About Papercuts

Papercut art has been produced in every culture that valued paper. It was known in China hundreds of years ago, and came later to Europe. Intricate, often fanciful designs are cut out of paper using sharp knives or scissors, and the resulting art is either mounted over solid paper of contrasting color or between pieces of glass.  Judaic papercuts made their way into the medieval Jewish communities of central and eastern Europe, and later to Israel and the Americas. Papercuts have been used for ceremonial as well as decorative purposes. Despite their fragile nature they have been used in the equally fragile Sukkahs (booths) and in the home as Mizrahim (markers for the Eastern wall). Recently they have found popularity as items commemorate the occasions of weddings, births, Bar and Bat mitzvah, and special anniversaries, and as gifts for retirements and other honors.  These are for both Judaic and secular occasions.

About Mishka Luft

Mishkacatteal-001I am a native of New York City and have lived in the Capital District of New York State for over 30 years. I trained first as an archaeologist and then as a Social Worker and had numerous positions before leaving those fields to become a papercut artist. I have been producing these works for over 15 years and have developed a reputation for original and clever designs which are both aesthetically beautiful and intellectually challenging. Most of my work contains visual puns, and other items which encourage the viewer to really explore every area of the artwork. I want the viewer to have that “aha” moment when they get what it’s all about.

I have created over 300 papercuts, and they are hanging on walls (or the metal ones in windows) in many of the states in the USA, as well as in Israel, Holland and Brazil.   They have been part of shows highlighting the many ways paper is the artform and not just the medium.   In that context I try to stretch the idea of a papercut beyond the usual and have developed my own style while still remaining true to the original intent of papercuts – what can you create with a knife and a single piece of paper!


I find most of my inspirations in the words and images of Jewish texts, which includes the Torah (Five Books of Moses, Old Testament), the Psalms, the Books of the Prophets and other sources such as Pirkei Avot (The Wisdom of the Fathers). I find the greatest challenge and delight in illustrating, either with images or words, my interpretations of these texts. I use traditional and modern source books both for understanding the materials and finding the appropriate symbolism to represent what I am reading.  Then there are attributes, traits, interests or materials which bring a personal touch to a cut which illustrate a milestone or other events.  Other times I find my ideas in the natural world around me; images of trees and flowers, birds and other animals almost always seem to find a way into my work.

Getting personal…

When I have a commission for a personalized piece I try to go beyond just adding a name or names to a papercut which may generally mark an event.  As a example of one of these simpler papercuts I take the traditional custom of a bride walking seven times around her groom under the Huppah the site of the wedding ceremony itself, with a seven circle image and personalize it, sometimes adding some aditional images.  I want the ultimate owner of my art to know that I, and the purchaser of the cut (which is often a wedding present,) have a sense who they are and what is important to them.  So more unique wedding pieces have images of things which have significance to the couple – their hobbies, places they visit and love, and symbols of what they value.  To illustrate how this happens, visit the Portfolio section for other milestones in the Life Events/Simchas in that section – you will see various examples of personalized wedding papercuts.  You can also see the 70th birthday piece for “Chaim,” a man who devoted many years to religious and charitable causes which were important to him and therefore includes the names and logos of many of these organizations, as well as his dog.  As another example papercuts for birth announcements or baby namings, can include images that reflect the meanings of the new name.

To get the kind of information I need to make these papercuts I always try to interview at least one person who can tell me about the recipients of the papercut so I can include these images.  That is why I ask for contact availability with the person commissioning a papercut so please include that information when contacting me.

The process…

The first and hardest part is confronting the challenge presented developing the design.   I research the idea, whether it comes from text or another source, and play around with sketches.  Then I draw it – first on tracing paper and then using a light table I copy the drawing backwards on to the reverse of the paper to be cut..  (The challenge here it to draw and/or write in reverse and in some cases upside down.  Drawing out Hebrew is the greatest challenge, drawing a right-to-left alphabet backwards and often from left to right.)

At Work

At Work

Lastly, I cut.  I use a #11 Xacto blade, and remove all the parts that don’t belong in the image.  This means that some of the images are cut out as “positive” where the paper that is left creates the whole of the design, but for other images, the “negative” is where what isn’t there produces the image, or tricks the eyes to see the image.  The choice of whether to present the image in the positive or negative has to do with both the aesthetics as well as practical considerations.  The practical challenge is to be sure that every cut edge is attached to at least one other edge of the paper.  So while we are always taught we should “dot your “i’s” and cross your “t’s” you can’t always dot an “i” – If you did that without attaching the dot somewhere, the dot will be gone.

Finished papercuts are mounted onto fine, contrasting colored papers (see “Commissions”) and then matted appropriately.  If the papercut isn’t immediately framed, it will be “shrink wrapped” in plastic (museum mounted) and is ready for presentation without a frame.  Framing is a very personal matter so unless I am dealing directly with the recipient I do not usually frame a cut.

See the slide show on my home page “The Art of the Papercut.”  There you will see several papercuts in close up detail.
Note the detail of both the cut and the interplay with the underlying paper.  You can almost feel the texture in the background papers.


Oh yes, paper and color!

I am addicted to color and rich papers. I have scoured paper sources all over the world and have an array of acid-free papers which present the papercut in rich contrast. I cut 120 lb. weight Stonehenge papers in white or off white and mount the finished piece against color saturated papers in every color of the visible spectrum. Some of the papers have pieces or threads of gold and/or silver, or other unusual qualities which adds to the uniqueness of each piece I create. Many of these papers are handmade – some in the US but most come from Thailand or India.  All are acid free as are the papers I cut.

See some of my available papers on the commission page.