Using just a single sheet of back paper, Boston-based artist Joe Bagley creates silhouettes that are undeniably beautiful. Whether it's a couple stealing a quick kiss or a single swallow soaring through the air, Bagley's designs are all original and each is cut by hand. He even proudly states, “No lasers, dies, or prints!”
“The intricacies of my work reflect my desire to push the physical boundaries of this medium,” Bagley says. “With each piece, I challenge myself to increase the complexity of my work while also creating a work that is visually engaging. I enjoy the challenge of portraying depth, texture, and drama with two-tone black and white.
“Because this art form is already associated with antiques, folk art, and crafts, I am attempting to bring papercutting to a new modern audience. My unique style including dramatic perspective, complex texture, and the overall large scale of my work is a break from the traditions of this art form.”
We got in touch with the artist to ask him a few questions about his work. Read that interview below after enjoying his simply sweet silhouettes.
Q: How does your past experience and background play into your work?
A: I grew up in rural Maine, and return as often as possible. I absolutely love the woods and the coast and it turns up a lot in my work. When I went to Boston University to get my degree in Archaeology, I also fell in love with old things, especially historic architecture. Right now, buildings and natural scenes are my dominant theme in my larger pieces. I'm going through a Victorian Scientist phase with my ‘Just For Funs' and I've been making a bunch of designs that look like they come out of old books of bugs, birds and animals from the 19th century.
Q: Is this your full time job?
A: This is my full time job. Previously I was also cutting full time for about two years beginning in 2008. The job market for archaeology has been very bumpy and I've had fits and bursts of employment in the ‘field' for the past year. I am returning to grad school to pursue my Masters in Archaeology this fall. I'm working this summer on a plan to keep the papercutting going at the same pace this fall and next spring as I am currently while still doing school full time. It's going to be interesting and busy!
Q: Do you work off of templates?
A: I have two types of designs, One-of-a-kinds (large detailed designs), and pieces I call ‘Just For Funs' (small, less detailed designs, typically an object or animal). With the one-of-a-kinds, I do all the design work in the computer using photos as references. That way I can perfect every aspect of the black/white design, crop, tweek, and resize before committing to the design and starting to cut. I then print the design and use it as a pattern for the piece. Its adhered to the back of the black paper, I cut through both layers, and remove and destroy the pattern after the piece is done.
For the ‘Just For Funs,' I cut an original design, then photograph it and create a template for that design on the computer. The template from that original is then used as a pattern for all the other designs. I regularly retire ‘Just For Funs' when I get bored of making them, since they are done just for the fun of them. It doesn't hurt that they sell well though. They really are a way for me to start and finish a design in one day, which is mentally gratifying when working on the same one of a kind piece for months.
Q: What are some comments, funny or inspiring, you've received from people around the world?
A: I get tons of emails from people who just started to papercut and want to know more about my materials and techniques. I've done a lot of guides on my blog for people looking to use the same materials I use, since I want those companies to stay in business. I've gotten about three emails from young guys in high school that want to go to art school to make paper art. I really appreciate that they are reaching out to me, and I try to be as helpful and encouraging as I possibly can, even though I did not go to art school myself. I really hope they make it! I once received a rather angry email from a woman who rather rudely and bluntly accused me of lying that I cut my piece by hand and that I must use a laser. It took a few back-and-forth emails to convince her, and she ended up being really friendly and funny. I was flattered.
Q: What keeps you going?
A: Coffee. Lots of coffee. Oh, and NPR. I listen to a lot of radio. I tried online videos, but my neck got sore from constantly looking up while I work. I tend to have two or three pieces going at once, so when I get bored or frustrated with one I can move on to something else and not be wasting time. I also tend to focus on one or two tasks each 8-10 hour work day. I may work on small ‘Just For Funs' that sold on etsy for a day, design new pieces on another, and work on the large one of a kind pieces the next. I find that focusing on one type of task really helps me concentrate.
Q: What's the response been like, online, to your papercuts?
A: The response has been amazing! I started this entire art career on etsy.com, and I've grown almost exclusively online with boosts here and there from the occasional art show. I think the photo of me holding my Kissing Couple on a Bike piece (first one in our set) has made my career as it perfectly captures the hand-made nature of my work, the messiness of my studio, and the fun of my designs.
The reaction from that photo alone has been incredible including going viral on Tumblr for a bit. I've since photographed all my pieces similarly and I know that those online photographs are somehow perfectly bad, and also the reason my work has done so well.