This section is from the book "Feeling Better? Amusements and Occupations for Convalescents", by Cornelia R. Trowbridge. Also available from Amazon: Feeling Better.
A PIECE of red paper from China and a scarlet geranium started that remarkable old lady, Mary Granville Delany, at cutting out flowers. She was seventy-three at the time. When she laid down her scissors ten years later, she had made almost a thousand of these "paper mosaics," as she called them, all cut out freehand directly from real flowers and mounted on dark backgrounds. George the Third, Queen Charlotte, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Horace Walpole and a host of other friends and admirers praised the accuracy and beauty of her handiwork. Several bulky volumes in the British Museum still preserve examples of her skill. Her own pleasure in her art inspired Mrs. Delany to write
Hail to the happy hour! when Fancy led My pensive mind the flowery path to tread.
Perhaps scissors and paper can likewise bring to you "the happy hour" that will provide you with a new occupation. Can you make with colored papers a cluster of daffodils or tulips to be pasted on your window pane? Can you cut out recognizable oaks and elms and pine trees or a spruce to put on a Christmas card? Can you cut out a Pekinese, an airedale and a dachshund that could not be mistaken for any other breeds? Can you illustrate a Mother Goose rhyme or reproduce in silhouette Alice and the creatures she met in Wonderland? Parts or the whole of your figures can be torn out with softer outlines than are possible with scissors. Indeed tearing paper is an art in itself. Those who are skilled at it get amazing results by discarding scissors entirely and using only their fingertips.
A New York Sky Line.
Before you go far, you will find that to reduce pictures to silhouettes opens a whole field of experiment. Material can be discovered in any newspaper or illustrated magazine. Select some picture simple in detail and effective for its outline and proportion. Tear or cut it out roughly, hold it against a sheet of colored paper and cut the two papers together carefully along the outline of the figure. This is an easier method than either to cut out the picture and the silhouette separately or to transfer the outline to the colored paper before cutting it out. You can thus reduce to their simplest elements as pictures comics from the Sunday paper or advertisements of spring fashions, a statue, a skyline or the profile of some famous person. The silhouette was named from a French minister of finance, Silhouette, who was famous for his parsimony. It means a picture made with sparing means. Art teachers say that paper cutting can teach all the essential principles of design. Cizek, the great Viennese teacher, uses it extensively in his classes. It has been less explored than other fields of design and offers therefore unusual chances to experiment and originate.
If you discover you have a knack at paper cutting and have a pair of small, sharp-pointed scissors, you can revive the art, once a fashionable accomplishment, known as Papyrotamia or freehand cutting of elaborate designs. Baskets and wreaths of flowers, groups of dancers, seascapes and landscapes, farmyards and city streets-nothing was too intricate to be attempted. Some of these incredibly skillful pictures, mounted on dark paper and framed, still survive as treasured heirlooms. Sailors used to cut designs in paper on their long runs before the trade winds.
Paper cut-outs can serve various decorative purposes. They are excellent, whether simple or involved, on signs and posters, such as a Please-Do-Not-
Disturb sign to hang on a bedroom door or the announcement of a benefit for charity. They can be pasted on place cards and letter heads, match-boxes, lamp-shades, trays, boxes of cardboard or wood, scrap-baskets, screens. If a background is needed, a sheet of gold, silver or other glazed paper may first be pasted on, A coat of white shellac or varnish is sometimes a desirable finish and protection against wear.
Pasting may make or mar what your scissors have cut out. Have everything ready beforehand so that you can work quickly. There should be on your bed-table a supply of waste paper with an absorbent surface, such as newspapers cut into quarters or eighths; some good paste or china cement in a jar or squeezed from its tube into a small dish; a small paste brush and a knife. Use paste for fastening paper to an absorbent surface, china cement for a glazed surface. If your paste does not hold, mix a little glue with it. A celluloid paper folder, known to pasters as a bone folder, may be needed if you are mounting sizable pictures.
Plan beforehand exactly where the cut-out is to go. If possible, mark the place by tracing a bit of the outline as a guide. Then lay your figure on a piece of the waste paper, holding it firmly in place, and cover it smoothly with a thin coat of paste, looking across the surface toward the light to make sure that it is completely covered and that there are no lumps of paste. With the point of the knife raise one edge of the cutout, turn it over carefully and lay it on the exact spot where it is to go. If there are any wrinkles, remove them by raising the paper with the knife or pressing the bone folder evenly across it. Lay a fresh piece of waste paper over it and pat it down evenly. Pat, do not rub. With another fresh paper over it, put it under a weight to dry.