The art of paper cutting has become a popular contemporary medium, but many do not realize that this art form has existed for many centuries. The earliest paper cut in existence can be traced back to 6th Century China. After the invention of durable light-weight paper was created by Cai Lun, artists began to discover the decorative possibilities of this new medium. After this paper became more accessible to the world, the art of paper cutting became mainstream in many different cultures. Each culture embraced this practice in their own unique way, creating a large amount of diversity in this craft.
In Chinese paper cutting, several methods have been developed. In one process, paper is cut using a sharp knife on top of a leather surface to slowly and carefully make intricate designs. Scissors can be used for paper designs, as well. Pictured below is a diagram showing a method of paper folding to create symmetrical designs when cut.
The art of paper cutting was initially only made for upper class nobles and palace dwellers. Paper was still new and regarded as a special trade object. After time went on, this form of paper became popular in several other cultures, allowing for paper cutting to become popular, too.
Germany embraced this new art form and named it Scherenschnitte, which translates to "scissor cuts." At first, it was mainly created by nuns and monks who painstakingly made religious imagery and texts through paper cutting. As it became more wide spread, botanical forms and animals became common themes.
Mexican culture adopted this art form, too, naming it Papel Picado. Their themes are often featuring religious symbols and figures. They use these papers as decorative flags strung together and displayed on holidays. On the flags below, skull patterns are cut out for a Dios de los Muertos celebration.
In Japan, a version of paper cutting, called Kirigami, was created. This process include origami and paper cuts. By making strategical folds and cuts, the paper is able to formed to intricate 3D forms. This process can be closely related to pop-up book techniques and can be considered paper engineering. This can be done by using scissors or a sharp vertical knife.
As paper became incredibly common throughout the world, paper cutting began to dwindle as an art form. This practice shifted into a folk art technique for religious and cultural celebrations. But in the 1980's, China revived the art form and made a place for paper artists in the current art marketplace. Now, fine paper artists create large and unique pieces. The art of paper cutting has been transformed through each century, bringing us to the contemporary forms now in existence.
- Ellie Craze