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Why Work in Paper Sculpture - Part One:

Explorations in Paper Art

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My step-dad is an engineer and as such, tends to look for the most efficient solution to problems. ​​As I started to work on these paper sculpture artworks, it was soon apparent how much more time they take than other media. Of course, my step-dad had to question: why work in paper sculpture then?

To understand why I feel drawn to this media, I need to share a little of how I got to this point.I completed my BFA at BYU in 1995. I was confident in my drawing ability, but painting was a constant battle. That’s not say I can’t paint – but it was always frustrating, and I felt like my final art never matched what I saw in my head.

After graduation, and working several other design-related jobs to put my husband through school and residency, I ended up doing medical illustration for over a decade. Strong figurative work took advantage of my drawing skills, but it never inspired me.

After my youngest daughter was born, I stepped back from medical illustration and concentrated on raising my children. This extra time also gave my flexibility to volunteer in their school where I was soon asked to do many illustration / design projects for the school. It got to be quite funny where the teachers were so excited to have my kids in their class because they knew I would do their hallway displays etc.

​These were never great pieces of art. They were rarely planned—put together in an afternoon with large sheets of construction paper rolls or what was on hand. And I LOVED it! I was surprised what I could achieve with the paper and, by adding some dimension/bas-relief, make an interesting composition.  I wondered if I could apply this same idea of bas-relief paper sculpture to illustration.


Paper crafting, paper sculpture, paper art, paper cuts – whatever you call it, is an art form that’s existed across many cultures for centuries.

I researched paper illustration and paper cut art and saw a few main categories. I tried all of them and it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for (although I incorporate the skills in various ways into my work).

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This is a very brief overview of some forms of paper art:

QUILLING: Rolling and pinching long strips of paper into shapes and designs.

ORIGAMI: paper folding into shapes, using a single sheet of paper with no cutting or gluing.

KIRIGAMI: variation that allows cutting of the shapes, but still typically does not use glue.

FLAT-CUT PAPER ART, such as the German “Scherenschnitte”, which means "scissor cuts".  This method is actually credited as being the first form of animation, created by Lottie Reiniger. The portrait at the top of this post is of Lottie Reinger.

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My early explorations included some playing with the flat-cut style of paper cuts. 

I enjoyed these, but was still searching for the dimensionality I had found in the wall displays.

Eventually I found more the more realistic, bas-relief paper sculpture I was looking for.  Two excellent artists I found were Jeff Nishinaka and Calvin Nicholls (although there are many others).

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Unlike some of the other forms of paper art, however, there was little advice available on HOW to create paper sculptures in such a way.

I went back to my art school roots and decided to recreate a “masters” in paper sculpture. The first attempt was truly terrifying!

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 (It wasn’t too bad until I added some shading in charcoal) Next, I tried using damp colored paper. I wanted to use color more because I feel like color plays such an important role in picture book illustration. This attempt was better, but I still felt like I was missing some of the basics of what I wanted to achieve.

I also wanted to be able to create more realistic portraits out of paper sculpture, but all the advice I was finding said “It can’t be done, paper requires a more stylized approach…”

And then one day while searching through images on Etsy, I found this image, and it was exactly what I wanted to achieve.

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