For many artists, such as painters and photographers, their medium is expressed on paper. But for local artist Danielle Easdale, the paper is the art itself. For many years she has been hand-carving layers of paper to create unique portraits and images that have an unbelievable 3D quality to them even though they are made from nothing more than pieces of flat paper and her attention to the most minute detail.
Born in Australia, Danielle set out for London in her early 20s to travel and explore Europe. It was there that she first discovered the art of paper cutting. A popular medium in Great Britain, it was primarily presented in single layer works. The art form itself has been in practice since the 4th century, found in other countries such as Japan, Switzerland, and Mexico. In fact, the famous Danish fairy tale author, Hans Christian Andersen, was also a paper cutting artist.
Danielle said she was drawn to the art form because it mimicked her love for photography with its depth of color and contrast. She decided to play around with the concept without any formal classes or training. She said she started working on her own style and using multiple layers rather than just one. “It took a number of years to get to the style I have now.” That style uses a realistic approach, similar to photography, in which she layers paper that she hand cuts using a medical grade scalpel, with shadows using darker colors of paper and highlights using lighter ones.
Three years ago Danielle moved to Omaha where she has continued to work from her home studio. Although there are other paper artists around the U.S., she’s only aware of one other artist in Chicago who has a similar style as hers. Most of the pieces she does are by commission, such as wedding portraits, pets, or memorial artwork for loved ones. She works from a photo, sketches it out, and then plans each layer ahead of time, allowing for deviations to the plan depending on how the project progresses.
Danielle uses acid free paper for its archival quality and to keep its color and vibrancy intact. She uses a variety of colors and paper, but prefers ones that have a linen texture. She hand carves each piece and layer of paper, often changing out her scalpel every 20 minutes to keep them sharp. That’s a lot of blades, given the average length of time she spends on a piece is 40 hours. She secures each layer using adhesive and seals the finished piece in a frame, ensuring it will last for generations.
“My favorite part of creating is learning the story behind the subject,” Danielle explained. “As I’m working, I have that story and image in my mind of what that person—or pet—is or was like. Each piece I do is completely unique. Nobody will have the same piece.” One of the compelling aspects of paper cutting is that every time you look at a piece, you see a different detail you didn’t notice before. “It gives it a 3D feel with a depth from the layering that is hard to achieve in a normal photograph,” she added.
Danielle recycles all of the leftover pieces and scraps of paper, which is fitting since she also works as the community program manager at a local recycling company. Eventually she’d like to take a paper making class so she can make her own paper out of the cuts she doesn’t use. Additionally, Danielle is an active member of Omaha Artists, Inc., which has shows throughout the year. And she is one of the artists whose pieces are on display and for sale in the Passageway Gallery downtown, which will feature her Safari collection she’s working on.
One question Danielle is often asked is if she’ll ever teach paper cutting? “I’ve only ever taught one person how to do it,” she said. “I was self-taught and developed it over a number of years. But I would consider teaching others.” In the meantime, she enjoys working with people to capture their own story and give it that Wow factor. “I love working with paper—it’s texture and the detail you can create. Because even though it is so fragile, it can truly last forever.”