It's October, autumn is here with foggy, gloomy mornings and colourful leaves, illuminated by the evening sun, dancing in the wind. Watching them inspired me to design the paper suncatcher "Autumn Breeze" that I wanted to share with you today.
I will explain my approach step by step, from which tools I use to cutting out the design, gluing on the transparent paper and colouring it with aquarelle paint. If you want to craft along, here is the less complex version of the design to download in PDF format:
I mirrored the design as I want it to face a certain direction, that's why the finished piece faces the opposite direction to the version one cuts out. You will find two variants of the design in the PDF, the "printer ink friendly version" like the one I use in this tutorial and a version with thicker lines that makes it easier to see which shapes you need to cut out. Use which ever you feel more confident with.
Let's start off with the tools I use, from left to right: set square/triangle, glue sticks, lead pencil, ink liner, precision cutter, nail scissors, scissors, aquarelle brushes and below all of those you see my cutting mat. I highly advise using a cutting mat when working with a precision cutter if you care about your desks and cutters well-being!
Now a few words about the papers I use. The "Fensterbilder", paper suncatchers, and lanterns of my childhood were made with "Transparent Papier" which is just colourful transparent paper, it usually comes as a pack of ten basic colours. It can already make beautiful effects but to get more paper structure into the piece and to be able to have colour gradients, I started to use "Strohseiden Papier", straw silk paper, that I colour with aquarelle paint, more about that further down.
The cardboard I use to cut the design out of is black photo carton, but you are free to use any colour you like. The thickness of the paper determines how stable your "framework" will be, if it's too thin it will bend and maybe not take the gluing well. The thicker the cardboard the harder it is to cut as well though. So consider that when choosing your cardboard. The photo carton I use here is 300 g/m².
[Side note: You can tell how thick paper is by the grams per square meter note on the package, the more grams the thicker the paper.]
Now let's get started! I printed the design with a standard printer on a piece of standard A4 printer paper, and then roughly cut off any excess paper around the design and glued it as a whole onto the black cardboard, make sure to cover all of the paper well with glue so the design doesn't come off while cutting it out. I use an edge of the set square to flatten out any air bubbles in-between paper and cardboard, a normal ruler or anything flat would work too. Give the glue time to dry, 10 - 15 minutes should do with stick glue, liquid glue might take longer.
Once the glue is dry, it's time to cut out all white shapes. I start with the smallest shapes, as once you cut out the bigger ones the whole framework will become more unstable and the risk of ripping through the framework becomes higher. Because of this, I cut the smallest shapes first and then the most complicated ones (very curve heavy ones or the ones with extra thin lines) and then the biggest shapes and at the very end I cut the outline of the whole piece.
When cutting with the precision cutter, I start in a corner and follow one line until I reach the next corner. Then I pull the cutter out, rotate the design and start fresh in the next corner following the next line.
If the shape I am cutting out is still stuck even after cutting all of its outline I push it through with the cutter, then turn the piece around and carefully cut from the other side at the spots (usually the corners) where it's still stuck to the framework. If it just hangs on a little bit I pull it off with my fingers.
When working with scissors I first poke a hole into the middle of the shape I want to cut out and work my way towards the edges. As starting at the edge can damage the actual line I want to cut along, which could make the shape more uneven or rip through the framework into another shape, and we really want to avoid that.
When possible, i.e. when the paper/cardboard I cut is thin enough, I highly prefer the precision cutter for well, its precision and how much faster it is to cut with. It's really hard to cut out small shapes with scissors, this design for example, in this size, would have been impossible to cut out nicely without a precision cutter.
The most difficult to cut shapes are very curved ones (like all the oak leaves in this design). I go about cutting them like this: I start at the top of one curve and follow the outline until the next curve and overextend the cut past the actual outline, then I rotate the piece and start from the next curve towards the prior cut I just did, overextending the cut again once I reach it. I hope the following picture helps to understand what I am writing here as text doesn't really - cut it (pun intended).
After a lot of cutting, we can happily look at our "Pile of Progress". As I start with all the small shapes it doesn't feel like one is moving forward at all, but once all the small and more complicated shapes are cut out the process speeds up a lot, just keep at it!
Once all shapes are cut out, I check the back of the piece to see if the glued on paper with the printed design is coming loose at any spot. If that's the case, I carefully rip or cut it off the framework cardboard. It doesn't matter if it damages the cardboard a little. Only if it's thinner cardboard can it be a problem, so consider that and glue it back on instead if in doubt.
Sometimes nearly all of the design paper comes off, as long as you are done cutting that's all fine. If not, use your glue to stick it back on. It doesn't have to last for all eternity, only until you are done cutting.
Why do I rip off loose pieces? So that I have a stable base during the following step of gluing on the actual transparent paper. As we really want to make sure that that one doesn't come off anymore.
Now in the following step, there is a difference if I use transparent paper or silk paper. The first already has colour so I want it to fit precisely on the part of the design I want it on. So a leaf I want to be yellow is going to be my guide for cutting the transparent paper into the exact shape of that leaf. To do so, I lie down the framework so the side with the glued on design faces me. I place the transparent paper on it and use the ink liner or lead pencil to outline along the leaf, as much towards the outer edge of it as possible as the glue will have more area to hold the piece in place.
Once I outlined the whole leaf I cut it out of the transparent paper with scissors. Transparent paper easily rips when cut with a precision cutter, so I highly recommend using scissors here. Once cut out you glue the area on the frame work around the leaf and carefully stick on the transparent paper, try to get it on as precise as possible. A tip when gluing, is to use a large glue stick and dot the area with it where you want to place the transparent paper instead of swiping with the stick, as this makes it less messy in my experience. If the paper doesn‘t cover the shape as you want it to, then try to carefully slide the transparent paper over the glue until it covers the shape. If paper sticks out where it shouldn't, cut it off with the small nail scissors that usually works quite well.
Repeat this step for all shapes in the design. If you want the shapes next to each other to have the same colour you do them all in one go when outlining on the transparent paper. This will save you a lot of time for cutting and gluing. In the picture below you can see me outlining three shapes at once.
Now cutting out and placing the silk paper is much easier as it's going to cover the whole design, so just place it on the framework and outline it at the outmost edges. Cut it out and glue it on the framework. That part is now done. Let the glue dry well and after that paint it from the back with aquarelle paint. You can speed up the drying process with a hair dryer, just hold on to your cardboard so it doesn't fly away. If some glued areas come loose from the applied water don't fret, let the paint dry and glue them back on from the front. To do this use a tooth pick with a bit of stick glue on it to smear it carefully under the loose cardboard bits, press them back on and it's fixed. The silk paper doesn't allow very precise colouring as the paint will rather easily flow through the fibres in the paper from one shape into the next, but to be honest, that just makes for lovely water colour effects. You should work with a rather big wet brush and not too much pressure as the silk paper is a bit fragile.
Once all pieces of transparent paper are glued on and/or the aquarelle paint is dry you are done. Tape your work to a window and enjoy your colourful autumn window picture!
I hope it was possible to follow all the steps, if you craft your own version feel free to share it with me in the comments, I am very interested to see them! :)