- Pens or pencils
- Cutting mats
- Metal rulers
- Craft knives
- Coloured paper or card
- Tissue paper
- Black paper or card
Before you begin
- Use the safety checklist to help you plan and risk assess your activity. Additional help to carry out your risk assessment, including examples can be found here. Don’t forget to make sure all young people and adults involved in the activity know how to take part safely.
- Make sure you’ll have enough adult helpers. You may need some parents and carers to help if you’re short on helpers
Setting up this activity
- Choose craft paper for the group to use.
- Remember, thinner paper will be easier to cut, but will be more delicate. Thicker paper or card will be harder to cut, but sturdier.
Chinese paper cutting
Chinese paper cutting is a treasured traditional Chinese art dating back to when paper was developed. Paper cutting became popular as a way of decorating doors and windows as paper became more accessible.
These elaborate cutting designs are created with scissors or artwork knives and can include a variety of shapes, such as symbols and animals.
As paper became more affordable, paper-cutting became one of the most important types of Chinese folk art.
Later, this art form spread to other parts of the world, with different regions adopting their own cultural styles.
The cut-outs are sometimes referred to as ‘window flowers’ (窗花; chuāng huā) or ‘window paper-cuts’ as they're often used to decorate doors and windows.
The finished paper decorations are often stuck to glass panels in doors and on windows, so light shines through them.
Usually, the artworks are made of red paper, as red is associated with festivities and luck in Chinese culture, but other colours are also used. Normally cut-paper artwork is used on festivals such as Chinese New Year, weddings and childbirth, as cut-paper artwork is considered to symbolise luck and happiness.
Learn about paper cuttings
- Gather everyone together and explain that you're going to be making some traditional paper-cuttings.
- Explain that paper cutting has been done all around the world to make art, celebrate and mark occasions.
- In China, Chinese Paper Cutting or Jianzhi (剪纸) is the first type of paper cutting design, since paper was invented by Cai Lun in the Eastern Han Dynasty in China around the 2nd century. The art form later spread to other parts of the world with different regions adopting their own cultural styles.
- In Japan, Japanese paper cutting is called kirie or kirigami (literally meaning cut picture). It is said to have developed after 610 AD when tesuki washi paper, invented in China, was brought to Japan by Doncho, a Buddhist monk from Korea. The Japanese commercialised paper making by hand, and by 800 AD their skills were renowned.
- In Mexico, Papel Picado is a traditional Mexican decorative craft made by cutting elaborate designs into sheets of tissue paper. which is thought to have originated with the Aztecs. This technique is frequently used to produce decorative banners.
- The Slavic version of the art form of paper cutting, popular in Belarus, Poland, and Ukraine, is called Wycinanki in Poland, Vytynanky in Ukraine or Vycinanki n Belarus. Roosters, flowers, and holiday motifs are frequently the subject of these bright and multilayered artworks.
- In Jewish culture, since the Middle Ages, paper cuts often decorated ketubot (marriage contracts), mizrahs, and for ornaments on festive occasions. By about the 17th century, paper cutting had become a popular form for small religious artefacts, such as mizrachs and Shavuot decorations. In the 20th century, the art of Jewish paper cutting was revived in Israel. Today it's most commonly used for mizrachs and ketubot.
- At Christmas and over winter periods, people often use paper cutting to make snowflakes to decorate their homes.
Learning about other types of paper cutting
- Ask if anyone knows what other cultures might use paper-cutting to celebrate or mark event or occasions.
- Tell everyone that another type of paper cutting is silhouette. Silhouette can refer to the art of cutting outlines or portraits out of black paper. Modern-day paper cutters typically follow one or more of the ‘traditional’ styles listed above, while others have begun to expand the art into new styles, motifs, and designs.
- Explain that contemporary paper cutting is also sometimes associated with the art of stencilling, itself being derived from techniques used in graffiti art. The use of hand-cut stencils in graffiti art has received international attention in recent years due in part to the artist Banksy.
Run the activity
- The person leading the activity should give each person some coloured craft paper, black paper tissue paper and pens or pencils to choose from.
- Everyone should fold their paper in half once or twice. For complex designs, you may wish to fold the paper three or four times. However, this’ll make the paper harder to cut.
- Everyone should sketch out a design on the folded paper. You could find some examples for inspiration.
- Remind everyone that feature everything from geometric patterns to plants and animals. Everyone should be creative and try to think of something they might display at a celebration.
- If anyone has any symbols that mean a lot to them, encourage them to include these. For example, Jewish paper-cuttings will often feature symbols, such as lions, which symbolise strength and bravery. They also feature fish, which symbolise fertility, and a snake eating its own tail, which symbolises infinity.
- When people think they’ve finished sketching their design they should use a mirror to see what their design will look like when cut and unfolded. They should hold the mirror along the fold-line and look at the reflection.
- People who plan to cut out shapes could shade these areas in so that they know which bits to cut.
- Give out scissors, metal rulers, craft knives and cutting mats.
- Everyone should cut out their designs, using scissors or craft knives.
- Scissors can be used to cut out the design or to make cuts around the edges. Make sure everyone takes their time and cuts with care.
- Those using knives should work on a secure, flat surface and always using a metal ruler. They should make cuts slowly and carefully. They should have a cutting mat beneath their paper and keep their fingers away from the blade.
- When they’ve finished, everyone should unfold the paper. They should see that the design has been replicated on the side that was folded-over.
- Everyone should collect up all the scrap pieces of paper that were cut out. These can be recycled in other art projects.
Many different cultures from different corners of the world practice paper-cutting as an art form. What might have attracted people from all over the world to this activity? Why do you think it's used to celebrate events and occasions?
You had to be creative and make your own design. How did you create your design? What inspired you? Did you use one of the paper cutting techniques we discussed?
How did you find the paper cutting? This activity took time, determination and patience. Was it hard or easy? Was it fiddly or easy to cut out your design? Did you have to change your design at all as you went along? What equipment did you find easiest to use
- Sharp objects
Teach young people how to use sharp objects safely. Supervise them appropriately throughout. Store all sharp objects securely, out of the reach of young people.
Supervise young people appropriately when they’re using scissors. Store all sharp objects securely, out of the reach of young people.
Expert cutters may wish to create an asymmetrical design on an unfolded sheet of paper. They might also want to try designs that involve more complicated folds.
- Adapt the thickness of the paper so everyone can give it a go.
- You could also use template designs or have people work in pairs to help each other.
- Remember to have left handed and accessible scissors, so that everyone can take part.
All Scout activities should be inclusive and accessible.
You could come up with paper-cutting designs that have a function, such as artwork or storytelling. You may wish to look at other examples of paper-cutting from around the world for inspiration.
A popular use of paper-cutting is to create shapes for light shows. Make a small hole in your design, large enough to thread some string through. Hang your design over a window or a lamp and switch off any other lights. The outline of your cut-outs should appear on the opposite wall.
Everyone should be allowed to use their creativity and make something meaningful to them. Cultural symbols, such as those that maybe seen at special occasions, are perfect for this.