Thursday, 21 July 2011

Folk art for folk tales - paper cutting

This was going to be a post about media ethics. But, what I wrote in my draft was bilious, and critical, and it wasn’t even about News Corporation, the Murdochs or hacking. There is enough nastiness in the atmosphere at the moment, including the rain that is battering my window right now as if it would like to wash us all away. So I thought I’d post about something nice and non-political; a cup-of-tea-and-an-eclair kind of post rather than a pie-in-the-face-and-a-drubbing.
Last week I did an evening workshop at the Make Lounge in Islington on paper cutting. It was led by Suzy Taylor, whose beautiful work you can look at on her blog at Maybe it was the white wine, or the sheer joy of creating something, but it felt like an epiphany when after a couple of hours bent over a knife I turned over my piece of origami paper, laid it on the backing card, and saw a picture that made sense.
I am terrible at drawing, and have always wished I could illustrate my own stories and poems, knowing that by the time I had learned and practised, I could have written several novels instead. I have stories sitting around that are longing for pictures, but I could never quite bring myself to hand them over to an illustrator, knowing they would breathe a wonderful new life into them using their own soul that could well leave the words behind. So I waited, and waited…
Until Suzy came along! Not only did she show me I could actually produce something reasonable despite my wonky sketches on the back of the paper, but I discovered the ideal medium for illustrating folk and fairy influenced tales.

This is not surprising, in retrospect, as paper cutting is often referred to as a ‘folk’ art. But it also has this lovely quality of drawing you in without revealing too much, which is exactly what I hope to achieve in my writing. The reader/viewer should have to do a bit of work themselves to make the picture make sense, and a papercut does this with silhouettes. Your eye drifts about, working out what things are and their relationship to one another, and how they have been represented.
My first few papercuts have all been illustrations for that story I wrote years ago; they are quite simple, but then so is the story. The writing had already been edited down and chopped up to fit into small chunks beside pictures in a standard 16 side picture book, so in a few weeks I may have to go on a book-binding course so I can put the whole thing together…
In the mean time, I have just finished my first papercut commission. It was designed to celebrate a 60th birthday, illustrating the things the person loves, so will have to wait until after the party to be revealed. I will post more of my papercuts here, hopefully showing signs of progress as I get braver with the knife, and all commissions are most welcome!


  1. So is that one yours? I like it.

    I like too simple woodcuts and lino cuts. There is something fab about the way a lino cutting tool bites into the oily surface, and I like the rolling on of ink.

    For some reason I always think of these types of images as being Norwegian or Scandinavian at least.

  2. Fabulous, Zoe! Speaking of stories, I'm rather stuck at the moment...Will return to it though, as it seems to be pulling at me. I hope to see more examples of your paper cuts. This one is lovely.