Meet papercut artist Gemma Esprey

gemma esprey, papercutting, papercut artist, uk, be brave papercut, motivational papercut

Meet the Maker: Gemma Esprey

It took papercut artist Gemma Esprey a long time to pluck up the courage to make the first cut. Her initial attempt ended in blisters from using a blunt craft knife on card that was far too thick, but she persevered and now she is a highly skilled papercut artist, who specialises in intricate floral and lacy designs in pretty pastel shades. We talked to Gemma to find out more about her papercuts and her life…

Can you introduce yourself and describe what you do?
Hi, I’m Gemma Esprey. I’m a papercut artist living and working in Staffordshire, England. All of my work is hand cut with a scalpel. I design and create original papercuts and prints for the home. I also have a range of greetings cards. More recently, I’ve been working on papercut wooden hanging hearts. I also make hand-stitched brooches of my designs from time to time.

 gemma esprey, papercutting, papercut artist, uk

I was nervous because I had no background in art and lacked confidence… but I took a piece of thick shiny card and my craft knife and had a go. On my first attempt I gave myself finger blisters from using a blunt, sticky craft knife and card that was far too thick, but it all came with practice and perseverance.

How would you describe your style?
I love everything pretty and lacy. I’m always drawn to the lacy knitting patterns (even though they’re beyond my knitting skills!) and my home is full of pastels, florals and spots. My poor husband has to put up with a lot of pastel pink! I’m inspired by vintage lace and crochet and spend hours looking at patterns. I love the style of 1940s clothes and shoes, and I enjoy spending time pottering around my garden, so these all inspire my work too.

 papercut heart, floral papercut, gemma esprey, papercutting, papercut artist, uk

Original Floral Papercut Heart by Gemma Esprey 

I love everything pretty and lacy. I’m always drawn to the lacy knitting patterns (even though they’re beyond my knitting skills!) and my home is full of pastels, florals and spots. My poor husband has to put up with a lot of pastel pink!

How and when did you learn to cut paper?
I started making cards for sale in 2011. I mostly used stamps which I then coloured in, but I was also doing lots of cross stitch too. My mum asked me to make a card for my cousin’s 18th birthday and I couldn’t find a stamp or a cross stitch pattern that was right. At the time, I’d just discovered the beautiful work of Supercutetilly and By Charlie’s Hand and was absolutely amazed at what they could do with a scalpel. I wanted to try making designs of my own but I was nervous because I had no background in art and lacked confidence. I think that perhaps because this was a commission for my mum, I felt like I had more freedom to try something different. So I took a piece of thick shiny card and my craft knife and had a go. I can tell you that my first attempt was a big learning experience! I gave myself finger blisters from using a blunt, sticky craft knife and card that was far too thick. However, I realised that I loved creating my own designs, and that’s where it all began. My early designs were very basic and my knife skills weren’t great but it all came with practice and perseverance.

Kingfisher papercut, papercut artist, uk, gemma esprey

Papercut Kingfisher Artwork by Gemma Esprey 

Everything and anything inspires me! I love being creative and always have a project on the go whether it’s crochet, knitting, sewing or upcycling.  My head is usually buzzing with ideas.

As well as Supercutetilly and By Charlie’s Hand, are there other papercut artists you particularly admire?
Favourites that stand out are Hina Aoyama for the delicacy of her work, Helen Musselwhite for her use of colour and layers, and Su Blackwell who creates amazing 3D structures of fairy tales. I’ve recently become a member of the Paper Artist Collective and I’m amazed by all the talent of these papercutters.

What or who else inspires you?
Everything and anything inspires me! I love being creative and always have a project on the go whether it’s crochet, knitting, sewing or upcycling something for the house. I’m currently working on a crochet picnic blanket. My head is usually buzzing with ideas. I love to go for walks and jog along the canal and up the Chase (Cannock Chase). My mum lives in Bude in Cornwall now, so when we visit we enjoy walking the coastal paths. I’m also growing veg and fruit in my garden and slowly turning it from a blank canvas into something with a cottage feel.

gemma esprey, papercutting, papercut artist, uk

I have to fit my papercutting around my day job and my family, so I’ve learned to just pick it up anywhere. If I can’t work at my desk, I’ll sketch or design on my sofa. If I’m painting wooden shapes or working on my laptop, I tend to do this at the kitchen table in between cooking.

Where do you make your papercuts? What’s your workspace like?
I’m very lucky to have the spare room in my house as my workspace. I had it to myself for a few years but two years ago, I decided to give a corner of it to my daughter (who is nearly eight) so she could do her artwork there too. She definitely has more craft supplies than I do but it’s lovely to share a creative space together. We love a good sing-a-long too. This year, we bought a tumble dryer, so it now contains a laundry corner as well. My space is getting smaller and smaller!

gemma esprey, papercutting, papercut artist, uk

I decided to give a corner of my workspace to my daughter (who’s nearly eight) so she could do her artwork there too. She definitely has more craft supplies than I do but it’s lovely to share a creative space together.

Is there anything you need to have around you when you work?
I have to fit my papercutting around my day job and my family, so I’ve learned to just pick it up anywhere. If I can’t work at my desk, I’ll sketch or design on my sofa. If I’m painting wooden shapes or working on my laptop, I tend to do this at the kitchen table in between cooking. If I’m being Mum’s Taxi Service, I’ll take a book to read and my notebook so I can do some planning or blog writing while I wait. I try not to waste a moment, as my creative time is so limited. Sometimes, if I’m lucky enough to get a long stretch of cutting time, I’ll listen to an audiobook. The last one I finished was Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. Before that, my daughter and I listened to How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell, read by David Tennant. I have very eclectic reading tastes.

never give up, papercut inspiration, gemma esprey

The only way to make it happen is to just do it. Do it slowly and do it imperfectly but keep going no matter what.

Can you talk us through your papercutting process?
I try to think more in terms of a collection of work rather than just working on something that has popped into my head. I’ve been finding my style over the last few years, so this part comes easier now than it once did. If I’m drawing an animal or a bird, I’ll refer to photographs and do little sketches first until I’ve decided on the shape and angle of the animal. Sometimes I use different mediums when I’m sketching – often pens, ink, colouring pencils and sometimes watercolours. I’ve done this more with my layered cuts so I can focus more on the colours. I spend a lot of time researching and sketching lace patterns that go into the detail of the designs. Once I’m ready, I’ll sit down with pencil and paper and draft out the final design, before transferring it on to paper. Next, my favourite bit, the cutting. When I’ve finished cutting, I take lots of photos (I also take pictures during the process, if I remember). If I’m cutting for a print, I then scan the finished piece before putting it up for sale.

 gemma esprey, papercutting, papercut artist, uk, papercut butterfly

I like to make my designs as intricate and detailed as possible. My Lacy Butterfly Papercut was my most complicated to date and that took about 40 hours.

How long do your papercuts take?
Generally, I like to make my designs as intricate and detailed as possible, so most of my A4 pieces take somewhere between 8-20 hours to complete. The Lacy Butterfly was my most complicated to date and that took about 40 hours. It really does depend on the design though. The small birds I create for the wooden hanging hearts take between 30 and 60 minutes each. It’s nice to mix it up and have long and short projects on the go at the same time.

 gemma esprey, papercutting, papercut artist, uk, wooden papercut hearts

Wooden Papercut Heart Decorations by Gemma Esprey 

There are so many things in my life that have to be done, like housework and working my day job to pay the bills, but being creative feels like playing. It’s fun and joyful. It’s the thing I look forward to the most.

Have you ever made a cut too far?
In the first few months of papercutting, I had some slips with the scalpel but always managed to change the design so it wasn’t fatal. I actually have quite shaky hands (I’d make a useless waitress!) but something about the pressure needed to cut paper helps to steady my shakes. Thankfully, I haven’t made a slip up in a long time, which is probably just down to practice.

papercutting tools, gemma esprey

In the first few months of papercutting, I had some slips with the scalpel but always managed to change the design so it wasn’t fatal. I actually have quite shaky hands  – I’d make a useless waitress!

Are there any tools you couldn’t live without?
Paper, pencils, scalpel, cutting mat, metal ruler, compass, plasters, camera and my laptop.

papercut logo, folksy logo, gemma esprey

The papercut Folksy logo was so much fun to create! I thought long and hard about what might work for Folksy while also making it recognisably mine. I’m really happy with it and really honoured to have been asked.

You’ve designed a wonderful new papercut logo for Folksy. Can you tell us more about that and how you created it?
It was so much fun to create! I thought long and hard about what might work for Folksy while also making it recognisably mine. I work a lot in circular patterns and, having created my own logo, I know this works well for social media. After that, I began drawing. My first few drawings were far too complicated, so I stripped it right back until I ended up with the finished design. I still wasn’t convinced until I’d completed the cut, but now I’m really happy with it and really honoured to have been asked.

folksy papercut logo, gemma esprey, papercutting, papercut artist, uk

I work a lot in circular patterns and, having created my own logo, I know this works well for social media. My first few drawings were far too complicated, so I stripped it right back until I ended up with the finished papercut Folksy logo.

What’s the best thing about being creative for a living?
There are so many things in my life that have to be done, like housework and working my day job to pay the bills, but being creative feels like playing. It’s fun and joyful. It’s the thing I look forward to the most. I’m always stunned and amazed when people buy something I’ve made. It’s a truly wonderful feeling. So, I suppose there is a certain satisfaction in being creative for a living. You make something you love to make and someone loves it enough to spend their hard earned cash. It’s a complete circle. Did mention I like working with circles?

It’s also really important to me to show my daughter that you can have a job doing something you love, even though there are obstacles and time constraints, and perhaps years down the line I might be able to do it full time. That would feel like an amazing achievement.

papercut owl, papercut owl card, gemma esprey, papercutting, papercut artist, uk

Papercut Owl Card in Bubblegum Pink by Gemma Esprey 

I’m naturally a shy person so I find putting myself out there one of the most difficult parts of selling my work. Even answering these questions is difficult! I’ve received so much online support and made a lot of friends within the UK craft scene.

If you weren’t a papercut artist, what would you be?
Ooh, that’s such a difficult question as there are lots of things I enjoy. It’s funny how life takes you along. I have a degree in psychology and planned on working as an educational psychologist in my early 20s. I began a PGCE when I was 21 but it didn’t turn out to be what I had hoped, so I worked in shops and a hospital before starting a job as an administrator. I still work for the same company, but now I’m the senior administrator and only do part-time hours to fit around my daughter. For many years, I tried to write novels but never felt confident enough to show anybody. The writing overlapped with my making for a time until I found the love of papercutting, but then I had to make a choice about what to focus on. Perhaps if I’d stayed with the writing, I might have eventually been brave enough to send off a finished manuscript. So I think I’ll say a writer. You can probably tell I’m a bit of a dreamer.

How does it feel to be part of the UK craft scene?
I’m naturally a shy person so I find putting myself out there one of the most difficult parts of selling my work. Even answering these questions is difficult! I’ve received so much online support and made a lot of friends within the UK craft scene. It’s really uplifting and there’s so much talent out there with new people emerging all the time. It’s a very exciting world to be a part of, and people are so encouraging. I love to see people I’ve followed for a long time do well.

Don't worry, be happy, papercut

Don’t Worry Bee Happy fine art print from an original papercut by Gemma Esprey 

I’m always learning new things and it keeps me on my toes. You need to be a good juggler but it’s ok to drop a few balls every now and again as long as you pick them back up.

What would you say to someone thinking about selling their work?
Go for it! Whatever is holding you back, you can find a way to work around it. I’ve made things really difficult for myself along the way as I’ve lost confidence and taken huge breaks from it all. But I think I’ve finally figured out that the only way to make it happen is to just do it. Do it slowly and imperfectly but keep going no matter what. If it’s something you love, it’s impossible to put aside, so you may as well throw yourself into it!

I’m always learning new things and it keeps me on my toes. You need to be a good juggler but it’s ok to drop a few balls every now and again as long as you pick them back up.

How would you spend your perfect day?
A day at the beach in Bude with my family is perfect but then so is a day at home. I’m a homebird at heart. Just give me some paper and pencils, perhaps a few books to read and a bit of wool to crochet with and I’ll be fine. Ooh, and cake. Cake is always good too.

gemma esprey, papercutting, papercut artist, uk

See Gemma Esprey’s pretty papercuts in her Folksy shop > 

To celebrate being our featured maker, Gemma is offering 10% off all her original papercuts, cards, wooden hearts and prints until Sunday 19th June 2016 with the code GED10.

 

 

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