Papercut is something many creatives would like to become skilled in, but spend five minutes with a scalpel and some paper and it becomes clear that this isn’t just like picking up a pencil – you need to learn new skills to produce even passable work. Papercuts aren’t so complex that they’re beyond the skills of most creative people – and they don’t require years of practice to produce something you can be proud of – but there are techniques that you need to understand and work on before you’ll make something you’d be happy to show to another human being.
Learning these papercut techniques requires a good teacher, and this is why papercut artist Mr Yen – aka Jonathan Chapman – has published his first book, Teach Yourself To Papercut. In this tutorial, we've published an exclusive extract from this, covering practical and creative techniques for cutting letters.
Jonathan says that the best way to think when cutting letters is that you are simply following a line.
"Don’t try to make your scalpel cut a shape that you think makes a letter," he says, "you’re simply following a line. Just think of letters, as mixtures of squares and circles and you should be fine."
Let's get started.
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Using the practice sheets, you should now be able to cut the letter L and A no problem.
Just remember to think of them as a collection of straight lines.
When you get onto the letter R, this is just a mixture of lines and curves.
Remember to start from the most delicate part of the letter (the middle of the R) and cut from the corners out, leaving the straight lines until last.
Cutting the K will test your ability to cut from the corners out to the rest of the paper and not cut into the letter.
To cut the uppercase G, you should cut the inside of the letter out first and then cut the outer edge.
To cut the lowercase g, you will have to adapt it to keep the inside of the letter connected to the rest of the paper.
See the photo for details and refer back to the tips for the best way to do this.
Mr Yen – aka Jonathan Chapman – has produced papercuts for brands such as Lynx (below), though he has recently decided to specialise in wedding stationary (an unsurprisingly lucrative market).
Teach Yourself To Papercut is a self-published ebook packed with practical advice on how to take your first steps into creating papercuts. It starts very simple indeed, kicking off with a list of what you’ll need – but even this includes a wealth of detail and advice such as exactly what scalpel to buy (a Swann Morton Surgical Scalpel) and why it’s important to avoid certain types of paper as they can snag the blade.
There’s also some very important safety advice, illustrated by Jonathan’s own story of how he managed to stab himself by accident (though thankfully this isn’t illustrated with photos).
The core of the book are papercut tips and tutorials. You start out on simple shapes – squares and circles – before moving onto more intricate shapes such as typography. By the time you’ve worked through these a couple of times, you should be able to create more complex papercuts such as butterflies and flowers. You can use your own drawings for these, but Jonathan has helpfully included sheets that you can print out and work from to get you started.
The Deluxe version of the book – which is £10 rather than £8, so the version you should buy – offers tips and tutorials about more than pure papercutting. There’s advice on framing and presenting your cut that reveals some easily achievable ways to turn your papercut into a saleable piece (or gift).