE!! I'm a true fan. Thanks for your great post.

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  5. I'd quite like to step into Su Blackwell's world...it's full of beauty and romance and mystery. So glad I saw that exhibit, too! Thanks for sharing your experience.

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  6. Thanks for the suggestions & tips! I'd like to suggest the amazing one-of-kind original hand-made artworks by Kay Weber, a talented paper cutting artist based in San Francisco.
    Visit website: http://www.kayweberartstudio.com

    ReplyDelete

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