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Week 48: 12th – 18th August
As we’re technically in the summer holidays at the moment, I decided to catch up on some professional development and to learn a new skill. I’d always wanted to try out laser cutting, specifically in relation to paper cutting and editioning books, and thought it might be a good way for me to explore producing more intricate book designs. I’d noticed online that Duke Studios in Leeds were running an Introduction to Laser Cutting course for the bargain price of £55 for 3 hours tuition, so I decided to find out a bit more about it to see if it would be suitable to use in my practice.

Laser cutting
We were given a quick tour around the office space, which had been built, rather ingeniously, out of laser cut cardboard. It was a nice touch to see the corrugated material walls slotted together, and it set the tone for the evening to see how far the possibilities of the production technique could go. We were given some basic information relating to the process and laser cutting including links to vector designs licensed through Creative Commons, such as the Noun Project.

Our introduction to laser cutting began with an explanation of how the laser cutter actually creates the images on the material, namely by burning the design with a laser according to an vector image sent from the computer. Although this course didn’t require a prior knowledge of illustrator or another vector based programme, it would be necessary to format images in this way, if I wanted to create my own laser cuts in future. Thankfully, there are loads of tutorials on the internet in creating vector art, which would also come in handy if I ever want to upscale my printed work in future.

Paper cutting
I’m still considering how I might use this process and I think it will best come in handy for cutting a number of more intricate designs. However, trying to decide this also led me to research into the crossovers between paper cutting and ritual, as my work is currently based around what might be loosely termed paper artefacts, or fetishes.

Examples of this form of expression can be found throughout the world, beginning in China in the 1st Century. This page from the Museum of International Folk Art describes how paper cutting spread around the globe: ‘For 500 years the art of paper making and paper-cutting was confined to China with historical writings naming Ts’ai Lun, a Chinese court official, as the inventor of paper in 105 AD. Paper-making and cutting made its way into Japan around 610 and Central Asia by 750. The Moors who occupied Spain from AD 714 – 1492 had trade routes with faraway China. They introduced paper making and paper-cutting to the Iberian Peninsula establishing a paper-making mill in AD 1150. In strict observance of Mosaic prohibitions against graven images Islamic paper-cutting was primarily based on geometric and calligraphic expressions of scripture. In the centuries that followed the flowering of Arab culture in Spain, both paper making and paper-cutting spread to the rest of Europe. In Germany it became known as scherenschnitte, in Poland as wycinanki, and in France as silhouettes.’

However, the spread of paper making also had implications for traditional crafts and materials: ‘When the Spaniards arrived in Mexico there was already a tradition of paper making that was called amatl in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. The native peoples of Mexico produced a type of paper by mashing the pulp of the bark of fig and mulberry trees between rocks. Once dry the paper was then cut with knives made from obsidian. The paper cuts made from amatl were primarily of a ceremonial nature and included images of the numerous Aztec gods and goddesses, a practice that was discouraged by their Christian conquerors.’

This therefore links the history of paper with the history of colonisation, creating further implications in my use of this material to create charms and fetishes.