Interview: Monique van Uden – Paper Cutting Artist

How did you get started doing what you do?
From childhood on, I have been occupying myself with drawing. In primary school I was always looking forward to those moments during the week we were allowed to draw and craft things. In secondary school, I had an incredibly enthusiastic arts teacher who told me the most inspiring stories regarding arts and illustrating. His passion and enthusiasm have been contagious and I ended up deciding I wanted to learn a lot more about art. I completed an entrance exam for the art school in my hometown and was, to my great surprise, accepted. Next to drawing I have always had a passion for beautiful paper. In art school I experimented with different kinds of materials. It took quite some time before I found a good way to express myself and it wasn’t until the third year that I found out about the art of paper cutting. I decided I wanted to give this way of working a try and ended up making a story in a zigzag book, completely crafted out of paper cuts. This way of working sparked a flame in me and I decided to experiment some more.

How would you describe your creative style?
I think my work is mainly characterised by the playful shapes and the use of positive and negative spaces when you actually make cuts in the paper. My work usually contains a lot of floral references and shapes containing certain patterns. People and animals make their return quite often as well. Furthermore, an important aspect is that all my work is handmade.

Interview with Paper Cutter, Monique van Uden
Interview with Paper Cutter, Monique van Uden

What’s your inspiration?
It must sound like an absolute cliché, but most of my inspiration comes from the world around me. This could be nature, a beautiful documentary or film, a conversation, a story, work from other illustrators, or music. For me, the combination of certain lyrics and music can generate very precise pictures, and some paper cuts end up being a literal interpretation of a certain song.

How long does it typically take for you to finish a piece?
It depends whether I have a clear idea on what I would really like to make. First, I like to make a couple of sketches, to get the rough ideas going. Then the fun part starts: the paper cutting itself. It usually takes quite some time to make the more detailed pieces. Sometimes I work for about 2 hours on a paper cut, sometimes 1 or 2 days. It really depends on the size of the paper cut, as well as the complexity of the cuts.

How do you keep motivated?
To me, paper cutting is like an addiction. When I am unable to paper cut for quite some time I really start to crave making new pieces. As crazy as it may sound, it makes me motivated to find new inspiration so I can actually start working. Subsequently, positive responses motivate me even more to keep doing what I do. This confirmation makes me want to experiment even more.

Interview with Paper Cutter, Monique van Uden

How have others reacted to your work?
Mostly positive. People usually appreciate the fact that it’s all handmade. Paper cutting isn’t well known to a lot of people. This means you can have very interesting conversations rather quickly about this particular way of working.

What do you want others to take away from your work?
Paper cuts could come across as rather ‘direct’, as there are not as many possibilities to create a good sense of depth. Hence I try to look for depth in certain paper cuts by adding specific elements. For me, a paper cut could have a deeper meaning in contrast to what may seem at first sight. Furthermore, I hope people (especially in my more abstract work) are able to craft their own story/image when looking at my work. Then it doesn’t matter whether it is exactly as I had imagined. Nader Sharaf once commented that my work is filled with poetry. I guess that is what I would like to accomplish: whimsical, poetic scenery with (sometimes) a deeper underlying message.

Interview with Paper Cutter, Monique van Uden
Interview with Paper Cutter, Monique van Uden

What, if anything, would you tell your younger self?
“It’s okay to make mistakes. Not everything you make has to be ‘perfect’.”

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and/or “ugly” work. This is something I need to keep reminding myself of every now and then. And of course: dare to experiment and do something differently. I myself often make the mistake to work towards a real end-product. When doing illustrative work, it’s nice to have a goal in mind. On the other hand it could possibly block yourself and prevent you from getting any further. Recently I have completed a 30-day-challenge. For this challenge I decided to make a paper cut every single day. The consequences were that I wasn’t allowed to overthink everything. I was terrified to put certain pieces online, as normally I wouldn’t even dare to post these. Next to that I found too many pieces rather shallow. Because of that it was great to see that my perception is possibly not the one another individual sees. If I thought one of my pieces was too shallow, I ended up receiving the most wonderful responses on these specific pieces. The 30-day-challenge is one I can definitely recommend to anyone.

Interview with Paper Cutter, Monique van Uden

Have any future aspirations that you’d like to share?
I’d really like to open a webshop in order for me to be able to sell my work. I would also really like to make commissioned work for people (wedding gifts, birthday presents, etc.) And I would of course love to share my passion with others by giving workshops.

What’s your dream project?
There are a lot of things I would love to do. It would be absolutely amazing to illustrate a (children’s) book, make a mural or personal paper cuts for people. And collaborate with other illustrators and paper cutters.

Interview with Paper Cutter, Monique van Uden
Interview with Paper Cutter, Monique van Uden

What art supplies do you use?
For my paper cuts I usually use black markers or pencils for sketching and different types of no. 11 blades, or a scalpel. The paper is, next to the blades, the most important part. I usually like to use 160 grams Canson Mi-Teintes paper. This paper is amazing: it’s not too thick and not too thin to be crafted into a paper cut. And they are available in the most beautiful colours.

What’s your process like?
Usually I start off by making a sketch. Sometimes I do this on a separate piece of paper and sometimes I start directly on the paper of the piece itself. I often use pencils and fine black markers for these. Then I make sure that the sketch is placed on the paper that’s going to be cut. I do this by either sketching from scratch or printing an outline on paper. After that, the best part starts: the actual cutting. I do not have a strict order per se when I start cutting my illustration. Where others work from inside out or left to right, I start working at the part that feels the most comfortable to start with.

Follow Monique van Uden on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr!


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s