As a boy, I remember seeing a television show about Paris that featured, for a fleeting moment or two, a street artist doing hand-cut silhouette portraits of Parisian ladies in the gardens of the Tuileries. Using only a penny’s worth of paper and small scissors, he created a beautiful picture in a matter of minutes (which he then sold for a few francs-not a bad mark up at the time). I immediately set to work trying to mimic his artistry only to discover that there was considerable skill involved in capturing a likeness of another person using only a cuticle scissor held tightly in my 10-year-old hand.
Nevertheless, once I started I never gave up cutting silhouettes. In the Midwest (where I grew up), Parisian ladies were difficult to come by, so I turned to my surroundings for inspiration. I thank all of my friends and relatives who, over the years, graciously accepted countless cut outs of cows, chickens, and flowers from me. While my skills may have improved (somewhat) since then, I still frequently return to nature as my subject.
As you’ll see, I try to get my work out of the frames and off of the walls as often as possible. Take a look, and let me know what you think.
Tarting up a cake
To celebrate a friend’s birthday, I recently baked her a cake and decorated it a ribbon of white paper wild flowers. The party was a hit ,and the cake got photographed more than the guest of honor. The comment most often heard was, “How could you put so much work into something that’s just going to get frosting on it and be ruined?” My answer was that only the back side got frosting on it (and even then, nothing that couldn’t be wiped off) and the effect-the smiles from all who saw it-was worth an hour of my time.
A detail of the cut flower cake wrapper from the top of the page. White is such a beautiful color against chocolate frosting but don’t be afraid to try another color or even a patterned paper for these projects.
Nothing is as lovely as fresh cut flowers
To carry the flower theme throughout the part, I also cut a slightly larger stand of flowers which I then highlighted with watercolors. Be sure to notice how the flowers and stems crisscross and overlap at regular intervals, which lends strength to the piece and keeps the flowers from “wilting” or flopping over on their stems. Keeping elements of your design connected to one another in this way allows you to cut more slender and delicate looking forms.
This piece was cot from piece of paper 36 inches wide by 12 inches tall. In cases such as this, where your work will be a background element for a party or event, I recommend against cutting out an excess of detail; keep it graphic and bold if you want your work to have more impact. Too much detail is likely to make the work look visually weaker and too fussy.
I left the stems white but used watercolors to add a punch of color to each of the blossoms. The effect required only a few quick passes of the brush and it added a certain cheeriness to the display.
Birds of a feather
I frequently download pictures of birds I find online. I keep these items in a drawer in my dinging room sot that whenever I have a few minutes free time, I can use them to trace out interesting silhouettes onto colorful pieces of paper. (Note: tracing is easily done using Saral Wax Free Transfer Paper.) I frequently used ColorAid paper in my work for clients and I always save the scraps and use them to make birds (the paper comes more than 300 colors, and it’s not cheap, so I try to use every last bit of it, if I can).
This flock of colorful birds would add a strong graphic to any table. In summery hues these creatures look charming. Cut the same shapes out of black paper for a distinctly more menacing look at Halloween (use a piece of white chalk to write int the names of your guests).
Picnic by the sea
In summer, one of my favorite pastimes is dining al fresco with friends. Be it near the shore, on a neighbor’s patio, or on a New York City rooftop, you can never go wrong by giving your table decor a little extra attention. A fun (and quick) way to liven up a tabletop without splurging on fresh flowers or resorting to simple tea lights, is to cut a free-form decorative napkin ring.
This unexpected spray of vivid red branch coral adds height and drama to your table for the cost of a few pieces of paper and a few minutes of time.
To make this branch coral for yourself, begin with an 8 1/2 inch by 11 inch sheet of bright red paper. Canson papers come in a great palette of colors and are widely available in art and craft stores. (Note: I prefer using 98lb, 160 gsm sheets of their Mi-Teintes paper) Whatever paper you choose, look for one that offers a happy compromise between being thick enough to stand up without wilting and thin enough to be cut comfortably with a craft knife.
My finished piece of coral measured 6 1/3 inches by 9 inches but you can make yours whatever size you prefer. I usual cut these type of items freehand since that allows for (the inevitable) mistakes. If you would like a guide, I suggest searching Google images for a reference photo of coral that you can then trace.
To provide a sturdy means of support, I have created two “lobes” (one above the other, indicated above in the blue circles). The two pieces, when folded together, formed a bracket that I used to attach my coral to its paper ring.
I scored the upper “lobe” and folded it down, over the lower “lobe”.
With the two “lobes” overlapping, cut a small notch (approximately 1/2 inch) from the center of each, down to the bottom of each. See the illustrations above and below for more details on where to make this cut.
Finally, use a strip of paper, 1 1/4 inches by 11 inches, to create the napkin ring proper. Glue this strip end-to-end adding a single twist in the process to make it a Möbius strip. The single twist forms a strong vertical edge onto which you can position the notch you cut, above, into the “lobes” of your coral.
Attach the two pieces, insert a rolled napkin, and your table is ready to welcome your guests. Don’t be afraid to vary the size and shape of each napkin ring you make; or to vary the color from red to orange to yellow and even purple. Your guests will be delighted (and don’t be surprised if they try to take the choral home with them).