Happy Halloween

I'm always interested to find new ways to represent text and shapes with papercutting. I have a very particular sense about balance and consistency and so I really dislike it when letters are not consistent through a paper cut piece. I am particularly bothered by negative cuts which just remove the entirety of 'O' or 'A' and thus look incomplete. I understand why the choice is made, but I cannot ever make it. 

I tried to create a different style in this piece. Here's the video of me cutting it out. Happy Halloween!

Peckham Fox

As I continue to work on this little endeavor I call Kartegraphik, I keep learning new things. Fairly frequently I am forced to engage with practices I do not actually have any interest in. For instance, how to be successful on instagram, or what sort of social media strategy a small maker should have. These are not the reasons I started this in the first place, but sometimes being pushed beyond your comfort zone is a good thing. In this case, I was trying to figure out how to create a nice little instagram post or facebook video that quickly got across who I am and what I do while telling people I'd be at a crafty fox market. 

To me the animal that best represents London is a fox. They are absolutely everywhere and still I hardly ever get close to one. I know that the dragon is more traditional but, foxes seem appropriate. When I was asked at the last minute to cover a spot in the Brixton Crafty Fox I created a Brixton fox that sold quite well. Importantly it forced me to keep up with the idea I've had since Bearlin, of maps in animal shapes that also reflect the nature of the city I am depicting. So I started creating maps that brought together animals, the place I was going, and the work I needed to be doing. 

See Peckham below and come see me at CLF Art Cafe in Peckham on Sunday the 9th of October from 11-5pm. 

A Love Letter to Budapest

In committing to something new, something about which I knew, and still know, very little, I have managed to overlook writing about what was my most ambitious paper cut project. Setting up a tiny business, learning how to draw, practicing paper cutting, learning social media strategy and tax regulations in two countries, photography, and continuing to produce something worthwhile and quality, means perhaps I can be forgiven. No? Well I'll just show the paper cutting then. It's good, I promise.

I started my second large paper cut in January of this year. One of the impetuses for my maps is my love of travel, but when travelling I cannot find any kind of souvenir that I like enough to bring back. I'm not precisely a minimalist, but I am overly discerning. I particularly remember being struck by this difficulty in Venice. It is a city perched above, in and on water. To me it was completely unique. I had an exceptional 5 days there that I will remember until I am no longer capable of memory, but of all the shops and streets and canals, I couldn't find one thing to bring back. I thought about purchasing a glass balloon every day, but decided the connection was too tenuous and their ubiquity disenchanting. It's a beautiful thing, but didn't say Venice to me.

So when I visited Budapest twice last year, I knew I wanted something different. Both holidays were in winter, at opposite ends of the year. I will spare you the details: hot springs, early 19th century architecture, gorgeous bridges, fantastic food and alcohol, cherry pastry, raspberry chimney cakes and some very nice people. It became, concerns about its shifting right politics aside, a place I placed immediately on my "I will live here" list. It's a short list and never included London, which tells you something about it's practicality. So I decided to make my a different sort of souvenir instead.

Creating the Map

The first step is choosing a boundary for the map. The paper is 22" x 30" and 300gsm. This means it's really very thick card, and is not at all necessary to create a work like this. A much thinner paper of 150gsm (the thickness of two sheets of printer paper) would suffice. I prefer to leave a thick border, much like a mat around my work. I wanted a sufficient density of streets to look impressive, but not so dense as to be unmanageable. Using Open Street Map and some other paper reference maps I chose enough memorable landscape features, like Margit-sziget (Margaret Island) to help the viewer orient that would fit roughly in the cut out space I had designed so I started to draw. 

I drew the map in digital format first. I can then manipulate the size of the streets and features. I chose to make all the roads roughly the same width in this piece. It is easier to cut that way. I then printed the map in reverse and traced it in pencil on the back of the paper. I cut the map from the back to the front, so that mistakes are easier to hide, any extra graphite does not impact on its appearance, and it's easier to move the work around my home. 

The full size map, almost complete.

The drawing of the map itself, from computer to complete trace is about 20 or so hours. In the centre of the map you can see I haven't finished drawing the last bits of Pest. I often think about stopping here because there is a simplistic minimalist appeal of the map as drawn in outline with a lead pencil. It's beautiful in its own right. But I'm made of meaner stuff: a scalpel, so I do not stop. I use a Swann Morton number 3 (I think) handle here. I buy blades by the hundreds. I also use an NT Cutter. The head swivels and is great for curves. The ruler on the right is a cutting ruler, clear acrylic with a thin edge of metal to cut against. It sometimes helps, but not always. 

That's 25 minutes worth of cutting, and I did not notice I had missed part of my map until I reached that section. In the left corner you'll see the missing lines. 

As time progresses I occasionally flip the map over to check on the progress and feel accomplished. I don't have an A1 self-healing mat, I use 2 A2 mats. 

This is a quick video of how I cut out the maps. You can still follow me on instagram but at @kartegraphik (this was before the app made it easy to switch between accounts). 

The final piece, completely cut out. Unfortunately, I noted the time, but didn't photograph it. It was 36 hours. 

There is not as much of a sense of accomplishment in the pile of paper chips, as I call them, as there is in the map. Still, the blades were changed less frequently than my previous large scale map of Chicago, and the result is excellent. 

Budapest framed on the wall. It's hard to see due to the awful chipboard wall paper of my flat, but the map is framed between two pieces of acrylic, meaning you can see through it to the wall behind it. 

It's easier to see here that it's been float framed. What I love about this method of framing is that the shadows on the wall, particularly when placed a specific distance from the wall change and move as the light source in the room does. It interacts to create a liveliness and movement on the wall. 

A Comparison

I went to the Paper Artist Collective exhibition in Hackney last weekend and received quite a wonderful surprise, I am not nearly as unskilled as I feared! I know this sounds a bit ridiculous, but 99% of the paper cuts I see are online, and almost without exception the photographs are not close up. Focused macro photography often shows what paper artists don't talk about, the tiny bits of fluff at the corner of a paper cut intersection, areas where we over cut, mistakes, or what I like to think of as the 'rind' coming off the paper. Paper is pressed and so the top surface you write on, when cutting, sometimes comes away in a layer and this flies up a bit from the rest of the paper. It can be very difficult to get rid of. I often slice it at an angle, trying to hide the cut, without going any deeper than that rind. 

So I was very pleased to see that everyone had these little imperfections and as I explained to my last workshop, paper cuts look best from a small distance. In part, I think, this is due to human perception. We perceive a whole, where often there isn't one. I find trying to conceive of paper cut designs quite difficult because of this. Perhaps thought, it's really just retraining my brain to perceive negative and positive space. 

Similarly I came across an old work of mine earlier this week and then a similar work by one of the best paper carvers anywhere (her term), Maude Alta. Here is my piece from about a year ago. 

I've borrowed this picture from here.

The similarity in pictures is actually a coincidence. My desk is red, and it's a common practice to hold what you've made as a paper cutter so you can get a sense of scale. What's fairly obvious is that I still have a very long way to go. Yet, in the few years I've been doing this I've gotten so much father just teaching myself than I ever thought I would. Still, this level of craftsmanship is extreme. I've only seen one other person capable of such delicate hadmade work (Mr. Riu). 

This leaf took me about 5 hours to make, I suspect it would take about half that time now. I am also of the opinion that she carves using a much thinner paper than I do. I'm not sure how else the joins could be so fine. Still, it's fantastic and maybe I need to practice on thinner paper. 

Workshop Reflection

I had my first non-event specific workshop this past week. In conjunction with a great new pub in Battersea, the Candlemaker, I ran a small craft workshop to give people a taster of what paper cutting is like. It's safe to say I learned a few things for my next workshop, and I can't wait to do it again. 

Timing is key. It's hard to judge how long it will take to give a speech or communicate a new skill to a group of people. The 7 folks who joined me were keen and it was very easy to give them some new skills. We spent about 30 minutes learning basic techniques, a tiny bit of papercutting history, and how to design a paper cut properly. 

Lighting, is also important. The pub is great and definitely the greatest place to learn something new like this. The atmosphere is relaxed and creative, but also warm and comfortable. It was a shockingly cold day after having had a weekend of early 20 degree weather, so a warm pub was just what was called for. Unfortunately as the night progressed we realized that the fantastic ambient light from the skylights faded, and I had chosen black paper with silver ink for the take home piece. It was reflective, but not exactly precise. At home I have two direct lamps above me when I work, and here we just propped up our phones directly on some overturned pint glasses to give us more light. Crafty we certainly were. 

I also think the thinner lined project I gave out, was technically easy within the skill set, but the bands between the animals were a bit too delicate for beginners. I'll try something different next time.