Tuesday, October 11, 2011

ArtPrize 2011 recap

ArtPrize 2011, the world's largest art competition, just wrapped up and it was quite the experience!

This year, over 1500 artists were included in various locations across the city of Grand Rapids, MI, with the promise of almost $450,000 in prizes.

Earlier in the year, I submitted a design I created for the competition and was lucky enough to be included in the group of pieces on display at the Public Museum. The piece would become my largest and most detailed design yet.

Branches measures 30x20 inches and took about three months to complete. In total, I cut over 25,000 holes in the sheet of paper used to create the piece. It was a truly challenging piece, not just for the fragile nature of the design, but also the somewhat grueling nature of cutting so many tiny holes in order to finish a small area. I carted the piece around New England this summer during my archaeology fieldwork, often cutting it in hotel rooms in the evening. Progress was definitely slow, but I knew the results would be one of the most detailed papercuts ever created by any papercutter. Below are some shots I took throughout the cutting progress:

Though I didn't place in the top 10, I did place top 25 in my neighborhood, and I'm very happy with the results. The organization does not release the overall ranks, but given there were five neighborhoods, I know I was in the top 125 overall. Hands down, one of the best outcomes of ArtPrize was my very first art review:
Close inspection is also required for the most quietly fantastical work on display, “Branches.” This black cut-paper work is by Joseph Bagley of Dorchester, Mass. As if looking out a large second story window on a stark winter day, Bagley presents an extraordinary webbing of branches, large and small, in a dazzling silhouette. The technical virtuosity of a dazzling object this complex cut from a single sheet of paper is spellbinding, but ultimately the power of the work is visual. The economy of form, composition and monochrome splendor stays with you for a long, long time. - Joseph Becherer, The Grand Rapids Press
I'm getting that tattooed on my back!

The piece is now on its way back to Boston, so I went ahead and listed it on etsy.

Okay, back to cutting. As always, please check out my facebook page. I'm posting regular progress photos of my new large piece. Currently working on a detailed "Tree Portrait" of a pine tree. It's coming out great!


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Making my own road map

A very interesting and somewhat surprising thing has occurred since Craft Boston: I seem to be becoming a successful artist...who knew?

(warning, long post, but I hope an interesting one)

I'm at a crazy point in my life full of Big Decisions. To set the scene, I need to give you a bit of the backup story. Bear with me if you've followed this blog for long enough to know everything here, but I've gotten a TON of new viewers lately.

I started papercutting when I was 10. I did a summer program that had an art class that for some reason had a papercutting component. Basically we traced designs from DK stencil books and cut them with razor blades and hoped we didn't loose a finger. No real instruction, we just figured it out on our own.

When the program was over, I showed my mom the designs I made and she pulled out this book:

She owned a daycare that she ran out of our home and had tons of art and craft books for ideas to do with the kids. I basically copied every design from the book over the next 10 years, and essentially taught myself papercutting by just doing it for hours and hours.

Fast forward to college, I attended Boston University where I majored in Archaeology. During my Senior year, I started to papercut again based on some of the designs I saw on pottery and old art from my text books. I later got into photography and started making designs using my photos as references and developed my own style: highly detailed and "crinkly" for lack of a better term. Basically, I don't use very clean lines, deliberately, to better reference textures.

I have had several jobs in Archaeology since graduating in 2006, and have been papercutting the entire time. In 2007, I started selling on Etsy, just for fun, and the recession led to me and my wife (also an archaeologist) loosing our archaeology jobs. Since we both had the same qualifications and would be competing with each other, we decided that she should look for employment, and I would give the papercutting thing a go full-time.

At this time, I had started to challenge myself with very difficult designs and they started to gain some appreciation online and many sold. I was already making about as much as I was working, so making the transition to full-time art seemed to make sense giving our employment opportunities (or lack thereof)

Since 2007, I've been papercutting full time, and for a period I have also had a second full-time job as an archaeologist (May- Dec of 2010). I would create my designs from the hotel room I stayed in during away projects all around New England and would ship pieces during the weekend. I was honestly working about 80 hours a week and very much had two full time jobs.

I have never wanted to give up archaeology for art, but I never want to stop papercutting. After five years of trying and almost giving up hope, a few months ago I found out that I was accepted into a Masters Program at UMass Boston for archaeology.

About a week later, I showed my work at Craft Boston. That's where this story gets really complicated.

Craftboston was so beyond my wildest hopes for a successful show, and the sales that have occured directly resulting from the show have been almost as great. This "Art Thing" is doing really well. Really really really well. In my opinion, I'm a bonified successful artist right now. Not Warhol-successful, but for someone who cuts holes in paper and has no formal art background...

AND, I'm about to start a new chapter in the world of archaeology, with a couple potential jobs already on my radar. What to do?

Answer: Make hard choices. Apparently.

I've made the decision that I will be a professional archaeologist, a damn good one too, and also be a professional papercutting artist, one of the best ones in the world. Totally possible.

I never took a single art class after 8th grade so I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing. Fortunately I'm ambitious, have an amazingly smart and encouraging wife, and the internet and books exist, so I've been able to make it so far.

I have a few major archaeology projects this summer, but regarding the art I'm making the following choices:

1. Reduce the smaller 8x10 non-one of a kind pieces on etsy. Love designing them, love their price point and the income they generate, and I love having them as an option for my customers but they keep me very very busy and sometimes I don't have time to create larger more significant pieces. So, you may notice that my designs have decreased in number from about 120 to about 85. That number may go down again soon.

2. Raise the bar. For myself and all other papercutters out there. Bring it! I've recently completed two personal challenges. How small can I make a complicated design, and how detailed can I possibly make my designs.

Here's the small pieces:

^ Skyline of NYC

Micro Kissing on a bike, about the size of a nickle

Both were cut using a jewelers loop

And here's a branch piece I'm almost done with. It uses a complete sheet of my black paper (30x20 inches) and is the largest size they manufacture this paper. It has about 20,000 holes in it. It will be at the Public Museum during the Grand Rapids ArtPrize competition. Not sure if I will pre-sell it since I have agreed to have it in the show. The price is $7,800. If someone is interested in purchasing it, please email me (Papercutsbyjoe@gmail.com) to discuss the sale. I am willing to split any potential prize money (up to $250,000) if it is purchased prior to the show.

Having finished both, however, I now know that I can't really do things smaller or more complicated. So, what to do now?

Make them BETTER and more interesting.

So, with that said, I'm setting out on a new path with my papercutting. My goal is to combine my detailed crazy-complicated designs, but with a bit less literal use of them. For example, instead of a bunch of branches, I've designed a large skull piece that is made exclusively of branches. The denser the branches, the more shading in the skull. Up close, it's a tangle of branches. From across the room it's a skull. I think you guys will really like it. I'm also working on two other versions of the same skull using Wycinanki style polish papercutting techniques and some other ideas. More of that to come as I finish them.

My new goal for my papercuts is to make a body of 10-15 large pieces, and find a gallery to show them. I really feel like this is the right direction for me. The larger more expensive pieces allow me to concentrate on design and execution of pieces.

I'm still trying to figure out how exactly to go about finding a gallery here in Boston. I may start in Portland, ME where I grew up. Great art scene, and possibly a bit easier to find a gallery. I've sold a ton of pieces now for between $1,000 and $5,000 so I know there's a proven market. Just need to raise the bar a bit more in this next batch. Reading a ton of books on art careers. Wish I had made those important connections you get in art school, but there's plenty of ways to skin a cat, and perhaps not having a clue what I'm doing is charming, right? We'll see.

Here's my reading material:

This can't hurt, so here goes: If you're a gallery and like my work, contact me (papercutsbyjoe@gmail.com). I have design proofs of some of the pieces I'll be making for the body of work.

I have no idea how far I can take this. My work really doesn't have a "message", it isn't political, and I never want it to be. I'm hoping people and Art People can recognize it for what it hopefully is: Something beautiful, visually interesting, and mind-blowingly cut from paper.

If you aren't a gallery, keep coming back, follow my facebook page (updated often) and hang on for the ride! I have no idea where it is going but I'm working my ass off to make it as successful as possible!

Thanks for making it to the end of this really long post, I appreciate it.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Craftboston: A review

Summary of Craftboston: Wow.

It's been almost two weeks since Craftboston, and I'm just getting back to the blog to talk about this. I'm finally recovered from the rush, and I'm ready for my next huge event, which will happen on Friday, April 8th. And no, I'm not telling you what is happening, but you'll definitely know when it happens. It's that big.

Anyway, back to Craftboston.

The show was HUGE, an entire convention center full of awesome. Seriously, I was in awe of my fellow vendors and so happy and surprised I was invited to join them.

Setup went very smoothly, however time absolutely flew by, and before we knew it we were only 2/3 done and had been there for a full seven hours! The trees looked great, and were easier to install than I had planned, though very time consuming. The drapes looked great and the lighting was well worth the investment!
I was very fortunate to have one piece sell the week before the show (Water). This worked out well in two regards: The first, it took away most of the pressure to sell like crazy at the actual show. The second was that I had digitally planned for (and created) 9 pieces, but the column in our booth took up the space of one of my pieces, so I only had 8 slots. Worked out perfectly.

VIP night came on Thursday and the very first person in my booth fell in love with my most complicated piece and purchased it. In the first 10 minutes of the show. Before it opened to the public. Yeah. It set a new artist record for my work as well.

Needless to say, it was amazing from that point on. I couldn't keep any small pieces in the booth and completely voided my studio/apartment of pieces to restock each day. In the end dozens of small pieces found new homes, and one of the show pieces was purchased (the one that sold at the beginning). Two if you count the sale the week before the show.

The thing that made me most happy, though, was how many people immediately "got" what I do and truly appreciated the work that goes into these pieces. I think being in a craft show, and being one of the few wall art booths immediately made people look at my work (which usually looks like prints or silkscreens) and think..."there must be something more going on here". I also put up a sign that simply read "Hand-Cut Paper Art" and that definitely got peoples interest.

The crowds were great. A few times I had to leave the booth and stand in the aisle due to the number of people in my booth. I had a blast! The show organizers were incredibly kind, my lecture went great, and moveout went smoothly. I really look forward to applying for next year!

All the pieces are now available on Etsy, so if you've been dying to have one of my best pieces, here you go:

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Craftboston Preview

Hi everyone,

I just finished the last of the nine piece I have created specifically for Craftboston, March 25-27

I thought I would show you all some photos of the unmounted pieces just before I mounted and framed them. I will be showing these and many more photos as a slide show running on my laptop during the show.

If you would like to see the pieces in-full, join my facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/papercutsbyjoe I've posted photos of all nine pieces in their entirety.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Blade tips: How to cut thin lines

This is one of the most challenging aspects of papercutting, and I have spent many years trying to get this right. Unfortunately, I've had to ruin several pieces to figure out how NOT to cut thin lines, so hopefully I can save you some of the heart break I've experienced.

Before we start, however, I need to break it to you that this is not something I can guarantee you will be able to do right away having read this. You need to know your paper, it's physical limits, how it feels when you cut, how it stretches and bends when it's weak, etc. This is not a beginner's technique. I recommend experimenting with all of these techniques and using them in various combination to find which one works in a given situation. Use the following patterns to cut along with the tips (click on image, then print):

Tip #1: Use thick paper (for beginners)

If you are just starting out with papercutting and you want to try a piece with thin lines, use thicker paper. It will better withstand the stress you will put on it. Ignore this tip if you already have a favorite paper, or have enough experience to be working with thinner papers. I use exclusively Hygloss silhouette paper. I have a special post all about the paper I use here: http://papercutsbyjoe.blogspot.com/2010/02/papercutting-tips-guide-to-paper.html

For illustration purposes, I'm showing this technique on normal printer paper with the patterns above printed directly on the white paper.

Tip #2: Cut lines in order, do not skip!

The first cut is easy, it's like any other cut. It's the second one and all the ones after that gets you. Always cut the next line over, do not skip cuts. It may seem intimidating to cut so closely to your last cut. If you skip a cut, when you return, you will be cutting on a weakened piece of paper and the likelyhood of tearing increases. I know that makes no sense in writing, so here's some photos using the first image.

First Cut removed, lines indicate where next line should be cut

Spreading the paper to show second cut

The rest of the piece is then removed.

Tip #3: Follow with your thumb.

As you cut, you should immediately press your thumb onto the area just cut. This supports the paper preventing tearing, breaking, and stretching. Here's a video:

Tip #4: Leave pieces in for support

Sometimes when cutting a complicated piece like the gate design, you will find that pieces wrap around other pieces and going in sequential order is impossible. In these cases I recommend cutting the piece and either leaving the piece in, or leaving a small portion of the piece uncut so that either way the piece remains in the hole. These left-in pieces help to support the overall structure of your piece while you are cutting nearby delicate areas. The photos below hopefully show what I mean better than I just explained:
Piece cut, but left inside hole

Fragile area cut and removed

First piece removed after fragile area is cut

This tip is great for a long series of parallel cuts. Cut all the vertical cuts in order leaving the horizontal end-cuts intact. Then once all the vertical cuts are finished, go back and cut the ends of the pieces allowing removal.

Tip #5: Built-in Support Structures
Support structures allow for both fragile cuts as well as keeping all your loose parts in place until mounting. I will go through a design and cut in all the support structures BEFORE I begin so I don't forget later.
Piece held to light to show pre-cut supports in designs

Cuts removed around delicate areas with support structures holding everything in place and also providing support to keep branch from breaking off during cutting.

Once your piece is mounted, you can cut away the supports.

All together now!

Back to the first design. As I said earlier, no one tip is used when cutting thin lines; I often use all of these in one small area of a piece. As you get more experienced, you will be able to instinctively know which combination will result in the best results, so practice practice practice! Here are some examples of the combination being used in the designs provided here and some of my other pieces

(Back of paper to show cuts) Support structure and pieces left partially cut to support several parallel cuts

A custom design with text. Hand-drawn supports allow for extremely delicate cuts before mounting.

Support structure keeping everything in place

Lots of thin lines here!

Same principals are used for extremely small cuts as thin lines. Planning and forethought are the most important principals when doing extremely difficult cuts.

I really hope this helps, and I'll be reading the comments to answer any questions that come up!