ONE OF MY favorite Charles Addams cartoons showed a smirking child holding up a string of paper cutouts in the shape of little people, the sort kids make in kindergarten. And in the middle of those little identical cutouts was a ghoulishly different cutout.
But paper cutting is not child's play. A folk art of ancient and modern dimensions, as intricate and beautiful as a painting, paper cutting is found today in Mexico, Portugal, Poland, China (where it probably originated, shortly after the invention of paper), Japan, Switzerland, Holland, Israel and the United States. Each country and culture uses its own identifiable images, available materials--and similar techniques.
Jerry Novorr, a paper-cutting artist in Los Angeles, says most of his cuts are made on paper that is folded once, so a mirror image is revealed when the paper is unfolded. Any writing, of course, has to be cut out after the unfolding. Artists use X-Acto knives, single-edge razor blades or manicuring scissors to make the cuts, the scissors giving "smaller and better curves," Novorr says. He cuts the paper on a plastic self-healing board, the same used by quilters and seamstresses, and he uses 100% rag-content, acid-free paper because it won't yellow with age and will last a long time. Artists do not draw designs on the paper; the marks might show, and sometimes the work is too delicate to risk an erasure. Novorr draws his designs on tracing paper and then transfers the finished design to the back of the cutting paper.