In my next life: paper cutter

paper cutting and mid century home
paper cutting

photography by Trisha Zemp 

In My Next Life is a regular column featuring people whose work I admire. Check out previous posts here

I’ve known about Cindy Bean‘s paper cutting work for some time as we’ve shared mutual friends over the years. From the moment I saw it, I’ve been in awe of the intricacies of the medium and how she adeptly maneuvers her knife to create delicate designs. Trisha and I were lucky to visit her one afternoon and watch the master in action. AND, we were pleasantly surprised to find that she lives in the coolest home with a strong mid-century vibe that she shares with her husband, son, and dog. Isn’t her home lovely?! The home is sprinkled with her work, cool products her husband picked up when he lived in NYC and artwork from friends (like Jared Clark‘s piece above her in the top photo). I asked her a few questions about her work and she was kind enough to share some thoughts with us today.

Check out her blog Scherenschnitter here, which has lots of free templates, and her shop here

Describe what you do.

I am a creative. I need to make lists to get things done or I sit and think about all the things I need to do until I haven’t done anything at all. One of the things that I like to put on that list is papercutting. Papercutting, or Scherenschnitte is the art of cutting silhouettes out of paper. It is found in many cultures, from China to Sweden. It is a cost effective form of art that almost anyone can do if they have a spare hour or so. I also love to do graphic design and have recently picked up quilting. My latest project is to merge the art of the silhouette with quilting. Look for new posts based on this sometime in the near future.

How did you get into paper cutting?

In May of 2006, my best friend and I went gadding about Europe. We stopped in Salzburg and visited the birthplace of Mozart. At the gift shop there, I purchased two small paper cuts and thought, I can do this, this looks super fun and easy. Then, later on in our trip, we stopped at my grandparent’s farm in Hermuthausen, Germany. In the sitting room I found a few Scherenschnitte on the wall (see picture below) and my idea of it being easy turned more into thinking that this would take some practice. So I came home and started practicing. At the time, I couldn’t find very many books on the subject, so mostly I learned by trial and error. I now enjoy teaching others how to avoid some of the errors.
paper cutting silhouettes
paper cut heart

What is your favorite part about paper cutting?
I enjoy the calm it brings to me. When I am doing a paper cut, I can listen to podcasts or books and am able to completely zone out so that there is nothing but the papercut I am creating and the thing I am listening to. I also enjoy looking at them months after I have completed them. When I first finish, I am much too critical and see all my mistakes. When I step back and take a look at it a little later, I generally always think, “Hey, I did that? That’s pretty good!”

Who inspires you?

Oh, I love so many. Elsa Mora has some wacky stuff coming out of her brain. She’s also very prolific. I love that. I also enjoy Béatrice Coron. She makes such large pieces and I also love that she uses different medium. I’m jealous that she makes fences with her silhouettes. Sometimes I’ll go into museums and see art of people long forgotten and the intricacy and time that went into those pieces is rarely matched in our modern world. There are so many others. I love Helen Musselwhite, Sarah Trumbauer, Yusuke Oono, Su Blackwell, Emily Hogarth, Rob Ryan – so many out there that inspire me to create better and more beautiful things.

What are your favorite tools to work with? 

I’m a blade kind of girl. I recently discovered that I’m an Olfa blade kind of girl, too. Those blades cut like butter. I bought a whole package of Olfa #11s and I haven’t looked back. I like to use the Xacto knife handle and mat the best though. Is it okay to merge those two? I think so.

What are your favorite mediums to work with? 
I think for those starting out, to try something on a sheet of origami paper might be the best. It holds together really well, is thin and also generally has a white backside that you can draw your artwork on. I’ve recently become a fan of silhouette paper and frequently use plain old scrapbooking paper, but not anything too thick. I also enjoy using printmaking paper because it is thicker, yet really easy to cut through.
gold frames against green wall
steps to paper cutting with Cindy Bean
paper cutting portfolio
What’s a memorable moment from your career?

I’d have to say the month I was locked up in the Tower, literally! I was able to spend a month working in the Tower of London creating eight large paper cuts for their teaching room. I was able to sit in a room and look out the window and see the ravens and the Beefeaters, the buildings where kings and queens had ruled, the spot where Anne Boleyn was beheaded and I was able to talk with various people who knew a rich history of the location at anytime I pleased. My favorite thing to learn about was the Menagerie. They used to have strange practices regarding animals including such things as feeding nails to ostriches and ale to elephants.
You have a full-time job, a side job, a husband, a step soon, how do you juggle all of your roles?
I used to be able to juggle them really well. I was recently married a year and a half ago and along with the husband came a small young boy. Husbands and children take up a lot of time! I like to hang out with them! They like to be fed! The husband and son are no competition for the evil beast of social media. There is so much fun stuff to look at on Pinterest and Facebook. Sometimes I get too sucked in though and need to tell myself that creating things is much more fulfilling than staring at things that others have done. So I unplug. Then there’s that other full-time job thing that gets in the way sometimes too.

Do you have a mantra you live by?
Clean your room? Oh, wait, that’s what my dad has told me my whole life. I’m bad at keeping things tidy. I get it from him. My mom’s German, so that’s definitely not her trait. I think a mantra of mine might be “Endure to the End.” It kind of sounds depressing but it’s not. I think so much of talent is practice and sometimes we see other people with their abilities and their gifts and we get jealous. But if you watch closely, you’ll see that they are enduring. They keep on working at the thing they enjoy and it becomes second nature to them. A lot of hard work goes into creating things that last and are beautiful.
Joseph Smith paper cut in glass cloche

Cindy Bean's mid century home

Tell us about your house and your decorating process.

I think I could best sum up our house with a quote by William Morris, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” That is a work in progress though. Sometimes I collect too many things that I believe to be beautiful and have to let some things go. I like that Tom, my husband, likes similar things. His taste is more streamlined than mine. He’s not as big a fan of squirrels.

Any advice you would give to people who are wanting to start paper cutting? 

Don’t be afraid to use glue! If you are cutting something and are almost done and cut off an arm or something, just glue that sucker right back together on the very edge. If you butt it up from edge to edge and don’t overlap the paper, it will barely be noticeable. There are some people that are perfectionists who can’t do this, and that’s fine, they can start all over. As you get better, you will learn the signs of when you are about to make a mistake and will stop. Usually it’s when I’m tired. So stop, put it away and come back to it. Then you won’t have to use the glue.

Charlie Sheen quote
paper cutting
Jared Lindsay Clark piece
Work of paper cutter



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