Paper Dreams: Artist Heather Mills on Intricate Papercuts
Paper is important to artists on many levels - the perfect sketchbook and particular paper thickness form important decisions when starting a piece of work. But what if the paper itself became the work?
Heather Mills is an artist who specialises in Papercuts, an intricate form of paper craft that results in both flat and three dimensional scenes. As the Manager of Cass Art Soho, she wanted to give some pointers for those of you wanting to start Papercuts for yourselves, and we wanted to find out more about her delicate art form. The possibilities of paper are endlesss...
Hi Heather - can you tell us about your Papercuts?
I make very detailed, large scale paper-cuts. I tend to sit and think about compositions, with a multitude of half-formed ideas swimming around my head for a couple of weeks before they come together into one piece. I take inspiration from anywhere and everywhere, but mostly from literature and poetry. Depending on the design, I either draw directly onto the back of the paper I’m going to cut or I draw it up in Illustrator and then print it out in a very pale grey. The most recent piece I made was based on Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood – hidden in it are the first few opening lines of the play, peeking out from behind houses or the eponymous wood.
Where did you learn to make Papercuts?
I studied Product Design at Kingston University. A major idea that was drummed into us was context. Every idea had to fit within a context – was this product a necessary tool, did it improve the environment around us? I think it’s very important to remove all the superfluous stuff that clutters up our lives and have simple designs that convey their message clearly. Although the cuts I make are full of tiny details, I stick with shades of white and so they feel still quite minimal and serene.
Why do you work primarily with paper?
What I like most about working with paper is the textures and subtleties that can be created by using different papers – mixing rough, thick watercolour paper with a delicately transparent tissue or a thin, smooth layout paper. I love the control the knife has as well – once the paper has been cut, there’s no going back, no room for mistakes. It’s a very rigid structure, for me.
Which art supplies couldn't you be without when making Papercuts?
My favourite materials to work with are a Swann Morton scalpel – I use 10a blades with a number 3 handle – and a good mix of Arches watercolour papers. As they’re made from cotton rag they’ve got a better structure, and they’re stronger than wood fibre papers. For very detailed work I use the Daler Rowney A series cartridge pads as they’re only 130gsm so they’re easier to cut into and they have a lovely warm creamy colour. When I’m hand drawing the design then I’ll use the finest, hardest mechanical pencil - like a 0.3mm 2H lead.
What advice can you give to those starting out with their own paper craft?
If I was starting out with paper cutting again, I’d tell myself to get a good sharp knife that has blades that you clip on, and change your blades regularly. Once your blades blunt they start to tear at the paper or slip – you can end up damaging a whole piece of work or worse, yourself. Don’t try to use really thick paper for anything fiddly, it’s very easy to end up tearing it.