Paper Cutting or “Scherrenschnitte” Traditions

This is the first of a series of blog posts on the tradition of paper cutting, a folkloric practice close to my heart and my art!

Scherrenschnitte which literally means scissor cuts in German, is the traditional art of paper cutting. Using scissors or a knife, a silhouette of the image or scene is cut from paper in a delicate and intricate process requiring immense skill and meticulous attention to detail.

Although this craft has been practiced in Northern Europe, its roots stem back to China around 750 A.D.

A gaekkebrev hand cut by Hans Christian Anderson

Paper cutting is not a dying art, and instead it has undergone a renaissance and is growing in popularity. Its appeal lies in using such a simple material such as paper, its versatility and serving as a wonderful medium for storytelling.
In fact the renowned Hans Christian Andersen created some very famous free hand cut designs that really celebrated his storytelling. Using a folding technique, the author cut intricate designs with scissors as a form of therapy and relaxation.

The Danes are famous for their paper cutting. Gaekkebrev translated to mean secret snowdrop letter is a well-celebrated Danish tradition that is practiced around Easter time as the snow is lifting. It’s a little game where you pick a snowdrop flower, attach its delicate white buds to the paper cut design you have been snipping away at.

Example of a traditional gaekkebrev paper cutting

The idea is to write a poem or verse, disguising your handwriting and give the paper cutting to someone. The recipient’s job is to guess who it’s from.  If they guess correctly, then you have to give them an Easter egg. You can sign your name in dots; one dot for each letter of your name. This game can also be used on Valentine ’s Day for a bit of fun.

I have drawn inspiration from my Danish roots to create a new Christmas ecard medium bringing paper cutting to life in a digital format.
After hand drawing motifs, they are scanned and brought to life by converting them to Vector illustrations and digitalized.

This ecard was inspired by the imaginary stories I would play out in my mind as a child. I created a heavenly white village scene with paper cut flora and fauna animations fluttering and transforming before your eyes.

Paper cut snowflake shavings falling  

In an nostalgic moment, I recalled playing outside in the garden as a child as fresh snow fell, climbing under branches and watching the snowflakes gently fall to the ground like pieces of paper cuttings.  I would imagine make-believe worlds amidst a winter wonderland, only to return to the warmth of my family home hours later with red cheeks and numb fingers. I would spend hours transfixed on the delicate snow gently falling outside. 

Due to global warming, snowfall is becoming rarer before Christmas in my native country Denmark. As I started working on this ecard, my friends and family back in Denmark sent me photos of the very unusual first snow in November this year which delighted and inspired me - making the process of the card’s creation even more enjoyable.

Flora and fauna layered against a winter village backdrop

Set within a village scene transforming from day to night, the story begins with a fanciful paper snowflake being cut, dropping its paper shavings to a buoyant orchestral tune called A Whimsical Story by composer David G Steele. 

On closer look, we find deer, a fox, a rare and a variety of song birds, partridges and doves frolicking about a wondrous winter playground amidst vines and flowers inspired by traditional Polish paper cutting designs. 

The sequence ends with room to add your own Christmas message

This ecard is intended to be elevating and full of Christmas cheer. 

View the Christmas Paper Story e-card

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