Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Paper cut-out patterns

Susan Brubaker Knapp here. Here’s a way to create really interesting patterns by cutting paper. And it’s fun. Addictive, really.

Just cut out a square or rectangle of colored paper. About 3-5" long/wide works best. Doodle a design on it that starts and finishes on one side. Let your mind go wild. I have a tendency to over-think things sometimes. By that, I mean I get very caught up in planning something, and trying to control it. This process is one I use to get over that. It’s just a cheap square of paper, right? Jump in and start doodling and cutting. Then use very sharp paper scissors and cut it out.

After you’ve cut out the shape, glue both the positive and negative shapes down in your sketchbook next to each other (like I did in the examples above and below). 

If you need a jumpstart, think about something you can see around you, and use that as inspiration.

Here are paper cuts inspired by…

dogwood buds:
 An ear:
A vine:
 The letter S:
 A mustache:
 Palm tree:

A square spiral:
 A leaf:
 A wave:

A piano keyboard:

Now,  if you want to make things more complex, repeat it. You can either scan it in and manipulate it in a software program like Photoshop, or you can cut out multiple pieces of paper the same way, using your first one as a template for the others. Here’s the pattern I got when I repeated my “piano” cutout:

If I offset the second row of cutouts, I get a different pattern:

The possibilities are endless!


  1. This is very cool. thank you. I like the way you showed the next step of repeats. Not having a patchwork background, I don't usually think about that type of patterning.
    Sandy in the UK

  2. What a very clever little addition to the art journal. Can't wait to try my own.


  3. This is a great idea and it seems no matter what the shape it will look pretty cool placed next to its' negative. I thought your found quilt patterns on your blog would be excellent to share here too.
    Thank you.

  4. For those interested in further study, this technique is called notan and is documented in the classic book Notan:The Dark-Light Principle of Design by Dorr Bothwell and Marlys Mayfield published by Dover. Google notan and you will find a plethra of sites both defining and utilizing this principle in many art media.

  5. This technique is also called Give & Take Applique(tm) - the method I use for many of my patterns and my books.

  6. Whatever it's called, it's a great technique with some excellent results. Can't wait to try it.

  7. What a fabulous idea, the creative juices are flowing. Thanks for the post

  8. This is a very fun art activity I use to compliment my lessons about Henri Matisse. My students love learning about him and viewing his work. Matisse was a true master.

  9. Also know as the Expanded Square. Quilting Arts Magazine has an old article by Jane Dunnewold with more ideas on this great technique.

  10. I love this, so visually graphic and the designs are inspired.

  11. Illuminating comments, everyone! Isn't it interesting how many names have been given to this technique, and how many different people have used it?

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  13. I was struggling to think of the way to create an interesting pattern and this is a great exercise. Thank you.

  14. Dear Susan ,
    I love your designs. I wonder if you could let me use an element(half of it) of your square spiral for my logo.It is just perfect. please let me know. Thank you.
    Alice from Bermagui NSW.


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