Paper trail: Artists who turn sheets into visual treats

From crafting complicated sculptures to life-like insects, alphabets and pendants, here’s how artists are getting creative with paper.
Husband-wife artist duo Harikrishnan Panicker and Deepti Nair use paper to create dioramas or 3D models of landscapes back-lit with LED.
Husband-wife artist duo Harikrishnan Panicker and Deepti Nair use paper to create dioramas or 3D models of landscapes back-lit with LED.
Updated on Feb 24, 2018 08:33 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByKrutika Behrawala

Everyone’s tried paper craft at some point: paper planes for classroom fights, paper boats for monsoon puddles, accordion folds to make a fan on hot days.

Artists, however, are taking the medium to crazy levels. They’re making complicated sculptures, life-like insects, backlit 3D dioramas, letters, pendants and intricate portraits – all using only paper. “In India, paper still isn’t taken seriously as a medium of art. It’s mainly used for decorative purposes,” says Samir Bharadwaj, 38, a Mumbai-based independent designer and paper artist, who runs Papernautic, a website offering tutorials on all things related to paper art. He conducts a workshop on papercutting this weekend. Take a look at what’s on offer, and other artists getting creative with paper.

MAKING THE CUT

Independent designer and paper artist Samir Bharadwaj uses papercutting tools such as pen knives to create assembled 3D sculptures like this one.
Independent designer and paper artist Samir Bharadwaj uses papercutting tools such as pen knives to create assembled 3D sculptures like this one.

The Art Of Papercutting workshop

WHEN Today, 2 pm to 4 pm (show runs till March 8)

WHERE Tarq, Dhanraj Mahal, CSM Marg, Apollo Bunder, Colaba.

COST Rs 2,360 (includes materials and a take-home activity kit)

LOG ON TO insider.in

Bharadwaj began making origami models of cranes at the age of three and moved on to make pop-up greeting cards and 3D sculptures. At this weekend’s workshop, he will sketch different parts of the city’s avian species, including owls and flamingoes, on sheets of paper. The idea is simple: you need to cut the beak, feathers and eyes to assemble your own paper bird. The catch: No scissors.

“Using scissors ends up curling a paper’s edges. I’ll teach participants how to use tools such as pen knives, resembling medical scalpels, to get the finer details right. I’ll also teach them how to create art pieces from a single sheet of paper.”

The workshop ties in with artist Youdhisthir Maharjan’s exhibition, An Unquiet Mind at the gallery. The show influenced by Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot, turns pages of old novels into dynamic sculptures. Maharjan has carved alphabets meticulously from pages in a way that you can still decipher it by intuition. Meanwhile, the displaced letters are recomposed on the page as frames and rings.

“This level of paper-cutting requires a lot of expertise,” says Bharadwaj. “I’ll teach simpler techniques. Paper cutting requires stillness and patience. It’s relaxing and meditative.”

SCENE STEALERS

Every time husband-wife duo Harikrishnan Panicker and Deepti Nair, pull out sheets of paper to make a 3D model, they also keep a blow dryer handy. “Mumbai’s humid climate isn’t conducive to working with paper,” says Nair, 36, who shifted to Kharghar from Denver with her husband three years ago. “It loses crispness. So we blow dry it frequently. It’s also challenging to work in monsoons.”

Nair trained at Ahmedabad’s National Institute of Design, and married graphic designer and illustrator Panicker, 37, in 2009. The team has been creating paper dioramas for seven years, designing each element separately on different sheets to create layers that provide the depth that a single sheet can’t. “We keep cutting like maniacs. Some pieces feature as many as 24 layers. Hari is more organised and figures out their order,” says Nair.

Once complete, each piece is back-lit with LED. “The paper reacts differently to light, so you see a warm, yellow hue instead. A recurring theme in our work is exploration, since we travel a lot,” says Panicker.

Their works have made it to art fairs in Miami and New York as well as galleries in San Francisco, Paris, Taiwan and Oslo in Norway.

FIND THEIR WORK ON @harianddeepti on Instagram

WINGS OF CHANGE

In the last six years, Mumbai artist Nibha Sikander, an alumnus from Vadodara’s MS University, has created 3D figures of more than 400 insects, moths and birds with coloured paper.
In the last six years, Mumbai artist Nibha Sikander, an alumnus from Vadodara’s MS University, has created 3D figures of more than 400 insects, moths and birds with coloured paper.

Mumbai artist Nibha Sikander’s growing up years were flecked with sounds of chirping birds and sights of moths, butterflies and blooming trees. This was courtesy her frequent getaways at her ancestral home in Murud-Janjira on the Konkan coast. It not only shaped her world-view but also found an expression in her paper art practice.

Sikander’s childhood getaways to her ancestral home in Murud-Janjira on the Konkan coast have found an expression in her paper art practice. Through my works, I also want to show people wonders of the nature and the significance of preserving them, she says.
Sikander’s childhood getaways to her ancestral home in Murud-Janjira on the Konkan coast have found an expression in her paper art practice. Through my works, I also want to show people wonders of the nature and the significance of preserving them, she says.

In the last six years, Sikander, 34, an alumnus from Vadodara’s MS University, has created 3D figures of than 400 insects, moths and birds – from Coppersmith barbets to Flameback woodpeckers and Indian rollerbirds – using sheets of coloured paper. Working roughly seven hours a day, her toolkit includes a fine tip knife, magnifying glass and a tweezer for delicate details. “Paper fascinates me because it’s a versatile medium. It can be both stiff and flexible,” says Sikander. Her work has shown in Kochi, Kolkata, New Delhi, Mumbai and Manchester, England. She will also debut solo at Tarq next year. “There’s lack of awareness regarding nature conservation. Through my works, I also want to show people wonders of the nature and the significance of preserving them.”

FIND HER WORK ON @nibhasikander on Instagram

LETTER OPENER

Sabeena Karnik, a Chembur-based graphic designer and illustrator had an unexpected moment of fame last Independence Day. The day’s Google Doodle featured an image of Parliament House and motifs of peacocks that she’d made with strips of coloured paper.

Sabeena Karnik, a Chembur-based graphic designer and illustrator, dabbles in paper typography. The letter S is the most challenging one to craft with paper, she says.
Sabeena Karnik, a Chembur-based graphic designer and illustrator, dabbles in paper typography. The letter S is the most challenging one to craft with paper, she says.

Karnik, 35, specialises in paper typography. “I started making paper sculptures as a student at Sophia Polytechnic,” says Karnik. “On a whim, I decided to handcraft letters of the alphabet with paper and enjoyed the process. Words are a form of expression and I wanted to show that paper cannot only be used for writing text but designing it too.”

The works have been part of several commercial projects – logo designs and magazine titles, using paper typography. “The letter S is the most challenging one to craft with paper,” says Karnik. She uses everything from quilling pens and paintbrush tips to kebab skewers to fashion her work.

LOG ON TO sabeenakarnik.com

MANBUNS TOO

Ahmedabad-based artist Parth Kothekar’s paper art resembles inverse stencil graffiti.
Ahmedabad-based artist Parth Kothekar’s paper art resembles inverse stencil graffiti.

Mermaids that fit on fingertips, a kingfisher inside a pendant and a life-size portrait of a man wearing a manbun adorn Parth Kothekar’s residence-cum-studio in Ahmedabad. “People are often surprised to learn that these are paper-cut artworks and not glass prints,” says the self-taught artist, 26, who has been practising this art as full-time profession since 2012.

The idea for this type of artworks, says Kothekar, was born out of an experiment with stencil graffiti. “In a stencil, the inner portion of a shape is cut out since you have to spray the design on a surface. I was curious to know how stencils would look if created in an inverse fashion.”

First, he tried cutting a plastic stencil. “It was difficult to cut it. So, I moved to paper.”

He went on to create 84 paper-cut pieces that were showcased at an exhibition in Ahmedabad in 2013. Since then, Kothekar has travelled with his work to Bengaluru, Varanasi, Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai, Goa and Wellington in New Zealand.

Kothekar takes anywhere between two to 20 days to create the intricate works -- smallest being a one-centimetre piece of jewellery and largest being a 40x35 inch portrait. “The smaller the size, the more time it takes. I also use a magnifying glass for the smaller works. If I make one wrong cut, I have to create the piece all over again.”

FIND HIS WORK ON @parthkothekar on Instagram

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