I feel very blessed to be in a community of writers and artists. They are the most generous people I know in terms of sharing knowledge, techniques, and even resources. I grew up doing artwork and all sorts of crafts and I’ve never gotten over the excitement of finding new things to try out or new artists and writers to discover. Many of the art and crafting projects I do were done intuitively but just like everything else, practice makes perfect. There are, however, some things that no matter how I practice, perfection seems to be always turning another corner.
This brings me to my very first guest artist on the blog! I came across her work during one of my mad click away days (Pinterest links, website links, just click, click, click!). The first of her works that I spotted was a papercut deer in a glass bell jar. This was in December so it was a Holiday theme, of course. Click. I went to her website. Click. She had two videos! Click. A papercut butterfly! A few clicks more to her other work and I just knew I had to ask her about her work. I saw Perfection!
The artist is Rachel Gibson. I didn’t waste any time emailing her. I just knew I had to have her on the blog! Rachel agreed to the interview and she was very warm and accommodating. Here then, is the interview:
You mention on your About Me page that your love for paper began in 2009. Were you doing other kinds of art before then?
I used to write – a lot more than I do now – mostly short fairy tales and urban myths. After a while I realized the majority of my short stories had no dialogue and I
became more and more interested in visual storytelling. I’ve always loved stop motion and puppetry, and scriptwriting felt like a natural progression at that point. So I took a few of my stories and worked them into short film scripts for animation.
Can you describe your process? (How do you come up with your design ideas? Are they mostly influenced by your love of fairy tales and folk tales? How long does it usually take to finish a project like your deer in the bell jars?)
It varies, and sometimes it can be just seeing something completely random in silhouette, or a black and white image, that makes me wonder whether I could cut it out, and if so, how? Or it could be something that has an interesting shape that will look particularly striking as a silhouette. I’m currently trying out a seahorse design because I really like its outline, and there’s potential to cut away some interesting little designs into its body. There are also lots of good shapes to cut in terms of sea coral and plants with long, drifting fronds. It’s starting to look like an underwater forest, to be honest, which I quite like.
Often it’s a number of practical things that help shape the design. I’m fascinated with cut paper and light, so I always plan on how the finished piece could cast a shadow. This then helps me decide what kind of box frame the piece would suit; whether it’s going to be a layered papercut or not; and whether it would work in something different, like a bell jar. I then think about the types of paper that might work best.
My Bird in Spring was inspired by a bird and cherry blossom design I’d seen on an old Japanese vase, but it took on more of a folk art look as the design developed. I knew I wanted a bird in the middle of a box frame, so had to work out how to “suspend” it within some sort of border. I then had to make sure the paper was a sufficient weight so that the papercut would hold steady and not sag at all, and I found Bockingford watercolour paper worked really well. It’s 300gsm though so pretty thick paper to cut, and I found that worked better with bigger, bolder designs rather than something as small and delicate as cherry blossom.
My Birdkeeper was definitely a fairy tale inspiration, though I originally had her in mind as a shadow puppet. I did a couple of pieces as well for a fairy tale inspired exhibition last year (Once Upon Again). One was called The Homecoming, which depicts the Wolf in disguise as the Woodcutter returning to the Grandmother’s cottage in the woods. The other was Frau Trude versus Little Marya: a standoff between Frau Trude-as-demon and a swordwielding girl, which was a bit of a cheeky nod to my love of martial arts films.
Some projects are quicker than others, but a lot depends on how long it takes me to get the sizing just right. With the deer in the bell jar design, it took three solid days of cutting out winter woods and deer, all at fractionally different heights, to get the combination that I felt worked best within the glass dome. Similarly with the butterfly in the bell jar, it took around 15-20 differently-sized butterflies and flower designs until I was happy with it. With papercutting, I can only really tell if something will work or not, once I’ve cut it out and tried it. It can be a slow process getting each new piece right, but once I’ve got the design that works, I can use that as a template. It gets much quicker and easier after that.
Do you have a favorite among the work you’ve done?
I’m really enjoying working with bell jars at the moment, but the Angel Wings are perhaps my favourite. I’ve had customers buy them sometimes for very poignant memorial reasons, and that significance has meant a lot to me.
Any advice for anyone who’d like to try this type of artwork?
Just give it a go. The materials to get started don’t have to be expensive by any means.
You’ll need a cutting mat: I use a double-sided one like this – http://www.craftsuperstore.co.uk/Papercrafting/Craft_Tools/Knives__and_amp__Mats/Xcut-XCU268431.html. It’s black on one side; white on the other, which is great for me. I’ve found that cutting black paper on a white mat/white paper on a black mat, a lot easier than the standard green cutting mats.
Get some different types of paper and card – different colours, weights and textures. Scrap papers leftover from other projects will always get used, so keep hold of them.
And finally, get a craft knife. I’ve got a variety of knives with different blades, but the one I use more than any other is the very cheapest. It’s a no-frills Jakar cutting knife http://www.fredaldous.co.uk/jakar-cutting-knife-small.html
I do use a more expensive X-Acto knife like this one http://xacto.com/products/cutting-solutions/knives/knives/X2000-Knife.aspx when I’m cutting thinner, more delicate paper. It’s perfect for that. But because I tend to use thicker watercolour paper, I have to apply quite a lot of pressure when I’m cutting, and I can safely hold the Jakar knife much closer to the blade, so it feels more precise, and it easily gets through 300gsm paper.
A huge thank you to Rachel for sharing her work and her process! Her blog is called in the dark woods. Rachel also has an Etsy shop as well as a Storenvy shop should you want to purchase any of her work. And finally, here are Rachel’s animated works for you to enjoy!