11 Questions from Jonathan Chapman, Graphic Design Student, Leeds College of Art, Leeds, United Kingdom

1.What methods do you use to produce a papercut design?

The Butterfly Gown II

The Butterfly Gown II, rice paper cutout on silk, 16x16," 2010

I spend a lot of time reading the news, observing people and things, researching from books, magazines, and the Internet. During this initial phase, I keep all the options open.

And then, I go through the process of filtering, refinement, and polishing the idea. This involves putting the idea on paper and/or on the computer. The laborious cutting occurs last because it is an irreversible phase. I have to be very certain of what I cut out and leave in.

2. What is it about paper that drives you to use it as a medium?

Paper, rice paper in particular, has both personal and cultural significance to me. It is the first art material I knew and used as a young student of Chinese calligraphy. China invented paper and I feel a sense of intimacy and legitimacy in using it in my work.

3. When creating a paper design, do you first illustrate/layout the composition using traditional illustrative material or go straight to paper and why do you do so?

Often times, I start by making pencil/pen drawings on paper. But sometimes when I am on the computer and suddenly an idea occurs, I go straight to the computer program to put the image together. I don’t normally start with the rice paper.

4. What is it about paper cutting that you enjoy most?

I just really love the sensation when the razor-sharp blade slices into the paper, cutting a clean, perfect line. And, I am continually amazed by the level of complexity paper cutting is capable of, given the simplicity of the materials, process, and tools I use.

5. How do you feel paper cutting is viewed as an illustrative method? Do you think it is viewed as an art, as design, a craft etc..

It is so interesting how my work is defined by others as so many things like illustration, fine art, craft, design, and so on. It shows how interdisciplinary the medium is. Contemporary paper cutting is really crossing the line all over the place and I love it to be so progressive and forward thinking, while it is backed by a long, traditional lineage.

I don’t think about the label too much, although a clearly defined label or discipline can help in some practical ways. There is not yet a universal genre named for cut paper artists.

6. Do you feel traditional layout & typography have an influence on your designs? If so, in what way?

Traditional paper cutting has tremendous influence on me. I salute to and am inspired by paper cuttings made by unknown folk artists in the past. For example, my use of flowers, insects, birds, and fish are also very common in traditional paper cutting. Symmetry, repetition, and symbolic figuration dominate a lot of compositions in traditional cutouts that are also found in my work.

Typography has less, obvious influence in my work because I want to communicate by visual language. But I appreciate the principles of typography to create subtle beauty and variations in each stroke I cutout and achieve distinctive style and aesthetic through extreme and detail manipulation.

7. Do you find hand drawn illustration of importance to developmentĀ  of your papercut work?

The hand drawing process is very important to the development of my work. There is no better and more effective way to capture an idea in mind than drawing or sketching. Even after I digitally compose an image, I make hand drawn adjustments. Sometimes, I also pencil in details directly onto the rice paper while I am cutting.

8. What do you find influences your designs?

Traditional Chinese paper cutting, Japanese woodblock print, patterns in fashion, architecture, and nature, politics, current affairs, environmental issues, the tension between the old and the new, and the contrast between the East and the West.

9. Which of your projects do you feel most proud of and why?

I felt a great sense of accomplishment after finishing 4 months of painstaking cutting of “Atomic Jellyfish,” the first large paper cutout I made with extreme intricacy. It sets the tone for other pieces following it. Many people first know my work through “Atomic Jellyfish.” I also am really happy with “Hanging Gown,” an earlier piece I made in 2006 when I first began cutting paper. The chain link fence has become my signature motif.

10. As papercutting is becoming quite popular, how do you see its progression in the future?

I would like to see cut paper artists gaining wider appeal and major recognition in regions that don’t already have a historic tradition of the medium. I’d like for it to progress into a highly regarded, stand-alone contemporary art form.

11. Do you have any current interesting projects coming up that you can talk about?

I have been very productive in the start of 2010. I just completed the first three cutouts from the “The Butterfly Gown” series and two pieces from “The Memory Windows” series. These works will go to different exhibitions this year.

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