Studio Saturdays: Paper Art

I love making art with paper for one simple reason: Incredible things can come from a plain sheet of copy paper, and that shows the true potential and power of the art, the artist, and the material. If you haven’t seen what’s being done with paper these days, take a spin through Pinterest or Instagram and check out the beautifully intricate paper cutting, folding, and sculpting that artists are doing.

For this Studio Saturdays post I chose to work with pages from an old book to show what can be done with one type of paper. I used it to sculpt a bunch of grapes, create a rose, and make a pop-out, using a photo of an Italian grape harvest as my inspiration.

Paper art
This piece was made from pages from one book!

To make the grapes I gathered about a dozen 5/8″ diameter wooden beads and some text pages from the book. I cut rough 2 ¾” circles from the pages and then made small wedge-shaped cuts on four sides; this helps reduce the bulk a bit when shaping the paper around the bead.

Sculpting paper
Paper was shaped around beads to form the grapes.

Quick tip: Any hard, non-porous round item will work for this, like beads or marbles. You can also vary the size of the beads.

I misted the paper circles lightly with some water on both sides; paper is much easier to mold when it’s damp. Keep in mind that paper can be a fairly strong material, but water is its kryptonite—get it too wet and it will tear and disintegrate. After placing the bead in the middle of the circle I shaped the paper around it tightly, easing any bumps or folds with my fingers or a light press with a bone folder. To create a stem I gently twisted the top and held it for a few seconds. Paper has good muscle memory—once you bend, twist, fold, or mold it into shape it usually stays there.

I repeated this to create 11 more grapes, and set them aside to dry. You can speed up the dry time with a hair dryer, but I prefer to let the beads air dry several hours, or overnight—they tend to hold their shape better.

On to the leaves. I traced a grape leaf shape onto a piece of scrap paper, cut it out, and then traced it onto book pages. When recreating actual items out of paper I like to add realistic touches, so I study the real thing to see what details I can pick up. I noticed that grape leaves have serrated edges, so I tried to mimic that with scissors.

Paper leaves
Leaf shapes were cut from the book pages.

Quick tip: If you cut multiple leaves by stacking several pieces of paper and cutting them all at once, go back and change some so they don’t all look the same. Make them smaller, vary the leaf shape—nothing in nature is perfect!

Next I made curled vines. I cut a 2″ x 7″ strip of paper and rolled it tightly, starting at one corner and rolling diagonally. Then I misted the roll, twisted it, and curled it around a marker, continuing to twist, and secured the ends with tape. I made another one, but left it straight for the main branch.

Paper vine
Paper was rolled, twisted, and shaped to create a vine.

When the grapes dried I carefully untwisted the tops and removed the beads. If the paper is bone dry it should keep its round shape. After taking the bead out I twisted the top up again, this time spreading some quick-dry glue on my fingers as I twisted it—this ensures the top won’t open. I glued the grapes to the branch one at time, using quick-dry glue again. As I glued them on I looked at the branch from different angles to make sure the grapes looked natural. When everything was dry I added a curled vine and a leaf.

Paper grapes
After removing the beads, the paper grapes were glued to the vine.

Quick tip: Take scraps of paper you want to work with and test them to see what they can do. You might be pleasantly surprised!

Next I went back to the inspiration photo. I love the black and white image, but thought it could use a pop of color. I printed out a blue butterfly, glued it to the page, and carefully cut out the wings, leaving the body intact. I pulled the wings up to create a pop-out, and glued text paper underneath the open space to create some contrast. A piece of 140-pound watercolor was glued back to the back of the photo to give it a little support.

Paper pop-out
I created a pop-out by cutting around the butterfly.

I created a rose from more book text, gluing the petals to a wire stem, and wound it around a twig.

Paper rose
Book text also formed the petals of a paper rose.

A few strands of embroidery floss attached the photo to the twig, and I stitched the grapes to the photo. I hung this piece in my office, and every time I look it I marvel at the fact that it’s all done with paper. Simple, flat, paper.

Paper art sculpture
The finished piece–all made with simple, flat paper.

Challenge yourself to see what you can do with paper you have in your stash. Need some inspiration? Check out our collection of resources below!

Monsoon Paper Workshop With Quinn McDonald Paper Lovers Collection
New Creative Collage Techniques
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Painted Paper Art Workshop Paper Art Personalities: Creating People in Collage, Paper and Stitch Art Lessons, Vol. 4: Painting with Pastels and Paper
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