Chicago

Papercutting, for me, has been an autodidactic hobby. (I like a ten dollar word, I won't apologize). I have never seen a class at a local college, an activity day at a festival or specialist training. To be honest, it is a bit obscure. I buy paper from an art shop and often take it home on the bus because of its size (A1 or often 22''x30''). I often get asked if I am an artist because of these same large sheets of paper wrapped in plastic sheeting to protect against the omnipresent British Damp. I avoid the question because I think it's prickly and say that I do papercutting. I get a lot of blank stares. Even the recent Matisse exhibition in London, prohibitively expensive as far as I was concerned, has not really given way to a greater knowledge about the practice. I'm not suggesting it should have either. If there is anywhere in the world that likes an eccentric toiling at an obscure hobby, it's Britain.

The primary source of information on papercutting is the internet. There are a host of videos and tutorials and patterns to be had. Maybe someday I'll produce a list. But the internet is often too full and as Edina Monsoon once said, "I don't want more choice. I just want nicer things". So I practiced and drew (still not my strong point) and came up with reasonable solutions to getting designs onto paper so I can cut them out.

It often happens that I want some design on paper and then work backwards to figure out how to get it there, so I can cut it out. My latest and largest piece is an example of this. I first found a large heavy (90lbs) piece of paper (Bockingford Watercolour) I liked the texture of. Then I thought I'd try and draw out a huge map of Chicago. Because I was born there and spent formative years there it's one of my favorite test options for new projects. It also, pleasingly, has grids and points of intense detail.



As you can see I didn't quite draw out all the lines. I realized that I'd forgotten one part of Grant Park until well into the cutting. Navy Pier played an important part in this process since it anchors the whole right side to the frame.







I decided that on this project I would actually use a stopwatch to see how long it took me to design, draw, and cut.
 Long story short: 35 hours.




I'm particularly proud of these bits where I was trying out a few new ways of cutting to achieve better results. But I love how it all came out.





Birth of a Series

Lately it seems that a new type of map comes into being primarily as the result of someone making a suggestion. In this case it was suggested to me that I might make one of a cemetery. Having just visited Père Lachaise in Paris with a dear friend from Chicago, I was reminded how cemeteries used to be places that people went to be seen and to enjoy. Paper crafts and death have long gone together. Papel Picado, for instance, a type of perforated paper craft is used to create designs for El Dia de Los Muertos. Prayer flags, Chinese window flowers, and Papel Picado will be the subjects of later posts. But for now, the dead.


If you're running away from zombies that have invaded your city, and if your city is say New York, I hope that you'll have procured this map below. You'll need it when you turn to storming their death places and putting them right back to rest. Or maybe that's vampires. Well, there are just a lot of undead folks aren't there? This is where they started anyway. 




This map is of Green-Wood cemetery in Brooklyn sent to me by my friend. As I write this, an American expat in London, I am keen to highlight that in 1776 the Battle of Long Island was fought on the current site. So some of those zombies might be Revolutionary War participants I hear you ask? Sadly not. Green-Wood wasn't built until 1838. You might however encounter the Tiger of Tammany, Jean-Michal Basquiat, or Louis Comfort Tiffany. I'm hoping for Tiffany, personally. You know he throws some fierce shade. 

But when I saw this photo I was immediately struck by not just the shape of the cemetery itself, but by the elaborate arrangement of its paths. There are a great many curves and deliberate use of loops to permit extensive perambulation. So I thought I'd see if I could cut it. I liked the idea of making everything outside the cemetery white and just cutting the paths. Before tackling this objective though I wanted to try a slightly simpler version. So I turned to the most recent cemetery I had visited, Père Lachaise. 

So I cut and created this map, backing it in a delightful find at the art shop called 'plum':




I love this bit:


I've completed the drawing of Green-Wood and now all that remains is to cut it. So with Père Lachaise, Green-Wood, and a yet to be determined third cemetery I think a new series has been born. If you've got a suggestion for the third cemetery, leave it in the comments and I might create it!





Circle Series

I've become enamored with the idea of a series of map cuts. One of the constituent parts of cartography is canvassing a landscape and creating boundaries for a map. What do I include? How do I represent it? What needs to be included for the map to match its purpose? What is the orientation? Traditional European cartography always orients the top of the map as north. A convention so common we don't even notice. It's one I intend to upset at some point. Consider Fra Mauro's world map. He was a Venetian Camaldolese monk who made what was considered one of the most significant maps of the world at the time. It was incomparable. It was also oriented like Chinese and Islamic maps of the time, with the south at the top. An interesting perspective and reflection on the paradigms and world views of those societies.

Most of my map cutting has been rectilinear; they are more or less street maps without the names. It's very classic and recognizable. The name of the city is provided by me, but not on the map. What I noticed was that in giving them to people, it's the landmarks on which they orient themselves first. We are not used to looking at everything from above, in an abstract linear sense and knowing where we are. Once oriented to the landscape, recognition arrives gradually. It slowly dawns, these waves of revelation, as the map starts to take on meaning.

I decided that I wanted to make a series of maps that focused on these landmarks. I thought that in choosing a circle, like Fra Mauro, I owed something to the planisphere, though clearly my maps aren't adjustable or useful for star charting. As proof-of-concept I created my first map of Oxford. Rather than make the map circle centered on a square of paper as I initially thought I would, I moved it up in my design and added the name of the city to the bottom. This was the mock I drew before I cut:
The diameter of the circle actually presents some difficulties in choosing how to frame what's captured because the periphery is lost. I wanted to capture the Iffley roundabout (in the bottom right where the three roads diverge) which leads to Cowley and Oxford Brookes Uni, St Giles (where Woodstock and Banbury roads meet at the top left) and the Isis (the bits of the thames river). It can actually be difficult to tell with the mock just how it will look without the black, but I needed the waterways to be identifiable as such. 


You can see that in the final result it looks much nicer than my drawing. The drawing is always very rough and the lines are much cleaner when swept away from the surrounding paper. You can also see how fragile it appears (it's actually quite flexible) when it isn't adhered to the page. I chose an Oxford Blue backing because, well, that's the colour of the University (and the nickname for its sponsored sports teams). 


I had to add the cut outs from the 'O', 'R', and 'D' back in. Otherwise it looks peculiar and lopsided. I've yet to find a stencil font that I like well enough to swap it for Eurostile, which I traced and cut out. 

In the end the proof-of-concept worked and I created ones of Berlin and London (1, 2, 3). The circular scope focuses on particular landmarks and I think works quite well. What's next for this series is to create a triptych version where it isn't the city that's the focus but the landscape. I want to put three side by side where the common feature is noticeable and thematically linked, but I have yet to find what that theme is. I'm mulling over Washington, D.C.; Canberra, A.C.T.; and another as yet undiscovered district that shares the strange set up of these enclaves. But perhaps I'll focus on train stations which are a feature I've highlighted in my London Thames map where the train lines draw into London Bridge, Waterloo, and Victoria as well as my map of Antwerp. Expect more on that subject in a later post.