Mrs Delany and my paper cut paintings

It has been a while since I last blogged. The freedom found through leaping to freelance (from full time accessories design) has made my creativity soar.   The downside is the lack of time to juggle everything, a problem I’m sure you are all too familiar with.   But I promise to return to blogging once I’ve found the balance (the eternal quest).   Anyway, more on my latest adventure……

Sometimes, the things I like best in museums best are the handwritten signage and custom made cabinets.   The Enlightenment Gallery at the British Museum is just the kind of cornucopia you hope to find yourself in on a Tuesday afternoon, having fended off the crowds heading for the Egyptians.  Amongst the taxidermy and intaglios, what I was really after were the botanical paper cuts by Mrs Mary Delany.  A widow, who aged 71 in 1771 famously, began a series of paper collages made from layers of hand coloured tissue papers, till her eyesight failed her aged 88. 

Planning my own series of paper cuts, I’d spent hours on Pinterest, trying to understand the detail of Mrs Delany’s work.   And I’d also written to Pat Elbeck, a couple of months before she sadly passed away to see if she might teach me her paper cut techniques.    So when you can’t ask your design heroines; ‘what scissors and glue do you recommend?’ The only thing to do is book yourself an archive appointment at the British Museum to handle a box of Mrs Delany’s paper cuts with white cotton gloves.    Hoping that some of the secrets might unravel?

 The archive is a very stylish place in itself so naturally, I was distracted by the fixtures and fittings.  What a dream studio it would make - that calendar!   But back to Box Volume 8…. what first struck me was the scale of the paper cuts, so much smaller than A4, meaning she must have employed a whole tray of tweezers to manoeuvre such tiny pieces of paper into place.   Through a combination of hand painting and hand coloured papers she had perfectly captured the plant’s light and shadow.   There were splodges of glue and joins in stems.  Maybe I needed to loosen up.  Stop worrying about precision and enjoy the process.   She always signed with her initials MD  (naturally) cut from paper, which looked pleasing on her signature black background.   One thing became sparklingly clear, thinner paper (than I was using) was required and I was definitely not going to have a Georgian lady’s diary of free time to paint my own papers.

After many a paper, paint and glue trial, here are some of my first designs.  As many of you know, when I can, I volunteer garden at The Inner Temple, London.   Last summer I found any excuse to be in the greenhouse with the scented geraniums.  Much of this new paper cut work is heavily influenced by my love of the plants there and the relationship they have with the ornamental details featured on Inner Temple buildings.   Hopefully this is just the start of plenty more to come ……snip snip.

All paper cut paintings are for sale through my shop.