Dylan lives on Monhegan Island, twelve miles off the coast of Maine with his wife Mandy and two cats, Lulu and Sophie.
To see more of Dylan's paper cutting, please visit
creating the art for:
EVERY DAY BIRDS
by Dylan Metrano
I first noticed papercuttings in the early 2000's, specifically the work of Jad Fair and Nikki McClure.
Jad Fair is a musician who used his papercuttings as his album covers. His style is very simple- he works with black paper, often employs folds like snowflakes, and his designs are silhouette-based. His art is the work that inspired me to try papercutting myself, and my earliest work is pretty derivative of his.
Nikki McClure is an Olympia, Washington based artist who is known for her children's books and calendars. I had seen her calendars and was amazed at the detail in her work. Shortly after I had stated making my own papercuttings, I found myself in Olympia, and had the privilege of visiting her studio. Over time, my work has developed into a style more akin to McClure's than Fair's.
As I continued making art, I began to see more papercutting everywhere I looked- in magazines, book covers, greeting cards. I also have looked into the unique origins of papercutting in disparate countries all over the world.
To make the papercuttings for EVERY DAY BIRDS, I began by looking at photographs of each type of bird referenced in the book. I was provided with the book’s text, broken down with a line of verse on each page.
I then drew the birds, putting each one in a unique environment, so that they each stood out from each other. Some would be flying. Some would be perched on things. Some pages would focus on their heads; some the full bodies.
For the few pages that did not reference a specific type of bird, I came up with my own ideas for scenes. One spread features bird silhouettes flying over Monhegan Island, where I live. Another has a flock of birds sitting on neighborhood roofs.
Once the sketches were approved, I drew them again on the back of black paper. Then, with an X-Acto knife, I cut away from the black paper anything that I did not want to appear black in the final artwork. This leaves a black lace-like piece of paper with the image of the bird and any other visual elements that will make up the page.
I then “colored in” the images by laying colored paper behind the black paper, and trimmed away anything that went outside that border. I repeated this process for each and every color I used, paying careful attention to the order in which each color was to be layered.
Once I had completed every page, I submitted it all to the book’s designer, who asked me to make a few changes. (Some of the text had changed during this process, and therefore my art needed to be adjusted.) Paper-Cutting is not something that can be changed easily once it’s done, so each of these pages had to be recreated from scratch.
The final steps for me were creating a cover and a few other decorative images. I delivered all the original artwork to the publisher, and it was photographed, and laid-out by the designer, who arranged the art and added the text to the final pages.
It was an interesting challenge working on this book. Lots of thought had to be put into what the pages were going to look like before I did the actual papercuttings. Once the paper is cut, it's very difficult to make fixes or changes, so it all had to be planned out carefully before I put the blade to paper.
I normally draw my image quickly, then spend most of my time cutting, but these images had to be approved by several editors and designers before I did the cutting. Ultimately, I believe this made for a stronger finished work, but sometimes things moved slower than I am used to.
I did learn a lot about birds, about collaboration,and publishing too. It's been quite amazing, really, and I'm proud of the work that Amy and I have made together.
If readers wish to try something like this kind of artwork, then the most basic exercise I can think of, one many people have probably already tried, would be to make paper snowflakes, by folding and cutting.
Maybe then try a similar exercise but with a different image – not a snowflake – in mind. I’ve done workshops with young people where we make papercut bookmarks. I like this exercise because it's a small manageable size, and the end product is useful, too! Little kids can use safety scissors instead of an X-Acto blade, too. Matisse used scissors!
Lulu and Sophie look out the window of Dylan's Monhegan studio.
Table where much of the EVERY DAY BIRDS artwork was made.
Initial sketches for EVERY DAY BIRDS.
First cuts on the back of black origami paper.
Back of the EVERY DAY BIRDS eagle, before it's glued to it's background.
A two-page spread, before text.