Cut That Paper!

My favorite kind of paper art is cut paper.   Relatively young kids can cut snowflakes,  kirigami figures, papel picado and all kinds of holiday crafts.  I, as an adult, love elaborate red Chinese paper cutouts  and Jewish cutouts for the Sabbath – but those are FAR too complex for kids – or me – to attempt!  Let’s just stick with simple paper cuts for the moment.

Nancy Poydar’s Snip Snip…Snow! is a good place to start if you want to learn.  It’s the story of a little girl who can’t wait for it to start snowing – and at the back of the book, it contains instructions for cutting snowflakes out of regular paper.

Colored tissue paper can be used for papel picado, the paper used in Mexico to make banderitas (“little flags”) for the Day of the Dead, Cinco de Mayo, Independence Day (Sept. 16), and village fiestas.  Carmen Lomas Garza is a well-know local artist who has made many examples of papel picado that have been displayed in museums such as the Mexican Museum at Fort Mason in San Francisco.

One of my favorite illustrations is the cover of her book, Making Magic Windows.  The book shows how to make papel picado, and the illustration on the cover shows her teaching her niece and nephews how to make them – and every design displayed on the cover can be made by following the directions in the book.

The individual designs – Flowers, Twinkling Stars, Four Cardinal Points, Tiles, Hummingbirds, and so on – are easy to do, and she shows how to fold the paper and how to cut it.  She also gives directions for a large sun face, either out of tissue paper or other colored paper.

In another of her books, a bilingual one entitled Magic Windows, she shows a wall-sized ofrenda (something to be placed on a family altar for the Day of the Dead); it is a 5-foot by 8-foot picture of her grandfather Antonio watering his garden.  She has also made paper cut-outs of horned toads, fish and deer, and an eagle with a rattlesnake, the national emblem of Mexico.

Origami (=folded paper) can be very enjoyable or exceptionally frustrating for kids, but kirigami (cut paper) tends to be much easier.  Joyce Hwang’s Kirigami series begins with simple paper folding and cutting, and advances to “Sweetheart” symbols, “Lucky” symbols and “Classic Designs:”

Hwang uses origami paper – solid color on one side and white on the other.  Or there’s paper with colored patterns on one side and white on the other (the patterned paper is better for simpler designs). Like Lomas Garza, Hwang shows how it should be folded and cut.  The folding may be a little more complicated that that of Making Magic Windows, but it’s still do-able with scissors and just a few folds. 

Cindy Higham’s Snowflakes For All Seasons contains 72 designs for snowflakes, and they are all lovely (I wonder if the fact that they’re all blue and the pages are white has anything to do with it?  blue is my favorite color!).  The snowflakes are not just for winter – there are Frankenstein snowflakes and owls and cat snowflakes for Halloween, Pilgrim and turkey snowflakes for Thanksgiving, and of course hearts for Valentine’s Day.  Here is a paper Valentine heart for someone you love.

The folding is easy.  The hardest part of this one, I think, is drawing something asymmetrical, cutting it out carefully, and having faith that it will end up looking like the beautiful pattern that Cindy Higham shows!

All I can tell you is that paper cutting is tremendously fun, and you really CAN start with the easy designs that elementary-age children can learn to do with a scissors.  And if doesn’t turn out the way you imagined it would, look at it to see if you like it the way it did turn out – or just start another one!





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The Children’s and Teen Services blog entries are written by the seven Children's and Teen librarians. We are your go-to people for help with book selections for toddlers through teens, storytimes, parenting, and family fun.

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