She’s a whirlwind in a thorn tree…

This is a loose step-by-step of how I’m creating this papercut.

I hope you find it useful!

My sister, who I’m making this for, said she’d like a picture of a goddess. I took a Johnny Cash lyric as my muse and title of this piece – A Whirlwind in a Thorn Tree – a wild woman, a force of nature.

I started out with a sketch of a face, trying out a new angle. I usually look at pictures in magazines or online and sketch a few awful versions before I learn from my mistakes and bust out with a slightly improved version to cut from.

The amazing thing about papercutting is that your drawings can be total shit.

It’s okay. Almost anything looks great in a papercut.

It’s like magic.

And your cuttings don’t have to be super die-cut, clean-cornered badasses with trimmed fingernails and perfectly applied eyeliner.

My cuts are grungy and a little sloppy with scratched knees and runny noses and tangled hair, but somehow I still love them. I’m drawing the wind as much as I’m drawing the hair.

My cuttings have a lot of personality, I think, and rhythm. They’ve got something that makes me go “Yeeeaaah” when I glance at them. So the mistakes are fine. I think I love them more because of the mistakes. It’s the same with people, and lovers, and antique furniture….the flaws are what make them who/what they are.

Let machines be perfect.

I love, love, love intuitive art, wabi-sabi, tramp art, outsider art – the acceptance, the humanity.

Anyway, if you have a rip that bugs you, you can cut another piece to connect the rip and attach it with a glue stick. Why not?


I’m a huge lover of the artist Mucha (flowing hair and lines of text converging in swirly, sensual design awesomeness), Art Nouveau, Chagall, Gibran, & Blake. Their work is all a bit sketchy and wild, childlike and windblown. And their bodies are usually naive, anatomically incorrect gestures at the figure. A hint of the human.

The soul is the important thing.

Like the wind in this picture.

My sketches take all of 5-10 minutes. In this post you’re looking at the back of my design that I sketch on and cut from.

The finished artwork is actually the other side. The idea is that the other side remains pristine and flawless. I often forget what side I’m working on so both get messy, but that’s okay.

A word about eyes……….eyes can be tricky.

My first papercut eyes were ridiculous but I was determined to figure it out. I took a huge piece of paper and drew nothing but eyes on it – hundreds of them, in all different expressions and angles – and practiced different ways of cutting them out so they’d remain intact but still resemble eyes.

And hopefully convey some emotion or feeling.

I am forever grateful to other paper artists for guiding the way here and giving me some insight (haha, pun). There are lots of ways to do it. The key is to shade the bits you want to cut out. Otherwise, in such a complex and tiny space, it’s super easy to maim your little person.

With this piece, I started with the face, drew some wild ass hair, and then thought, “Oh crap, do I really know how to draw feathers?”

Which seems like a no-brainer because of course anybody can draw a feather, but I was insecure so I collected a bunch on a hike along the Chiltern Way (most gorgeous place in the world). Then I also looked up some vector graphic feathers online just in case the actual feathers in my bouquet had been poorly drawn by nature.

I drew the feathers in by intuition, feeling my way, messy as hell, until the picture seemed to have a decent energy and balance. The little tadpole-like shapes are supposed to be gaps in the hair that the sun shines through. Need to figure out how to make these look less like tadpoles.


When it comes to organic shapes such as flowers, leaves, and feathers, I prefer to cut little bits at a time instead of cutting out the whole shape at once. Little cuts don’t pull on the paper as much, and they allow you to be more precise.

The half-finished feather, above on the right, wasn’t done in one cut. I cut about four little oddly-shaped pieces from that half of the feather alone. The entire feather? Probably about ten cuts in all.

The awesome thing is, feathers aren’t even perfect feathers. Not exactly. Each and every one is messed up and dirty with asymmetrical rips in the sides.

So if you mess up, just go with it and create a gloriously flawed feather – it’ll probably be truer to nature.

In the picture below you can see my notes to self: “Leave space” and “Keep intact” and “Add feathers.” I’d be lost without my notes to self. I always cut through lines that need to remain intact for the structural integrity of the piece. So these reminders help me when I’m in the zone speeding along with my blade.

Next up, I’ll decide which parts to cut out and which to keep whole. What will remain positive, and what negative?

This can be a bitch, because I usually go into a piece all willy-nilly, super confident, only to realize that I’ve messed the whole thing up.

Eventually, I learned to color in the parts that I want to cut away. In this case, I’ll cut away the feathers, but leave the spines as much as possible, and I’ll cut more empty spaces into the hair.

I might also write some kind of wise goddessy quote/meme on there. I’m not sure yet.

Then I’ll flip it over and hopefully like what I see.

The moment of truth!

If I like the finished image, I’ll make it available in giclee prints, note cards, stickers, canvas totes, & T-shirts.

And…I’ll post it here (even if it sucks).

Feel free to ask questions or leave comments below and come say hello at paper_moth_studio on Instagram!

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