I grew up in Sheboygan, the daughter of a photographer and a teacher. It was sort of a lucky hometown for me, because it’s also home to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. I had my first internship there at 15, worked there later in high school, and eventually went on to study art at UW Madison on a full ride art scholarship from the Kohler Foundation. I met my husband at UW Madison (a fellow painter, now a baker/co-owner of Madison Sourdough) and we decided to put our roots down here after college. I ended up going into art education rather than working as a studio artist, and was hired by the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District, where I taught first high school, then elementary art for a total of six years. I really loved teaching, but with the birth of my second daughter this August, I decided that working from home would be a better fit for my family at this point. I launched my Etsy shop, Little Loon Papercuts, this summer, and have really been enjoying making and selling my own art again, and getting to spend more time with my girls.
I used to consider myself primarily a painter, and other media were secondary, but when I was hired to teach at the high school, I was charged with developing the digital photography program. That sort of spilled into my personal work, and I found myself frequently scanning and digitally editing my drawings, or roughing out compositions which would become drawings by piecing together photos in Photoshop. That process has remained steady for me now that I’m working with paper. I generally start with a very minimal sketch, finalize the composition with a digital photo collage, complete a detailed drawing looking at that collage, and then scan it and clean it up in Photoshop before beginning the actual cutting. Some of my designs (the portraits and nursery decor) I cut at home, while some (the ketubot and other custom commissions) I have lasercut, since that allows me to include extreme fine-line details that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
I was drawn to papercuts for several reasons. Now that I’m working from home with a toddler and a newborn, the solvents and pigments I used as a painter are no longer an option, and my other go-to art form, photography, is a fairly flooded market. I experimented a lot, trying to find a new media that resonated with me and could allow me to stand out. I decided on cut paper because there is something that feels really clean, both physically and visually, about imagery reduced to flat layers of paper, positive and negative space, fibers and shadows. Also, it’s both challenging and satisfying to work with such strict design parameters (to define an image by it’s highlights only, and to have all those highlights connected, so you don’t end up with pile of paper shreds).
I take custom commissions and can work with clients to design and cut just about any piece they can dream up (portraits of family members and pets are popular) but my favorite projects have been ketubot. A ketubah is a Jewish marriage contract, but it’s not just a document you file away after the wedding. The idea is that something of such importance should be beautified and displayed. I make really delicate cut paper frames, which incorporate the couple’s names and wedding date, and float them between layers of glass above the contract or wedding vows. It makes for a really stunning and personal artwork. I’ve made them for couples of many different beliefs; I think it’s a really powerful custom no matter what your faith is (non-Jewish couples frame their vows, rather than the traditional Jewish wedding contract).
With the ketubot especially, I’ve tried to put together a portfolio of designs that really shows the breadth of styles I can do. That’s been fun because it means I’m drawing from a whole crazy range of influences: textiles, historical prints, paintings, the changing seasons… this week I made one design based on Navajo weaving patterns, and another inspired by a Don Freeman book I read to my daughter (Earl the Squirrel). Actually, the illustrations in children’s books have been fantastic sources of inspiration, especially some of the older books where the illustrators used woodcuts or limited color palettes, since those artists were frequently dealing with some of the same design restrictions I do.