In Conversation With Paper-Cutting Artist Anna Cook
Anna Cook’s intricate paper cut art masterfully captures each animal in its natural habitat, almost as if frozen in time. A life-like, paper fox pounces on a mouse, or an owl takes off from inside its deep box frame with hundreds of hand-cut paper feathers. They are nothing short of magical to look at. With such precision and detail involved, it’s hard to imagine that Anna has only been papercutting for five years.
Having worked as a picture framer until very recently, Anna was eventually drawn into creating something for the frames herself.
“I loved the idea of filling those lovely deep box frames with scenes so, creating some sort of sculpture to display in them seemed like the obvious choice. I’ve always loved fiddly framing jobs so this is the perfect outlet for that. When I started out cutting paper, I definitely had some dubious initial results but I had a really clear idea of the direction I wanted to take it, so it’s evolved from there.”
Anna chose the medium of paper for its simplicity and the multitude of possibilities it provides. She enjoys the clean and reliable qualities of paper cutting, which isn’t something she has experienced much when working with paper during her printmaking degree.
“I really enjoy the varied processes [of printmaking]. I attempted some papercutting whilst learning how to screen print so, I suppose, the seed was sown from way back. Both processes require a similar level of commitment although I think printmaking has some disappointing results at times. You can spend hours on a plate but the end result isn’t guaranteed. Touch wood, I’ve not had any disasters with papercutting.”
“I think working in the art and framing industry has been vital in order for me to understand how to turn a craft into a career. I mean this in a sense of how to professionally present my work whilst turning it into a saleable product.”
Anna had always dreamed of a creative career despite being told by a careers adviser that she should become an Air Traffic Controller. “Honestly, I can barely use a TV remote so I’m not sure that would’ve worked for anyone!”
“I think if you asked my family, I was always making something and used to get lots of arty gifts at Christmas such as quilling sets and paint by numbers. I’m sure it was a ploy to keep me quiet but, it worked! When asked what I wanted to do for a job, I just replied ‘I want to make things all day,’” a reply which must have confused the career adviser who seemed to be referring to a list of jobs devoid of any creative vocations.
Despite only five years of papercutting, it is clear to see how Anna’s experiences, such as those with paper and framing, have ultimately fed into her amazing skill set, enabling her to create the brilliant work that she does today. But creating such delicate and precise pieces of art also demands a great deal of patience and focus, skills that Anna explains hasn’t always come naturally.
“Previously I’ve flitted from one project to the next with no real direction” she explains “so I really have surprised myself with the level of patience that I’ve acquired whilst learning to cut paper. I’ve found listening to podcasts on prolific serial killers helps pass the time though, I’ve learnt a lot on the subject. Although we shouldn’t delve into that…”
Before Anna can even start the precise papercutting process, a lot of planning is required.
“The initial drawings have to be exact and on the reverse of the paper, the composition really does have to be right first time as there’s no ‘painting over the cracks’ so to speak. Sometimes the drawings take nearly as long as the actual cutting so it’s great when I’ve settled on a design that I’m happy with. I challenge myself to create really intricate designs and often can’t wait to get carving away at the paper!”
“As with most projects, planning the design is definitely the most important part of the process. We’re always taught to think outside of the box but I find with papercutting that I have to work within the dimensions of the frame, so it’s the complete opposite! Firstly, I pick my subject, drawing inspiration from my decidedly geeky collection of resource books on the natural world, I then pick a selection of tonal papers that I think will complement the image.”
Anna finds the lengthy process entirely absorbing and sometimes finds herself working long hours to complete a piece.
“I’ve chosen a very time consuming artform, and I have to manage my time logically as I find it very hard to work too late into the evening. I tend to crack on early with the cutting process and do any of the ‘fun’ admin later in the day. I’ve really had to train myself to take regular breaks as I can get a bit obsessed with finishing a layer of paper before realising that five hours have passed.”
Anna’s work is currently being shown at a pop up gallery in York where she will be exhibiting until the middle of June, something she says she hopes to do more of when it’s possible. We asked Anna what projects she hopes to work on in the future.
“I feel very lucky that I’ve been able to work mainly from home over the last year, as it’s allowed me the opportunity to experiment with different materials and designs. I’ll still be working predominantly in paper but am curious about adding a design element to my work, such as experimenting with lighting and laser cut wood slotted sculpture. I’m still in the fledgling stages with those though, and my main focus this year is the much missed physical art fairs and pop up galleries - they’re a crucial part of my job and I’ll be raring to get back out there!”