Custom poster papercut illustration by Naomi Shiek / Available for purchase in her Etsy shop
I remember in one of my college art classes I had to cut a simple frame out of mat board and achieving nice, clean lines with nothing but an exacto knife and ruler was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in life. It almost ranks right up there with birthing twins naturally complete with screaming and gnashing of teeth Silliness aside, I have the utmost admiration for papercutting artists because it’s a painstakingly beautiful artform.
Meet Naomi Shiek, papercut artist and freelance illustrator of Woodland Papercuts, who started out in fashion design before shifting gears into visual communications, creates some of the most astounding and perfect papercuts. Today she’s sharing her first experience with papercutting, what it’s like operating her Etsy shop full time, her artistic style and influences, and more. Read on to find out more about Naomi and her amazing talents.
Share a little bit about yourself.
I first tried my hand at papercutting when I was getting my bachelor degree in visual communication at the Bezalel Art Academy. I had to do wine bottle labels for a class and for some reason thought papercut labels would be great. I must have only just been acquainted with this art form and was pretty eager to try it myself, as it is a handmade technique that at the very least would get me away from the computer. I’m still surprised I didn’t cut off my fingers, using dull blades, cheap paper, and my wood desktop as a cutting surface. The labels came out great, though.
Share a little bit about your shop.
My first etsy shop, The Time is Now, was opened when I was still in university, and listed not only my papercuts, but drawings and embroideries too. I felt I needed to separate my work from my hobbies and rebrand, thus Woodland Papercuts was opened in November of 2011. Etsy is my full time job, and I take it seriously. However, I did get a bit ahead of myself and started listing before I figured out my brand goals and visual identity, a big no-no. I’m ashamed to say I still hadn’t gotten around to it. It’s been an exciting process, though, which taught me running an online business is only as hard and slow as you make it.
But beside my shortcomings I do like selling on etsy very much. There was a short period I was thinking of uprooting, but the site feels so personable, I knew I’d miss the easy communication users share if I did leave. It’s the only online market site I know where buyers don’t feel intimidated to communicate freely with sellers, and vice versa (customers can be intimidating too!). At least that’s the sense I’m getting from my activity on etsy, and one I fully encourage with everyone who reach out to me.
What’s the story behind the name of your shop?
The story behind my brand name isn’t interesting at all. It was a pretty natural choice, though it took me weeks to figure it out. I was trying to come up with a clever name that would hint at papercutting, nature, and fairy-tales. A pretty hefty task for one name. And then I read somewhere that good brand names for small and new businesses were ones that included the product or service in the name. So a quick oh-that’s-so-simple slap to the head later, I narrowed down my selection to ‘papercuts’, and any word that is associated with nature. Thus Woodland Papercuts was born.
How would you describe your artistic style and who are some artists that have been influential in your work?
I am a big fan of the Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts styles. I don’t know how much that comes across in my work, but that’s my reference pool. I’m a fan of Audrey Beardsley and Ivan Bilibin. The work they and their contemporaries produced really taught me a lot about line work, composition, and negative spaces. I’m influenced by the work of Kara Walker and Emma van Leest greatly, I think their papercuts are instructive, both in technique, and in the storytelling. Of course as I mainly do Jewish marriage certificates now I take everything that I love and use it to upgrade and transform the Judaica style you would normally see used.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Selling online full time is hard work. Mostly it’s just scary. I’ve been doing this for a little over a year now and I’m still struggling meeting my own demands and goals. While the days are long, I’m doing what I love to do and it’s rewarding. Even if I can’t sleep.
My days start slow. They also start at night, as I found it an easier time to be productive. A typical day for me begins in the afternoon, when most people’s day is winding down. I work from home, so there’s no separation of home and work life. As soon as I’m up I go sit at my desk and work through my to-do list, written the night before. I check my email first thing, to see if I need to add to my list, and hopefully start sketching and drawing and tracing and cutting right after.
Depending on what time of the day or night it is, I will break to run errands, buy food, get some sun… My creative process is extremely slow in comparison with others’ since its labor intensive, and some days I won’t have a finished piece to show at the end for all my work. Other days I can get four papercuts done, it’s a hit and miss really. When I’m feeling tired enough to sleep (for me that usually happens past the 24 hours mark) I put everything away, recheck my email, and write a new to-do list for tomorrow.
What’s your most-prized nature-inspired possession in your home?
My most prized nature inspired objects in my home are my deer collection. I have all sorts of small toys and figurines of a stag, but my favorite is this amazing deer head sculpture I commissioned from Jordan Elise. It’s horribly adorable!
What are a few things you enjoy about nature?
I am hardly an outdoorsy type person like my brother and sister. My appreciation of nature is more aesthetic than anything else, I’m afraid. But there’s nothing like the fresh air under shading trees, or the sunlight twinkling through the tree tops to dapple on the ground, to reenergize me. While I prefer to sit on a bench than on the ground, I love how sitting in the sun and listening the the wind go through the trees can relax me and make me smile.