Wednesday, 4 April 2012

How to Papercut

I get asked fairly regularly about how I do what I do, my tools, materials and methods.
I hope people appreciate that this just isn't something that you can start doing and be really good at instantly I have a degree in Fine Art and even with that behind me it does take a lot of practice, to prove this here is one of my first papercuts from 31st December 2010;

Note the dodgy curves and ragged edges!
Now compare to recent work made in 2012;

Smooth curves, good even writing, fine detail. Just goes to show how skills and ability can improve within a year and a bit and I continue to improve and produce more detailed works as I go along.
I firstly say that everything I use to make my cuts is a personal preference, I speak to several other papercutters and we use a fairly wide variety of tools/paper/methods to design so nothing is really right or wrong but if you want to try this should give you a good starting block for trying it out.  I haven't really included specifics in a lot of ways because a girl has got to have some trade secrets doesn't she? What I use may not be right for you so please just take the advice on board do a little research and have a play with the materials that are out there because there are no hard and fast rules.
First you really need a cutting mat, please don't try cutting on cardboard or anything flimsy as you will either cut yourself or damage the surface you are working on.  Self healing ones are good and you want one that is at least the same size as the paper you are working on, I use an A2 one as I do larger works sometimes, I also turn mine regularly to stop cutting in the same place constantly and you get a longer life out of it.
Scalpels, no right and wrong to this, I use a round handled Swann Morton handle, I know other papercutters use the more surgical style, flat handled ones, this is a personal thing I feel more comfortabtle with a light weight, pencil thickness one, I also wrap plasters around mine for more comfort.
I use number 11 blades as they have a good fine point on them, again personal preference but you want to change the blade regularly a blunt blade means your paper will tear and you will be more likely to slip whilst cutting and either slice through whole sections of paper or cut yourself as you use more pressure to cut with a blunt blade than a sharp one.
A metal ruler is a must if you want to cut straight lines a plastic ruler will get cut by the blade you will end up with a wonky ruler and a very blunt blade quickly.
Paper I use thicker paper around 140-160gsm other use thinner, personal choice yet again, I find thinner paper much more difficult to work with and more prone to tearing/crumpling but others find it better and easier.  There are loads of art shops in the world and online that sell lots of lovely coloured paper and you do have to go through a trial and error to find what works for you.
I had draw all my designs in pencil, backwards and then cut the reverse so the front of the paper stays clean and no problems with having to rub out pencil lines. 

So the above image is turned the lovely cut below and can you imagine trying to rub out the design from the front of something like this?!

Not fun or easy and the fastest route to a lovely tree becoming a crumpled, creased mess.
You can computer design, I cannot because I am useless with it so drawing by hand is by far the easiest option for me.
My best advice is to have fun, don't stab/cut yourself with the scalpel and just enjoy it.  
I will say that it can hurt, I regularly lose the fingerprints on my right hand from the pressure of cutting and my fingers can get very sore but plasters and a good moisturise are usually quite soothing and helps. My back/shoulder used to ache like hell after I had finished something when I first started cutting so sit in a decent position, my muscles have no become used to cutting so don't be surprised as I still get aches in my back/side/ribs from it.  Sit somewhere with plenty of light and a good flat surface that you aren't going to slip on.
I hope this helps everyone and if you want to see me cutting I did a little video which you can watch