In this tutorial I will guide you through designing and making your own bespoke papercut nameplate. This is a beautiful design that would make the perfect personalised present. We’ll be using skills you learned in my previous paper cutting tutorials, especially cutting tricky letters.
- Watercolour paper
- Backing paper or material
- Copier paper
- Tracing paper
- Metal ruler
- Cutting mat
1. Design Your Cut
Decide on the size of your finished piece. I've found that A5 is a good size for a papercut of a single name. Remember that creating a piece that fits a standard frame size will make life a lot easier, and cheaper! I usually base the size of my cuts on the size of a frame.
Once you have settled on a size, draw it onto your copier paper. If you already have the frame, the easiest way to do this is to draw around the back board of the frame.
Draw the edge of the border of your papercut. I’m using a border of 2cm. The paper outside this rectangle will remain intact. The cut out section will be inside the rectangle. Mark 2cm from the edge of the border in a number of places down the line.
Then join up all your marks using your ruler.
Position your paper in landscape and draw a line vertically through the centre of your design - this will help you balance your composition.
Calculate where the mid point of the name will be. I’m using the name ‘Martha’, so the midpoint is between the 'r' and the 't'. If I were using a name with an odd number of letters, for example ‘Greta’, the midpoint would be the ‘e’.
Working away from the centre line, measure equal widths for each letter in the name. I'm allowing about 2cm per letter. Mark the measurements with a light pencil line. Try to position the guide marks about two-thirds of the way up the the line, where the name will look best within the design.
Write the name, using the measurements as guidance. These marks are just guides, so don’t worry if one letter goes a little over its allotted space. It's important to balance centering the design with creating an organic-looking piece of writing.
The one crucial thing about the lettering in the style of papercut we are creating is that it must be ‘joined up’. It is of course possible to create papercut letters in a printed style, but they would require much more support from other elements of the design. Using joined up writing means that the text is more self-supporting.
Where it fits with the letters, take the opportunity to extend them to touch the border of your cut.
Now it's time to join your name securely to the border of the cut. Every part of a papercut must be joined to another part, otherwise it will simply fall to pieces.
I like to use trees and foliage to join up my designs, as you can be very free with their structure in order to fit your needs. I generally start by drawing two tree trunks.
Now experiment with where the branches should be to best support the name. There will likely be a lot of erasing and adjusting at this stage. Take your time, as this is the most important part.
Finally add some little extra details to your design - perhaps leaves, flowers or birds nestled in the branches. Take any opportunity to join an element of your design to another. If some leaves are almost touching another branch, then extend them a little to make a join. The more joins there are, the more stable your finished cut will be.
2. Transfer Your Design to the Paper
As this is a piece to be framed, the back will not be seen, so transferring a mirror image of the design to the back of your watercolour paper is the best way to proceed. Doing this ensures that the front of your cut remains pristine, and cutting from the back helps to disguise any less-than-smooth cuts.
Carefully trace your design. Use a softer pencil (like 2B) if you have one as it will transfer more easily. Thicken up your lines a little as you trace.
Place the tracing face down on the back of your watercolour paper. Scribble firmly over the lines to transfer them to the paper. Use a harder pencil (like HB) for this.
Remove your tracing paper to reveal a mirror image of your design. Go over it where necessary to thicken up the lines. The thickness of these pencil lines will be the thickness of the remaining paper when your cut is complete.
3. Cut Out the Design
Now it's time to carefully cut out your bespoke name design. Here are my top tips for cutting:
1. The outer edges of the pencil lines are your cutting lines, the pencil is the remaining paper.
2. Start with the smallest sections that need to be cut out, and work your way through to the biggest.
3. Use a metal ruler to cut any straight lines.
4. Use lots of tiny cuts with the point of your scalpel to cut tight curves.
5. Cut away from - not into - corners.
6. Use a pin from the front of your cut to add any tiny details like birds' eyes.
7. The most crucial thing when cutting out lettering is to maintain the flow of the line. We explored this in detail in the tutorial on cutting tricky letters. Where any line intersects with another, you must be careful to ensure it is not disjointed.
You want lines to appear like this:
Not like this:
For detailed instructions on cutting out letters, see this tutorial.
8. Lift out cut sections very gently. It's common for a tiny piece of paper to still be attached in a corner, and if you lift out the piece roughly that could cause the papercut to tear.
Frame Your Design
Now your cut is complete and ready to frame. Once you’ve created a single name cut, you can start experimenting and become a bit more adventurous, creating cuts of phrases or song lyrics, or perhaps a cut with names and dates to commemorate a wedding or the birth of a baby?
Do you love papercutting? Let us know if you have any questions or comments in the space below. Click here for more papercutting tutorials.