Paper is such an everyday object that you may not have ever thought about its potential as an artistic medium. Certainly, it’s used as a canvas for drawing, painting, and other art on paper. But it can also be so much more. Painted, folded, cut, layered, glued… there are almost endless possibilities for paper art. 

Ready to get started with your first paper craft? Read on for ideas, inspiration, and class suggestions.

What Is Paper Art?

swirly paper art
Quilling is one example of paper art.

Paper art is any craft that uses paper as its main medium. However, that doesn’t mean that any art on paper is paper art. Paper is a crucial element in painting or drawing, for example, but it’s the surface, not the main focus. Paper art, on the other hand, wouldn’t and couldn’t be what it is without paper. 

There’s a lot of variety within paper art. Some common paper craft forms include:

  • Painted paper collage
  • Decoupage
  • Papier mache
  • Paper marbling
  • Origami
  • Kirigami
  • Quilling
  • Paper flowers

…and more! If you can imagine a craft with paper, you can (probably) make it!

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History of Paper Art

Source: Instagram
Origami is a centuries-old Japanese paper craft.

Paper, as we more or less know it today, was invented in China sometime between 200 B.C.E. and 105 C.E. The Chinese used their paper not only as a writing surface, but for many of the uses that we are familiar with today: wrapping, padding, teabags, money, and more. They closely guarded their paper-making secrets, but the material and its associated technology spread from China across East Asia, along the Silk Route, and to Europe in the 12th century with the Crusades.

Various paper arts have developed in cultures and societies throughout the centuries. For example, there’s evidence of paper cutting art in China from the 4th century. Origami is thought to have been taken to Japan from China in the 6th century. Other paper crafts developed as the accompanying media, such as glue and inks, were introduced. 

9 Examples of Papercrafts and Paper Art (and Classes!)

1. Hand Painted Paper

hand painted paper
Susan Hurwitch hand paints and prints her own art paper.

Hand-painted art paper can be used in a variety of ways, from a work of art in itself to gift wrapping, collage making, and as a surface for other arts and crafts. The hand-painted papers above were made using Gelli Plate printing, which is just one way you can create painted paper art.

2. Collage

Collage is the art of sticking pieces of paper onto a surface to create a pattern, picture, or design. Collages can be abstract or figurative. You can use premade paper right out of the packet, upcycle scrap paper, or decorate your own paper for use in collage and painted paper art. 

3. Decoupage

decoupage drawer
Source: Instagram
A decoupage chest of drawers that uses paper clip art.

Decoupage is similar to collage in that it requires sticking pieces of paper onto a surface. However, decoupage usually uses pre-printed cutouts (like images from magazines or paper clip art) to decorate a surface, such as a box or piece of furniture. It’s then lacquered over to create a smooth and durable finish. You can even make painted paper countertops using decoupage.

4. Paper Marbling

Paper marbling is the art of dropping and swirling ink or paint on the surface of water and then lifting it off onto paper. It was traditionally used in Europe in bookbinding, and the Japanese version, Suminagashi, was used for interior decoration.

5. Papier Mache

really intricate design bowl
Source: Instagram
Papier mache is an advanced art form in Kashmir, India.

Papier mache is a mixture of paper or paper pulp and glue, or a flour and water mixture, that dries hard and can be painted onto. Many kids experiment with papier mache, as it’s a fun and safe way for little ones to get creative, but it can also be a highly advanced art form. The Kashmir region of South Asia is known for its exquisitely painted and lacquered papier mache boxes, eggs, ornaments, and platters.

6. Origami

paper boxes
Student work by Cassie Leicester for Papercraft: Origami Boxes for Gifts & Trinkets.

Origami is the Japanese art of paper folding (although it’s thought to have been taken to Japan from China many centuries ago). The word literally means “folding paper” in Japanese. Without the use of glue or scissors, origami artists form elaborate creations, including cranes, other birds and animals, and useful items like boxes and purses. Washi paper made from wood pulp is traditionally used for origami. Projects can range from simple shapes suitable for kids and beginners to incredibly complex creations.

7. Kirigami

paper flowers
Source: Instagram
Kirigami is a paper cutting art.

You’ve heard of origami, but what is kirigami art? While traditional origami doesn’t involve cutting the paper, kirigami does—it literally means “cut paper” in Japanese. It’s a much more recent art form than origami, coming to prominence in the 20th century. Kirigami is often used to make three-dimensional paper scenes, such as greeting cards that lie flat but then open up into a 3D display.

8. Quilling

swirled paper lizard
Quilling can be used to make all kinds of pictures, patterns, and designs.

Quilling, also sometimes called paper filigree, is the craft of rolling, folding, shaping, and gluing long strips of colored paper into intricate patterns and pictures. Floral designs are popular, but you can make nearly anything you’d like by quilling. Quilled designs are often relatively flat and glued onto greetings cards, but advanced quilling techniques can be used to make three-dimensional scenes, too.

9. Paper Flowers

paper flowers
They might look real, but these flowers are made from paper.

Flowers are a timeless subject of many art forms, and papercraft is no exception. If you want a bouquet that won’t wilt and die within a week, try making these beautiful and realistic paper flowers. Crepe and tissue paper are the most common types of paper for making paper flowers, as they’re delicate and pliable.

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Written by:

Elen Turner