top of page

What the Heck is Papercutting Anyway?


Trying to Explain the Art Form of Papercutting

Desk showing a black cutting mat with a white papercut art of a flower.
What Papercutting Looks Like

When I tell people that I am an artist, invariably the first question is, "Oh, what kind of art do you make?" And when I answer "papercutting," I tend to get blank stares and an occasional eye twitch, as if I'm speaking an alien language. I get it. Until I accidentally stumbled upon papercutting myself, I had no idea what it was or even that it was a legitimate art form in its own right.

The funny thing is, while your average person does not know about the long history of papercutting as an art, the term itself is pretty self-descriptive. Papercutting art is essentially, cutting a design in paper. It's literally paper cutting. So while I get the blank stares when I use the term, its also a bit funny when I explain what it is, and then you see the recognition on people's faces that they were overthinking the term.

Of course, most people are familiar with collage, and that is different from papercutting in that collage involves cutting out shapes individually and rearranging them into a design, whereas papercutting generally involves cutting a design out of a single sheet of paper.

Most often, the best way to explain papercutting art is to show people. So inevitably, I have to take out my phone and show them pictures of my work and other papercut artists.

Papercutting art is this:

A work in progress papercut art piece in white paper with a hobby blade on a green cutting mat.
My own papercut work in progress

From other papercut artists, papercutting is also this:

A white papercut artwork showing cranes, koi fish, and water plants by artist Pippa Dyrlaga on a blue background.
Papercut Artwork by Pippa Dyrlaga

And this:

A white papercut artwork of a potted orchid with other small papercut illustrations embedded in. Work by Bovey Lee. White papercut on purple background.
Papercut artwork by Bovey Lee

And these:

There are various styles of papercutting, which I will dive into in an upcoming blog post, but the main distinction that most style share is that the designs are cut from a single sheet of paper.

In another upcoming blog post, I will share about the history of papercutting and take a look into the various cultural styles from around the world. Papercutting as been around as long as paper has been around-- the oldest surviving paper cut out is a symmetrical circle from the 6th-century dynasties period in Xinjiang China. As paper technology expanded around the globe, each culture created their own unique style of papercutting. Which makes it interesting that more people don't know about it as an art form, but that could be due to its status as more of a "folk art" than a "fine art" for most of history.

Another aspect that makes papercutting confusing to recognize is that there are multiple terms for the art form. I like to use "papercutting," but you'll find others who say, "paper cut art" or "cut paper art." Both are as descriptive any of the others, but it does cause some confusion that oil painting won't encounter since there isn't another equally used term for "oil painting."

For a long time, "Fine Art" proper was limited to painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and poetry. But in more recent times, many artworks that were once relegated to mere "folk art" have had a big come-back, especially as art had evolved to push back against the traditional Western European definition of "fine art." The papercutting artists shown above have displayed in proponent fine art galleries, and show a sophistication of their craft and excellence of skill. They are considered fine artists as much as Jenny Saville or David Hockney are.

So there you are. Papercutting art is art made by cutting out a design within a single sheet of paper. That's it. Now that wasn't too hard to understand was it?



Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page