I’m always fascinated by how artists work and how they are able to make their creations. So, I wanted to share my process. Especially because, when I first discovered paper art, a little over 2.5 years ago, I found it hard to figure out how paper artists made their amazing 3D creations. I couldn’t find any type of tutorials or information on their process. If you are interested in making cut paper art, I hope my blog gives you a bit of a starting point.
A Bit of Background Info
I fell into paper art unexpectedly. I was participating in an Instagram Challenge in 2017, called Drawlloween. I felt like something was missing from my art pieces, so I decided to cut out my illustrations and assemble them like a little diorama.
After that, I was hooked – especially when I began adding lights. Eventually my art evolved from lightboxes to more polished looking illustrations. It took a lot of practice and experimentation to get my work to look more professional, but that’s part of what I love – learning and evolving.
Below are the techniques that have helped me yield the best results. I’m sure they’ll change. But as of mid 2020, this is how I create my cut paper art illustrations. And even though the number of steps might seem daunting, the more I create, the faster each step becomes.
Step One – Come up with an idea
My ideas for illustrations come from all sorts of places. Sometimes I choose to draw an illustration from one of my picture book manuscripts. Other times I choose ideas that I think are interesting. Or I create something based on an art challenge I’m taking part in. While other times, I try to come up with pieces that will help make my portfolio a bit more diversified – in terms of types of characters, angles, types of scenes, themes, etc. I just make sure that the theme and the story, are exciting to me.
Step Two – Sketch my idea
Once I’ve come up with the idea, I start sketching – the sketches are VERY rough. I usually know right away how I want the overall illustration to look – so I make sure to get it down on paper. I sometimes add little notes on where I want to add light or where I want to add extra little details. I also make notes if I want to use vellum or felt instead of colored cardstock paper.
Step Three – Look for references
I then go online and look up references for the different elements I will be including in my illustrations. I also ask people I know, to model for me in different poses (usually it’s my husband or my two kids). The pictures or videos I take of them, function as reference material. And a lot of times, I’ll create private Pinterest boards with the references I found.
Step Four – Begin drawing my illustration pieces separately
Once I have all my references, I then decide what I want the look to be. If I’m drawing a house, for example, I combine different elements from different references I find and make something new. I then draw them out in my sketch book. I make sure they look as nice as I can get them so that my final illustration will look even better. My pictures are always a little lopsided, but I feel like they reflect the imperfectness of life.
Step Five – Photograph images, upload on Photoshop, and put them together
Once I’ve finished all my drawings, I then photograph the different pieces. I upload them on Photoshop, delete the background, and I arrange the pieces together like a puzzle. It’s always fun to see this step of the creation process – it gives me a better idea of how the final illustration will look. A lot of times, I also rearrange things to figure out the best composition.
Step Six – Choose my color scheme
I then decide on a color scheme. I add a layer of color in Photoshop – I reduce the opacity by about 50%, so I can see the details of the illustrations behind the color. At this point, the illustration does not look great, but I get a better idea if the colors are working together or not.
Step Seven – Print out individual pieces in the size I want them on white cardstock paper, then cut them out
Once I know how I want the final illustration to look, I separate the different elements and print them out on white cardstock paper. Then, I cut them out. I use scissors or my excel blade, if they are small and have little details. Yes, it’s a long and tedious process, but the hard work pays off in the end.
Step Eight – Transfer designs to colored cardstock paper, vellum paper, or felt and begin cutting layers
I then use the print outs as a tracing reference. I trace them onto colored cardstock paper, vellum, or felt. As I go, I also cut different layers, like the clothing, the arms, the legs, or the head.
The images below, show an old piece in its layered form (and the finished product, which is part of Step Nine). My pieces look a lot more polished now, due to having more experience. I also add a few more layers and add foam board in between pieces a lot of times to give them more of a three dimensional look.
Step Nine – Begin gluing layers together and add details with colored pencils
Once I’ve cut all my layers, I then glue them together. As I mentioned in Step eight, I add foam board in between pieces of cardstock a lot of times, to give my pieces a more 3D look. I usually add foam board between the head and the body of my characters. I’ll add details (for example to the faces and hair of the characters) before attaching the head to the body. When adding details, I use Prismacolor Colored Pencils.
Step Ten – Put all the pieces together and add light
I then put everything together. This is one of the most exciting parts of the whole process. I make sure the composition is working, before I glue things down. I also add lights to a lot of my illustrations – I just love the way it looks. For my latest pieces, I’ve been using flexible LED light strips. These work great because I can bend the lights, however I wish, and I can also trim them so that they are as long or short as I need them to be.
Below you’ll see the “Everyone Welcome” piece with different lighting setups – before any photoshopping was done.
Step 11 – Photograph the scene, from different angles, and edit in Photoshop
The last step involves photographing my piece. To ensure I get the best image possible, I play with the lighting. I also try different angles. Once I’ve taken about 50 pictures, I then go through them and choose the best one and I photoshop it to make sure there aren’t any bits that look odd. And then I’m done!
Let me know what you think? How many steps does it take you to create your illustrations or works of art?
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2 thoughts on “My Process – Cut Paper Art Illustrations”
Thanks so much for sharing your process. I love it when artists so generously do that. It’s always so interesting to see how artists can be similar yet different in how they create. And of course, I’m always curious as to how artists do certain things.
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Thank you for reading. Glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂