Making Art

Using your own original ideas.

Paper Art: techniques or cut and fold baby!

You may have noticed a lot of paper art around lately? It’s certainly a very popular medium at the moment and not without reason. Inexpensive, great for small work spaces and you can start with a minimum of tools and skills. It’s an incredibly versatile medium. So strong for its weight, translucent. It can be layered with meaning by adding text, image or print. It works for both 2d and 3d work.

There are so many good  artists who work with paper, and here are some of my favourites.


Above : Two Dreams [top] and Found Reference by Cara Barer.


Above: the delicate cut outs of Hina Aoyama.

Above: artist Benja Harvey uses a lot of pop up techniques.

Above: Anastassia Elias creates  lovely little words out of the most inexpensive materials.

Above: My Red Heart [top], rolled paper  and a sculpture cut into a book, by Lizzie Buckmaster Dove.

Above: Bookmobile, by Lisa Occhipinte.
And my favourite: Emma van Leest.

Above: A Gradual Passing, by Emma van Leest. I am MENTAL for this.

All these artists use a variety of techniques in their work but there are some basic techniques common to most of them.  You need only very simple supplies and equipment to make art from paper.

You need only:

  • paper or cardboard
  • a cutting surface [preferably a cutting mat but you can use an old magazine or newspaper]
  • a cutting knife like a box cutter with a retractable blade
  • scissors
  • a ruler
  • a pencil
  • an eraser
  • maybe some glue, the type depends on what you are making

The crazy world of scrap booking has introduced us to a pile of funky paper cutting equipment, that cut shapes, fancy guillotines etc.  I would leave these until after you have mastered the basics, and find a genuine need, other wise you will be out their spending the dough instead of in your workspace making some art.

Above: the equipment for this project can be pretty cheap.

But before we talk techniques….lets talk safety.

No running with scissors!

Seriously, when you are walking along with scissors or knives walk with the blades shut and pointing downwards and hand them to others handle first not by the blade. When you are cutting on the mat, most cuts will be pulled down towards you [unlike say lino cutting where you push the carving tools away from you], so make sure your hand holding the paper is not in line with where you are pulling that knife. Lastly don’t forget the danger of the dreaded paper cut. I managed to cut my eye last week… not sure how I did this but beware! Those edges are sharp!

If you want to know a bit more about paper have a looksee at my post here: A bit of background information about paper.

There are many ways to use paper, including using pop-up book techniques and papier mache , but right now we are going to look at basic construction.

Basic techniques include:

  • Cutting
  • Folding
  • Rolling
  • Shaping [lifting edges, pressing shapes with your hands]

You can make really interesting textures and shadow images simply cutting small lines into paper and lifting the cut slightly.

Above: Using the pattern on the top image, I cut that shape into the paper and simply lifted the cut section up slightly.

Above: it looks quite different, on a white or dark background.

Above: Put a cut out on a different colour background to reveal your image. This is from a series of boxed paper cutouts about Enrique and Sanchez, two very intellectual art loving donkeys.

Above: or add some lighting in to add shadow to a one colour piece. Another boxed paper piece. This one is about the elephant man.[ I got his name wrong! because I am an idiot.]

Above: The House of Bamboo. You can assemble quite complicated scenes by layering them. Draw your image and plan how they can be made one section at a time. Unassembled [top] and put together. I have glued some bits on using PVA.

I quite often make little scenes kind of on the fly. I might do a little sketch first or I might not. I suggest you do if you are new to this type of construction. For this example I am making scene of  tent, with cosy interior including cushions and rugs. Eventually I will add in a figure lounging on cushions, drinking tea.

Above: first I cut out a basic box/ room shape, leaving tabs so the corners can be overlapped.

Above: next I cut out the openings in the scene, taking notches out of the tabs to make sure they don’t show. I also cut little triangles for the roof of the tent. There is also a little rug on the floor.

Above: I cut out the shape of a little rug, and ruffled the fringe [top] to give it some movement and rolled it between my fingers so it wouldn’t lie flat.

Above: I cut out the shape of cushions and pressed the paper into my palm to round it out, [top].  

Above: I want the tent to look as if it has a lot of fabric. So I cut the curtains then rolled them around a bamboo skewer first one way then the other, then formed it into folds. I glued them on using PVA. Later I will add folds to the outside of the tent too.

Above: The little scene so far. I will post the final version later when its finished.

A few things to think about before you start.

  • Use a good quality paper if you plan to roll or repeatedly fold your work. Cheap paper will tear or crack.
  • Choose a weight of paper that suits your project.eg: If you want to cut out something really delicate don’t choose a super heavy paper because it will be  too hard to cut the fine lines, but also don’t choose a superfine paper because it will tear. If your piece must stand on its own like a box, choose a paper that is not too floppy.
  • For small projects, PVA or craft glue is ideal. Glue sticks are ok on lightweight paper, but not suitable for anything heavier. If you want to use card or very heavy paper I would use a hot glue gun, other wise you risk buckling or saggy with the wetness of PVA.

Finally, don’t be shy. Give it a go. And don’t forget if you make something jolly, post it on the Making Art Facebook page.

One comment on “Paper Art: techniques or cut and fold baby!

  1. Pingback: Five accessible sculpture methods. | Making Art

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This entry was posted on November 29, 2012 by in Exercises and tagged , , , , , , , .
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