Tuesday, 4 October 2011


I have just this last week finshed a five week paper cutting course at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. The course was taken by artist and illustrator Jessica Palmer. I found the course really helpful, it gave me some great ideas regarding the anthomy of type book I was working on. Also it gave me the confidence to try paper cutting myself and work on my own projects. It is good to get away from the computer and keyboard and work with just a knife and cutting board. But you do need a bit of patience when your paper cutting, I don't think it would suit everyone. But the results are very pleasing on the eye when finished.

I asked Jessica if she would be kind enough to fit me in to her busy schedule and give me a short interview. She was kind enough to answer my questions and here they are for you to enjoy.

Tim: Could I begin by asking you to tell me a little about bit about yourself, a sort of short history about how you became full time artist?

Jessica: I did a Foundation Year at Canterbury Art College when I first left school. I had always wanted to become an illustrator. I didn't get onto the degree course I had chosen so I took some years out, worked abroad in Paris, learned other skills - in particular writing - and decided eventually to do a degree in Journalism at the University of Westminster. I then went to work in the media full time, did a Masters in Politics at Birkbeck, worked in independent television in current affairs and then ended up as a Producer at the BBC. I was there for 12 years and in that time, had my two kids. Being a mum was a priority and I did not want to work full-time because my husband had an ultra consuming top job. That all meant my career in the BBC stalled. I couldn't climb the ladder as I was not prepared to put in the hours at the office. I was having dinner with friends one night. We were discussing what we would do if we were not in our current jobs. One friend had given up being a successful cellist to retrain as an architect (with 3 children then under 8) and that triggered something in me to make a similarly dramatic change in my life. Within 6 months, I had started a part-time illustration course at Putney Art School, opted for redundancy from work, and been accepted onto a Masters degree course at Kingston University. With no first degree in Art and all my art training in the prehistoric past, it was a very steep learning curve. I did the course part time over 2 years but really I did it full time - or as full as the school day would allow - in order to acquire lost and find new skills. I was older than my tutor. I was older than all my fellow students. I crammed work into tiny gaps at the weekends and in the evenings when the children were in bed. I am very lucky in that I have an incredibly supportive fantastic husband who found a way to make our finances work when my earnings pitched to zero. Since I made the change, I have never been happier!

Tim: What was it about paper cutting and working with paper that made you specialise in that field?

Jessica: During my MA, I worked with an inspired tutor. One day, in his life drawing class, he took the charcoal out of my hand and gave me a pair of scissors and said "Cut it out". I have never looked back, graduating to a scalpel knife and experimenting with collage and many different types of papercraft. The scalpel knife is a drawing tool for me. It gives me confidence in the strength of my line.

Tim: What inspires you most in your art?

Jessica: Paper, people and places.

Tim: Who would you say have been your greatest influences on your work?

Jessica: The aforementioned tutor, Jake Abrams at Kingston Uni. Chagall. My daughter's drawings. Medieval art. The faces and places I have most recently seen.


Tim: I love the way you use shadows in your work. Lighting and the use of glass can make a big difference to how your work is seen, can you tell a bit more about this.

Jessica: This was something I first started to experiment with during my MA show. I like to be able to show the texture and qualities of cut and collaged paper; the 3 D aspects of it. It's amazing what you can do with a couple of torches, some layers of glass and a reasonable camera. I don't have any particular skills in this area. I just fiddle around until I get the effect I want.


Tim: I have been looking at your work, and you have produced many paper cut portraits and faces, you even have one on your business card you gave me, what are the challenges in producing faces?

Jessica: Obviously, you are looking for a likeness. I am keen on the naivete that Picasso said we all strive to relearn as artists. I want a face to show character and to have a compelling gaze. I also try to reflect humour - or wit if you like - to say something about how you feel about the face or the character of the person. With paper cutting, you can go for a silhouetted image or cut the face so that features link together in an integrated way within the image. Later I alter them again using Corel Painter.

Tim: Jessica it’s obvious that you have a great love for all types of paper; your craft is all about choosing the right papers. What is the best paper to use in paper cutting and what paper should be avoided?

Jessica: I am a huge fan of paper. It's a substance with infinite qualities. Avoid cutting thick book paper. It hurts. Start with something 50 gsm or thereabouts. That's the thickness of layout paper. 

Tim: Apart from paper cutting what other mediums do you like working with?

Jessica: I have a Wacom tablet and love Corel Painter. I really enjoy collage. I like ink and pencil.

Tim: The ideal creative day for you now, is it working on your own or teaching others in one of your workshops?

Jessica: Hmmm! The ideal creative day is working on a commission e.g., a book cover or a private commission in my studio with Radio 4. But I love meeting people and so I really do also enjoy working as a visiting artist in museums and galleries because I am always stimulated by seeing how other people work and I can learn from them. I am also inspired by the collections of the museums and galleries and sometimes link my work to pieces I see in galleries.

Tim: Thanks Jessica for your time.

To see more of Jessica's work visit her blog.


Here is another paper cut that I did in Jessica's class. It is very basic compared with what Jessica can do but I am happy with it. To get the effect I wanted, I wrapped the paper cut round a colourful lamb shad, switched the light on in a darkened room and took this picture.

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