Once upon a time there was a wedding and my sister and her new husband chose “Hanging on the wire” by Paul Weller as the song to play when they had their first dance together. From that day whenever I hear the beautiful, rich voice of Paul Weller memories of that day come flooding back. I will always associate the sound of his voice with love, and it was another of his songs and the simple lyric “Sweetpea, my sweetpea” that inspired this papercut.
Last summer I grew sweetpeas in my front garden and they bloomed continuously for months. There were so many flowers and such a heady scent that people often stopped as they walked past and I was able to give bunch after bunch away to friends and neighbours. Some of those sweetpeas even went into a neighbours wedding bouquet!
This year as the flowers begin to bloom again I was reminded of the Paul Weller song and the lovely memories of my sister’s wedding. It led me onto thinking about anniversaries and how the first anniversary gift is traditionally paper. After returning from a walk I found myself sitting down at my desk and starting to draw…
So let me tell you the story of how the drawings above became a papercut.
After sketching various sweetpea forms – a stem, a leaf, a bud and open flowers I scanned the finished drawings into the computer. I then played around with the various elements to create a design in Adobe Illustrator. By creating a digital image I can easily change or add elements. Once I was happy I reversed the image and printed out a design template. The image is reversed so when the cut is finished and you turn the paper over all the little scratches and any lines where the knife overruns slightly are hidden from view.
I wanted to reflect that the inspiration for this cut came from a song sung in a deep, male voice, so I chose a high quality, slate coloured Murano paper to give a soft, textured look to the finished cut.
The cut starts by stapling the design template to the paper to ensure it won’t slip.
It’s also important to have the right tools – in this case an A3 cutting mat and an Xacto knife with a rotating blade. The blades for this knife are comparatively expensive and it can be tempting to keep using a blade even if it starts to blunt. As a result the cut suffers so I change blades as soon as they start to snag the paper otherwise it always ends in tears and frustration.
I always start with the small details; ignore these areas at the start and it’s too late to add them in later when the paper is weaker.
As I keep cutting, it becomes instinctive deciding which piece to cut next. I find that I get to know the piece of paper and how it will react to being cut. At this stage in the cut, the process becomes almost like a meditation. I find that as I focus on the twists and turns of the knife my mind is strangely free to wander and I find myself either reflecting on the memories that inspired the piece or thinking about who might be going to receive it.
There will always be fragile and difficult areas in a design. I find it best to work on these gradually from early on in the paper cut so that the paper isn’t too weak to withstand the force of the cut causing fragile areas to tear.
Here the text is gradually cut away but left in a protective “bubble” until later.
This means that I can apply the necessary pressure with the knife blade to get a crisp, clean cut without worrying that I will rip a fragile strand of paper.
It’s important to protect the design as it progresses. Resting a piece of paper over where I have already cut stops me from unintentionally catching the papercut with myknife, hand or arm causing it to tear or crease.
When working with a textured paper like this Murano paper I find it is sometimes better to make an initial trace cut which I then go over again once the design has been completely traced with the knife. After I have removed the stapled design I can then cut fiddly turns with confidence rather than making mistakes.
When the goal is in sight it is easy for me to get impatient and rush. I have to remind myself that good things come to those who wait!
Once I’ve finished the cut I always get some satisfaction from looking at the pile of paper at my side. It is evidence of the hard work and time I have put into the papercut.
And then the hours of drawing and cutting come to an end. It’s time to enjoy the result.