We live in a digital world and spend many hours looking at and working on screens in one form or another. Many designers spend most of their day stuck behind a computer. Whilst I’m not knocking the amazing and beautiful work that digital design can produce, there is something very attractive about hand crafted design. It’s more personal – as the designer has used his own hand to create the work – and it has an attractive crafted feel that many digital designs are lacking. This is what attracted me to using cut paper to create designs and illustrations. From such a simple thing as a sheet of ordinary paper, stunning and imaginative works can be created.
There are many ways to use paper to create designs. Some artists craft their work entirely from white paper and use layers to create form and depth. Other designers use many colours, cutting into the paper as a negative or cutting out elements with multiple layers and overlays. Some designers draw their designs directly onto the reverse of the card and cut the mirror image, others use tracing paper to transfer the designs directly onto the paper. With just a handful of coloured, textured or patterned paper and a scalpel only your imagination is the limit.
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My own paper cut designs are quite minimal but I try to make them quirky, humorous or thought provoking. My digital design work is also very simple so it’s not surprising this style has translated into my paper cut works. Cutting into paper feels very natural and although its a simple procedure, the process really makes you focus on design.
Unlike digital techniques there is no undo, no easy way to make additions or alternative colour-ways – once the piece is made it can’t easily be changed or amended. Paper cutting can also be time consuming – it would probably be much quicker and easier to produce a design digitally – but that would be missing the point. The paper cut design is distinctive and utterly simplistic. I love the fact that I am using my hands creatively to produce something unique and very personal.
Paper cut design is becoming increasingly popular and there are a growing number of designers and illustrators pushing the trend. Their work is not only visually stunning but has an individual ‘real’ feel to it.
Helen Musselwhite is an extremely talented Manchester based paper cutter who creates intricate multi layered ‘paperscapes’ inspired mainly by nature. Owen Gildersleeve is another stunning paper cutter who creates multi layered graphic designs entirely from paper.
If goes without saying that the biggest influence on paper cutting in recent years is Rob Ryan who has created a very successful brand with his incredibly intricate works cut from single sheets of paper.
Paper cutting is very satisfying and enjoyable. If you fancy trying it yourself, all you need is some medium weight paper, a scalpel and a little inspiration.
Author: Mark Allison. All pictured work by Mark Allison.