How to Create Vibrant and Elaborate Paper Cuts | Dani Vinokurov | Skillshare

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How to Create Vibrant and Elaborate Paper Cuts

teacher avatar Dani Vinokurov, Fine Artist and Designer

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Tools + Materials


    • 3.

      Creating Your Design


    • 4.

      Transferring Your Design To Paper


    • 5.

      Making Your First Cuts


    • 6.

      Your Project


    • 7.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

Paper cutting is a traditional folk art that has lasted centuries. From elaborate Japanese kirigami to popular silhouette cuts of the 18th century and from the custom of decorative Jewish ketubot to the bright Mexican papel picado, the popularity paper cutting spans both time and culture. And it is as vibrant a medium for artists today as it was in 4th century China.

As a mixed media collage artist, paper cutting is a huge part of my art making practice. I’m excited to share the tips and techniques I’ve learned over the years with you.

Let’s make some beautiful and elaborate paper cuts together.

In this class you’ll learn:

  • Suggested tools and papers for creating your paper cuts
  • Tips for creating your design
  • How to transfer your design to paper
  • Tips and techniques for cutting your piece

Make sure to download the free resources. I’ve created a list of my favorite paper cut artists, websites, and books to get you inspired, along with a shopping list for your tools/papers, and a series of templates you can download, print, and cut to hone your paper cutting skills.

Download Inspiration Guide
Download Shopping List
Download Practice Sheet
Download Medium Complex Template
Download Complex Template [JRR Tolkien Quote]

If you have questions, please feel to respond in the comments below and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Dani Vinokurov

Fine Artist and Designer


Hi! My name is Dani Vinokurov. I’m a graphic designer and fine artist living in Los Angeles, California. 

By day, I help run a small marketing and graphic design firm where I design branding, websites, and marketing collateral for small companies.

By night, I wield an x-acto knife, pen and ink, and needle and thread to make mixed media collages. My work is combination of tiny ink drawings, meticulous paper cuts, watercolor washes, miniature weavings and embroidery. 

Please join me on Instagram: @danivinokurov
I share behind the scenes photos and videos of my process (and the occasional pic of my pibble studio mate, Penny)

If you’d like to join my mailing list, please visit my website,
My semi-monthly e... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Introduction: Hi, my name is Danny Ven Korove and the graphic designer and fine artists living in Los Angeles, California. My love affair with paper began in my undergraduate studies. I discovered paper-making and I was hooked for life. In grad school, I experimented with paper casting and ball relief. Upon arriving in Los Angeles in 2006, I was introduced to paper cutting and I immediately saw its potential use in my next media collage work. For the past 12 years, I've been incorporating 2D and 3D paper cut elements into my artwork. In this class, I'm going to share some of the tips and techniques I've learned over the years to help you create vibrant and elaborate paper cuts. You'll learn suggested tools and papers for creating your paper cuts, tips for creating your design, how to transfer your design to paper, and tips and techniques for cutting your piece. Make sure to download the free resources. I've created a list of my favorite paper cup artists, websites and books to get you inspired. Along with a shopping list for your tools and papers, and a series of templates you can download, print and cut down on your paper cutting skills. When you are ready, use the skills and techniques and with class to create your own paper cut, and don't forget to share your projects. I can't wait to see what you create. Let's get started. 2. Tools + Materials: In this section, I'm going to give you an overview of the tools and materials you'll need to get started on your first paper-cut, including a cutting mat, a knife, and your paper of choice. First, your cutting mat. You will want to purchase a self-healing cutting mat. These come in a variety of sizes, and you can purchase them at any art supply or craft store. They are specifically designed to be cut on with an X-Acto or rotary knife. The surface won't score, or at least it will hold up to repeated cutting without breaking down the surface of the mat. However, if you aren't ready to invest in a cutting mat, you can use cardboard as an alternative. An old cereal box works really well. However, if you decide to go this route, keep in mind that your knife will score the surface of the board. Sometimes, these grooves can cause your knife to skip or jump, and you run the risk of inadvertently cutting areas of your paper-cut you didn't intend. So make sure to change the cardboard regularly. Next, your knife. I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to knife handles and blades. I learned how to paper-cut using a standard X-Acto knife and number 11 blades. In 12 years, I haven't wavered from using their products, but I know many other paper artists use and swear by a variety of different blades and knife handles. As a side note, I've included a list of commonly used knives and blades in the downloadable resources. Feel free to experiment with different types of cutting tools to find the ones you like best, but for the purposes of this video, we will be using an X-Acto knife handle and number 11 blades. You can pick up a standard number 1 knife for under $5 at most stores. My personal preference is for the more ergonomic knife handles. I find that these are a little easier to use and gentler on my hands, and they're just a few dollars more. You will also want to pick up a pack of blades. I recommend purchasing a pack of X-Acto number 11 blades. As you'll learn quickly with paper cutting, you go through blades quickly. It's important to have enough replacement blades to finish a project. The packs are nice because they also include a handly receptacle for safely disposing of your used blades. Papers. Paper is a very personal choice, so feel free to experiment with colors, weights, and textures. Each one wants a special character to your paper cut. My personal favorite is 90 pound hot pressed watercolor paper. It's almost exclusively what I've used for the past 12 years. I find that it's thick enough to withstand extremely fine detail and yet thin enough to easily cut. I don't recommend getting anything much heavier than 90 pounds because thicker papers require a heavier hand when cutting and can lead to accidents if you're not careful. For those of you who ought to download and print my templates, I recommend using a card stock paper. Regular bond paper is just too thin and doesn't hold up well when trying to cut fine detail. It has a tendency to bend and tear. You may also want to look into purchasing colored papers. Fabriano and Canson both make lightweight drawing papers in a plethora of colors and are perfect for paper cutting. Some other essentials you may consider; markers, I personally like Micron pens, for drawing on your substrate or working in your sketchbook, more on that in a moment. Tracing paper for transferring your design from your sketch book to your paper. Lastly, pencils, including a standard HB lead for working on lighter colored papers, and a white colored pencil for drawing on dark papers. You may also want to consider some soft lead pencils, such as a 2 or 3B for transferring your designs from your sketchbook to your substrate. Next up, I'll give you some tips for creating your paper-cut design. 3. Creating Your Design: Tips for creating your design. My first two tips for beginning paper cut artists, start small, start simple. By making your first couple of designs on a smaller side, I recommend something smaller than 8.5 by 11. You learn how to build your blade. How the paper responds to your hand, such as how hard you need to press or how often you need to change blades and give you the chance to hone your skills on more challenging areas, like small curved areas or circles. Once you feel like you've mastered these skills, you can try making larger and more complex works. By starting with a simpler design, you can learn how the different elements work together to create a whole without the disappointment of mistakes or cutting away areas you didn't account for. This is especially important while getting your sea legs on how positive and negative space line work can affect your piece. The most important tip for creating a successful paper cut piece, is learning how to design using positive and negative space. There are two ways to create line work in a paper cut, by generating them as positive space or negative space. In positive space line work, the spaces around the design are cut away. Here is an example of a positive space line work paper cut. By cutting away the areas around the design, the final paper cut line work is revealed, leaving a single piece. In other words, positive space line work means the line work is the paper itself. Therefore, it is important to note that when you're creating your design, that all the line work must connect. As you start to cut away the negative space, you may end up with multiple pieces instead of a single design. For instance, if I had designed that this piece without making the outside edges of the flowers connect, I would've ended up with separate pieces instead of a single whole. This is especially important to remember as you piece starts to become more and more complex. When generating negative space line work, the line work is cut away from the piece. Here's an example of a negative space line work. As you can see, the areas I cut away create the design. When creating this type of design, it is important not to enclose spaces entirely. Otherwise, you will lose valuable line work as you start to cut away the negative spaces. The best way to show you this is to demonstrate what I mean. It is important when you're approaching negative space line work not to enclose all the lines, such as in this piece where I've left a little bit of space in between each of the petals of the flowers so that my line work remains intact. While I don't typically use much negative space line work in my designs, it is important to understand how it works. Oftentimes, paper cut pieces will be a combination of both positive space and negative spaced line-work. Here is an example of a piece I've been working on. While the majority of the piece is made up of positive line work, small elements such as the seeds of the strawberries and the veins of the leaves are negative space line-work. Experiment with your designs and keep practicing. You will master the skill in no time. Lastly, my final tip is to sketch your ideas first. The old adage, measure twice, cut once applies for paper cutting as well. By sketching out your designs before cutting into your paper, you can assess any potential problems with positive and or negative space line work before you discover it the hard way. Here's a perfect example. I was sketching a design for a negative space piece. Thankfully, I discovered before I started to transfer the design to my substrate, that these areas were entirely enclosed, meaning I would lose all the line work I designed. I hope you found these tips helpful. If you have any questions, please feel free to respond in the comments below, and I'll answer as quickly as I can. In the next video, I'll share some techniques for transferring your design from a sketchbook to your paper 4. Transferring Your Design To Paper: Transferring your design to paper. There are several options for transferring your design to paper. While I typically sketch my ideas first, I like to transfer my drawings the old-school way, redrawing it on a paper. I like how my initial concepts evolve as I draw them onto my watercolor paper. Sometimes my final drawings look nothing like my original sketches, and I'm okay with that. However, I know this is not how many people prefer to transfer their ideas to paper. Perhaps the most common way to take your drawings from sketchbook to paper cut is by using tracing paper. In order to do this, you will need a sheet of tracing paper, a 2B or 3B pencil, an HB or harder leaded pencil, and a roll of Artist Tape. Begin by taping a piece of tracing paper over your design. Trace over the entire drawing with a soft leaded pencil, such as a 2B or 3B. Press with a medium hand to ensure you have enough lead on the tracing paper for a clean transfer. Once you completed tracing your design, carefully remove the tracing paper from your sketchbook and place face down on the backside of your final paper. Side-note. There are two reasons to place the tracing paper on the backside of your substrate. One, this ensures you will have no marks on the front side of your piece. Two, your final paper cut will be right reading, meaning that it will appear correct when you flip the substrate to the front. If you tape your tracing paper to the front of your paper, the final design will be a mirror or backwards from your original sketch. This is especially important if you are including words or text into your paper cut. When your tracing paper is taped face down on your preferred paper of choice, take the hard leaded pencil and scribble firmly over your lines to transfer them to your paper. The final result is a clean mirror image of your original design on your substrate. At this point, feel free to clean up or thicken line work with your HB pencil. For beginners, sometimes it can be difficult to remember which areas need to be cut away, especially if your design is entirely line work. A helpful tip for those first few paper cuts is to mark the areas that you want to be cutaway with a small x. That way you make sure it's kept the proper areas and avoid mistakes. If you opt to download and print line templates, all the line work is indicated as grayscale. You need only cut away the white areas at the paper. In the next video, I'll share tips and techniques for making your first cuts. 5. Making Your First Cuts: Tips and techniques for making your first cuts. Before we get started, let's talk a little bit about safety. Remember, you are using very sharp blades when paper cutting, so, safety is of the utmost importance. Always place the cap on your blade when you are finished using it. Change your blades frequently. Dual blades require a heavier hand to get clean cuts and can cause accidents. Your blade should cut through the paper like butter. If you feel like you have to press harder to get the blade to cut, it's time to change it. Make sure you don't cut at too steep of an angle. The tips of number 11 blades are very fine and are prone to breaking. If you come in a too sharp of an angle, you can accidentally break the tip off your knife. Sometimes these small shards can fly in errant directions, so be careful. Lastly, go slow. There's no rush. Taking your time with paper cuts, especially those on the more elaborate side means cleaner cuts, less errors and less possibility for getting cut. All right. Let's get started. First, the angle of your blade. When paper cutting, you should hold your knife in a comfortable position, not unlike holding a pencil. When cutting, the angle of your knife should be approximately at a 45 degree angle to the paper. In addition, it is important to hold your knife straight. It should be perpendicular to the sheet, not at a side angle. Now let's make your first cuts. When paper cutting, it is easiest to cut towards yourself. Cutting to the side or away from you is not only dangerous, it is much more difficult to control the knife and follow the lines of your design. This means, that you may have to turn your paper as you work. That's a okay. Make sure to use your non knife holding hand to study the paper as you cut. Next, you'll want to experiment with how much pressure you'll need to get a clean cut. Depending on the weight and texture of your paper, the necessary pressure will vary. If you use too little pressure the cut won't go all the way through. If you use too much pressure, you are in the risk of breaking blades or cutting yourself. Once you have a handle on pressure, the best way to ensure clean cuts is to very slightly cut past the end point of two adjoining lines. If you don't, it makes removing the paper difficult and you'll either have to go back in with your knife or end up with a tiny tear in your paper cut. Tips for cutting curves. I use two techniques for cutting curved areas. First, and most frequently, I find making a series of small initial cuts works great. Rather than remove my knife from the path, I'll lift up the entire paper and rotate it before I continue. This ensures I'm always cutting towards myself and prevents me from potentially flexing the blade. Another option, is to cut at straight angles to the curve. The tiny cuts will eventually create your curve. This is especially helpful for cutting very small interior curves and as similar to the technique for cutting tiny circles. Techniques for cutting circles. Cutting larger circles should be very similar to how you approach cutting curves. However, sometimes you have minuscule circles in your design. The best way to approach cutting these types of shapes is by using the technique of cutting tiny straight lines until you enclose the circle entirely. The last piece of advice on cutting. When working on complex pieces, I advise working from the middle out. This creates structure for your peace and makes it easier to cut as you get closer to finishing. If you start by working from the outside edges, the piece will become more and more fragile as you get to the center and you run the risk of bends or tears. Now take some time to download and print the practice sheet to hone your skills on simple and semi complex shapes. Once you feel comfortable, download the paper cut templates to practice on complex designs or try creating your own paper cut design. 6. Your Project: Now, it's your turn to create your first paper cut. For your project, download, print, and cut the templates provided. They have been designed to help you practice your paper cutting skills. In addition, they provide you with examples of both positive and negative space line work. If you are ready, create your own paper cut based on the tips and techniques outlined in creating your design. Don't forget to share your projects. I can't wait to see what you create. 7. Final Thoughts: Thank you so much for attending this class. I hope you found the subject matter both inspiring and interesting. Paper cutting is a huge part of my art practice and I'm excited to have the opportunity to share tips and techniques I've learned over the years with you. If you haven't done so already, make sure to download the free resources. I've included a list of paper cut artists to get you inspired, a shopping list of tools and materials, and templates for you to practice your new skills on. Please feel free to ask me questions in the comments below, and don't forget to share your projects with me and the entire class community. Thank you so much.