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Additional Methods to Add Visual Interest and Texture to Your Paper Sculpture

There are many ways of adding additional interest to your paper sculpture, and learning where and how to direct the eye is a skill I’m still developing.

water buffalo hair details.jpg

These techniques all should be worked though BEFORE adding any pastel colorization. This is both because the pastel is messy, but also because the interplay of the embossed/scratched/cut surface and the pastel overlay leads to very interesting and beautiful results.


Also, all of these techniques, particularly the cutting ones, work better with dry paper. Only for the embossing techniques does the paper need to be damp.

The two pieces I’m working through for these posts don’t actually use any of the following techniques, so I pulled pieces from my portfolio to demonstrate them. I've kept the image size large in order for the details to be more easily seen.

cut details in sloth fur.jpg

Cutting the paper to add visual interest.

In addition to cutting the paper based on shape considerations, the Xacto knife is a great tool for adding visual interest.


You can cut textures into the side/edge of the paper piece. This is a great technique for hair, fur, feathers, plants, etc.

cut plants and flower details.jpg

One technique I’ve recently started playing with for fur is cutting the edge of the paper, but not cutting through the triangles (if that makes sense). Rather then pulling out the negative space between the cuts, I push it through (because I haven’t connected the top cuts). This allows me to give a more rounded edge (see the bottom edge of the sloth arm).

 You can also add cuts to your embossing to make them stand out more. See how the cuts on the embossed triangles of the crocuses make them stand out more. A cut inside a piece of paper will direct your eye in the way a strongly drawn line will.

cut and scratched roof details.jpg

SCRAPING the paper to add visual interest.

Scraping is (what I’m calling it) when you cut into the top of the paper without actually cutting through. This gives a sharper line then scoring the paper, and can be used to decorative effect.

painted pieces to add visual texture.jpg

PAINTING the paper to add visual interest.

One challenge I face with paper sculpture is determining what areas to build/not build out of paper. The danger when you build all your textures through actual dimensional paper is that your eye doesn’t know where to look. I think of this as being analogous to painting and drawing, where you want to play with hard and soft edges.

compare contrast opossums.jpg

I recently completed some sample baby opossums for a picture book of mine. I initially created all the fur texture from cut paper. I felt that this was too harsh a technique, however, and moved to a combination of cut edges with painted areas. (Plus all cut paper fur would have taken FOREVER!!!)

torn paper strips into tree bark.jpg

TEARING the paper to add visual interest.

Tearing the paper to create a jaggedy edge can also add visual interest. This is appropriate for natural items such as tree bark.

NOTE: Tyvek literally CANNOT tear. If you are working in this material, be aware of this property. Also true of the vellum/film papers we’ll talk about in a later post.

wild thing cut details.jpg

Often, you will employ a combination of these techniques. For example, the monster fur on “Where the Wild Things” has been painted, cut, and embossed.


When you add pastel on top of these techniques, you are able to achieve some really interesting effects.

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