Books. They take us to places we never dreamt of going; introduce us to people we may love or loathe; inspire, educate, thrill, and move us. They may also provide a starting point for great artwork—and I’ve been seeking out craftsfolk whose love of literature has developed into something amazing…
My idea of recycling books is to pass them on to friends or give them to the charity shop. Which just shows how little imagination I have, because out there in the world of arts and crafts there are people inspired by old paperbacks and hardback novels.
One such visionary is Louise Firchau, better known as Paper Panda. Based in Stow on the Wold, in England’s picturesque Cotswolds, she lives in a little, remote cottage full of handmade treasures, antiques, and animals.
After leaving school, Louise studied art and design, art history, illustration, and typography for seven years. While working the usual nine-to-five, she filled her spare time by doing craftwork such as card making, glass painting and sketching—but her eureka moment came at a craft fair in 2000.
“I came across a lovely lady called Rina Tillinger. She sold very sweet little papercuts cut with scissors, and gave me one as a wedding present at the end of the craft weekend—I was due to get married the following month,” Louise recalled.
“So for years ‘Adam & Eve’ has been on my wall and it’s a beautiful piece of art, but I just couldn’t do it myself with scissors, I tried but failed.
“Then I found the Etsy website and saw papercuts there too, but made using a scalpel. So I made myself one, just like that…and sold it! Then some friends saw what I’d made and wanted one too. Paper Panda grew from there.”
Louise either hand draws or digitally creates designs,then cuts them out of various grades of paper using a scalpel. It’s very delicate, intricate work that takes a huge amount of concentration and a steady hand. She also enjoys teaching others how to papercut—both online and in the “real world.”
As an avid reader, Louise loves to bring literature into her papercuts, with that ultimate of mystery stories, Alice In Wonderland, at the top of her list.
“When I’m not papercutting, I’m reading books” Louise explained. “I have devoured them since I was a little girl at an astonishing rate. I still have all my much loved, worn childhood books and have passed them on to my own daughter. She refuses to read them though, as they are mostly battered and the pages are stuck together with remains of old Toffee Eclairs, preferring the Kindle instead.
“With this in mind it’s difficult for books not to be a part of my work. They take you to other worlds where you can be anything and just get lost in the pages for a few hours,” she added.
“So, I like to create images from books and cut them out of paper. I’ve found that taking key moments from classic stories and putting a silhouette twist on them is very exciting. I’m also a great lover of typography, so mixing the two elements by placing the story text behind the finished piece is very satisfying for me. It combines all of my favourite things.”
She recently completed “Trip Trap” which is based on the old Billy Goats Gruff story. “I really enjoyed making something so different, and played with having two layers of paper instead of the usual one. Yesterday I placed the story text behind the cut (ready for it to be made into cups and prints to buy) and was astonished by how horrible the original story is, it made me laugh! I think it’d give today’s children nightmares.”
This quote from Billy Goats Gruff is worthy of any modern-day crime thriller:
“Well, come along! I’ve got two spears,
And I’ll poke your eyeballs out at your ears;
I’ve got besides two curling-stones,
And I’ll crush you to bits, body and bones”.
But wherever her imagination leads her, Louise will always return to her beloved Alice—she has even created a series of Wonderland-inspired papercuts
“I am adorned with Wonderland tattoos, and have lots of artwork by other artists based on the books in the cottage too. How could you not be inspired by such a fabulous story?”
In a new departure for Paper Panda, Louise has recently started collecting antique books that have been damaged beyond their original purpose, in the hopes that she can make something from them. Where will they take her? Watch this space!
Sandra Mangan has recently moved to Blackpool, a seaside resort in the north west of England, to a new home that is definitely a work in progress. She is an avid reader, with crime fiction at the top of her wish list—though an occasional Nora Roberts manages to creep onto the bookshelf. You can also follow her on Twitter as @OfTheTimesShop