Designing with Black & White
A Personal Note from Julie
April 27, 2013
Two days ago, I had the treat of spending the day at the Smithsonian Craft Show
with two artist friends who came to Washington D. C. just for the event. Many of you probably know about this show. It is considered the creme-de-la-creme of craft shows showcasing the work of some of the best craft artists/artisans in the U.S. It's a very manageable show, size-wise, with a nice variety of jewelry, fiber, ceramics, wood and glass.
I was pleasantly surprised to see two artists who work in the medium of cut paper. I spent a good deal of time talking with Marie-Helene Grabman
(a local Virginia artist) who works in a more traditional form of Scherenschnitte (German and Swiss paper cutting). She showed me the small sharp pair of surgical scissors (normally used by eye surgeons) that she uses to cut her impossibly tiny designs. In her work, Ms. Grabman starts by folding the black paper in half, being careful not to shift the paper as she cuts and then opens it up to make subtle changes on either side of the mirror image silhouette designs. A second paper artist, Lucrezia Bieler
, also works with traditional Scherenschnitte techniques but with nontraditional results. She works in a larger format and creates beautifully intricate and poetic works of art with a strong focus on nature. Both of these artists are able to make black and white sing!
This month's newsletter focuses on the Japanese concept of Notan
or dark-light. In Notan,
the dark and light areas of a design are of equal importance. The dark areas of a design define the light and vice versa. For guidance, I looked to the book, Notan: The Dark-Light Principle of Design
, by Dorr Bothwell and Marlys Mayfield. This book does a great job of explaining this concept with concrete examples and a series of exercises using cut black paper designs mounted on white paper. Since our focus is the kitchen, we will be creating cut paper designs using kitchen utensils as our design source...in other words Kitchen Notan!
It's hard for me to believe but it's been a year since I began this newsletter adventure. To celebrate a year of Julie B Booth Surface Design News
, I'd like to offer a giveaway! Below is a packet of four fat quarters: Kona Cotton first dyed with coffee and then hand printed with an assortment of black designs. The entire packet is wrapped with an additional strip of printed fabric and embellished with a bone bead. To be eligible to win this giveaway send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org), let me know if you've tried any of the techniques I've covered over this past year...or if you plan to try some in the future. Let me know what you like about what you've been reading and if there are things you would like to see/read about in the future. Drawing for this packet of fabric will be on May 22 and the winner will be announced in the next newsletter. Good luck and thanks for your support!
In the exercises below, you will be creating cut paper designs inspired by objects and utensils from the kitchen.
You will need the following materials:
Objects/utensils/tools from the kitchen. Try to find items with interesting shapes. It's best if they can be easily traced around (flatter objects are easier to work with). For example, scissors, eating utensils, bottle opener. But you can always try more dimensional objects, as well.
White paper: This will be your background. Printer paper works fine. You may also want some larger white paper if you decide to work on some larger cut paper designs.
Black paper: You will cut your designs from this paper. I prefer to use black construction paper as it is easy to cut.
#2 pencil or white Prismacolor pencil.
Omnigrid Clear Plastic Ruler.
Self-Healing Rotary Cutting Mat to use with the X-acto knife.
X-acto knife with #11 blade. Use with the Omnigrid Ruler to cut rectangular shapes from black construction paper and to cut out traced designs from the black construction paper.
Extra #11 blades. Cutting paper will eventually dull your X-acto blade. You always want to use a sharp blade to cut crisp designs.
Tracing paper or scrap paper. To lay cut paper on for gluing.
Optional: Small sharp scissors.
The book, Notan: The Dark-Light Principle of Design,
has a number of interesting exercises to try with paper. I decided to try one or two exercises from the book along with exploring some of my own ideas.
Folded Paper (Symmetrical Designs)
1. You can either use a whole sheet (9" x 12") of black construction paper or cut the paper into a smaller size or a different rectangular shape such as a square. Fold the black construction paper in half.
2. Lay a number of flat kitchen objects on the folded sheet of paper.
3. Trace around each object using either a #2 pencil or a white Prismacolor pencil.
4. Lift the objects off of the paper. If your pencil was unable to trace around all parts of the object (e.g. hole punch), you can go back in and add some details with your pencil.
5. Use your X-acto knife with a sharp #11 blade to cut out the designs. If possible, try to cut out complete shapes. You will want to use these shapes later to create another design.
6. After all the shapes have been cut from the sheet of paper, open it up and lay it down on a piece of white paper to see the design. Make sure you choose a white background paper that can accommodate the final size of the cut design.
7. Place the black cut paper design onto a piece of tracing or scrap paper. Make sure that the side facing up to receive the glue is the side with the pencil tracings.
8. Evenly spread the glue over the cut paper design.
9. Carefully place the cut paper design onto the sheet of white paper and smooth down to adhere.
10. Some traced designs may have interior shapes that will have to be glued separately after the larger cut paper sheet is glued down.
You can also try folding the paper into quarters as I did here to make a design from scissors.
Using Cut Shapes to Create a New Design
You can use the leftover shapes from the folded and cut paper designs to create new (and very different) designs. I used many of the shaped pieces from the first design above to create the design you see below.
1. If you plan to create a symmetrical design, you will need to find shape pairs.
2. Move the black shapes around on a piece of white paper until you build an interesting design (Play! Have fun!).
3. If you are adding asymmetrical elements, try to find some visual balance in your designs.
4. Once you are pleased with the overall design, glue down the separate pieces. Work slowly, especially if you are trying to piece together a symmetrical design.
Expanding the Square: Asymmetrical Designs
1. Cut a 6" square of black construction paper.
2. Trace around a few kitchen objects (or parts of objects) using a #2 or white pencil. Make sure the tracings touch the edges of the square.
3. Cut out the designs with an X-acto knife, being sure to cut out complete shapes.
4. Lay the cut square on a piece of white paper.
5. Replace the pieces you cut away to form the complete square (like a jigsaw puzzle).
6. To create the expanded design, flip the cut designs out so that they form the mirror image of the designs within the black square.
7. Glue all pieces down on the white paper.
Variation 1: Expanding a Paper Strip
1. Cut a 3" x 6" strip of black construction paper.
2. Use a #2 pencil to draw a line down the middle of the strip (lengthwise).
3. Trace a kitchen object that just comes up to the line. I chose to trace the prongs of a fork. You can trace the object multiple times, off-setting the designs (see below).
4. Cut out the traced designs being sure to cut out complete shapes.
5. Flip the design over onto a piece of white paper (so that you no longer see the drawn line on the strip).
6. Replace the pieces you cut away to form the complete strip (like a jigsaw puzzle).
7. To create the expanded design, flip the cut designs out so that they form the mirror image of the designs in the strip.
8. Glue all the pieces down on the white paper.
Variation 2: Expanding a Paper Strip
1. Choose a kitchen object and measure its dimensions.
2. Cut a strip of black paper that has the same dimensions (or multiples of the length or width). I chose a potato masher. I made the strip approximately the same width and twice the length.
3. Trace around the object.
4. Cut the traced design out of the black construction paper strip.
5. Place the cut design onto a piece of white paper.
6. Replace the pieces that were cut away to form the complete strip (like a jigsaw puzzle).
7. To create the expanded design, flip the cut design so that it forms the mirror image of the design in the strip.
8. Glue all the pieces down on the white paper.
Many other experiments working with the dark-light concept can be found in the book, Notan: The Dark-Light Principle of Design.
All of these experiments are meant to open one's eyes to the interplay between positive and negative shapes...giving them equal weight. Next month, we will turn our Notan
designs (or parts of these designs) into print blocks. We will play with these block designs to build up even more intricate patterns on cloth.
Variations on a bottle opener.
Coming Up In the Next Issue:
In the next issue of Julie B Booth Surface Design News
we turn our cut paper designs into print blocks designs.
Julie B Booth Surface Design Issue #13: Kitchen Notan Part II
will come out on Saturday, May 25.