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Friday, March 21, 2008

Paper Cutting for Scrollers

The last few posts, I've been talking about scherenschnitte, the German art of paper cutting. But this is a scroll saw blog, right? So, why am I talking about paper cutting?

Its not hard to see that many of the design principles of scherenschnitte are shared with scroll sawn fretwork. The designs must remain continuous and unbroken. Each art form plays with positive and negative space that allude to details. Sometimes we cut out the shadows, and other times we cut out the highlights. The designs also share similar motifs. From strictly decorative, to word art, to scenic and wildlife designs. The styles between the two art forms tend to be a little different, but that's what makes it interesting. Since the two art forms are so closely related, we can easily take stylistic and thematic elements of scherenschnitte and incorporate it into our own scroll sawn artwork to create a truly unique piece.

The problem with scherenschnitte is that it is very time consuming. Which also translates into expensive end product. Lets say you spent 2 hours on a paper cutting and you want to charge $30/hour. You'll have to sell that paper cutting for $60. Probably out of the price range of many of your customers. You find scherenschnitte artists often make prints of their artwork and sell them instead. Which is fine, but I think I'd rather have a cutting rather than a photocopy. At the same time, I also don't want to spend $60.

Scroll sawing has the same issue. However, we have a trick up our sleeves. We can stack cut our designs to create multiple copies. We can cut four layers (or more) of 1/8" Baltic birch at the same time. So now, we have the same 2 hours of work and charging $30/hour. But now we have 4 finished pieces! Which means you can sell for $15 each and still get your $30/hour. That's a pretty good deal. Now your customers are interested!

What if we combine the two art forms? What if we take 10 sheets of paper and sandwich it between 2 pieces of 1/8" Baltic birch and stack cut them on the scroll saw? We end up with 10 paper versions of the design and 2 wooden versions of the design. I bet you can see where I'm going with this. But lets break it down anyway. 2 hours of work at $30 per hour is $60 worth of work invested. But, you end up with 12 cuttings all together! That means you can sell each cutting for $5 each and still make your $30/hour. Wow! But, that's way too cheap! You don't want to give away your artwork! So let's boost the price of your paper cuttings to something more reasonable. In my neck of the woods, I can sell the paper cuttings for $10 each. And let's sell the wooden versions for $25 each. Now you customers have the option of choosing a less expensive version of your artwork, or the wooden cutting traditionally associated with scroll work. Not only does this technique offer your customer choices, but it also increases the value of your work to $150 for 2 hours of work. I don't know about you, but making $75/hour is not a bad gig!

So how do we go about cutting paper with a scroll saw? Well, Scroll Saw Woodworking & Crafts forum has a couple of great threads on just that. Read through these threads (Paper Cutting 1, Paper Cutting 2). You'll learn a few techniques on how to add papercuts to your inventory.

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